Who We Are

Umoja centers students in our mission,
adults in our practice. 


  • Founded by Lila Leff in 1997, Umoja has supported Chicago Public Schools for 21 years. Time has revealed that more equitable education for students could only be achieved by equipping adults with new skills to meet students more holistically. 
  • Through direct student service-provision, Umoja staff were able to impact the lives of hundreds of students across the city of Chicago through SEL programming. 
  • By investing in sustainable adult learning, practices, and mindsets, we equip a community of educators to exponentially expand the impact of Umoja's best-practices in Chicago and across the nation.  



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.

The Umoja logo incorporates the kinara, a symbol of Kwanzaa. The kinara 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.

Our logo was designed by former staff person and board member Andres Hernandez who reflects, “The Kinara captures the influence of those who have gone before us and demonstrates the important impact we will have on future generations.”