Odunde 365, producers of the annual Odunde Festival, presented an one-of-a-kind evening on Wednesday at the African American Museum of Philadelphia (AAMP) with some of Philadelphia’s top leaders of color.
Moderated by local businessman A. Bruce Crawley, “My Story” shared the personal stories of triumph and success of Sen. Anthony Williams, Willie F. Johnson, founder/chairman of PRWT Services, Inc. and Robert W. Bogle, Publisher and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune in front of over 50 guests. Wednesday’s event was the second series.
While all of the panelists were unified in eschewing the term “legend,” they each recalled the path they took to success. PRWT was launched in 1988 as a result of an alliance Johnson made with Lockheed Martin IMS, the state and local government division of the Bethesda, Md.-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
During Johnson’s reign as CEO, PRWT grew into a 1,500-person operation with workers in eight states including Washington, D.C.
“There is something very unique about Black enterprise: most Black enterprises develop and grow with in their own community and within their own region because they are depending on their relationships with politicians, etc., for market share and a whole a lot of other things,” Johnson said. When asked about his personal management style the answer, he replied: “I am me … I call it like I see it—and then get scared later.”
Bogle, who recalled that he joined The Tribune in 1970 selling advertising, responded in kind:
“Johnson and I are absolutely and unequivocally together: I've rolled the dice a few times. It's not easy being Black and a world that is controlled financially by non-African Americans. So, you can go and say I don't give a damn but you're not going to win. So, Mr. Johnson is right: you've got to find some balance. Balance doesn't mean you say, 'yes massa,' so don't go too far. It means that you have to feel good about who you are; you have to be willing to say what you believe and in doing so that doesn't mean you get out of character and call people a bunch of dirty names. You say, sometimes we left the social skills to deal with situations that we need to be better at, so I'm not ready to say massa and I'm not ready to give that up and I'm not ready to say good morning white, but what I am prepared to do is let him know that I am as prepared as any as anybody he knows — whether they’re white or Black. I'm prepared to do that job."
Williams, a lifelong resident of West Philadelphia, remembered his life as the son of the popular late Sen. Hardy Williams. During the event he took to social media to tweet a thank you to the organizers for "forcing us to talk about issues concerning (the African-American) community."
Earlier in the week, Odunde's Executive Director, Oshun Bumi Fernandez told WDAS’ Patty Jackson that “the most important thing about this “My Story” event is that it is in their own words. One will not be able to find this information on the resume; you won't be able to Google it, so you have to hear it in your own words. How I came upon this idea was that me and my partner, Tiffany Nunez, realize there are a lot of young people that have problems finding mentors, and think that people just wake up and they are successful. But, there are a lot of sacrifices that takes place.”
For more Odunde365 information, visit http://odundefestival.org/odunde365.html
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.
The first African Dance and Drum classes at the Universal Institute Charter School concluded with a recital this week at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in Marian Anderson Village. Over three dozen elementary grade children performed several intricate drum and dance routines they learned this fall to the delight of a capacity audience of over 150 parents, guardians and community supporter, including Odunde founder Lois Fernandez. Odunde is a national leader in providing opportunities for diverse audiences to meet, engage, cultivate and learn about the diverse African American and African heritage, communities, leadership and arts.
“All of these children have never been exposed to this type of programing or African culture with African dancing and drumming,” explained Odunde CEO Oshunbumi “Bumi” Fernandez. “All the little boys you saw drumming and the girls dancing, that was their first time. What we want to do is teach the children where it comes from — where they come from — and not to be embarrassed by where you come from and that you are from kings and queens. All the dances that they do now all came from Africa, and is a derivative of African dance. We’re looking to teach these children that.”
The mid-week performance was the result of Odunde 365, a new initiative whose ultimate goal is to provide cultural and athletic programming year round to the tri-state area. “It is just a wonderful experience!,” noted Fernandez. “Our mission is to preserve and celebrate African and African-American culture. This initiative will allow us to provide cultural programming such as African dance and drumming classes, African art classes, youth leadership lectures, computer literacy classes and other programs in schools, universities and community centers. When I created Odunde 365, I wanted to have this programs 365 days, or all year round, but I realized due to limited funding we had to take small steps. My ultimate goal is to get Odunde 365 in all the schools and all the community centers.”
The next series of Odunde 365 African Dance and Drum Saturday sessions begins on Jan. 28 at 10 a.m. at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center, 744 S. 17th Street (between Catharine and Fitzwater streets). For more information, call (215) 732-8510 or visit odundefestival.org.
The warm weather serves as a portend of sorts for next weekend’s “Brazilian Groove” cultural celebration at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, 3260 South Street.
This presentation, part of the ongoing “Imagine Africa” series, begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 31, and will include an Afro-Brazilian drumming workshop helmed by Alo Brasil’s percussionist Alex Shaw; during Shaw’s performance, musicians will play more than 25 Brazilian instruments, including caixas, repiques and tamborins.
After Shaw’s workshop, Orlando Haddad, the music director for the Brazilian group Minas will give a lecture on about the history of Brazilian musical styles, as well as providing a live demonstration of selected Samba and Bossa Nova routines.
A highlight of Saturday’s event will be a performance by youth dance group Odunde 365. This dance group, with members ages ranging from 5 to 13, will close out the event.
“We are proud to be a part of ‘Brazilian Groove’,” said Odunde Executive Director Bumi Fernandez. “People will come see capoeira and samba, but what is really wonderful is the children from Odunde 365, since this will be their first time performing [for an outside audience].”
Odunde 365 is active in the educational arena, with the Universal Institute Charter School serving as a home base for the 30 youth dancers.
Fernandez said Odunde 365 reaches beyond this weekend’s performance, and that Odunde’s sponsorship of Brazilian Groove, Odunde 365 and the continued sponsorship of the upcoming Odunde Festival are all tied together.
“We believe that for Odunde to grow, we need to create strong partnerships, and we are thrilled to have this with the Penn museum,” Fernandez said. “We love that Odunde is partnering with such iconic organizations, and hope to build a long-term relationship.”
Adrienne Hall-Cedeno will teach attendees various “orixa” movements before Odunde 365 closes things out; Hall-Cedeno will precede a performance by the International Capoeira Angola Foundation, which will instruct and give demonstrations on various capoeira styles that blend aerobics, acrobatics and martial arts.
The cultural components of Saturday’s event go far beyond educating folks on the dancing styles of the world’s fifth-largest country — and South America’s largest.
“Moro no Brasil,” a documentary based on a screenplay by Mika Kaurismaki — who also served as director — will be shown throughout the event. The documentary, originally released in 2002, shows the historical melding of African, Indian, native Brazilians and Europeans, and how this intercultural phenomenon has impacted the music of present-day Brazil. In creating this documentary, Kaurismaki — a Finnish national — traveled through three Brazilian states, traversed more than 4,000 miles and spoke to more than 30 musicians to create this film.
“Brazilian Groove” is a component of the season-long “Imagine Africa” project, which revolved around eight broad topics that relate to Africa — including strength, beauty, healing, creating and the divine — and its global reach.
“We’re hoping to draw in a community that maybe hasn’t come to the museum before, and maybe didn’t know it even existed,” said Jean Byrne, UPenn museum’s community engagement director. “We’re trying to change the perception within the greater community that the museum isn’t just academic.”
When Oshunbumi Fernandez called me a couple of weeks ago, and asked me to listen to another of her new, “whiz-bang” ideas, I already knew I was in trouble.
As I’ve made clear in this space before, there are very few people in Philadelphia whom I respect more that Lois Fernandez, the founder of the Odunde Festival, and her daughter, whom the whole city knows, simply, as Bumi.
Lois, of course, is the family visionary, the person who, 38 years ago, co-founded the West African-themed festival that annually attracts hundreds of African vendors and musicians and nearly half a million of the rest of us to 23rd & South Streets, and to the banks of the Schuylkill River, where the highly successful event has always been held.
But, if Lois is the family visionary, then Bumi is the 21st Century, Millennial, idea-generator of the Fernandez family. In recent years, she has received the chief executive's baton from her mom, and has never stopped running with it.
You’d think that would be enough. Not for Bumi. It’s a rare week, or month, that she’s not calling, texting, emailing or tweeting her newest/latest concept to grow the Odunde brand, and to help support the people in her city-wide community.
As I said, a few weeks ago, I took the call, not really sure just what Bumi had up her highly creative sleeves, this time.
But, all of a sudden, there it was.
In her normal, 200-words-per-minute delivery, Bumi was explaining to me a concept that she said was just what Philadelphia’s Black community has long needed. As if that already wasn’t enough to hook me, she then went on to explain that this was a program idea that she planned to implement every other month, here, locally, and then roll out onto a national stage, in other cities.
What it was, was a brilliant concept called “My Story,” which would essentially consist of two or three African Americans of proven achievement, who would be asked to share with young people, college students, entrepreneurs, and others, just what it took to move them from point A, to the success they eventually achieved.
As Bumi explained it, young Black people are finding it increasingly difficult to gain the attention of potential role models. There can never be enough mentors, it seems, for those who need them. This program would be established to offer young, and other interested people in our community, open and direct access to information about successful people in our community, that’s not generally available.
The format would be designed to encourage, to motivate, to have people understand that virtually everyone who is black and currently successful, has faced challenges that required unique creativity, a special diligence and strong networking skills.
I told Bumi I thought the concept was both sound and timely.
I had no idea.
She asked me to think through the format for the first “My Story” with her, and to assist her with her own, prodigious promotional skills.
We wound up with having the first “My Story” program on extremely short notice, by my standards, on Jan. 23. If you know anything at all about Bumi Fernandez, you’re aware that she always opts to err on the side of doing it now, rather than later – whatever it is. So it was with the first “My Story.”
The first three panelists, it was decided, would be Ahmeenah Young, CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Rahim Islam, president of the Universal Companies, and me.
Bumi, herself, served as moderator.
The event was held at the African-American Museum of Philadelphia and an audience of about 70 people was in attendance.
The panelists were seated in luxurious, bright red, overstuffed chairs at the center of the stage, in an intimate, “Charlie Rose” kind of way.
Now, I’ve known both Ahmeenah and Rahim for more years than I care to mention, now, and thought I knew them both. This new format revealed that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
"My Story" brilliantly allowed/caused the three of us to share with the audience information about our respective backgrounds, about our early plans and aspirations, that have, honestly, never been shared before, in a public forum.
From Ahmeenah, we learned that, to a significant degree, her professional motivation included having a grandmother who was a Black Quaker and a grandfather who was an always-impeccably dressed and dignified banker in her community – a “numbers banker,” she eventually discovered. He, nevertheless, served as a model for professional excellence and for never believing, even for a second, that there would ever be any challenge or any responsibility that young Ahmeenah could not handle.
We further learned that a part of her unique and obviously effective preparation for a ground-breaking career in the hospitality industry was her early family home experiences, in South Philadelphia. It was during a period when some of the nation’s most prolific and legendary jazz artists would come to perform at two nationally recognized jazz venues in the community, “Peps” and “Showboat.”
As was the case for most great Black artists who performed in Philadelphia, at that time, they were welcomed to perform at the city’s jazz clubs – they just weren’t invited to book rooms in any of the city’s prestigious hotels.
That being the case, some of the biggest names in jazz wound up staying with Ahmeenah's family, and other black families who lived right off of South Street, during their performances in the city.
Who knew? No wonder, as Ahmeenah informed us, she now takes piano lessons to ease the stress of running one of the country’s largest convention centers. No wonder the music seems to come to her so naturally.
From Rahim, we learned that he had had a career in Corporate America before moving to co-found Universal, with Kenny Gamble. Like so many other black professionals, after too many frustrating years, he had hit the “black ceiling” in that environment, and decided to branch out into a career that would have him use his considerable financial management skills in helping the African-American community.
It sounds like a nice, neat story, but who knew before his “My Story” presentation, that Rahim worked for the first three years, at Universal — for absolutely no salary.
One young, Black, female, recent-college-grad, during the question-and-answer period, expressed frustration with being the “only one on her job," and with having to work until 7 p.m., from time-to-time, to keep ahead of the competition.
It was then that Ahmeenah explained to the “next great female executive” in our city, that she, Ahmeenah, periodically has had to work straight through the entire night, at the Convention Center, leaving only to go home, take a shower, and return to finish the job.
That, like so many other points in the first, “My Story” seminar, was a true wake-up call for the questioner and for others in the room who came to hear the “secrets to success.”
What they learned, I imagine, is that the “secrets” include “remaining true to your own identity, and close to your friends and family; working hard,; relaxing just as diligently; never letting anyone tell you that you can’t get anything done; and that virtually none of those who have achieved in our community was born with a "silver spoon in their mouths," as they might have suspected.
Judging by the audience’s response, the first “My Story” was a smashing success.
Was that enough for an idea-a-minute Bumi?
As I went up to take my own seat on the stage, her question to me was: ‘Mr. Crawley, do you think that I can turn this program into a book?”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc.