Umoja Circles


Umoja Circles is a series of free group meetings led by Black graduate social work students who will support participants in processing emotions and addressing issues related to Black mental health. The word Umoja means unity—unity in family, community, and shared African descent - and it is integral to healing in the Black community. Umoja Circles is a virtual emotional processing support (EPS) group for the Afro Ancestry community within the five boroughs of New York City. Umoja Circle aims to unite individuals in group learning and emotional processing. The overarching goal is to provide the program participants with psychosocial and emotional skills that they can use to cope, reduce, or eliminate stress.


Umoja Circles was founded by Ethelyn Pugh in 2020 in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, amidst other incidents of police brutality in the Black community. There was also an outcry of issues during the COVID-19 response in the Black community as well. With the response of voices long silenced, Umoja Circles served as a place for those voices to be heard and listened to. The issues of anti-Black racism are not new in the Black community, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the veil of injustice was revealed for many eyes to see. Ethelyn Pugh created the Umoja Circles as her 2020-2021 field placement in the Action Lab as an Advanced Clinical student at CSSW, wanting to create a healing circle for the Black community to begin the process of restoration with tools to reduce stress and improve social-emotional support during this time. 

Mission and Values

Umoja Circles is rooted in culturally competent psychosocial and emotional awareness, education, and support. The design initially introduces mindfulness so that program participants can learn how to monitor their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors objectively. Once they establish a personal mindfulness practice, they can remove judgment of themselves and others. Next, the facilitator will offer new ways of addressing and processing ideologies, beliefs, and cultural norms resulting from the lived experiences of people from the Black and African diaspora. Umoja Circles utilizes an African-centered worldview and models of healing that have conceptual pillars, nature of reality, principles, and assumptions. One of which is the notion of spirituality and ancestral meditation. 


Since the fall of 2020, Umoja Circles has evolved into a place of comfort and support for people who are looking for a place to express themselves. During the Fall'24 cohort, we had 22 applicants and 9 completed the sessions, which was a great expansion of our new connections with the Community Board in Harlem. Umoja Circles has proven to be a valuable resource for individuals within the Black community. Through analyzing our pre- and post-session metrics, we saw a big difference in not only our participants’ average stress levels but also their willingness or interest in seeking out formal mental health care after the end of their experience with Umoja Circles. That was a hugely positive outcome in my view because, while Umoja Circles isn’t equipped to provide formal mental health care or therapy, it served as a stepping stone toward that. 

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A field of grass with the words "Keeping Safe, Staying Well, Getting Connected".