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Jenice Armstrong: Odunde not a done deal yet

IF THERE'S one thing that Oshunbumi Fernandez-Ogundana never wavers over, it's the Odunde Festival and, no matter what, that this local rite of summer will prevail.

IF THERE'S one thing that Oshunbumi Fernandez-Ogundana never wavers over, it's the Odunde Festival and, no matter what, that this local rite of summer will prevail.

Even last year, when the situation looked especially iffy amid concerns as to whether the African-American street festival might be canceled for the first time in 34 years. At issue were the substantial costs for police, fire, sanitation, cleanup and other services the city used to pick up but no longer could.

This annual festival, which draws from the traditions of the Yorba people of Nigeria and attracts tens of thousands to the South Street area, found itself trying to figure out how to pick up the cost of an estimated $75,000 in city services. Each time I called to check in with her, though, Fernandez-Ogundana was adamant that somehow, some way, the money would be found.

Frankly, I couldn't see it. This time last year, days before the festival, organizers were scrambling, trying to figure out where the money would come from. No deep pockets were opening to help out. The festival looked doomed. But Fernandez-Ogundana had grown up listening to people tell her mother, Odunde founder Lois Fernandez, that it couldn't be done.

"I've been by my mother's side for the last 36 years . . . with me hearing people say that to me. I smile and keep it moving. It doesn't faze me because I know where Odunde has come from," Fernandez-Ogundana told me yesterday. "As long as I did my part, I know God would do the rest of it. I networked. I made phone calls. I hounded people . . . I never lost faith."

Last year's festival went on as scheduled, but afterward organizers found themselves owing the city about $54,000.

Thankfully, this year, Fernandez-Ogundana doesn't have to go through all that drama again.

Due to the generosity of H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, a cable-TV entrepreneur and philanthropist, who last week contributed $500,000 to the new Greater Philadelphia Traditions Fund, Odunde won't have to worry about paying for city services for a long while.

That nonprofit, organized by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Phila., will pay for the services for five years. Other donors also are being sought to finance the fund, whose sole mission is to keep all of the festivals, parades and events that make our city unique from shutting down or leaving town because of finances.

For Odunde organizers, to call their rescue a relief is an understatement.

"It's beyond huge. It is heaven- sent," Fernandez-Ogundana said excitedly. "I thought I was living in a dream when we went to the initial meeting."

But that doesn't mean the festival is completely home free. Vending fees are down 50 percent or more. Many of the merchants who sell African artifacts, jewelry and art during the festivities are put off by gas prices and other economic woes. Odunde still needs donations to offset the cost of staff, insurance, entertainers and adequate sound equipment. Organizers need festival-goers to do their part.

By now, we all know what that is. Last year, I made the point that if every one of us who goes to the festival contributed a dollar, that would go a long way toward defraying costs - and also ensuring Odunde's future.

That's not too much to ask.

A whole lot of you listened. Fernandez-Ogundana says she got about $5,000 from WURD (900-AM) listeners alone. Daily News readers also contributed. Here's hoping that people will again this year.

Odunde's biggest bill has been taken care of, but much of the rest - an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 - is up to us.

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The Odunde Festival takes place Sunday on South Street between 21st, 23rd and Christian streets, and Grays Ferry Avenue. Admission is free. To donate or for festival details, log onto The mailing address is ODUNDE, Box 21748, Phila, PA 19146.