Lois Fernandez, the co-founder of Philadelphia’s ODUNDE Festival, the largest and longest running African-American street festival on the east coast, has died at the age of 81.
Fernandez’s daughter and current ODUNDE Incorporated CEO Bumi Fernandez confirmed with NBC10 that her mother passed away over the weekend.
Born in 1936, Lois Fernandez, a South Philadelphia resident, along with her friend Ruth Arthur came up with the concept for the ODUNDE Festival after being inspired by a trip to Nigeria, West Africa in 1972. The name means “Happy New Year” in the Yoruba language native to Nigeria. Fernandez wanted to create an event that celebrated diversified African culture and educated the greater Philadelphia community about the African roots in the area.
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After receiving a $100 grant from Philadelphia’s Southwest Center City Community Council and gaining support from her neighbors, Fernandez and Arthur held the first ODUNDE Festival in 1975. The festival, which celebrates the new year for Africans in America and the diaspora, quickly grew in size and popularity.
The festival currently attracts up to 500,000 people each year and covers 12 city blocks in South Philadelphia. The event also draws hundreds of vendors each year from several countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Guinea. It also features live music and entertainment.
Fernandez’s family has not yet released information on funeral arrangements.