The Chapel Hill Public Library is hosting a Umoja read-in on Oct. 8 in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP. The event will feature live music and performances by Black authors.
Umoja means "unity" in Swahili, one of the most spoken languages on the continent of Africa.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP first convened in 1947 at the Hargraves Community Center, and its official anniversary is Oct. 23.
“Whenever we as African Americans and as Blacks can lift up that language, it brings us connection to our homeland,” Deborah Stroman, treasurer of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and UNC professor, said.
The upcoming 75th anniversary creates unity, Stroman said.
The read-in will feature live music, specifically African drumming, which Stroman said has historically been used to communicate, celebrate and uplift African communities. There will also be a selection of African American soul food as well as traditional African cuisine served at the event.
Stroman said it was essential to find caterers and musicians who can authentically make African food and perform music. She also said the dress code is traditional African garb or colorful clothing.
The program is not just a celebration of 75 years of social justice work but of Black people and Black culture. The main event will be live performances of work created by Black authors to celebrate and uplift Black culture. Members of the community will share their favorite poems, literature and songs from Black creators.
Ebony Readers/Onyx Theatre, the Black Student Movement poetry group, will also be performing.
Government officials will attend the event, including N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee (D-Chatham, Orange), Chapel Hill Town Council member Karen Stegman and Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils, according to Stroman.
“Our charge as participants is to read works by people who are part of the African diaspora and to lift African American voices,” Seils said.
He added that many people have chosen to read works that are meaningful to them. He said he selected a piece that speaks to the experience of the poet's voice but also resonates with him personally. Seils did not name the poet to keep it as a surprise for the event.
Leah Cox, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at UNC, said she has also been asked to read at the event.
She said she will be reading an excerpt from a book written by someone she personally knew who was involved in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. This person also helped develop the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP. She, like Seils, also chose not to name the author to preserve suspense.
Cox said there are about 27 guests presenting their chosen works, and they each have about four minutes.
“I love spoken word, I love poetry, so I'm excited to hear what people have chosen,” she said.
She also said she is new to the community, having only been in Chapel Hill for a year, so she is looking forward to meeting members of the Black community, in addition to those she has met at UNC.
“I think this will be one of the highlights of the Chapel Hill community for the entire year,” Stroman said.
Along with the reading, there will be several other events to commemorate the 75th anniversary, including a tour of the Town's historically Black sites on Oct. 15, a celebratory gala on Oct. 22 and a gathering at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP’s founding site on Oct. 23.
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