Celebrating Unity with UMOJA

Highlighting DRC’s Employee Resource Group, Umoja, a safe space for employees that identify as Black
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Celebrating Unity with UMOJA

In recognition of February as Black History Month, we are excited to uplift Umoja, which is one of Disability Rights California’s (DRC) employee resource groups.

Umoja is a safe space for DRC employees that identify as Black to share experiences and come together, unified, to support, encourage, listen and share ideas. The goal is to move forward in a positive direction creating a purposeful, work-life balance.

Umoja is one of 11 employee resource groups (ERG) available for DRC employees to join. ERGs are voluntary employee-led groups that come together for the purpose of professional and personal development. The goal of the ERGs is to offer a space for employees to gather and share ideas and information with their peers across the organization.

As an ERG, Umoja publishes agency-wide newsletters that share history, culture, perspectives, and other information.Umoja hosts internal events for staff and external facing events for the community throughout the year. Additionally, Umoja shares recommendations to DRC leadership for changes to internal policies and procedures.

We spoke with some of the founding members of Umoja, Vicki Bass, Grants Analyst in the Legal Advocacy Unit; Desiree Delonia, the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access; Leslie Napper, Senior Advocate in the Legal Advocacy Unit’s Mental Health Practice Group; and Aisha Novasky, Senior Attorney in the Legal Advocacy Unit’s Civil Rights Practice Group about their experience with the ERG.


Umoja was founded in 2020 as a response to the polarizing climate of cultural conversations surrounding the murder of George Floyd.

Leslie described it as a “synergy” as she reached out to Desiree and Vicki who then reached out to Aisha looking for an organized way to connect. Aisha described being contacted by Vicki—who she didn’t know previously—as coming at a time when she “really needed it.”


“It really was like, wow, look at this person who doesn't even know me, who I have no idea exists, and is reaching out to just connect and see how we can unite as black folks in the organization,” Aisha said.

Vicki expressed that she wanted to be part of starting Umoja because she desired a safe space to support, uplift and encourage other Black staff members. In fact, she often found herself checking-in on other Black staff informally. Desiree echoed those sentiments and appreciated that Umoja served as an organized place to gather.

“We’re creating the space for ourselves, and it finally felt like an okay time and place to do it,” Desiree said.

Umoja’s Initiatives

After its founding, the members of Umoja set off right away with initiatives that they proposed to DRC leadership. Umoja works as a collective and an ally, uplifting internal policies to create an inclusive and supportive environment, endorsing public statements, and focusing on solution-oriented recommendations such as the newly created Reasonable Accommodations Specialist position.


One of the first initiatives was advocating for DRC to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday for staff members, which has since taken effect.

Just to name a few, other initiatives included hosting a fireside chat with state legislators, hosting webinars, community outreach, and creating informational videos about the intersection of Black history and disability justice.


“For me, it just goes to show that our Black staff are repeatedly showing up in spaces to try to be an ally for all folks, and not just Black employees,” Desiree said.

Gathering in Support

Umoja has continued to grow since its inception, adding members often through personally reaching out to new staff to share that Umoja is available as a resource. Umoja members shared that their monthly virtual meetings are a time to gather and celebrate both personal and professional success, build historical connections, seek out solutions, and foster leadership.

“Members know that they can come and share and just kind of brainstorm maybe some solutions to different people’s issues that they may be having at work,” Vicki said. “It’s just such a supportive place.”

As the ERG has expanded, Leslie said she is proud of the “vast diaspora” that Umoja represents, noting that there are members who identify as African American, Afro-Latinx, African and more.

"I love it [Umoja] because it brings varying perspectives as it relates to not only Black employee concerns, or issues, or what's happening within one's community but the celebration of being Black!” Leslie said.

Some Members shared what being in UMOJA means to them

Eric Harris shaking hands with Kamala Harris

"UMOJA started out as a crucial ERG for so many Black employees at DRC. We have been grateful to have time to connect with others and talk about internal work issues and other non-work-related stuff that impact the Black community. UMOJA has become more of a family for staff, connecting newer Black staff with more veteran staff and everyone in between.

In 2024, I am excited for the opportunity that the Black community has on the work that DRC does.

DRC has made an intentional effort to think intersectional first and lift up the experiences of Black disabled people, other people of color and part of other marginalized communities. I am excited for UMOJA, Black disabled people and the Black community broadly and our potential impact on the 2024 Election. A lot of important issues and candidates are on the ballot in 2024 and UMOJA has a great opportunity to lift up those issues and candidates.”

–Eric Harris

Director of Public Policy

“Being part of UMOJA has been a highlight of my experience at DRC. I look forward to our calls and just connecting with each person that’s part of UMOJA. It’s refreshing to be able to pull away from my legislative and political responsibilities when my schedule permits and “check in” on how each one of us is doing, what we hope to accomplish, what we are looking forward to and also discuss programs and activities we can work together on to highlight our unique shared experiences.”

–Sawait Seyoum

Senior Legislative Advocate, Public Policy

“Umoja fills my cup! I look forward to our monthly meetings, cherishing the opportunities they provide for connection. I am so grateful for the safe, brave, creative, supportive, empowering space we have as employees that identify as Black/African American/of African Heritage through Umoja ERG.

But what I LOVE the most about Umoja is our collective spirit! While Umoja means Unity, we also embrace other principles, such as Ubuntu — the belief that “I am because We are.” To me, Umoja embraces this interconnectedness and shared identity that goes beyond unity.

–Leslie Napper

Senior Advocate, Legal Advocacy Unit-Mental Health Practice Group

“What I love most about UMOJA is feeling so connected to each and every member, even though I’ve only met some of them a couple of times, or not at all. Because of the safe and welcoming space UMOJA has created, when we’re together – in person or virtually – it feels like being surrounded by family.”

–Aisha Novasky

Senior Attorney, Legal Advocacy Unit-Civil Rights Practice Group

"UMOJA ERG is amazing! I look forward to our monthly meetings with joy. It is such a comfortable, engaging, fun, creative, thoughtful, safe space. We encourage and support one another with love and understanding”

–Vicki Bass

Grants Analyst, Legal Advocacy Unit-Grants

“I am excited for the Umoja ERG to continue to educate, uplift, inspire, advocate for, and share space with not only our current and future Black staff but our allies alike.”

–Desiree Delonia

Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA)

“Our daily work is challenging, and remote work can feel isolating at times. I am truly grateful for the community I’ve found in Umoja. Umoja has created a space that constantly uplifts its members and encourages our growth as individuals and as an agency.”

–Kristen Evans

Staff Attorney, Legal Advocacy Unit, Housing Stability Project

"What being part of this ERG means to me is having a safe space to learn, share thoughts and ideas but also receive guidance and feedback that is impartial. A space where your story is not only heard but validated. A space where you feel a sense of belonging." Umoja ni nguvu” meaning; “Together we are strong. “Kidole kimoja hakivunji chawa” meaning; “One finger does not swat/squish lice.”

–Aimee Jones

Diversity Coordinator for DEIA Unit

“Being a member of Umoja has been an absolute pleasure. I am thankful for this safe space and sense of community. I appreciate the moments that we are able to share things developing within the Black community and even our support and allyship to other communities. DRC is the first organization that I have been a part of that has Employee Resource Groups and I am grateful for finding one that meets my needs.”

–Sabrina McCall

Senior Advocate-Legal Advocacy Unit-Pathways to Work Practice Group, Client Assistance Program (CAP)

Looking Forward

Going into 2024, a theme that was shared is the concept of “rest is resistance” that Umoja members want to embody.

“I'm excited about the ideas that we are going to have this year about self-care and self-love,” Vicki said. “Based on how incredibly busy we started out and all that we accomplished over the years, we made the collective decision to rest from so much of the outward work and focus more on self-care and self-love with thoughtfulness going forward.”

“Just continuing to show up in the way that I feel like we have done in the past by putting on trainings and presentations,” Desiree said. “So, people could learn more about why we show up the way that we do.”

Some of the Umoja Members Throughout the Year

A photo collage of Umoja members