Background of the Umoja Name

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. - African Proverb

Our full name, Umoja Student Development Corporation, was decided by the first Board of Directors. Included on the Board were the Principal of Manley High School (our original school partner) and other long-time residents and stakeholders of the North Lawndale community in Chicago.

Umoja Student Development Corporation emerged after the completion of a single family home rehab project with students from the North Lawndale community. While there was discussion about making community development the focus of our work during our incorporation process, the board felt strongly about keeping students at the center and chose to represent that commitment in our name and official logo.

Umoja (oo-MO-jah) is the Kiswahili word for "unity." While the Kiswahili language was used in the early 19th century and is spoken today by millions of people of Bantu origin, the concept of Umoja dates back to ancient times.

As the first of the seven Nguzo Saba (principles) of Kwanzaa*, Umoja represents the significance of building, enhancing and promoting unity with self, family and community. The name Umoja captures our vision for cultivating a shared belief in the capacity of all young people to grow, learn and assume self-responsibility.

Designed by former staff person and board member Andres Hernandez, the Umoja logo incorporates the kinara, a symbol of Kwanzaa. The kinara or Kwanzaa candle holder represents the connection to one’s ancestors. It holds three red candles on the right, one black candle in the middle which represents the principle of Umoja and three green candles on the left.

Andres says, “The Kinara captures the influence of those who have gone before us and demonstrates the important impact we will have on future generations. We knew from the beginning that this would be an essential lesson for Umoja to keep in the forefront of our work.”

 *Please see for more information.