How a mother and daughter birthed a Philly festival attended by thousands

For Black History Month, we're exploring history and identity through the lens of joy. Black joy is the ability to love and celebrate black people and culture, despite the world dictating otherwise. Black joy is liberation.

Lois Fernandez, 80, founder of Odunde, and Bumi Fernandez, 42, CEO of Odunde

Lois Fernandez: We had a $100 grant. That’s all we had at the time [1975]. The first year, [the Odunde festival] was only a block long, but it was wonderful. The next year, we took two blocks.

Bumi Fernandez: Growing up around it, to me, it was just fun. I didn’t see how much my mother had sacrificed until I took it over.  I didn’t know how much it meant to the city of Philadelphia and the world until I got older. My mom took me to meetings when I was young. I got to see what went on behind closed doors. I didn’t know people could be so mean and vicious. People boldly told my mom, “I’m gonna stop you.” For no really legit reason. …

Lois: It was racial.

Bumi: A lot of it was racial. A lot of it was ego: “Who does Lois Fernandez think she is?”  What I’ve learned is that you really have to be humble and choose your battles. I was ready to go to war because I know how much my mom sacrificed. I learned how to curb that. It’s a lot, but I wouldn’t trade it for nothing in the world. It’s given me a strength that I didn’t know I had. I’m Lois Fernandez’s daughter and I’m the only woman on earth that can say that. In my 20s, when I took over Odunde, people try to put their ideals on you. They said, “Bumi, you run Odunde, so you should look a certain way.” I dress what fits me. Putting on African clothes does not make you more African.

Lois:  It’s been a long 40 years. You can imagine what we had to put up with. That’s why I say, “Thank you, God, that you gave me the vision, the understanding." Above all, my father told me we were African. He said we weren’t Negroes, we weren’t colored, we were African. 

Bumi: People need to realize Odunde is more than a festival. We have year-round programs. People tell me during the year we’re beat up so much in the media, but when we come to Odunde, it gives us hope, it gives us faith, and that we are still a prideful and beautiful people. What really overwhelms me is when we’re on the stage and we’re looking from the South Street stage or any other stage and see nothing but a sea of humanity. From the congressman to the mayor to our board members or our special guests, that’s when you know the 12- to 14-hour days are all worth it. 

Lois: If you’re going to stop this festival, you’re going to have to deal with [goddess] Oshun, because this is her show. It ain't Lois Fernandez's show or Bumi’s show. It’s Oshun’s show. If Oshun say we roll, we roll.


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