Umoja unity festival back after 1-year hiatus: Saturday at JC’s King Commons


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Johnson City’s Umoja unity festival returns Saturday from 4-11 p.m. at King Commons Park after a one-year hiatus brought on by COVID-19.

Karen Sullivan has served on Umoja’s board for several years. She said all the organizers are glad the festival is back after last year’s interruption.

“We have great music lined up and lots of vendors,” Sullivan said.

Umoja Music Schedule

  • 6-7:30 p.m. — Florencia Rusinol
  • 8-9 p.m. — The Company Band
  • 9-10:30 p.m. — Plunky and Oneness

Sullivan said unity, as always, will be the theme for a festival that traces its roots to a Unity Picnic at Carver Park in 1978.

“Unity in the community … because we’re all better together,” Sullivan said. “Because we’re stronger together. Our differences are what make the building stronger, they’re what make us stronger, they give us better outlets – it just opens up life and the world to everybody.”

Always a multicultural affair, this year’s celebration, which has been compressed to one seven-hour event Saturday, will also feature a tribute to the heroes of 9-11.

“We’ll have various members of police force and fire department coming to remember and to open things up royally on the day,” she said.

A large crowd enjoys live music at a previous festival.

Sullivan urged prospective attendees to be considerate and wear masks even though the festival is outdoors due to the region’s high COVID numbers.

“We hope everyone will wear a mask at the festival on Saturday and we will have them available,” she said.

After that, the variety of music, storytelling, kids’ activities and vendors Umoja festivalgoers have come to expect will swing into action. The ever-popular African drumming exhibition will kick things off along with the 9-11 tribute, with drumming groups coming in from Atlanta and New Orleans.

“We have Plunky and Oneness coming, the Company Band, we have some Latin music coming (from Florencia Rusinol),” Sullivan said.

The children’s area will be inside the natural playground at the park’s northeast corner, just below the library. Vendors will peddle everything from food and artisan-made crafts to clothing, Sullivan said.

Scheduled live music begins with Rusinol, who will perform from 6-7:30. The Company Band will play from 8-9.

Headlining from 9-10:30 is the Plunky and Oneness Band, a well-known Richmond, Va.-based Afro-funk jazz outfit led by renowned saxophonist/songwriter James “Plunky” Branch. Plunky and Oneness has played the festival several times in the past.

Proceeds from the festival help support Umoja’s work in the community, Sullivan said.

“It’s really a great organization because we’re looking to connect all aspects of the community,” Sullivan said. “The festival is the biggest thing that we do but we are continuing to branch out and to do other things, cultural events and arts events across the area.”

More information about Umoja, which means “unity” in Swahili, is at

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