For 30 years, UMOJA Magazine has been at the forefront of providing positive news in the African American community. It is the must-have, “never throw away” publication in homes and offices across Dane County since 1990.
Few may be aware of its founding history. Carolyn Ewing and friends started UMOJA, Swahili word meaning unity, as a two-page calendar of events on bright yellow paper. Milele Chikasa Anana took the helm of UMOJA in 1992, as an eight-page newsletter retaining the calendar and introducing Hats Off, still on bright yellow paper. Known affectionately as Mother Milele or Ms. Milele, she said: “At the time my vision was to have a magazine prolific with beauty that would accent the positive things people do with their lives and with reading material that any child could keep for a lifetime.”
The magazine was created out of the responsibility of African Americans to record and report the authentic identity and history of Black people, often absent from mainstream media. Secondly, it is for Black children to find pride in knowing African American residents have been by profoundly influencing the Madison area for decades. Many can stake claim to beating the odds and becoming the “first” in their areas of achievements. Others are simply loyal, hardworking, good citizens, who continue aspiring towards excellence.
The newsletter evolved into a 48-page, monthly publication. UMOJA’s trademark is showcasing original artwork on its front cover. It is perhaps the only monthly magazine in the country that has this feature. It makes a beautiful opening and a grand stage entrance. Loyal readers treasure copies of UMOJA, making it a staple in their reading rooms and on coffee tables. Certain editions have become collector’s items.
Local artists including Jerry Butler, Jerry Jordan, Linda Mathis, David Giffey, Roosevelt Gentry, Marie Joe and Henry Hawkins, along with the work of photographers Ernest Hailey and Major Latimer have been devoted to UMOJA over the years. UMOJA has also been privileged to use the artwork of nationally known artists such as Ivan Stewart, Brenda Joysmith, Mac Eteli, Richard Powell and one-time villager Woodrow Nash. Sand paintings and thread art paintings have been used from Africa.
Ms. Milele’s son, James Danielsen Latimer, created the original UMOJA logo.
By 1994, the long-time publisher and Madison icon began the use of monthly themes except April and July. In those months, the themes are one-time special interest topic. For instance, the April 1999 issue was devoted to Village poets, which has been proven a highly popular focus. Other one-time topics have centered on collections of Black art like the opening of the Monona Terrace Community and Convention. The issue was dedicated to former mayor Paul Soglin, media profiles and a journal of travels to Africa. This edition and the NAACP’s history of Black people published in the 1970’s gives the most complete overview of our struggles, victories, our achievements, and contributions to the city of Madison.
UMOJA carried a popular column called Hats Off, which was a collection of small stories about people and their recent achievements or involvement in events. Nourish Your Mind is another column which was designed to be thought provoking. Child of the Month and Teen of the month give recognition to individual young people. The magazine also featured a health column and a section of job advertisements. The Celebrate feature announces births, marriages, and other tidbits of good news.
UMOJA has always had a cadre of dedicated volunteers. Chief among them is Dana Warren who has been with UMOJA from the very beginning.
For 28 years the Madison icon demonstrated how African Americans are more than ballers or criminals headlining the evening news. She proved otherwise, revealing that there is no shortage of news about the successes of Black doctors, lawyers, teachers, jazz musicians, ballet dancers, artists, authors, students, community activist and leaders.
At 84, the long-time publisher and Madison icon retired in October 2018. The Urban League of Greater Madison created a nonprofit entity UMOJA Magazine-Madison, Inc. to purchase UMOJA Magazine from Ms. Milele. The transition changed hands, effective Nov. 1, 2018. Yvette L. Craig was named publisher and editor of UMOJA on Jan. 7, 2019, and Ms. Milele serves as publisher emeritus.
The transition included a revamped look, including a new logo, a brightly colorful calendar and a new section titled UMOJA Shorts, which highlight commemorative moments of people of color across Madison the state and the nation.
Ms. Milele instilled in her successor this message: “We must remember that our presence would likely be omitted from most historical accounts if it is not written down and accounted for by us … very proud, very beautiful, Black people.”