Penn’s black community celebrated progress in spite of adversity at UMOJA Week’s capstone event on Saturday.
UMOJA hosted a dinner and discussion in DuBois College House to reflect on the events of UMOJA Week. The week is an annual week celebrating the culture of the African diaspora at Penn.
At the event, called “Sankofa, Our Family Dinner,” speakers and students talked about “looking back to look forward,” according to Director of Makuu and Africana Studies professor Brian Peterson. He set the stage for discussion by posing questions to the audience. “How do we as a community want to respond when there are serious incidents and issues?” He asked. “How can you get the community moving so that you can go where you want to go?”
Peterson mentioned the “internal and external difficulties” that minority students face. “How do you take on the backpack of being a student of color on a predominantly white campus,” he asked. “Or when something impacts you because of your direct culture or connection?”
Peterson said that although minority students face challenges, Penn is committed to diversity. That commitment is “not just to benefit people of color but for the entire university,” he said. “We can’t be afraid to talk about race and our struggles - we all have to have these hard conversations.”
Wharton sophomore and Co-Director of UMOJA Week Valencia Lewis hoped that this week’s participants real ize that “UMOJA cares, the community cares, and no one is alone. UMOJA Week was about showing what we have to offer to the black community as well as to the larger community.” She said that UMOJA is trying to get involved in college preparation for elementary and middle schoolers.
The black student groups that participated in UMOJA Week have unique ongoing visions for affecting the community at large.
“Since freshman year, I always felt that we could always do more and build something,” College senior and President of Penn African Students Association Kevin Rugamba said. “We’re open to the Penn community, we’re a door on Penn’s campus into ... the different African cultures and also home to members here and the African diaspora.”
Representatives from Big Brothers Big Sisters offered opportunities to match Penn students with local elementary and middle schoolers to give children a firsthand look at higher education. BBBS also strives to “become a bigger part of West Philadelphia community and schools by giving back,” according to representatives.
In addition to BBBS and PASA, the Black Student League, the Caribbean American Student Association and UPenn NAACP were represented at UMOJA Week. University Chaplain Chaz Howard also spoke at the event.