Umoja is Swahili for "Unity" which is to be in harmony and on one accord, to combine include all.
For the past 20 years, the Umoja Arts and Cultural Inc. which is comprised of approximately 20 board members, has provided Northeast Tennessee with a variety of entertaining and education opportunities. Our mission is: To bridge and unify diverse cultures through education and artistic presentations of art, culture and heritage to improve and promote the region.
Unity is the heart of this regional event with a history of more than two decades of successful celebrations.
The Festival began in 1978 as an annual Unity Picnic. Members of the local NCAAP, Concerned Citizens Group, Herb Greenlee of Carver Recrecation Center and other community residents all played a part in the community picnic. It was always held around August 8th of each year with the participants providings things such as food, covered dishes, games and lots of fun.
After several years the community event faded out. Then in 1997, some of the original founders decided to revive the event with a little different format. They became the keepers of the dream with the original purpose of maintaining a celebration of ethnic diversity and a universal love of life. The purpose was and still is to eliminate the barriers of race and cultures; an event that pulls together all peoples of the community. The revival process brought the unity picnic of days past under the new name of Umoja/Unity Day Festival. A celebration of three days offering a multitude of food and merchandise vendors, a variety of entertainers, thousands of people of various races and cultures, finalized with church services on Sunday.
The Umoja/Unity Festival was always held on the grounds of the Carver Recreation Center at least until the dream was "naturally dampened" ... It rained and it rained. It rained a lot like it did for Noah... Carver Rec grounds flooded and the festival was forced to move to a new location to continue the annual tradition. The grounds of Freedom Hall, Johnson City, were available and the festival continued!
Freedom Hall grounds gave the festival an opportunity to expand... more space for the involvement of more vendors, a lot more food, more group participants (including some community churches), helicopter crews, more people (as many as 6,000 at a time), and ample parking space. Today our festival's permanent home is downtown Johnson City. Once again the festival can spread out and is more accessible to all. Here we have a festival atmosphere and a place where business downtown can bring in more revenue.
Although the unity picnic through natural forces was removed from the original location, the tradition continues; and it continues on a larger scale, upholding the purpose of the event... "a celebration of ethnic diversity and universal love of life."
It attracts over 30,000 people and showcases great food, merchandise vendors, information booths, wonderful music, medical screening,and fun games for everyone. A children's park and entertainment is provided for young children. No entry fee is required, but donations are always welcomed.
Friendship Baptist Church (Johnson City, TN) choir takes the stage at Umoja 2017
ETSU International Choir celebrating Unity in The Community
Evening crowd for one of the Musical Entertainer Performance