Monday, August 8, 2011

UMOJA festival unites cultures



For 15 years, the UMOJA/Unity Festival has brought diversity and entertainment to downtown Johnson City, and this year will be no exception, given the unique events and activities that are scheduled to take place.
The festival will begin on Friday, Aug. 12 and conclude on Saturday, Aug. 13.
“The festival will be 15 years old this year and the initial purpose was to bring all the different cultures and diverse ethnic groups that are in the region together,” said Ralph Davis, UMOJA chairman.
When the festival began in 1978, it was held as an annual Unity Picnic with members of the local NAACP, Concerned Citizens Group, Herb Greenlee of Carver Recreation Center and many other community residents. Unfortunately, the picnic eventually lost the interest of the community.

In 1997, some of the original founders decided to reinvent the picnic with a different format.
Since the original purpose was to blend different cultures and ethnic groups, the founders agreed on revamping and renaming the picnic the UMOJA/Unity Festival. “We have a lot of different ethnic groups and a lot of different races and we just want to bring everyone together and let everyone see what they have to offer,” Davis said.
Davis emphasized that the festival is not aimed specifically at African-Americans.
“One of the things that we always hope for is that people don’t say that this is an African-American festival. This is a unity festival, and we stress that every year,” he said.
The weekend will consist of music, food, entertainment and fun for all ages and ethnic groups.

“This is a festival for all to come out and enjoy,” Davis said. “That’s the main purpose, for everyone to come out and have a good time, listen to the good music, eat the good food and let the kids play,” he added.
Returning to the festival this year will be The Zulu Connection stilt walkers, along with storytellers from East Tennessee State University, who will spin tales at the gazebo.
Music headliners on Friday night include Shirley Murdock along with Zapp. Taking the main stage Saturday night will be Chocolate Buttermilk and Confunkshun. Comedian and DJ M.C. Lightfoot will perform both nights.
In addition to the usual events and vendors, festival attendees will have the chance to participate in some new events this year, including a “Kings of the Blacktop” threeon-three basketball tournament to be held Friday and Saturday, and a film festival, showing both days on the youth/young adult stage.
One of the most anticipated new events is a 5K run that will take place on Saturday night.
“We’ve been trying to do a run for the last few years,” Davis said.
Thanks to volunteer Charnita Hammonds, the 5K run will finally make its debut.
“She’s done a fantastic job of getting it started, so we’re really looking forward to that this year,” Davis added.
Davis gave a special thanks to the people who have attended the festival for many years and he also encourages everyone to take part in some of the new events that will be held this year.
Volunteers are still needed to help out during the festival. Anyone interested in volunteering should call Davis at (423) 426-2851.

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