March 16-22, 2006
Naked City : ArticleUhuru Are You?
City Paper: How long has the APEDF been around?
Ironiff Ifoma: Since 1995. The prototype [store] started in the California Bay area in 1985. Because we were very successful there, we decided that because we had members [in Philadelphia] and because we saw the need when we went in there over 12 years ago, we saw the need to set up an operation there.
CP: What's the difference between the stores and the Uhuru Houses?
II: Uhuru Houses are where we have community-based meetings that talk about education in the community we might be located in, about the achievement gap between black and white students. Issues of health and health care. The whole question of poverty and blight in cities where we're located at, and how federal funds oftentimes are diverted from their intended purposes to benefit large corporations.
CP: So why the furniture stores? What about used furniture jibes with your mission?
II: When we started off in Berkeley, we started off with the Berkeley Flea Market. We found that people wanted quality but affordable furniture. We saw how successful it was. One thing we emphasize is service to the customer, and we make it affordable.
CP: Uhuru Furniture in Philadelphia is pretty popular with college students and younger people. Do you find that your message resonates particularly well with that age group?
II: No, we have support across the board. We have a broad clientelewhite, black, students.
CP: Was there a model for this mixture of retail and politics? Or did you hit on it by chance?
II: We began doing work in the community. We didn't want to become economists. We wanted to educate people. A lot of time people might not want to join the movement, even though they do support us. They might want information. They might want to know what's going on. They might just want to buy furniture. There was no model [for the store]. It was something that evolved over many, many years.
CP: The question that's probably on everyone's minds: Do you have a house full of used furniture bought at Uhuru?
II: Oh my goodness, yes. Sometimes I'll be upset, I'll see something in Philadelphia and I can't bring it back with me, but a lot of times I do anyway.
The Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles National Conference will take place Sun., March 19, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (featuring a 10 a.m. keynote presentation from Ironiff Ifoma) at the William Way Center, 1315 Spruce St., and Mon., March 20, 9 a.m.3 p.m. at Uhuru House, 503 S. 52nd St. Admission is free. For more information, call 215-546-9616 or visit Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles, 1220 Spruce St.