Sunday's 43rd annual Odunde Festival will feature many of its traditional aspects — like the noontime procession to the Schuylkill to honor the Yoruba river goddess Oshun. But missing from the nation's largest and longest-running African American festival this year will be the woman who started it all four decades ago with a $100 grant — Lois Fernandez.
Fernandez, a pillar in Philadelphia's African American community, died last Aug. 13 at age 81. On Saturday morning, the City of Philadelphia is honoring her legacy by the honorary naming of the 2300 block of South Street as "Lois Fernandez Way."
"Ms. Fernandez was a passionate advocate through her entire life for children, seniors, African Americans, and all people," said City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who introduced the street-naming resolution. "Her legacy is part of the fabric of our city of Philadelphia."
Fortunately for the Odunde Festival, Fernandez is survived by an energetic daughter, Bumi Fernandez-West.
Fernandez-West, 43, was an infant when the festival started in 1975. But with her mother's tutelage, she became the chief organizer 22 years ago.
"I didn't see how much my mother had sacrificed until I took it over," Fernandez-West said last year. "I didn't know how much it meant to the city of Philadelphia and the world until I got older.
"My mom always had me with her [and] trained me to continue her legacy," Fernandez-West said last week.
Thus the festival, which drew just a few hundred in that first year, brings in an estimated $28 million into the city each year, according to EConsult Solutions.
Fernandez-West said it is important for her to keep her mother's legacy alive, explaining that Fernandez battled breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other illnesses while simultaneously ensuring Odunde went off without a hitch.
Fernandez-West is further preserving her mother's legacy by now teaching her two sons, Adeniyi Ogundana, 13, and Abayomi Ogundana, 10, how to run Odunde.
On Sunday, people from all over the world will gather on Lois Fernandez Way for the celebration of African culture and food that is Odunde.
This year, the festival, which has roots in the Yoruba and Ifa cultures of Nigeria, will span 15 city blocks and feature rapper KRS-One on the Queen Lois stage at South Street at 6 p.m. Inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant will be presented with the Oshun award at 4 p.m. on the same stage.
Fernandez-West said the award represents someone who "uplifts our community in a positive [manner], making it a better place."