Have you ever received a cold call from someone and within the first 30 seconds get the feeling that whatever this person is selling, you’re buying? My first encounter with Simon Okelo was like that. Simon wasn’t selling anything, but if he had been, a purchase from me would have been easily won; the same way he easily won my heart.
Simon Okelo is the founder One Vibe Africa, an organization dedicated to creating a liberated African narrative through collaborations among Africans “at home” and in the diaspora. Under the One Vibe banner are over ten projects and festivals in Kenya, and five US-based programs, including Madaraka Festival.
Simon first reached out seeking support for Madaraka Festival. I was amazed to learn about all of his endeavors and the connection between his nonprofit organization One Vibe Africa, and the annual Madaraka Festival. Without much effort, Simon had my support. Learning about his life in Kenya, his journey to the United States, his beautiful family, and his vision for how he would continue to be a contributing member to his native community, Simon had me hooked on his big vision. I would eventually learn the many other facets of Simon Okelo – African father in America, event producer, community organizer, and friend to many. It’s difficult to move through the Seattle community without encountering a single degree of separation among those who call Simon a friend.
There are so many myths about African men in America and what I find in Simon is the human embodiment of compassion, dedication, history, and a big vision for the future. The beauty of this mission is that there are many interconnected parts that speak to both his community at home in Kenya, as well as the multiple ways that have been developed for African Americans to connect.
Meeting Simon, I found myself wondering how someone who seemed relatively demure could possibly pull off such a big vision. Simon is a big thinker with a vision that is all about the betterment of our global community. Simon lives a very full life guided by the spirit of his mother who was the second wife of a polygamist father. Simon watched his mother not only remake her own life, but she also cared for multitudes of children where he grew up, in the slums of Manyatta, Kenya. His mother showed him that with hard work and creativity, anything could be possible. Through his work and dedication, Simon proves that anything IS possible, and his creativity is evident in the numerous ways he has applied his passion and compassion.
There are many ways to connect with One Vibe Africa, but if you have never experienced Madaraka Festival, you have definitely cheated yourself out of the best in music and community gathering that exists stateside. Madaraka Fest proceeds support One Vibe programs, so there’s even more reason to participate, even though you will most probably gain more than you invest. It’s just that good. The big news is that Madaraka Festival is on tour this year and you can catch it in New York, Dallas, Atlanta, and of course, Seattle, which closes out the tour at Beneroya Hall on May 26th.
I’m grateful to the universe for bringing Simon Okelo to our community and into our lives. His wisdom is only exceeded by his drive to do as much as he can for his community and his people. The saying goes, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” May the reasons continue to unfold as the seasons pass, and may we give thanks for the lifetime of impact that results from the work of Simon Okelo.