In 1975, a $100 grant kickstatred what would become one of the largest and most longstanding African-American street festivals in the nation. Held the second Sunday of June for the past 37 years, the Odunde Festival attracts more than 500,000 people annually and is one of the largest community-based street festivals in the country. The event begins with a procession to the Schuylkill River, where prayers, flowers and fruit are offered to the goddess Osun. Afterwards, the festivities continue at one of the city’s largest street fairs featuring vendors offering their wares from around the globe, live music and dance performances, and palate-pleasing foods inspired by African and African-American cultures.
Odunde is the creation of its 77-year-old South Philadelphia founder, Lois Fernandez, who launched the festival after visiting the Eli Efi festival in Nigeria. The concept originates from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, West Africa, and celebrates the coming of another year for African Americans and Africanized people around the world.
“We have truly been blessed. We have stood the test of time,” remarked Fernandez. What started out as a small street festival in ’70s has blossomed over four decades into one of the biggest East Coast seasonal events drawing over 500,000 people to the region and generating $4 million for the city.
“Odunde attracts up to a half million people for the festival,” explained Fernandez’s daughter, Oshunbumi Fernandez, chief executive officer of Odunde. “We cover over 12 city blocks and feature two stages of live entertainment along with 200 arts and crafts and food vendors who come and participate. So, Odunde is full of love — and culture — for everyone.”
Traditionally, the festival draws 22 percent of its visitors from outside the Philadelphia region. Every year, Odunde draws vendors from not only America but from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Guinea. Sunday’s traditional Odunde street festival will also include an African marketplace with hundreds of craft and food vendors selling African art, artifacts, keepsakes, clothing, jewelry and two stages of live entertainment. During the rest of the year, ODUNDE, Inc. is an educational and cultural organization that sponsors year-round programs featuring the African Diaspora, as well as the annual Odunde Festival.
The 37th Annual Odunde celebration kicks off June 1 with a reception at the Arts Garage, 1533 Ridge Ave., followed by 10 days of workshops and community events, including African Family Day at the Please Touch Museum on June 2, a Happy Hour art exhibit at Vivant Art Collection on June 4 and a Guiness World Zumba class on June 9. The week of events culminates with the Odunde Festival on Sunday, June 10 at 23rd and South streets from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information about Odunde. call (215) 732-8510 or visit http://www.odundeinc.org.