The Umoja Festival celebrated 20 years this past weekend in downtown Johnson City. The event aims to promote unity in the community so it is no coincidence that “umoja” is Swahili for unity.
While the Umoja festival celebrated its 20 year anniversary, it was the first year for some participants in the event.
Jennifer Parker, who worked a candle and crafts booth, is one of them.
“This is my first year here actually,” Parker said. “I liked the premise of it in that it’s based in unity, which is something I think we need in our community right now.”
Parker’s booth included candles, jewelry and bath salts that she made.
Like Parker, it was also the first time that Roger Davis, an artist with his ‘Mojo Magic,’ had a booth at the event.
“A mojo is magic like voodoo, coming out of Africa,” Davis said. “My pieces have the power of attraction. Once you take notice and start looking at it, we can engage in conversation about it. There’s a lot of questions about it.”
Davis’s booth consisted of hand-made crafts from organic materials like pepper plants and tree roots. His carvings include the many faces he is able to find in the root.
“Just as I cut off all the rough edges of this piece of nothing,” he said, holding one of his pieces.” I found something beautiful in it.”
His crafts included Mr. and Mrs. Virginia Tech walking sticks, one of a kind necklaces and more.
“I’ve been making my crafts just about all my life, but I’m just now coming into life as an artist,” Davis said. “I’ve given up everything else, and I’m thinking I want to try this for a while, going to different venues and seeing if people will declare me an artist.”
Davis believes his talent comes from the world around us.
“Nature does most of my work,” Davis said. “Nature did the work on me to give me the imagination to cut these pieces.”
In addition to Parker and Davis, the event consisted of a variety of other booths, activities, food and entertainment. Performers at the Umoja concert on Saturday included the Umoja Band, the Lou Jerome Band, the Jae Marie Project and DJ Ink.
Umoja was revived back in 1997 and became the annual festival it is today. Its origins began in the 1970s as a unity picnic and evolved since then. Those who played a role in the picnic, as well as the revival, include the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Concerned Citizens group, Herb Greenlee of Carver Recreation Center and other community members.
The event has taken place at three different locations over the years, including Carver Recreational Park, Freedom Hall and now downtown Johnson City.
For more information on the Umoja festival, you can go to their webpage at www.umojajc.org or check out their Facebook page.
“Like my art, people have rough edges also,” Davis said. “If we can knock those rough edges off, we can make something beautiful out of them as well. We don’t have to beat the hell out of each other to search for understanding. This is what I represent in my art.”