By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Oshunbumi Fernandez spends her days and nights focused on tending the legacy planted by her mother, Lois, 38 years ago.
It was 1975 when the elder Fernandez, now 77, started the world-renowned Odunde Festival in South Philadelphia with a $100 donation from neighbors.
Decades later, Odunde is a full weekend of events that includes an international business symposium and a fitness day.
The three-day, African-culture-focused street festival culminates on the second Sunday in June, when tens of thousands flock to 23rd and South Streets to enjoy a full day of performances, food, street vendors, and more, along 12 city blocks.
“I don’t want all my mother’s hard work, her legacy, to fall,” says Oshunbumi, who at 39 is now CEO of Odunde Inc., the nonprofit organization. “I hear the word ‘no’ a lot, but I am immune to the word ‘no.’ ”
Oshunbumi says she has fought neighborhood changes, and efforts to move the festival and have been successful in keeping Odunde in South Philadelphia.
She’s also fought yearly budget challenges, but she makes it work, and has even expanded the programming to year-round, through Odunde 365.
“We are a movement,” she says. “It’s not just ‘that African festival.’ Odunde is for everyone, and we want to help open up people’s minds and help people learn from culture.”
Oshunbumi says Odunde 365 has four components: African dance and drumming classes; African arts courses for first- through fourth-graders; I Am BUMI (“Beautiful, Unique, Magnificent, Individual”), a self-esteem program for girls ages 5 through 18; and “My Story,” a program in which professionals tell their stories to young people.
Most of the programming is free, or charges a nominal fee.
“Young people need to know that their circumstances do not determine their outcomes,” says Fernandez, the mother of two boys. “No matter where you come from, no matter what neighborhood, single-parent, two-parent, you can be successful.”
She says Odunde 365 is currently in five schools run by Universal Companies, as well as two community recreation centers. But Oshunbumi’s goals are much bigger.
“I want to raise a million dollars to put art education back in schools,” she says. “Children who are exposed to cultural activities are less likely to drop out of school, they’re less likely get pregnant, and more likely to be productive citizens.”
Once she reaches her goals in Philadelphia, she wants to take the program to every continent. Last month she traveled to Brazil as part of Gov. Tom Corbett’s delegation to that country.
“Odunde was the cultural component,” says Oshunbumi. “It was a wonderful experience.”
In the meantime, she remains Lois’ daughter, working tirelessly, giving her time to Odunde and the young people she serves.
“I’m not chasing the dollar,” says Oshunbumi. “I do Odunde because I want to change people’s lives. I want to change children’s lives.”
To donate to Odunde, go to odundefestival.org.
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