Umoja is a program at Bakersfield College that helps African-American students succeed in the classroom and in life. 

“Umoja,” meaning “unity” in Kiswahili, is a community and resource dedicated to strengthening the cultural and educational futures of African-American students. Not only does the program develop students into leaders and role models within their communities, they are each other’s support system and family.

The Umoja community began in 2015, but Dr. Paula Parks, Umoja Community coordinator admits the road to establish the program at BC wasn’t an easy one. While attending a conference years ago for Bakersfield College at the University of Southern California, she met with someone from institutional research to analyze equity work and data acquired by race.

“I didn’t know the difference in African-American success and the success in other communities. When I saw (the data), I really needed to do something,” said Parks.

The idea of establishing a Umoja community at BC came from a Chabot College associate, who was familiar with the program. Driven to make a change, Parks brought the idea back with her to BC but was then rejected by the president at the time. Rejection didn’t stop Parks. The idea was brought back seven years later to BC President Sonya Christian, who was interested in the equity gaps and helping all groups succeed.

Parks also mentions the Umoja community has doubled its number of students each year and they have developed more courses strengthening the education of African-American students. Aside from English courses available, the program offers classes in astronomy, math and history.

Umoja community membership Chair Kierra Littles said the program has helped her succeed in the classroom and helped further her education by transferring into an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) next year.

“It inspired me to stick with what I’m doing and stick with my schooling,” said Littles.

Umoja offers courses that students need to graduate but the focus includes African-American culture. Aside from the courses available, students take advantage of the resources and field trips provided to help them advance in their education.

“Students can connect to the content and it’s relative to their life and that’s probably what accounts for the increased success rates. They also have mentors and counselors that keep (the students) on track to graduate,” said Parks.

Umoja community Vice President Sha’ron Bradley said the program has motivated her education since she joined.

“I would not be where I am now. When I met Dr. Parks, my whole school life changed. I became focused and realized what I wanted to do in life and how I needed to get there,” said Bradley. “The program really motivates you to do better to succeed for whatever you want in life.”

The Umoja community at BC sees 50 students every year and students continue to be a part of the program even after graduation. The program holds 18 different practices to lead their students to success. Community, mentoring, mattering and encircling diversity are a few practices Umoja holds high.

“Umoja is family. It’s really uplifting,” said Bradley. 

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