Downtown Johnson City is the place to be today to enjoy the 16th annual Umoja Festival. The two-day event wraps up today with a parade, health screenings and music. We can’t think of a better goal for a festival than to celebrate diversity.
Things will get kicked off today with the Umoja parade, which will begin at 10 a.m. at the Carver Recreation Center and ends at the corner to Main and Buffalo streets. Parade participants include members of Rolling Thunder, the Shriners’ color guard, Zulu Nation stiltwalkers and Watoto drummers and dancers.
UMOJA is Swahili for “unity.” It is the first of the seven principles of the celebration of Kwanzaa, which reflects the best qualities and characteristics of the harvest festivals celebrated throughout Africa.
The origins of Umoja celebrations date back to Aug. 8, 1863, when Andrew Johnson freed his slaves in Greeneville. This date was marked as Emancipation Day for East Tennessee freedmen and was celebrated with picnics and music.
Johnson City began celebrating Unity Day in 1978. Following a brief hiatus, the festival was revived in 1997. The festival has grown each year it has been held.
The festival now features dancing, a parade, poetry readings and a healthy helping of African-American culture. And as always, the theme of the event is unity and ethnic diversity.
Today’s activities include a car show, a corn hole toss and a children’s carnival from 1-8 p.m. in the Munsey United Memorial Methodist Church parking lot on Market Street.
Music on the Main Stage include performances by Xavier Lewis, Midnight Star, MJ Beck Band and MC Lightfoot.
For more information, go to Umoja’s website at www.umojajc.org.