Umoja Circles: A Free, Online Group Processing/Emotional Support Space for the Black & African Community

Project Intro

The disregard and lack of concern for Black bodies have been evident throughout history. As a result of years of Anti-Black racism, individuals from the Black and African diaspora have been unjustly criticized, criminalized, and left disenfranchised. This inequitable distribution of power and resources has had a negative compounding effect on the community. A boiling point was reached in 2020 when a public lynching of George Floyd occurred at the hands of three police officers. As a result of this civil and social injustice, people of all races and ethnicities came together to fight for justice and equality. To properly advance, the Black community needs to heal from the decades of slavery and the post-traumatic slave syndrome. Psychoeducation pertains to social work, teaching individuals coping mechanisms from a strengths-based perspective that includes teachings with an emphasis on psychosocial and emotional processing.

The curriculum invites participants to connect with their ancestors and work to find and implement joy into their lives. An individual who has stable mental health, a connection to their ancestors, and a life of joy and purpose can begin to work to dismantle the decades of systematic oppression. After the three sessions, program participants will receive an intense introduction to health education. In the fourth session, participants and the facilitator(s) should have built enough rapport to address the topic of health and positive body image. In the Black community, health is one of the significant contributors to shortening lifespans. Often a topic left unaddressed in healing spaces and therapy. In the spirit of Umoja, participants will learn about healthy habits and strategies that they can add to their lives to ensure they increase their life expectancy and live vibrant lives. Health literacy can be improved through the provision of information, effective communication, and structured education.

Project Outcomes and Deliverables

Outcome 1
Providing Honorariums to Participants:

As a result of the micro-grant, we were able to begin to provide honorariums to our program participants. Group members and workshop participants received $25 as an incentive towards attending the Umoja Circles groups. The grant helped support three group participants who engaged in six hours of emotional processing space.

Outcome 2
Creating an Instructor’s Manual:

Umoja Circles facilitators started the process of creating an instructor’s manual and workbook for participants. The goal is to use feedback from our initial workbook to create additional workbooks for people who are not a part of a Umoja Circles cohort. Collectively, we are working to examine our core curriculum and instructor’s manual.

Outcome 3
Create a Marketing Plan:

The Umoja Circles team has created a marketing plan to broaden our outreach to the community via social media advertising, creating logo-branded materials to provide to participants and staff, hosting in-person community events, and creating a website.

Outcome 4
Create Branding Materials:

Currently, we have partnered with a web designer who is working on creating the design for the workbook, program logo, and other branding materials. In addition, the team is collecting data from previous cohort members about the effectiveness of the program so that we can tailor our outreach and website design.



During the 2021-2022 grant year, the Action Lab Umoja Circles Team was able to use grant funding to begin the in-depth strategic planning to develop the instructor’s guide ideas, grow outreach efforts and brainstorm promotional ideas. Year one focused on the groundwork of content for the curriculum, instructor manual, and outreach material. The team began outreach to community-based agencies and facilitated the initial cohort of participants. These efforts took time and planning, that has now paved the way for moving the innovations forward. Over this upcoming year, Umoja Circles will finalize the project outcomes and continue to advance the foundational work accomplished over the past year. The micro-grant funding has been incredibly beneficial in providing the initiative with the opportunity to set goals for our work moving forward. Given our ongoing commitment and moving to implementation and full completion, we request a carry-over of funds to complete the objectives of the UC racial justice micro-grant project goals. The budget allocated for items 3-6 will provide the outreach necessary for community participation. Item 1 will carry over and provide incentives to anticipated participants as we plan and recruit for three groups offered this year. Item 2 will provide the necessary instructional materials to facilitators and participants.

Over the course of this academic year, we will continue to support our outside vendors and community leaders to execute all of the items outlined in our budget. Please see the itemized budget above. Thank you for your consideration.

Team Members

Ashley “Ash” Cole, Jr.

Ashley Cole, Jr., better known as Ash, is a native of FarRockaway, Queens, a graduate of Queens College, and a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work. Ash is now a first-year doctoral candidate at Columbia University School of Social Work. Ash served as the Vice-President of the Association of Black Social Workers at Columbia University, a Student Advisor for the Action Lab, a Research Assistant at the SafeLab, a Student Ambassador, a Beyond the Bars Fellow Alumni, the Lead Facilitator for Umoja Circles, Psychotherapist, and Professor. He’s also a Co-Editor of the book entitled Unwritten: Stories from Behind and Beyond the Bars. He is well known for countless events in which he has moderated and co-moderated throughout his tenure at the Columbia School of Social Work. As a first-generation graduate student, he shares many of the lived experiences of the people he serves. He’s an advocate for criminal justice reform, fathers who the child support enforcement unit has negatively impacted, and the mental health of young Black boys in academia. You can find him spending time with his family when he’s not working to break the bondage of systematic oppression.

Chantel Plummer

Chantal is a second-year Reduced Residency student on the Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming track at CSSW. Chantel has a background in child protection and juvenile justice in New York City. She’s interested in effecting change within governmental agency policies that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities of lower socioeconomic status. She is dedicated to educating and advocating for others navigating inequitable systems. Currently, her roles include being an Action Lab Advisor, Administrator and Outreach Representative for Umoja Circles, Action for Black Lives (ABL) Advisor, and serving as one of the Senior Editors of ABL’s Melanated newsletter.

Deidra D V Brooks (She/Her/Hers)

Deidra Brooks is a second-year Master of Social Work student at Columbia University School of Social Work. Her expected graduation date is in May of 2022, with an academic concentration in Advanced General Practice and Programming with specialty training in health, mental health, and disabilities Deidra works to transfer her skills and knowledge to empower her family and community. In the university, she serves as an Action for Black Lives Advisor, Secretary for the Association of Black Social Workers-Columbia University Chapter (ABSW-CU), Co-Leader of the First-Generation Low SES Caucus, and Co-Host of the Action Lab’s Ebony Tower: Racial Justice Podcast.

Eva Gordon

Eva Gordon, LMSW (she/her), is a psychotherapist in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently providing clinical supervision to the Umoja Circles facilitator at the CSSW Action Lab. This is her second year with the Umoja Circles and enjoys being a part of an initiative that wants to provide a safe space to the Black community of NYC. As a 2007 alumnus of CSSW, she enjoys supporting and guiding her fellow social workers in this initiative, enhancing their professional and personal journeys. Eva also takes pride in providing mental health services to the Black community with psychotherapy, mental health workshops, and being a panelist at community mental health events.

Gabriela Carrillo

Gabriela Carrillo (she/her/Ella) is an MSW graduate student with a clinical specialization at Columbia University. Previous to pursuing her graduate degree, Gabriela graduated as a Chicanx and Central American Studies Major from UCLA. Her educational and professional career has rooted her approaches to care and healing in intersectional and liberatory frameworks. She wants to provide individual therapy, community support programs, and educational models to address eating disorders and sexual violence among femmes and women of color. In doing so, she hopes to disrupt internalized and interpersonal colonial violence cycles.

May Lee

May Lee is a first-year graduate student. She is originally from Taipei, Taiwan; however, she grew up in West Texas. She plans on doing a clinical focus at Columbia University School of Social Work with a dual degree in Columbia’s Masters of Public Health program in sociomedical sciences. She is currently involved in the Reproductive Justice initiative and Umoja Circles. Her future goals are to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and work in immigrant mental health.

Nathalie Carvalho

Nathalie Carvalho is a first-year student at CCSW pursuing her MSW in Clinical Social Work. She is originally from Brazil but grew up between Brazil, Germany, Italy, and China before coming to the U.S. to pursue her undergraduate degree at NYU. She is a career-changer and was an actress professionally, with arts education, crisis intervention, and group facilitation experience; these experiences have led her to pursue her passion for mental health and social justice at this time. She is very excited to be part of the Umoja Circles and to help it grow!


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