Julie Ryno
Wisconsin-Based Umoja Co-Founder
When my husband and I were preparing to adopt, we had a wonderful social worker that helped us understand that adopting a child from a different culture wasn’t about what we would accept; it was about what we could offer. We learned that loving our child meant more than providing a happy home, it meant that we had to help them develop a sense of pride in their birth culture. So began our journey to Umoja. Starting in 2005, I, along with Dr. Bola Delano-Oriaran began to explore what we could offer as a heritage camp for families that looked like mine. My husband and I have two beautiful African American children. We are white. We knew that Umoja (Swahili for Unity) has to help the entire family, not just the children. So Dr. Delano and I planned programming for the entire family. Parents and children have age appropriate sessions that cover everything from how to deal with racism to celebrating the music of Africa. From the start our goal has been to give families the tools needed to raise happy, healthy black children who feel good about their blackness.

Alisa Matheson
UMOJA MN Coordinator
My history with UMOJA starts in 2015 when I attended UMOJA Wisconsin in 2015 as a parent, with my then 3 year old daughter.  During that weekend, I was so impressed with the commitment to learning from adoptees and people of color.   After that experience, I came back to MN hoping that we could replicate their model as I knew we had both the need (many adoptive families) and the expertise (many adoptees and professionals of color) in our community.  After talking with my colleagues at EVOLVE Adoption & Family Services, and with the full support of Julie & Dr Bola from Wisconsin, we forged ahead and held UMOJA MN for the first time in 2016 with 22 families families in attendance.  In 2017 we grew to a total of 35 families coming out to learn and connect with one another.  I continue to be excited to see the dream become a reality to have families in Minnesota, Wisconsin & surrounding states become better equipped to raise black children well.