The Charles in downtown Johnson City shone bright Saturday night with the Black, White and Bling dinner held to generate support for the upcoming Umoja festival Aug. 9-10.
After a lavish meal provided by Taste Budz, participants on their way to the upstairs dance floor could stop for a quick photo op with friends all dressed up in their black, white and bling attire.
Elizabethton resident Caroline Bradley, a guest enjoying the elegant atmosphere, said it’s not often in this area that she gets to put on fancy clothes and dine with motivated Umoja organizers and supporters.
Even more exciting for Bradley, she said, is the live music and watching everyone have fun together.
“I enjoy getting to do things like this,” Bradley said. “Just to get to sit and listen to the music, that’s what I look forward to.”
Bradley said she is looking forward to the upcoming Umoja festival and one of her favorite memories of the festival was waking up early to watch her grandchildren participate in the parade.
“I like the unity and functions,” Bradley said. “I love Umoja. I’ve loved the idea of it from the very beginning.”
Hattie Barkley, Umoja vice chairwoman and chairwoman for the dinner, said Umoja is Swahili for unity and that’s the one word that describes the mission of the festival the best.
“The festival brings everybody together as one in the community,” Barkley said. “All races, all cultures, everybody as one to socialize and have a good time together.”
The festival is in its last stages of preparation and Barkley said she’s excited to see the activities and people all come together on the streets of downtown Johnson City.
“I’m am so excited,” Barkley said. “I just get excited because it’s Umoja and I get excited because it’s bringing people together as a group, as a community.”
East Tennessee State University’s Storytelling Program Coordinator Joseph Sobol, who organizes the storytelling stage for the festival and is on the festival’s committee, said the dinner showcased the same cultural elements as the festival with food, music and pizzazz.
“This is part of the round of activities that keep this community together,” Sobol said. “It’s a very important sort of community-binding event.”
Sobol was excited to have the opportunity to support the festival with a night out in style.
“It’s a great meal and time to spend with some good friends and tell a few stories and look forward to the festival,“ Sobol said. “This is a chance to get together and also raise some funds for the festival itself.”
Sobol said he thinks Umoja fits in with the overview of culturally diverse festivals that have made their way downtown.
“I think it’s great the festival has its place in the slate of Johnson City festivals,” Sobol said. “The more we do along those lines to improve communication and integrate the functions of different events, the better off we will be.”
To sum it up, Sobol said anything tied to Umoja is about “people getting together and appreciating each other’s histories and cultures.”
Sobol said he likes to see celebrations that focus on sharing the planet with different groups of people that may not recognize all they have in common, for example, “stories, songs and a few moves as well.”
Although she said she’s not aware of exactly how much exists, Bradley said community support for the festival should be high based solely on the fact that its mission is unity.
“I think there could be more,” Bradley said about community support for the festival. “If it promotes unity, then it’s a good thing.”
It’s not too late to get involved in the Umoja festival. Barkley said volunteers are always welcome to sign up to help out and she would like to see the whole town celebrating together in August.
“We welcome all volunteers because it does take a lot of people to do this festival,” Barkley said. “We are wanting everybody to come out this year and enjoy themselves.”
For more information, visit umojajc.org or the Umoja store at 325 E. Main St.