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Black Arts and Culture

Portsmouth Hosts Annual Umoja Festival May 24-26

Experience the vibrant celebration of diversity and African-American culture at Portsmouth’s annual Umoja Festival, featuring live music, community tours, local artists, and delicious food from May 24-26 at Festival Park.

#UmojaFestival #PortsmouthEvents #AfricanAmericanCulture #CommunityCelebration

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

Grab a lawn chair and the kids or grandkids and head to Portsmouth’s annual Umoja Festival, which will be held May 24-26 at Festival Park, the city’s historic downtown waterfront.

The free, three-day event began in 1991 as  Portsmouth’s yearly celebration of diversity, unity, and African-American culture. Over the weekend, it will feature popular jazz, reggae, gospel and rhythm and blues entertainers. The festival’s name, Umoja means  “unity”  and togetherness in the family, community and nation.

Expect to find something for everyone at Portsmouth’s annual festival including the elders who are selected by the city to traditionally kick off the weekend festival with their blessings.  John Ray Johnson is this year’s King Elder. Rosa Hines is this year’s Queen Elder. Johnson, a West Virginia native worked in Detroit and relocated to Portsmouth, where he now lives in the Cradock neighborhood and serves in Miracle of Faith Baptist Church. Hines worked as an accountant at Naval Shipyard and is a member and volunteer at several local churches.

The festival will also include a free, one-hour tour that will expose visitors to icons, innovators, and trailblazers  from Hampton Roads. The tours depart from Crawford Street, in front of City Hall and will include stops at  Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum, as well as a stop at an Ella Fitzgerald tribute that will be held on the back patio of the museum.

For three days, festivalgoers will  enjoy food, marketplace shopping and live music, at an event which also welcomes nonprofit and social service organizations that set up exhibits and distribute awareness information to festival visitors.

This year, Portsmouth’s annual homegrown festival will feature local artists such as B. Michelle who grew up in Hampton Roads, won a talent show at age 10, and went on to perform with“Sweet Dreams,” which was featured on BET multiple times. B. Michelle has also performed as an opening  act for artists such as, Chris Brown, Tank, and Vivica Fox.

Another performer, 2ndWyndBand (2WB) will feature artists who are retired military musicians. These performers have traveled the world performing with notable artists on both R&B and gospel tours.

And make sure you experience Living Testimony Community Singers, which appeared on Good Morning America in 2001. Terris J. Gamble leads the group.


Free parking will be available at public garages and off street parking lots  operated by the city. Festival visitors may park in both visitor and reserved spaces (except for spaces marked 24 Hrs. reserved) after 6 p.m. on Friday and anytime on the weekend. On street metered parking is also free after 6 p.m. on Friday as well as on Saturday and Sunday.

Interested in becoming a vendor? Vendors may phone  (757) 393-8481 or drop by 801 Crawford Street, Portsmouth – Monday – Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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