Good food, good music and good stories will be in the offering today at the 17th annual Umoja Festival in downtown Johnson City. Things will kick off with the traditional Umoja Parade that begins at 10 a.m. at the Carver Recreation Center, 322 W. Unaka Ave.
Parade participants will include Shaka Zulu, Zulu Connection stilt walkers, Watoto drummers and dancers, the Science Hill High School drumline and members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in various national costumes.
New to the festival’s schedule this year is the James “Jazz” Akins boxing event. The event honors Akins, who was one of the festival’s charter board members. Akins passed away about a year and a half ago.
Festivalgoers can watch 20 or more boxing bouts for $5 for those 12 and under, and $10 for adults beginning at 5 p.m. today at the JCPenney building on East Main Street. All proceeds from the boxing event will go to support local youth programs.
There also will be storytelling this evening with Jeff Gere, a teller-in-residence at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough. Gere, who hails from Hawaii, will spin his tales beginning at 6 p.m. at the Gazebo Storytelling Stage.
Ralph Davis, the chairman of the Umoja Festival, told Press staff writer Jennifer Sprouse the food will be as diverse as the music is at today’s events.
“What we emphasize is unity,” Davis said. “Everyone’s welcome.”
In fact, Umoja is the Swahili word for “unity.” 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.
For more information about the festival or today’s schedule of events, go to Umoja’s website at www.umojajc.org.