Enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of Africa.
And maybe some of its soul.
Ethnic foods such as jambalaya and larderbout, and a marketplace of sculptures, paintings, prints, baskets, quilts and other assorted hand-crafted wares contribute to the ambiance of the Festival. is a unique combination of contemporary and ancient art forms. Nationally acclaimed musical guests perform jazz, reggae, gospel, rhythm and blues. Children’s activities are a specialty at the festival. The Festival’s closing activity features a gospel jubilee of musical talents from throughout Hampton Roads. Storytelling, games and crafts with origins in several African countries are all participatory.
A Community Forum on issues facing African-Americans is hosted by leading community experts and gives citizens a chance to dialogue pertinent concerns. The Red Cross, Sickle Cell Anemia, PRIDE in Parenting and other social service organizations set-up exhibits to educate Festival participants about programs available in the community.
Umoja VIP Reception
The Umoja Festival links the citizenry of Portsmouth to the continent of Africa by a common thread of rhythm, culture and values, and shares this experience with thousands of Festival participants from diverse communities across the nation, thus providing true to the Festival’s theme of unity in the family, community, and nation. The Umoja Festival is a superb example of a community’s dedication and commitment to insuring an understanding of cultural diversity through a Festival “representing” the Kiswahili word UMOJA . . . UNITY in the family, community and the nation.
In 1991, the City Council of Portsmouth, Virginia affirmed its commitment to understanding cultural diversity. It was most appropriate that the City of Portsmouth selected the Kiswahili word UMOJA as the name of its African-American Festival. Umoja, a Kiswahili word meaning unity, is the first principal of Kwanzaa, an African-American cultural holiday celebrated from December 26th through January 1st. This principal emulates unity in the family, community and nation.
Umoja Processional – “Drums of Africa” Group – The UMOJA Festival opens with a traditional African drum call sending polyrhythms through the air, a ceremonial processional and the blessing of the elders, are all facets of ancient tribal cultures, customs and traditions. For two and one-half days, the beautiful waterfront of Portsmouth is transformed into an image of its Sister City Eldoret, Kenya.
It begins with permission from the elders: In African tradition, permission from the elders of the village is often sought because of their wisdom, knowledge and experience. The Umoja Festival has always observed this tradition in seeking permission from the elders of the Portsmouth community.
Meet the 2015 Elders
Mrs. Marlene W. Randall
DOB: 10/18/34 Age: 80
Born and raised in the Berkley neighborhood of Norfolk, VA
Married to the love of her life, Mr. Vernon L. Randall, they are the proud parents of three children. Mrs. Randall is a graduate of Virginia State University, and was employed with the Portsmouth Public Schools as educator/administrator for 38 years. She also served on the Portsmouth City Council for 12 years and has received numerous awards and citations for her work in the City of Portsmouth and throughout the Hampton Roads area. She and her husband attends New Bethel Baptist Church in Portsmouth, VA.
Mr. Horace S. Savage, Jr.
Age: 89 Born and raised in the Truxtun neighborhood of Portsmouth, VA
Married to the former Adeline West, they are proud parents of one daughter. Mr. Savage is a graduate of Hampton Institute, and was drafted into the army during World War II. Having been described as a professional volunteer, he has been extremely active in the community and is revered throughout the region as the ultimate teacher, coach, administrator, and community leader. He and his wife of 62 years attend St. James’ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, VA.