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February 1, 2011

Founded initially in 1992 and later institutionalized in 1998, UMOJA continues to serve as an umbrella coalition for African diasporic cultural groups on Penn’s campus. Conceived as a medium to engender dialogue across the disparate groups within the black community at Penn—including political advocacy, performing arts, Greek, and faith-based organizations—UMOJA seeks to unite said organizations under a common calendar and political agenda.

The history of UMOJA begins on March 19, 1991, when Rodney King was severely beaten by police officers in Los Angeles, California. When the officers involved were later acquitted, black students at Penn erupted in protest, calling for a more proactive and politicized campus community. These students wanted to form permanent committees to address issues facing black students, such as student and faculty diversity, tutoring, and police brutality. In the summer of 1992, two members of these committees, Brian Peterson and Kimani Toussaint, created UMOJA. See UMOJA Original Documents.

Though this first incarnation of UMOJA was ultimately unsuccessful, students maintained the politicized sentiment of their forebears. In 1995, the Black Student League (BSL) Executive Board instituted an informal version of UMOJA, upholding the same ideals as its predecessors. During this period, Cardell Orrin and Obinna Adibe conducted monthly or bimonthly meetings with approximately one-fourth of the black organizations on campus. This unofficial UMOJA had an overtly political focus and continued loosely for two years. In the spring of 1997, Rasool Berry and Curtis Redding, President and Vice President of the BSL respectively, decided to institutionalize UMOJA and held the first official meeting in September 1998.

Today, UMOJA holds UMOJA Week, an annual week of cultural events, annual retreats, and monthly general body meetings with leaders of its 27 constituent groups. UMOJA also serves as a liaison between black students and university administration, and includes the comprehensive renovation of Du Bois College House among its recent victories.

Ryan Jobson, CAS ’11

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