Community Member

Unity Festival Inc.

Gulfport, Mississippi

For over fifteen years, Unity Festival, Inc. has been enhancing community through service. Since the first Unity Festival parade rolled in 2007, the organization has sought to revitalize, restore and rebuild one of Gulfport, Mississippi’s most storied historically Black neighborhoods: the “Quarters” (a reference by white Gulfport residents to slave quarters). Formed in the 1800s as a community of craftsmen and longshoremen, the Quarters evolved into a Black-owned central business district. But over time, disinvestment in education and infrastructure, environmental hazards from the port and naval base, and damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill contributed to blight and neighborhood decline. It was the desire to revitalize a cherished neighborhood that inspired the Unity Festival’s founding. Today, the organization supports the Quarters through their annual parade, scholarships, mentorship programs, social programs, and food and gift distribution during the holidays.

A reveler in the 2023 Unity Festival Parade.

Unity Festival, Inc. is run by a twelve-member committee of Quarters residents, led by the founder, Cassandra Harper Walton. The organization strives for its initiatives to provide hope and opportunity for all of the Quarters’ 2,300 residents (97% are people of color). Initiatives include a Black-Tie Ball fundraiser, the “Feed the Need” and “Angel Tree” holiday campaigns, a children’s “Book Jamboree,” and the “Mr. and Mrs. Unity” scholarship contest, recognizing academic achievement and community consciousness. Many of these events are coordinated with the Unity Festival, which has grown to a 60-unit parade, attracting 2,500 attendees in 2023. Each year, the Festival focuses on an issue impacting the community, including sickle-cell anemia, heart disease and autism. Going forward, Unity Festival, Inc. hopes to provide student tutoring and senior daycare programming, open a gym, provide summer programs for youth, and open a center for unwed mothers to receive job training and daycare.

A young man marches on horseback in the Unity Festival Parade, 2023.

For more information:

Unity Festival Gulfport Celebrates 15th Anniversary – WLOX, March 2023

Stewart Sinclair

Stewart Sinclair

Stewart L. Sinclair is a writer, editor and educator from Ventura, California. His essays, reportage and narrative nonfiction have appeared in Guernica, The Millions, The Morning News, The New Orleans Review, Creative Nonfiction’s “True Story” series and elsewhere.

Contact

Cassandra Harper Walton, Founder

Website

Social Media

Climate Impacts

Erosion-Subsidence, Flooding, Heat, Hurricanes/Tropical Storms

Environmental Justice Concerns

Air Pollution, Lead Contamination, Noise/Light Pollution, Sewage/Sewage Treatment

Strategies

Community Farm/Gardens, Community Organizing and Education, Direct Relief and Aid, Policy Reform, Renewable Energy

501c3 Tax Deductible

Yes

Accepting Donations

Yes