Umoja — a word derived from the Kaswahili language and an educational organization for students— promotes one core value: unity. Additionally, Umoja aims to provide accessibility to a plethora of resources such as specialized curriculums, employment opportunities and individual counselors for Black students.
At LPC, Umoja has become an integral part of many academic careers. According to Umoja Co-coordinator Kimberly Burks, “Students who participate in learning communities, such as Umoja, have higher rates of success than students who do not participate.”
According to an Umoja report conducted by The Institute for Social Research, 565 Umoja students from 47 different campuses, not including LPC, concluded that 89% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that the program has been effective in improving their views regarding their ability to take charge of their future.
On top of aiding students, Umoja works towards bridging the educational achievement gap, or the disparate educational outcomes of Black students, in comparison to their white peers. According to Tanya Golash-Boza, author of sociology textbook “Race and Racisms,” Black students fare less well in school, whether that be obtaining fewer college degrees or lower grade-point averages.
In a 2010 national study conducted by The Teachers College Record, research showed that African American and Latinx students were underrepresented in advanced math classes in various schools across the country, which ultimately led to lower grade-point averages and rates of university enrollment for these groups of students. Though with the help of race-oriented organizations, these students are less likely to succumb to such statistics.
Furthermore, organizations like Umoja curb negative implications of internally racist practices that are still present in the school system today, such as tracking. Historically, it’s common for educational institutions to “track” groups of children based on their academic ability. As a result, many Black children are placed in low-ability classes and aren’t given equal opportunities for advanced classes.
In Umoja, students have more chances to be challenged with high-ability and fast paced courses known as fast-track classes, which are in session for eight weeks only as opposed to a full semester. “Umoja is intentional about the success of African American students,” Burks said.
Aside from specifics within the organization, Umoja prides itself on its vision and mission objectives. As stated in the official website for the Umoja community, it’s “dedicated to enhancing the cultural and educational experiences of African American and other students.” Moreover, it inspires self-actualization of such students in order for them to realize their full potential both in the classroom and outside of school.
“The long-term goal of LPC’s Umoja program is for Umoja students to assume leadership or instrumental roles within our local communities and educational pipelines by carving out paths of opportunity and equity for Black students and other underrepresented groups,” Burks said.
According to Iyore Iyamu, a second-year student member of both The Express Newspaper and Umoja program, said that it acted as a family, support system and community.
“Aside from academics, Umoja provides me with a family dynamic and a strong community,” Iyamu said.
Likewise, the program has proved to be meaningful for its instructors and coordinators.
“I enjoy watching students positively change their narrative on the significance and role of Black people in America. It is a privilege to witness the bonds and friendships that are made within the Umoja community, including our Umoja alumni students, students who graduated and/or transferred,” Burks said.
The Hayward program, derived from the Swahili word Daraja, refers to a set of steps to help students transfer.
After Dajara proved successful for Chabot students, the community decided to unify into one large program in 2007.
Now, nearly 35 years later, similar programs are included at 60 city colleges and two universities, covering a total of six different regions in California.
With the prevalence of the program at several institutions, joining is as simple as signing up through one’s college website. To apply to LPC’s Umoja program, visit the online application.
Sophia Sipe is Editor-In-Chief for The Express. Follow her @sophiasipe.