Tomika McFadden‘s son Calvin was only 24-years-old when he died from cystic fibrosis in September 2015.
Though Calvin was born with his condition, McFadden, a West Philadelphia native, says it never prevented him from living.
“The thing about my son even at the age of 24, he had already been working on his second degree, he also had his own business,” including engineering and production, she said. “He mentored a lot of youth and young adults to go back to school and go to college. He was very active in his 24 years of life and he never let anything stop him.”
McFadden, CEO of Pennsylvania Care Associates, initially began her organization as a health management consulting firm in 2012. “Pennsylvania Care Associates provides resources and coordination of medical care to individuals with physical and medical disabilities, autism and intellectual disabilities,” McFadden said. “The focus point for us is to mainly have access to resources, that they’re able to live independently at home and that they have access to the kind of care to direct services that they need,” she continued.
But Calvin’s death encouraged McFadden to transform her grief into empowerment for others. Through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services, McFadden was able to create The Urban Health & Music Festival, the nation’s largest event of its kind.
“I do channel all of that energy into my organization, into its mission as well as into the health fest,” she said. This year’s event kicked off in West Philadelphia on July 22, marking the festival’s second year.
“The health fest is to get people more active and proactive about their care, their primary care, encouraging people to get their screenings in hopes that we can save some lives,” she said.
Every day scheduled events include a carnival for children, Zumba day, lit yoga, a salsa and line dancing night and a healthy cooking demonstration, which aim to promote health and wellness for the community.
“We’re really trying to encourage people to get more physically active but that it doesn’t have to be daunting, it can be fun and to give them that exposure,” she said.
PCA also teamed up with health providers like Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, AETNA and Focus Point to provide injury prevention training, glucose, high blood pressure, vision and medical screenings.
The festival’s final event on July 28 will take place at Penn’s Landing including performances by national Hip Hop artist T.I. “Tip” Harris, International R&B group Dru Hill, Estelle, SWV, Sister Nancy and Lenny Williams.
Last year as many as 4,000 people participants from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York were in attendance. It encouraged McFadden to extend the event from one day into a health week in order to cater to a broader audience.
McFadden says she plans to keep the festival in Pennsylvania but is actively working to expand it to other cities. To date the organization services over 1,000 people from age 18 to 90. The festival is just an extension of the many services PCA provides for people in 33 counties around Pennsylvania.
“We are also taking it a step further within our organization and also looking at their standard of living. For those who can, we try to focus on their ability and not their disability,” she said.
McFadden said growing up in West Philadelphia inspired her to become involved in wellness. As a child McFadden recalled how she and her peers indulged in Little Debbie snacks and drink high-fructose drinks to start their school days. As an adult, she noticed that many of the illnesses people suffered from were terminal, but prior to, began as preventive.
“I would honestly like to see healthy lifestyle become a trend in urban communities because we’re the ones who suffer the most,” she said.
McFadden juggled entrepreneurship along with being a single mom to three children, all of whom suffered from a disability. Besides Calvin, McFadden has two daughters, Angela, 28, and Aaliyah, 15.
“It was very hard for me to balance being a mom, trying to be career focused and also having three children with these special needs and honestly I did not have access to a lot of the resources that are available now,” McFadden said.
Her first initiative in the community named TeaTalk included a program to empower women and families to grow their career and education in hopes of changing the community economically. To date day, elevating women is still a tenant she lives by.
“I couldn’t have gotten to space that I’m in without Black girl magic,” McFadden said.
When asked about how she summoned the strength to prevail through the whirlwind of grief and loss, McFadden is openly candid about her survival.
“No matter what I faced, no matter what trials, no matter what tribulations, no matter what ups nd downs I had, it was ‘create your story to empower others,’ and that became my mission to lead by example and empower others,” she said. “If you really want to create your story you have to fight. You have to fight through everything.”