Collage of photos depicting joyous scenes from 2021's Umoja Fest.

Celebrate Black Heritage, Joy, and Unity at Umoja Fest 2022

by Patheresa Wells

This weekend, the three-day Umoja Fest Africatown Heritage Festival & Parade will take place August 5–7 at Judkins Park. The festival has paid tribute to the rich and historic heritage of Seattle’s Black communities for over 70 years. The festival started as part of the International Festival in the 1940s and has evolved, having been called at different points the East Madison Mardi Gras and the Pacific Northwest Black Community Festival. And according to Umoja Fest’s website, it “has been credited as the inspiration behind SEAFAIR” and continues to be held during the annual Seafair events. 

The Swahili word umoja means unity. Therefore, Umoja Fest is a celebration of Black unity and love. The event includes musical entertainment, children’s group performances, dance, food, vendors, and a parade. The Umoja Fest Africatown Heritage Parade will be Saturday, Aug. 6, at 1 p.m., starting on Cherry Street and going down 23rd to Judkins. The parade will include recognition of Umoja Fest Parade Marshalls, nominated by members of the community for their contributions in categories such as Youth Leadership, Business, and Health & Wellness, as well as a “crowning” of a Umoja Queen Mother and Umoja King. 

With three days packed with entertainment, there will be so much to enjoy during the festival. The Afrobeats & Kulture Stage will feature an African Print Takeover with work from the collections of Wolf Delux, TASWIRA African Art & Design, and Ayo Collections. There will also be numerous DJs, including DJ Marley Marl and DJ NIQQ. Nickson Gakure, known as DJ NIQQ, has entertained at other events, like the Black-Owned Business Excellence event at a recent Juneteenth celebration, and at Africans in Tech Fest, but this is his first time performing at Umoja Fest. Originally from Kenya, he says it is a privilege to provide music for the event. “As a deep-rooted immigrant, the African culture and heritage plays a huge role in the way I curate my DJ sets. The vibe picked from these sets depicts and often gives a ton of fun, excitement, and sense of belonging. It brings the feeling of being African close to my fans,” he said. 

When speaking to the need for Black-centered events, he said, “Building Black community in a country dominated by white culture is always my number one pillar of strength and ownership. The gratification I get seeing beautiful people come together, dance, laugh, mingle, and build this community is fulfilling to me as a performer as well as a participant.”

In addition to DJs, R&B and soul recording artist Raheem DeVaughn will take the main stage Saturday evening at sunset so folks can jam as the night progresses. 

Umoja Fest is an all-ages space for Black joy and representation. Check out previous Emerald coverage of the event for a look at celebrations in years past. Umoja Fest is an opportunity for Seattle’s African Diaspora to celebrate their heritage and come together in unity in a multiday experience that promotes the beauty, history, and culture of Black people.

Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.

📸 Featured Image: Some scenes from last year’s Umoja Fest, a celebration of Seattle’s Black heritage and communities that has taken place annually for over 60 years. (Photos: Susan Fried)

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