Photo of the Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle on horseback carrying flags for the Umoja Day of Unity and Black Love Parade.

PHOTO ESSAY: Umoja Fest 2021 Brings the Community Together

by Susan Fried


The 2021 Umoja Fest Day of Unity parade and festival drew hundreds of people to Jimi Hendrix Park on Aug. 7 for a day of celebrating Black entrepreneurship, music, and art. For more than 50 years Seattle’s Black community has held a summer festival. Starting in 1952, it was called the East Madison Mardi Gras, later transforming into the Pacific Northwest Black Community Festival, and in 1997 it became the Umoja Fest African Heritage Festival.

This year’s event featured a Black Unity march from 23rd Avenue and East Union Street to Jimi Hendrix Park; a children’s village; and dozens of music and dance performances by artists like Zach Bruce, April Shantae, Johnny Grant, Kutt ’N’ Up, and Skye Dior. Vendors sold food, beverages, art, household items, and clothing. Local nonprofits such as the Harriet Tubman Center for Health and Freedom, the African Americans Reach and Teach Health Ministry (AARTH), Feed the People, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute had booths to spread the word about their organization’s missions in the community. 

Wyking Garrett, the president and CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust, grew up in the Central District and remembers the Black community festivals through the years and how important they were. He spoke to the crowd this year about celebrating Black love: “What I need us to really do is change the vibration; we got to change the frequency we have to tune in and unify with Black love in our community,” he said. “Tupac said Thug Life stood for ‘the hate u give little infants f***s everybody.’ The opposite of that is, if we give the love to our children properly, we got to put our families back together because that’s where it starts. Then we put our communities, which is just a family of families, and then we put the love back in it, that’s what I want to focus on.”

Photo of Black-presenting individuals sitting in lawn chairs along 23rd Avenue waiting for a parade to begin.
People along 23rd Avenue wait for the arrival of the Umoja Day of Unity and Black Love Parade on Aug. 7, 2021. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of the Seattle All-City Marching Band in their bright-green uniform shirts with bright-white trousers gathered in a semi-circle around a conductor.
The Seattle All-City Marching Band rehearses before the start of the Umoja Day of Unity and Black Love Parade. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of Central District Elders Kibibi Monie, Dawn Mason, and Harriet Walden in the interior of a parade car.
A car carrying honored Central District Elders Kibibi Monie, Dawn Mason, Harriet Walden, and Dr. Maxine Mimms (not pictured) during the Umoja Day of Unity and Black Love Parade. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of the Dolls and Gents Drumline marching.
The Dolls and Gents Drill Team and Drumline march in the Umoja Day of Unity and Black Love Parade from 23rd Avenue and East Union Street to Jimi Hendrix Park. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of Renee and her 1-year-old granddaughter in the interior of a parade car.
Renee and her 1-year-old granddaughter arrive at the end of the 2021 Umoja Day of Unity Black Love Parade. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of the Electronettes Drill Team in bright red and black sequined regalia with silver pom-poms walking down a sidewalk towards Jimi Hendrix Park.
The Electronettes Drill Team arrives at the Umoja Festival after marching in the Umoja Day of Unity and Black Love Parade on August 7th. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of Devon, aka Art Deity, working on a brightly colored painting at her booth in Jimi Hendrix Park.
Devona, aka Art Deity, works on an art piece. Dozens of small businesses participated in the annual Umoja Festival. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of Free Flo Fit in black unitards doing jumping jacks on stage.
Free Flo Fit runs a workout session before the start of the musical entertainment. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Festival goers writing messages in color chalk on the blackboard-painted food truck.
Festival goers were invited to write in chalk on the Riot Kitchen food truck. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Close-up photo of Johnny Grant singing into a microphone.
Johnny Grant performs with his singing partner April Shantae. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of a group of individuals dancing on park grass.
Festival attendees, including TraeAnna Holiday of Converge Media and Africatown Community Land Trust, dance during a performance by April Shantae and Johnny Grant. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of April Shantae singing into a microphone.
April Shantae. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of Jamerika Haynes-Lewis wearing a crown and colorful gown as well as her USA Ambassador Ms. 2021 sash.
Jamerika Haynes-Lewis, USA Ambassador Ms. 2021, dances to music. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of Comedian General Mutombo walking onto a grass-field stage holding a microphone.
Comedian General Mutombo entertains the audience. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of individuals in an audience at a park reacting to performances.
The audience reacts to a performance during the 2021 Umoja Festival at Jimi Hendrix Park. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of a 4 Apple Learning Center youth and instructors and chaperones pose for the camera.
A 4 Apple Learning Center poses for a group picture at Umoja Festival. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Photo of a female-presenting youth sliding happily down an inflatable slide.
A little girl slides down an inflatable in the Children’s Village at the annual Umoja Festival. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Susan Fried is a 40-year veteran photographer. Her early career included weddings, portraits, commercial work — plus shes been The Skanner’s Seattle photographer for 25 years. Her images have appeared in the University of Washington Daily, the Seattle Globalist, Crosscut, and many more. She’s been an Emerald contributor since 2015. Follow her on Instagram @fried.susan.

📸 Featured Image: The Buffalo Soldiers of Seattle lead the 2021 Umoja Day of Unity Black Love Parade on Aug. 7, 2021. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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