The University of Georgia Pamoja Singers, Dancers and Drama & Arts, currently represented by the African American Choral Ensemble, the Pamoja Dance Company and the Black Theatrical Ensemble, celebrated its 50 anniversary on Oct. 18 via Zoom.
The first hour of the event titled “50 Years of Grace” featured videos of UGA professors, alumni and current students who shared and celebrated their experiences with the Pamoja organizations, and the legacy of Pamoja founder, Pastor Nawanna Lewis Miller. Then, the event transitioned into a live feed of Lewis Miller and alumni who presented her with gifts of appreciation.
Jere Morehead, president of UGA, honored Lewis Miller and Pamoja at the event by presenting her with a proclamation of distinction on behalf of the university. Lewis Miller said the proclamation summed up “all of what Pamoja is.”
During the celebration of Pamoja’s golden anniversary, it was announced that a scholarship will be created in honor of Lewis Miller. The academic-based scholarship will be for UGA students who display leadership and courage.
The event featured a short sermon by Lewis Miller, who reflected on Psalm 23 and how religion shaped her experience as a student at UGA. She was a journalism student, and she spoke about her decision to go to UGA, the racism she experienced during her freshman orientation and the day she was given the position of Mistress of Cultural Affairs.
“That was the day I went back to Creswell Hall and began to craft what became Pamoja — Pamoja Singers, Pamoja Drama and Arts, Pamoja Dancers and the Journalism Association for Minorities,” she said.
Gregory Broughton, UGA professor and conductor of the AACE, introduced the event with the history of Pamoja. He said that when many Black students arrived at UGA in the 1960s, they didn’t have a place to showcase their talents in the performing arts. Lewis Miller would nurture and cultivate Pamoja organizations and spark change in the arts at UGA, he said.
Pamoja is a Swahili word that means “together,” Broughton said, and the Pamoja organizations at UGA have been bringing Black students together for 50 years. He said, on the surface, the purpose of Pamoja may look like “merely entertainment,” but in reality, it is so much more.
“[Lewis Miller] called forth a people, and a nation, to come together, stand together, walk together, talk together, sing together, dance together, march together and imposingly insist together that change for the greater good might come forth at UGA,” Broughton said.
Throughout the event, videos of previous AACE, BTE and Pamoja Dance Company performances played periodically. The videos showcased the talent of the groups and served as a break between speakers while amping up the event’s energy.
The current presidents of AACE, BTE and Pamoja Dance Company, Lauren Covington, Nala McCamy and Madison Phillips, respectively, also spoke at the event. They shared how their organizations have impacted their lives at UGA while offering gratitude to Broughton and Lewis Miller for their contributions to the programs.
“Pastor Miller, because of your courage in the face of the many adversities and challenges during your tenure at UGA, I can now have a place on this campus where I can call home,” Covington said.
UGA alumni shared their experiences of UGA during the 1970s and the significance Pamoja had on their college experience and lives. Kara Waters, another UGA alumna, shared how she met her husband in AACE, and how now her daughter is a part of the program.
Beauty Munoz, a UGA alumna and former member of AACE and BTE, said that the work of Lewis Miller has impacted thousands of UGA students. Despite the adversity Lewis Miller faced at UGA, she made a mark that will never be erased, Munoz said. Munoz presented Lewis Miller with a financial gift on behalf of Pamoja.
“We honor you, and the anointing that flows from your life all the way down through those five decades into ours,” Munoz said to Lewis Miller.