Living far from their native lands, Africans in the United States have to find ways of transporting rich and diverse cultural practices from home. When they do this they make positive social and economic contributions in their new communities and influence American popular culture.

In Oakland, a large group of neo-diasporan African entrepreneurs, artists, social engineers, community organisers and educators is playing a critical role in the resurgence of the city.

The Umoja Festival (Umoja being the Swahili word for ‘unity’) claims to be the first pan-African festival of its kind in Oakland.  It was created by four dynamic individuals living in the area. Their intention, grounded in an African sensibility of community and unity, is to gather Africans in the diaspora and “create an environment that promotes the development of African communities”.

“Umoja aims to inspire mutual understanding and cultural dialogue through the celebration of music, art and physical wellness,” the organizers have stated.

Now in their second year, they envision uniting Africans in a communal, spirited way. Their vision is to bring African communities to the forefront of  Oakland’s cultural renaissance.

The 2014 Umoja Festival features a diverse musical lineup. From left: FreshIsLife, Thobs the Zulu Queen, Geoffrey Omadhebo from Lago Roots, Naima Shalhoub and Piwai.

The day’s activities will include a thrilling football competition — hosted in partnership with local apparel company SuRu and featuring some of the best players from local African soccer leagues — in addition to diverse African cuisine, African music, and dance. Information booths will promote  resources available to immigrants in Oakland. A night-time concert anticipates a headline act from Africa, in addition to a diverse lineup of local musicians.

The Umoja festival will take place in the heart of one of Oakland’s marginalised communities, Lowell Park. “We felt it was important to include this predominantly African-American community due to the importance of topics such as food justice, physical wellness and the celebration of positive self-identity,” project director Effie Tesfahun said.

With a vision grounded in African cultural sensibility and heritage, the festival hopes to create a day full of festivities and educational information that will inspire and foster unity. “We envision building upon the elements from last year’s activities and creating new spaces for local organizations to inform communities about the resources available to them,” the organizers said. “We will also designate space for information booths about holistic treatment”.

The Umoja Festival takes place in Oakland, California on 16 August 2014.

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