Odunde still drawing new fans, 44 years after first street festival

Odunde is 44 years old but the largest street festival in the nation continues to grow as newcomers discover its vibrant charms.

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Alex Sierra stumbled upon Odunde. He and his family travel to Philly from their home in Brooklyn often, he said, but didn’t know about the massive African-American street festival until it took over South Street on Sunday.

“It’s good,” said Sierra, whose Fort Greene neighborhood starred in several hit films by longtime resident Spike Lee. “We have something similar around my way…This one is probably better.”

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Alex Sierra holds his daughter Pheonix Sierra are pictured on South Street during the Odunde Festival Sunday. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

The Brooklyn man was one among many Odunde newcomers to discover the celebration on Sunday. Founded by Lois Fernandez in 1975, with a $100 grant and a gathering of her neighbors, the festival is now the largest African-American street festival in the nation. About half a million people annually converge on South Street west of Broad in search of live performers, food with roots in the African diaspora, colorful print clothing, art and fellowship.

Festival goers shopped for goods during the annual Odunde Festival Sunday afternoon. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

Another first-timer, Benny Alouf of Media, found out about Odunde while searching for something to do over the sunny summer weekend.

“It beats sitting in traffic going to the shore,” Alouf said.

Benny Alouf and Elena Capitina ate carribean food on South Street during the annual Odunde Festival Sunday afternoon. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

He waited out long lines for a platter of fish cakes, rice, and plantains from a Carribean food vendor.

“You don’t get food like this very often,” said Alouf. “And we certainly don’t have food and diversity like this out in the suburbs. So it’s nice to see.”

One 2015 report found Odunde has a $28 million impact on the city.

Hyacinth Rochester poses in her Carribean food stand with her staff during the annual Odunde Festival Sunday afternoon. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

Hyacinth Rochester, also from Brooklyn, sells Jamaican food at the festival. She says its possible that number has grown in the last few years. She’s been coming to Odunde for nearly 30 years and seen the crowds become bigger and more diverse.

“It’s everybody’s festival, not only African-American,” she said. “They’re enjoying the food and they’re enjoying the festival.”

The city honored Fernandez, who passed away in 2017, by naming the 2300 block of South Street after her.

Tamara Drinks stands near South Street after leaving the Odunde Festival Sunday afternoon. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

But even with Odunde’s popularity, Tamara Drinks of West Philly didn’t know about it until this year. She and her sister found out about it online two months prior.

“I don’t know why I never came before,” she said. “I mean, we’re from Philly.”

Drinks said she came for the food, but the lines were too long. That’ll have to wait until next year, she said.

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