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Umoja Village expands into its new classroom

The Umoja Black Scholars expanded their community space for students in the first week of the spring semester.

By Natalie Metcalf, Valley Life Editor

(L-R) Dr. Elliott Coney congratulates Valley College alumnus AJ Ajibola for graduating and becoming a police officer during an event hosted by Umoja Black Scholars on Feb. 8. (Miguel Diaz | Valley Star)

Black scholars and allies crowded into Campus Center on Wednesday afternoon, some people waiting outside the door when Umoja Village unveiled their new expanded space.

More than 60 students and staff enjoyed karaoke, food and the words of Dr. Elliott Coney, counselor coordinator of Umoja Black Scholars, as he thanked administrators and professors for the success of the program. Valley College President Barry Gribbons was also in attendance, speaking volumes about Coney’s success in running the program. In April 2019, Umoja moved into the Campus Center. Now the space has expanded to two connected classrooms for students to hang out, connect and receive academic advice. On average around 30 Monarchs use Umoja Village every day.

“I’m in a space where I get to serve others and get to provide an opportunity for students to build hope and confidence in what they're doing here,” said Coney, before the event. “We can show there is a lot of black connectivity in the Valley and that there is a place where black students need to be successful.”

The Umoja Black Scholars program focuses on mentoring and helping African American students with their career goals and transfer process, while heloing to build leadership and awareness in multicultural communities.

The program has seen an increase in student engagement since 2018, starting with 25 students and growing to well over 150 students each year this year. The highest number of students the program has ever seen was 233 students last year.

“Umoja, to me, is a space where you can connect with other Black people and feel at home,” said second-year student Kandice Vass. “You feel understood and I think when you’re in predominantly non-Black spaces, you don’t always feel super seen or heard.”

Vass first met Coney in a counseling class last Spring, where she first began attending program meetings.

“This idea that you could make a school as big as Valley, very small, and make it a part of a community is a value to students who are feeling out of place, lost and not sure how to navigate here,” said Keidra Morris, professor of African American Studies. “My favorite part is teaching the students and helping them learn about the history their parents and grandparents have been a part of.”

Black History Month occurs every February in remembrance and tribute to African Americans' struggles to receive full citizenship and civil rights in history.

The new space opening is one of many events Umoja Black Scholars has planned in celebration for Black History Month. The following two events Umoja Black Scholars is hosting will be focused on allyship in the black community and mental health. These workshops will give Umoja members professional development experience, which is one of the main goals the program offers to students.

“Word to mouth is very powerful. We have a stronghold in the community,” said Coney. “People are starting to know that we're here.”


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