Reviving cultural awareness in the African-American community in South Philadelphia is extremely important to the staff at Universal Companies.
Universal Companies aims to create educational, cultural and entrepreneurial opportunities within disenfranchised communities.
Rahim Islam, President/CEO, feels that Universal Companies promotes a revival in the African-American culture and that it is essential to uplifting our companies.
Legendary songwriter and producer Kenny Gamble founded Universal Companies in 1993, with the mission to address the need of affordable housing and educational resources in South Philadelphia. The corporation has since made efforts to improve education and educational programs, poor quality housing and job opportunities.
Islam feels acknowledging one’s cultural background is the root to improvement and success in our community.
“The more important issue that we have to deal with now is the cultural issue that is being produced,” Islam said. “People are just trying to survive and giving up the fight.”
Islam believes through Universal Companies, the mindset and cultural awareness can be improved in South Philadelphia. One way Universal Companies aims to restore culture is through education. Universal now has five schools—Universal Audenried Charter High School, University Bluford Charter School, Universal Daroff Charter School and Universal Institute Charter School. The company aims to provide programs that emphasize on academics, self-sufficiency, civic responsibility, and physical wellbeing.
“We fundamentally changed the conversation on how to approach rebuilding our community,” Islam said. “You get your hands on the delivery on public education.”
Islam believes education is one route to enriching our culture, but there are many other factors involved. He believes there is a lack of organizations that celebrate African organizations in our society. Universal Companies works to highlight those organizations that represent African culture, he says.
One of Universal Companies’ community partners is Odunde, Inc., an educational and cultural arts organization with its newest initiative Odunde 365. Odunde 365 provides year-round cultural and athletic programming.
This past December, the organization held its first ever Children’s African Dance and Drum performance at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center.
Odunde Inc., CEO and South Philadelphia native Oshunbumi Fernandez agrees that it is important for the younger generations to be aware of their history. Fernandez feels the support and partnership with Universal Companies has opened up a lot of opportunities for Odunde, Inc. and Odunde 365 and has allowed for opportunities to engage the youth.
“I think it is really important that we educate our young,” Fernandez said. “There is still a lot of room for improvement in our communities.”
Islam believes the partnerships Universal Companies holds and the educational values it implements will play a major role in restoring our community.
“We have to embrace initiatives like Odunde 365,” he said. “It will light a fire in the hearts and minds of our young people.”