Written by: karimu abena hamilton
Interview with : oshun bumi fernandez
Odunde which means happy New Year in the Yoruba language of Nigeria was founded in 1975 by a woman named Lois Fernandez as a street festival in South Philadelphia. Fernandez made a trip to Nigeria attended a festival in honor of osun (the goddess of beauty and love). She was inspired by the cultural context of this festival and its promotion of unity, family values, spirituality, and oneness with nature and consciously decided that she would transport and share this experience with her Philadelphian community. Odunde was established during a time period when African Americans were involved in a cultural evolution. Prior to this movement which would have begun in the early 1960’s visible African American culture had been limited to the experience of slavery and poverty. Founders of this cultural evolution had become very concerned with the negative impact that these facets of American culture would have on their children and the children of their communities. Thus, collectively and independently a nationwide movement had been born and it cross referenced all components of culture. Kwanzaa, Jambo Means Hello, The National Black Theatre, Central Harlem Montessori Project, Afro centricity are all examples of what the cultural evolution produced. Children were given traditional West African Names, Independent African American schools were founded and rites of passages were structured. It was an extremely successful strategy. The mission of this movement was to provide African American youth with literature, art, spirituality that goes beyond the history of slavery and explores the importance of Africa and the accomplishments of African American achievers in this country before during and after being enslaved. Africa was no longer presented as a dark and unwanted place but a Continent that was rich in heritage, culture and resources. The children of this movement were to comprehend that they were the beneficiaries to a great legacy and they were to live, celebrate and embrace it. Two generations later Odunde has maintained itself and remains one of the oldest and largest African American festivals in this nation. Odunde is multifunctional it serves as a platform of visibility for community members, entertainers, artists and entrepreneurs of all genres from all over the world to meet. This year Odunde will celebrate its 34th anniversary and the next generation of the above mentioned cultural evolution is here. Oshun Bumi Fernandez the daughter of Lois Fernandez has stepped into her mothers shoes and with her mother’s guidance Oshun Bumi will bring lead Odunde into the future.
Q: Discuss with me your early experience with Odunde
A: Odunde was a way of life for me. The first Odunde I was strapped to my mother’s back. It started off on one block in South Philadelphia, it was my mother, brother, aunt, and cousins extended family and community members. Odunde was a fabric of my life. I learned through Odunde about the process of life and the benefits of hard work, perseverance and standing strongly behind a vision and what you believe in.
Q. What Does Odunde Mean?
A: Odunde means Happy New Year in Yoruba which is one of the many Nigerian cultures. It celebrates the Yoruba deity Oshun which represents on a superficial level love, prosperity peace and unity.
Q. What is the Odunde Mission?
A. Odunde goal has always been to bring to the community a taste of Africa, provide a market place for vendors from all over the world to display and sell their goods. You can buy food from various regions of Africa. Odunde also functions as a place for community and family members to unite or regroup. Odunde started off as a one block event and has expanded to 12 blocks, we have over 600,000,00 people that attend this event every year. The Odunde event brings in over 25.2 million dollars to the tri –state area. So Odunde has evolved physically and financially which allows us to expand and provide more services to our community.
Q. What Plans does Odunde have in the future?
A. Well in December of 2010 we will be opening up a 16 unit Senior citizens home called Oshun Village. My Mother was very concerned with how the elders of the community and in America were being treated. We wanted to create an environment that would provide holistic care for the elders of the South Philadelphian community. We also intend to become more involved in the community by establishing rites of passages, African and African American heritage programs; we intend to work very closely with the city of a Philadelphia to make the South Philadelphian community stronger for its residents.
Q. What is your background and had you intended to become the Executive Director of Odunde
A. Well actually I had intended to become a doctor and studied biology @ Temple. My mother became ill and I choose to remain close to her and while being given more of a leadership role in the Odunde Process. I also furthered my studies and received a MBA which will give me the tools I need to lead Odunde into the future.
Q. When Odunde was first established it was before the internet, fund development, sponsorship, it was a grassroots operation. You must have a great appreciation for your mother and her colleague’s hard work, endurance and vision?