The Heights

Updated: March 09, 2017

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Umoja students bond outside the classroom

This fall, Foothill launched Umoja Community, dedicated to supporting first-year African American students through a more concerted focus on black culture, history and community. About 60 students participated during the first quarter of classes. Instructors Sam White and Kimberly Escamill taught the first round of English classes, and the goal is for students to complete English 1A or 1B by spring 2017. But the program offers much more than communal classes.

As the name implies, Umoja Community creates a space for the entire group to meet.  A communications discussion course served that purpose this quarter. Students also shared a common counselor in Tracee Cunningham, who met with students regularly and joined in some of the off campus trips.

A visit to the Foothill Umoja Facebook page reveals many activities that took place this fall, including an opening dinner and ceremony in September, engagement in their classes during the first weeks of school, travel to an Umoja Symposium in Los Angeles in November, and a visit to UC Berkeley in December.

While an emphasis on academics and pathways to transfer is key to the success of Umoja students, bonding and supporting each other is equally important. Some students received a double dose of support from each other. Several football players were encouraged to join Umoja during the training season before classes began. With the football season over, the players who are also part of Umoja, can continue to be there for each other in the classroom as they were on the field.

For example, Shawnbre Smith, a wide receiver who plans to study sports medicine, says the best part of Umoja has been how much support they are given, and how everyone is on him and will help with new things. As for how his perspective has changed, he says the experience so far has made him a better person.

Brenden Visperas, a communications major and offensive tackle, chose to attend Foothill because he heard they take care of their students in the football program. His football coach encouraged him to join Umoja. The best part for him is that he feels supported. Participation in the program has also given him more pride in his culture.

In the coming quarters, Umoja students will continue to study a variety of literary contributions from various authors, such as Phillis Wheatley, David Walker, Malcolm X, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robert Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes, Desmond Tutu, Barack Obama, and other trendsetters, artists and intellectuals, 

To learn more about the Umoja Community at Foothill, follow the group on Facebook and Instagram, and join in the conversation with them. You can also read more about the Umoja experience in a Palo Alto Online feature Building unity at Foothill.

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