Umoja photoAs we enter into the year 2015, some are under the impression that we exist within a “post-race” society. The 10th annual Umoja Conference, Umoja X, which took place between Thursday, November 20 through Saturday, November 22, served as a momentous force for somber reflections on the past, ethnic celebration, and progressive thought. The Umoja Conference reminded us that race and race matters are especially relevant now, more than ever before. Taking place in San Diego, California, the San Diego Community College District hosted this special event, but noteworthy colleges like San Diego Mesa College and universities such as the University of California, Davis and San Diego State University also sponsored the event. In addition, several Historical Black Colleges and Universities came to support Umoja X, even extending the opportunity for on-site admittance to qualifying students.

A central highlight of this conference was the opening lecture led by the keynote speaker, highly revered and world-renowned educator, Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, who spoke on how fear created by ignorance can be the catalyst for so much destruction. Dr. Degruy’s presentation exposed evidence of racism and racial injustices being hidden in plain sight, even down to our present day, and though this evidence was startling, DeGruy emphasized the urgency of exposing the pain in order to truly begin the healing process in our society. She also encouraged elders in the community to make sure that the youth, especially young African American males who are an endangered demographic in America, know how much they are loved and that they are a source of pride. It is vital that they receive these acknowledgments, so that they can feel empowered to progress academically, ultimately ensuring their holistic success and healing.

The remainder of the conference included various workshops led by educators and students that addressed different layers of De Gruy’s presentation. It was encouraged that participants reflect on the ways they use words and social media to make meaning, whether that meaning is a source of damage to those in the African American community, or a source of liberation to the community.  All present were reinvigorated to apply the topics and mindsets discussed as they returned to their perspective colleges and universities; we were motivated to pass on the knowledge and love received in all aspects of our lives, not just academically. Thanks to the self-less efforts of retiring Vice Chancellor for Student Services and Special Programs in the California Community College system, Linda Michalowski, and those who have worked closely with her to support this conference for the last 10 years, the Umoja legacy will have the financial support needed to continue this unique and essential work for years to come.

Article by Chanel Daniels