Over 30 years ago, a small group of friends with diverse interests and opinions shared an appreciation of African and African American culture along with a desire to produce positive changes in their local community. They decided to form the Umoja Group with Dr. Kwame Tuprah and Dorothy Fielder at the helm. Through the years, the organization has grown and continues to make a lasting impression in the Fayetteville community.
“The purpose of the group is to share positive cultural information about Africans, African Americans and Carribeans,” said Wanda Wesley, incoming director of the Umoja Group, Inc. “It is our duty to spotlight and share that information with others so they will know about the greatness, unity and develop a mutual respect for one another.”
The group, incorporated in 2005, is very active in the community and one of their biggest services is to assist students by awarding them scholarships for college. Since 1998, the group has given over $22,000 in scholarships.
“Since the Umoja Group was formed in the community, the scholarships focus around students who live in the Broadell, E. E. Smith and Fayetteville State community,” said Wesley. “So most of those scholarship recipients have either been students who actually attend E. E. Smith High School or who have been active participants in the Umoja Group’s activities over the years as far as volunteers or supporters.”
Wesley added that a lot of the students who receive scholarships are recommended by the E. E. Smith Band because a lot of the students in the band participate in many of their activities.
“We have worked with the school to identify worthy students who have positive attitudes, decent grades and give back to the community,” said Wesley. “In December 2020, we gave a $1,000 scholarship to Deborah Effon, an early senior at Massey Hill Classical High School that finished in December.”
One of their annual events is the Umoja Festival held the last Saturday in August. “It is a community day and we have singers, dancers, food and product vendors, and a health fair,” said Wesley. “For the last few years, we have partnered with Darvin Jones from Cape Fear Valley to have a health fair and it has been very well received.”
The health fair is designed for individuals who might not normally go to the doctor for routine physicals. The health screenings include cholesterol, rapid HIV test, depression screening, blood pressure, blood glucose, body mass index, vision screening, lung function tests, flu shots, blood typing, AFib testing and more.
“One year there was a person whose blood pressure was so high and they did not realize it and came to the health fair,” said Wesley. “They found out they needed to take care of some things and it may have saved their life.”
“What I think is really special about the festival is that it is intergenerational, something for the entire family, wholesome, fun and exciting,” said Wesley. “You would feel comfortable bringing your small child out as well as your grandparent.”
Darvin Jones, community health coordinator of Cape Fear Valley, gave his perspective of the group.
“I think the Umoja Group does an outstanding job in the community trying to bring culture and heritage together,” said Jones. “Umoja means unity and that is exactly what they do through some of their programs with education and the appreciation of the arts, culture and a positive history.
“I approached the Umoja Group ten years ago about doing what I call the hospital making a house call into the community,” said Jones. “The first group that I approached about this was very lukewarm, but the Umoja Group loved the idea so we got together and discussed the vision of what it could be.”
Jones added that together they executed that vision and now it has become a part of the Umoja Festival. Every year they find something that they screen for, such as high blood pressure, in abundance.
Not only is it set up to find these things, it is designed to help people. It has grown into being the largest health fair in the county.
The Kwanzaa celebration has become a popular staple event in the community. “We recently had our Kwanzaa celebration and that is when I first got started with the Umoja Group,” said Wesley. “The celebration is a great community gathering of people and it tells them the history of Kwanzaa along with the seven principles, their meanings, and how they can live that through their
The last few years the celebration has taken place at the Smith Recreation Center. “There is a set program and we usually start off with a drum call, welcome, singing, libation to those who have passed, a parade of African kings and queens, a tribute to elders, a feast, storytelling, scholarship presentation, dancing and more,” said Wesley. “One of our most popular acts is Shaka Zulu, performed by Larry Johnson, who has been doing this for over 20 years and everybody looks forward to his performance.”
Due to the circumstances of COVID-19, the celebration was held virtually on Facebook in December 2020. “We shared Kwanzaa videos throughout the month of December which proved to be well-received and we will most likely incorporate that format into how we celebrate going forward,” said Wesley. “We did several interviews with children and adults who have been a part of the celebration for years and we were able to reach a larger audience to include folks from other states and overseas.”
Future projects include digitizing the mural “Wall of Honor” to make the information more widely accessible and sharing stories about the individuals featured on
For more information, donations, or to volunteer call 910-485-8035 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to purchase a copy of Wall of Honor: A Celebration of Fayetteville’s Everyday Heroes contact Donna Barnes at 919-368-5258.
Pictured above: The Umoja Festival at Seabrook Park is usually held the last Saturday in August. The public event is a celebration of culture and heritage.
Pictured above: Umoja Group members celebrate Kwanzaa (left to right) Ramon Huggins, Dr. Kwame Tuprah, Yawa Tuprah.
Pictured above: Deborah Effon (center) received the 2020 Umoja Group Scholarship.