History, Culture, Community | Umoja Festival Portsmouth VA

Enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of Africa. And maybe some of its soul.

Festival CultureUmoja Festival Culture

The Umoja Festival entertainment is a unique combination of contemporary and ancient art forms. In African tradition, permission from the elders of the village is sought because of their wisdom, knowledge and experience. The Umoja Festival has always observed this tradition in seeking permission to begin the festival from the elders of the Portsmouth community.

Nationally acclaimed musical guests perform jazz, reggae, gospel, and rhythm and blues. Children’s area contains games, crafts, and workshops with origins in several African countries. The Festival’s closing activity features a gospel jubilee of musical talents from throughout Hampton Roads.

Ethnic foods, a marketplace of sculptures, paintings, prints, baskets, quilts and other assorted hand-crafted wares contribute to the ambiance of the Festival.

Umoja Festival Community

 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.


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.


Portsmouth Transforms into its sister city Eldoret, KenyaUmoja Festival History

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.

The Festival 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 2018 Elders

Darrie Maurice Brown

Mr. Darrie Maurice Brown is fifty nine years of age, born December 10, 1959 to Walter and Lena Brown. He is a product of the distinguished community of Pinners Point also known as “Sugar Hill” in the city of Portsmouth, VA.  He now resides at Beacon House, Portsmouth, VA for the past seven years. 

Mr. Brown is a product of Portsmouth Public Schools and a Secondary Education Center graduate of 1982. During his time in school he has received several awards; Talent Showcase at Lake Taylor Jr. High School, sponsored by Tidewater Chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children, Break Dancing  and Pop Locking in 1977.  He received a Special Honor Award from the U.S. Coast Guard for going to work during the snowstorm week of February 4-8, 1980.  Mr. Brown also successfully completed the School Work     Study Program; Portco Inc. in 1982.

Mr. Brown is a member of New Bethel Baptist church under the leadership of Bishop James Whitaker, Pastor. Mr. Brown serves on the Male Usher Board.

Mr. Brown has been employed with Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Tidewater Occupational Center of Suffolk, VA and U.S. Coast Guard Office in 2017.

In his leisure time Mr. Brown enjoys movies, watching TV, shopping, traveling, going out to eat at various restaurants, listening and dancing to music. He also enjoys wrestling, basketball and football. His favorite teams are, NFL “Colts” and NBA “Golden State Warriors”.

In conclusion, Mr. Brown says, “I am loving and kind, friendly, love conversation, family oriented, a spiritual mentor; but most of all a “Christian”

Sandra Vernita Exum

Sandra Vernita Exum was born on October 27, 1951 at Norfolk Community Hospital to parents Edward R. Exum and Eva Mae Maryland Exum.  She attended Mount Olive Kindergarten and public schools in Norfolk.  She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in June of 1970. She served until 2016 as one of the secretaries for the class reunion committee.

Ms. Exum has volunteered for over 20 years with the Norfolk Public Schools Literacy Program at Madison Career Center, Stuart Elementary School and Titustown Adult Learning Programs.

Ms. Exum was baptized and has remained an active member of Second Calvary Baptist Church, Norfolk, VA. 

Sandra Exum joined the Portsmouth Senior Station in 2005 and has been an active member. Ms. Exum is a member of the Senior Choir; she is a member of and serves as secretary of the Senior Station Bible Class and many other activities such as going on trips, enjoying our many social and educational events.

She loves spending time with her family and friends, going shopping, to the movies and watching game shows.  Her favorite musicians are Blue Magic, The Dramatics and Diana Ross.  Ms. Exum is most proud to be the 2019 Queen for the Portsmouth Senior Station.