PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – The city of Portsmouth kicked off the 31st annual Umoja Festival Friday. The festival celebrates African American culture, with Umoja meaning “Unity” in Kiswahili.

“So what it means for this community, some 30 years ago, it was recognized by some of our leaders that we need to celebrate the heritage of African American culture and history and bring that to the forefront,” said Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover. “So they put their minds together and worked very diligently to put this on.”

He said the event is fun, but also educational.

“It gives the community an opportunity to reflect and participate in the history of the African American culture right here in the city of Portsmouth, which is a very storied history,” Glover said.

The Friday to Sunday event is free and open to the public.

The festival starts off with an opening ceremony that includes blessings from elders in the community.

On Saturday, there is a heritage tour through areas that hold Portsmouth’s Black history.

Throughout the weekend attendees can enjoy activities for kids, food, vendors and live entertainment.

“I think we have to give the people something to look forward to,” said Portsmouth resident Christy Austin. “Often times we look at the bad and we don’t reunite with what’s good. I think my husband and people come together. Music is a great way food spoken word. I think that’s a great way to bring it back and make the community active again, and doing something good.”

On Saturday night, 90’s R&B group Boyz II Men will perform.

“‘One Sweet Day’ is one of my favorite Boyz II Men songs,” Glover said.

The mayor said he’ll be going on stage to present the group with a special award.

“So one of the things that I’m most excited about is that we are going to be presenting to the group Boyz II Men – Sean (Stockman), Wanya (Morris) and Nate (Morris) – a proclamation from the city of Portsmouth on behalf of our gratitude for them coming to our city to grace us with their musical talent and ability,” Glover said.

He said he believes by the end of the festival, attendees will leave feeling renewed.

“That healing, that ability for the community to come together with a hopeful future,” Glover said. “And that’s the whole experience of the Umoja Festival.”

Want to go?

The event is held outside the Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion. Click here to purchase tickets to see Boyz II Men.

The schedule for the rest of the weekend includes:


2 p.m. – Heritage Tour – Emanuel AME Church, Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Center, and Portsmouth Colored Community Library

2 to 3 p.m. – Phazz II

3:15 – 4:15 p.m. – 5STARR

4:30 – 5:30 p.m. – Better By Tuesday

5:45 – 7 p.m. – RaJazz Band

8 p.m. – Boyz II Men*

2 – 6 p.m. – Children’s Activities – Bounce Houses, Crafts, and Games


2 – 2:45 p.m. – New Sisters in Christ

3 – 3:45 p.m. – The Jones Singers

4 – 4:45 p.m. – Ricky White and Believers Kamp

5 – 6 p.m. – The Tidewater VA Chapter of GMWA Choir

2 – 6 p.m. – Children’s Activities – Bounce Houses, Crafts, and Games

Upcoming events for the City of Portsmouth include: