Dr. Umar Johnson at the University of Minnesota

Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade (Johnson) at the Northrup Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus February 8, 2024

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Editor’s note: video coverage of the event was not captured with the aim to prompt critical reading and listening of this speaker’s rhetoric rather than fuel the spectacle surrounding this speaker.

A rainbow of Blackness came out to the University of Minnesota’s (U of M’s) Northrup Auditorium to experience Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade (Johnson) on a brisk, snowless February night this past Thursday. Hijabis, dreadheads, local Black community organizers, a coast-to-coast range of first-gen African Americans, and a sprinkling of young White people all had curiosity and uncertainty in common that evening.

Reactions to the Black Student Union’s (BSU’s) attempts at hype-building were simmering, not quite bubbling, right up to Dr. Umar’s entrance to the Drake-assisted Travis Scott single “Meltdown.” The restrained yet clear interest reflected the campus vibe for the week; students were surprised such a divisive and well-memed figure was booked for an appearance, yet not inspired enough to sink their teeth into the moment. No one loved or hated him that much, it seemed.

Simply put, Dr. Umar had a crowd of 200+ that wanted to be but were not yet won over. It didn’t take very long.

Dr. Umar leading the crowd in a “Black Queens forever, snowbunnies never” chant after explaining the etymology of his divined African name

At bare minimum, Dr. Umar offered something the impressionable crowd perhaps didn’t buy their tickets for: love.

For a figure inflated so much by controversy and ridiculousness, there was sincerity in the pleas made and challenges posed to the crowd in the name of Pan-Africanism. Trademark Dr. Umarisms were timed to perfection but didn’t overseason the meal. Dr. Umar spoke knowledgeably on unique Black Minnesotan issues such as Minneapolis Public Schools and local Black organizing efforts post-George Floyd.

Though bombastic, it would have been difficult for the neutral observer to walk away thinking this guy was merely a clown. He was prepared, fully present, and as insightful as he was entertaining. This is in part to the poised and professional conduct of the U of M’s BSU members moderating the forum, but they hardly had to rein in or tiptoe around their marquee guest who conducted himself humbly and answered all questions head on with some intentional, valuable tangents.

The following is a detailed account of the U of M BSU event “Empowering Minds: An Evening With Dr. Umar” with commentary on the forum organized topically rather than chronologically.

A panoramic image of the crowd at the Dr. Umar Johnson event at the University of Minnesota February 8, 2024
Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade (Johnson) at the Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota February 8, 2024

The Openers

The U of M BSU was intentional about platforming local Black talent with pro-Black politics in their work.

Brandyn Lee Tulloch kicked the night off with a burning spoken word piece plus a performance of his reggae protest track “All Power To You.”

Tulloch was followed by U of M sophomore Uchenna Ngwu with a rousing cover of Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up” (Erivo) and KIRBY’s “Black Leaves.” In dedication to Ricky Cobb — the unarmed Black Minnesotan killed by a state trooper July 2023 — vegan educator and poet Thandisizwe Jackson-Nisan delivered a frustrated, resilient spoken word piece titled “A Barbie Like Me.” The openers were bookended by Global Teen Activists, a youth-led activist organization founded in 2020 with recent activity including a testimony at the MN Legislature in favor of HF-368, a bill prohibiting “malicious and sadistic conduct” in schools on the basis of race and other identities (i.e. school-based hate crimes).

Intermission Notes

Fifteen minutes for the crowd to submit questions via QR code for Dr. Umar to answer.

“Candy Rain” and “Faneto” standout intermission tracks. The legends live on. Lil Baby’s “Freestyle” rounds out “Black Ass Intermission.”

Dr. Umar’s Background

Only recently have I been a little more adamant about having people address me properly

– Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade


Umar cited “Knowledge of Self,” a Black history class he took in either fourth or fifth grade in North Philadelphia, as the beginning of Dr. Umar as we know him today. Within the same time frame, Umar claimed to have won two oratorical contests and has “never shut up since.”

When asked to discuss his college experience, Umar summarized his time at Millersville University consistent with past descriptions of his time but with more detail: he was an involved student who was elected BSU president in the Spring of 1995, participated in the Million Man March, wrote for the school paper, and was secretary of the student senate.

He was also particularly proud of raising enough money from students through the Millersville Spring Concert to begin a scholarship fund. The concert, Dr. Umar claims, was headlined by rap legends KRS One and the one and only Jay Z pre-superstardom.

No direct verification of the Jay Z appearance seems to exist, but an X (Twitter) account representing the 2018 Millersville Spring Concert published a post confirming KRS One did perform at the university in April of 1994 while Umar was a student.

Dr. Umar cited not graduating with honors as the only aspiration he failed to realize as an undergrad.

He did not touch on his “doctor” credential, which was verified in 2017 by Michael Harriot of The Root after public doubt regarding Dr. Umar’s educational attainment, including from Harriot himself. Dr. Umar earned a PsyD from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in the Fall of 2012.

Essential Pan-African Experiences

The forum was opened with a question about the meaning of Dr. Umar Johnson’s new full name — Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade. In response, Dr. Umar gave an account of his 2005 journey through Africa with the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), Marcus Garvey’s Black nationalist organization (Dr. Umar was a member of the Philadelphia chapter, though his current membership status is unclear).

Dr. Umar’s retelling was consistent with a previous summary of the trip posted on Facebook in 2017: stops included Ethiopia, South Africa, and Nigeria (Ethiopian and Nigerian audience members gleefully made their presences known at this time).

The trip climaxed at its final destination country, Senegal, where Dr. Umar recounted an impactful visit to a Gorée Island female slave dungeon and pouring libation, resulting in tears that “felt like they were not mine.” That night, Umar recalls, he heard “screams of ancestors” and felt hands touching him, experiences he says “didn’t feel negative in any way, shape, or fashion.”

Within the video, Dr. Umar dates this livestream as 2017. This video was published in 2019

(Historical Context: The true scale of the slave trade at Gorée island is a controversial topic that most of the world has come to accept was largely exaggerated by the Senegalese government to improve tourism. Gorée Island did host Transatlantic Slave Trade activity, however, so no commemorative visit of the island’s history is truly vain, including the visits of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.)

On a visit to speak in Beaufort, South Carolina six years later (2011), Umar claims to have had his new name divined by a chief of the Oyotunji African Village, a standalone traditional Yoruba community based in the United States. Umar claims this chief confirmed Umar’s experience in Senegal was an ancestral celebration of his return home. The chief insisted Dr. Umar Johnson now needed an African name and with the help of an oracle, Umar Ifatunde Oguntade was divined — “Ifatunde” meaning destiny has returned and “Oguntade” in reference to the Yoruba god of war and iron.

Dr. Umar also cites learning about Frederick Douglass (and his familial relation to him, which we’ll touch on later) was pivotal in birthing his Pan-African worldview by the time he left elementary school.

Dr. Umar on Frederick Douglass Marcus Garvey (FDMG) Academy

Dr. Umar claimed renovations on a property in Wilmington, Delaware are complete and awaiting a Labor and Industries (L&I) inspection and a local fire department inspection. The hope is to receive a certificate of occupancy Spring 2024.

Confusion surrounding the purported FDMG Academy is among the biggest factors in distrust of Dr. Umar cited by detractors. It is the source of the fiercest criticism he has faced from the public thus far, with many Black individuals and commentators returning to the lack of progress on FDMG after raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for it as good reason for continued skepticism and/or mockery of Dr. Umar.

Beyond the simple suspicion of him being a grifter, much of the criticism Dr. Umar faces regarding FDMG is his competency as an educator to lead the design and operation of an independent school. While the aim of true independence from the US educational system likely explains some of the delay in FDMG’s opening, questions about staffing, curriculum, and Dr. Umar as a leader will continue to be asked until the school either opens or fails to open.

In a couple of small, focused portions of the forum, Dr. Umar claimed FDMG curriculum will strongly emphasize leadership and do away with conventional special education programming. He had a lot of insight into the needs and potential of Black children but specified “boys” all but one time when he cared to mention gender.

Dr. Umar on Black Student Outcomes in Public Education

And so-called ADHD, which isn’t nothing more than Ain’t no Daddy at Home Disorder

– Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade

The BSU moderators’ curation of audience questions made for an orderly event that mainly saw Dr. Umar speaking from his known areas of expertise (i.e. psychology, public schooling) or being prompted to expand on his Pan-African worldview.

He was at his most passionate discussing the factors at play in US K-12 public education harming Black male students. Umar cited the over-designation of Black boys into special education as the greatest injustice experienced by Black students, creating a “permanent underclass” of citizens who have been conditioned to not challenge themselves intellectually.

Umar was careful to insist Black students with special needs exist, citing disorders such as autism, Down syndrome, and severe emotional and physical trauma as examples of conditions that would require special education. He then launched into the assertion that most Black children in Minneapolis are not in special ed for being “deaf, blind, brain-injured, or retarded” and attacked diagnoses such as “reading disabled,” “math disabled, “emotionally disturbed,” and his least favorite, ADHD, as intentional misclassifications of Black boys en route to poverty or prison.

Dr. Umar on American African (Black American) Political Action

We don’t need to be physically isolated from White folks, we need to be psychologically committed to Black folks

– Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade

When asked to consider the unpopular yet growing wish among Black people for the return of legal racial segregation in the USA, Dr. Umar was strongly against the idea yet insisted on the need for a psychological commitment from Black people to each other.

The lack of separatist belief was interesting to hear from America’s Pan-Africanist of the moment. Despite his strong belief in all “Africans” being one people, Dr. Umar never suggested any form of physical isolation from other peoples (including a mass return to Africa) was necessary for Black people to live up to his ideals. Based on Dr. Umar’s comments, he isn’t as far down the Black nationalist spectrum as a growing number of Black people and nationalist organizations like the Nation of Islam.

In short, Dr. Umar’s Pan-Africanism is not radical. Pan-Africanism in and of itself, however, may be viewed as radical within the United States given the history of collective Black political action being perceived as a national threat.

Multiculturalism vs. Pro-Blackness

Keep it all Black

– Dr. Umar Ifatunde Oguntade

Among Dr. Umar’s biggest conceptual targets of the evening was multiculturalism.

Like any explicitly pro-Black figure in the USA, Dr. Umar is considered divisive by non-Black critics often because his worldview centers Black people.

One of the most authoritative opinion pieces on him to date was written by a Louisiana State University (LSU) student and published via The Reveille four days before his U of M appearance. It’s hard to believe the student sought this level of relevance in discourse surrounding Dr. Umar, but the lack of written content on Dr. Umar plus the credential of an official university website has placed the student’s piece front and center on “Dr. Umar” Google search results, hence the following critique.

Nathaniel Dela Peña — who I will take liberty in assuming is not Black based on his X profile (i.e. Filipino flag emoji, profile picture) — considers it “disappointing” that Dr. Umar is “unapologetically African” as it is a “rejection of the multicultural society that America has developed over time.”

Firstly, Dr. Umar’s beef with multiculturalism is not with the surface-level diversity Dela Peña is talking about. Dr. Umar opposes multiculturalism as an intentional dilution of pro-Black politics:

Dr. Umar on the oppressive impact multiculturalism has on Black political expression

Secondly, beyond the lack of reflection on how America became so multicultural (spoiler: the racist desperation for cheap non-White workers), the opinion of a non-Black undergrad with zero prior exposure to Pan-Africanism on Pan-Africanism is fundamentally useless. Yet here we are in 2024 with Dela Peña’s piece speaking quite loudly (even if unintentionally) in the discourse surrounding Dr. Umar.

If one’s main concern with Dr. Umar’s worldview is that it leaves non-Black people out, they strengthen his point. In a society built on keeping Black people toward the bottom or the margins, why should the excluded be inclusive? If not from an endemically racist place, where does one find the nerve to expect Black people to care about everyone else as much as they care about themselves?

In practice, Dr. Umar’s call to “Keep it all Black” would require a massive sustained coordination effort to keep non-Black people off of pro-Black platforms such as protests of anti-Black racism and legislative pushes to curb systemic anti-Blackness. How likely is that? Not very. But the sentiment is valid, with Dr. Umar pointing to Native American political action as an example of uncompromising advocacy Black Americans should aspire to.

Republican or Democrat?

“We should not be married to the Democratic party or the Republican party. Neither has done anything for us as a people … We should have a Black political union.”

Reflecting a nationally growing disdain for the US political process, Dr. Umar disavowed Black allegiance to either major political party. He went on to promote the idea of a Black political union that political candidates had to directly win over in a targeted forum on Black sociopolitical issues in order to earn the Black vote.

Dr. Umar on Black Self Identity

This topic helped Umar showcase qualities many would not attribute to him: compassion, inclusivity, and patience. Consistent with his rhetoric, Umar clearly reserves these qualities for “psychologically” Black people. However, mixed race Black people — including those with a White parent — are equally included in Dr. Umar’s view of “African.”

“Nobody in this auditorium is responsible for coming into this world. I’m not going to discriminate against an African who identifies with the African family because they happen to have a White parent.”

His stance on the validity of mixed Black people is honorable, but it’s hard to grasp how his compassion for that identity coexists with his strict anti-miscegenation belief.

It feels like something must give: if you can be undeniably Black with a White parent, what’s inherently wrong with having a White partner? The logic leads you to the answer “choice.” Choosing to have White people in your immediate family is what’s unforgivable to Dr. Umar, it seems, even with all his reverence of mixed-race White-woman-wifer Frederick Douglass.


Dr. Umar Johnson’s reputation preceded him, and his showing at the U of M confirmed much of what was already known and felt about him. He’s an effective, entertaining orator, has an eternal disdain for White women, fiercely protects the Black boy, and has surface level takes on Black women and girls.

While Dr. Umar Johnson was everything people said he was that night, he was also more: genuinely caring toward Black people (aside from his list of coons), earnest discussing his beginnings, humble, and serious.

The U of M BSU did a tremendous job of balancing spectacle with substance. Audience members made an honest effort at grappling with all of Umar’s views, largely due to the flow being so seamless for such a sprawling forum.

Stray Observations

Dr. Umar on Coon Rapids

Dr. Umar’s notorious Coon Rapids Instagram streaming guest was purportedly in attendance according to the guy eight rows behind me shouting, “He’s right here!” when the moment was brought up. Building on the gleeful idea, Dr. Umar jokingly vowed to “confiscate all the coons” and drop them off in the Minneapolis suburb.

His Most Wanted Coons list includes Candace Owens, Clarence Thomas, Charles Barkley, and conservative radio host Jesse Lee Peterson.

Dr. Umar vs. Hot Wings

The BSU introduced a “Hot Ones” segment a little past halfway through the event named for the Complex YouTube program but functioning more like a late night talk show truth-or-dare. Dr. Umar answered all questions asked of him, meaning he didn’t take the spicy chicken wing challenge. But he did eat one as opener Thandisizwe Jackson-Nisan, sitting next to the stage, tried putting him onto vegan substitutes.

Dr. Umar Johnson enjoying a chicken wing

Live Review of Dr. Umar’s Performance

“He knows how to speak, but sometimes he just be talkin’.” – girl directly behind me to her friend.

Dr. Umar on His Familial Relation To Frederick Douglass

Dr. Umar claimed once again that Frederick Douglass is both the half-brother and first cousin of his four-time great grandfather due to their mothers being sisters. He attributes the overlap to the wanton rape of their slave master.

The Douglass family as well as Douglass historians fiercely deny Dr. Umar’s claim. Here’s a scathing 2018 rebuttal from a certain “J Muller” of W Street Douglassonians.

Dr. Umar on Polyamory and Polygyny in the Black Community

On Polyamory: “A zest fest.”

On Polygyny: a possible solution to Black economic woes unique to “American Africans” due to “deliberate war to destroy the masculine principle in our community” (e.g. mass incarceration) unseen in other Black societies. Polygyny, Dr. Umar says, is about legal obligation to Black women rather than further privileging Black men, claiming men “don’t need to be married to have multiple women.”

Dr. Umar says the conversation should be had amongst Black women “without men present” that includes those with lower socioeconomic status since the conversation thus far is “always dominated by well-to-do middle class Black women.”

Tangential to this topic, Dr. Umar went on to say sisterhood amongst Black women in the US is highly contentious, claiming Black women would be “in a much better place” if they “held each other down more.” This statement received limp applause.

Dr. Umar Book Recommendation

When asked about ethnic divides amongst Black people, Dr. Umar suggested Destruction of African Civilizations by sociologist Chancellor Williams in reference to African tribalism prior to European colonization which was exploited by colonizers rather than created.