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ODUNDE: Philadelphia’s Celebration of Black Beauty, Ingenuity & Artistry

Philadelphia is a city of brotherly love, a youthful spirit and a brilliant art scene. So it’s no wonder that it’s the location for the highly anticipated annual ODUNDE Festival— the largest African American street festival in the United States.

Oshunbumi Fernandez-West, CEO of the ODUNDE festival and ODUNDE the organization, has dedicated her professional life to cultural awareness, of which the festival plays a huge part.

A delicious pineapple drink that is sold by the same vendor every year—they also sell red velvet funnel cakes!

This past Sunday on June 9, thousands of people (about 500,000) lined the city streets along with dozens of vendors selling their artwork, jewelry, homemade beauty products, delicious food and much more. And when festival go-ers weren’t looking at goods from the vendors, there was plenty of entertainment going on constantly. This included musical acts, dancers (I encountered a capoeira circle), and visual artists. Ultimately, the day came to a close, as it always does, with a high-energy performance from the world-renowned Unity Community African Dance and Drum Ensemble—comprised of African dancers of all ages, a drum performance, and “Pasha” the African stilt walker.

While the festival itself is a spectacle to behold, its true beauty and value lies in its ability to provide an experience that encourages cultural exchange within the African diaspora, the opportunity for Black people to display their crafts and advertise their businesses, and for Black people to buy from Black owned businesses.

A t-shirt stand.

This Afro-centric festival and large-scale appreciation for Blackness subsequently has become a hub for networking and a source of education on the multitude of African cultures. People don clothing that has a traditional African aesthetic and purchase jewelry and woodwork often made by authentic craftsmen from across the diaspora.

Two mask pendants from Benin sold by a festival vendor.

Ayinde Merrill (@yinsofly), left and Devon Taylor (@devskeerocket), right

ODUNDE attracts people of all ages, mixing Black American culture with that of the African continent—an element that separates it from other festivals of its kind. Self-made business owners are able to create a space to showcase their hard work and talent, while the patrons have a unique opportunity to celebrate themselves and Black creatives while pouring money and resources back into their community—creating a sense of true camaraderie and solidarity that one rarely encounters anywhere else. It's that vibe that draws a crowd of thousands every year.

Have you ever been to ODUNDE? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments. The season of festivals has just begun! Keep your eyes open for more cultural events taking place in your city.

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