Umoja became an activist after graduating from high school in 1972. As a freshman at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), he began to write for UCLA’s Black student newspaper NOMMO and joined the Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford) Defense Committee (MADC). Muhammad Ahmad was a “pivotal” Black Power movement organizer and associate of Malcolm X and Robert F. Williams, who was targeted by J. Edgar Hoover’s “Cointelpro” program. Hoover declared in 1967 that Ahmad was “the most dangerous man in America.” Umoja helped get petitions and raised money for Ahmad’s ultimate release from conspiracy charges.
Like many college students during the Black Power movement, Umoja would “drop out” of college and commit himself to activism. He left UCLA after joining MADC and two other Pan-Africanist, pro-Black self-determination organizations in Los Angeles, the African Peoples Party and the House of Umoja. Years later, Umoja became a founding member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the New Afrikan People’s Organization.
Umoja’s activism led to him meet and work with several important figures in the Black Power movement. He studied and worked with Mamadou Lumumba, called one of the most important “neo-Black intellectuals” of the Black Power movement. Lumumba was the founder of Soulbook: The Revolutionary Journal of the Black World. Umoja also worked on the staff of Soulbook from 1973 to 1982.
As a part of his responsibility as a youth in the movement, Umoja would provide security and escort historic figures, such as, reparation activist Queen Mother Moore and Imari Obadele (Malcolm X associate and founder of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika). Most of Umoja’s political activism was focused around support for political prisoners. He has continued this work most of his adult life. Umoja would meet many of the freedom fighters whose causes he worked for including Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Assata Shakur, the Republic of New Afrika 11, Kuwasi Balogun, Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown), Kamau Sadiki, and Sekou Odinga among others. He would assist former Black Panther Afeni Shakur conduct investigation that would lead to the overturning of the wrongful conviction of her comrade Geronimo ji Jaga. He also corresponded with and collaborated with Malcolm X associate and Asian-American activist Yuri Kochiyama in work supporting political prisoners.
Living in Los Angeles, Umoja was also involved in campaigns against police terrorism. He worked with residents of the Nickerson Gardens housing project to challenge police abuse and Black-on-Black crime. Umoja and his comrades in Los Angeles were also active in the Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA). CAPA spearheaded campaigns against police misconduct, including shootings of unarmed Black and Latino residents, and violation of the civil liberties of human rights activists in Southern California.
In 1979, Umoja worked as a part of a committee of the National Black Human Rights Coalition to produce a document detailing the Black liberation movement’s demand for self-determination, reparations and a call to release political prisoners. Queen Mother Moore, Attorney Chokwe Lumumba, and activist Muntu Matsimela presented the document to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Salim Salim of Tanzania. Umoja has also travelled to Grenada, Cuba, Germany, the Basque region of Spain and France, Switzerland, and Haiti to express solidarity and share information about the status of Black human rights in the United States.
Umoja is also a Pan-Africanist and internationalist. In the tradition of Black internationalists like Malcolm X, Vicki Garvin, and Paul Robeson, he has traveled to share the cause of Black liberation with people internationally; and he has worked in the U.S. for solidarity with just causes for freedom around the world. Akinyele became a part of the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC) in Los Angeles, which supported African freedom fighters against Portuguese colonialism and white settler minority rule in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Umoja helped support delegations from African liberation movements from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and the Congo in the United States. He also worked in solidarity with the fight for democracy and social justice in Guyana and in Haiti.
In August 2010, Akinyele Umoja led a Black August delegation of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement to Haiti to investigate condition after the horrific earthquake in January of that year. Haitian electronic and print media extensively covered the delegation’s findings. Umoja and Jackson, Mississippi City Councilman and activist Attorney Chokwe Lumumba presented on behalf of the delegation at a press conference organized by Haitian human rights organization, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (Bureau of International Advocates). This delegation brought attention to the general conditions in the camps of displaced Haitians, including: lack of food and water, health care, and the lack of security. The delegation also critiqued the distribution of aid. The delegation highlighted that US government, aid organizations, and NGOS collected millions of dollars; yet the money did not reach the Haitian people. Umoja also played a critical role in supporting the popular Haitian demand for the return of President Jean Bertrand and Mildred Aristide and their family from banishment from their homeland. With support from France, the Bush Administration removed the popularly elected Aristide from Haiti in 2004 and opposed him residing in any Caribbean nation. The Aristide family returned to Haiti from exile in South Africa after an international human rights campaign supporting the grassroots Haitian demand to end their banishment by foreign powers.