If you’re in the hunt for interesting and unique items for your home or for yourself, I have the place to go. Amazulu Collections was started in 1985 by Charita Powell. You may have seen some of their goods at the Reading Terminal, but what you may not know is that Amazulu also has a larger space in the Bok building where they will be holding a three day celebration for the space, April 21 through 23. The showcase will feature clothing, jewelry, and gift items from Amazulu and Urban Karma Wear, a line of clothing that’s “For people who desire an aesthetic beyond the uniformity of mass-produced clothing.” It’s “wearable-art” designed for everyone to wear, whether male, female, androgynous, or nonbinary. “Where Cultures Meet” is the theme for the three day celebration, and I was excited to learn that a former “Portrait” interviewee, Philly local Jazz vocalist Shayne Fredrick, will be performing there. There will be head wrapping classes, dancing, and more. Should you make it, you will most likely be greeted by this week’s Portrait, Rose Mayfield. Mayfield is a bit of a renaissance woman in her own right and took time out with her dog, Mr. Peabody, to talk to me.
Where do you hail from?
I’m originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in various places around the city. This is my home. Right now I’m in Fishtown.
Are you from a big family? Small family?
Relatively small, I had one brother and one sister, both of them are now deceased. But I have a bunch of nephews and nieces!
They’re the best! I tease my nephew by making him say that I’m his favorite aunt. Of course I’m his only aunt, so that helps!
There you go!
What were you like as a kid? How would your mother have described you?
Well, my mom had some issues so the three of us were raised by our grandparents. I think my grandmother would have said that I was a bookwormy kid. I spent most of my time reading or camping. Both things that made me want to get out and try to see the world. Through reading I was able to see a different life from the one that I had. And it allowed me to read and dream about places I could possibly go to someday. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to travel and see different places and connect.
What was a favorite or scariest moment camping?
Thank goodness I’ve never had a scary moment, but I guess my favorite moments would be my experiences going to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. I’ve spent many, many years going there, it was my second home.
I think I may have met you at Sisterspace, the other big Women’s Festival.
Probably! I used to go to Sisterspace years ago. I haven’t been as much lately, though I was there two years ago with Charita so we probably did meet.
Yup, I was there two years ago. And I’ll be there again this year! In fact, I interviewed Jill Sobule of “I Kissed a Girl” fame when she was in town and I took Jo-Ann McIntyre (then Executive Director of Sisterspace) and her partner to see and meet Jill. Now she’s going to be performing there this year!
Okay, I’ll probably start going back this year, that sounds exciting.
What was your first or favorite book as a kid?
Oh, there were a couple but I can’t remember the titles! I remember one story about this young girl who went off to camp and took her little skinny pajamas and her music with a headset with her, and when she got there they took it all away from her. They wanted her to have the full experience of being in camp and for some reason that story connected with me. I always loved it but I cannot remember the title!
I have one of those too. I loved a story about these kids who would have adventures flying around in a cardboard box, but I can’t remember the title either! Maybe someone will read this and let us know! Now you weren’t kidding with your love of reading, you even opened up a bookstore at one point, correct?
Yes, it was called “Girlfriends” and we were up at 15th and South. I was there for about 3 years. It was a dream of mine but the wrong time to open a bookstore. That was about 25 years ago and places like Barnes & Noble were starting to stock LGBTQ literature and it was hard for my little hole-in-the-wall shop to compete against them. Also, at the time I was also working full time as a social worker so it was a lot. But it was wonderful, the experience was absolutely beautiful while it lasted.
I would imagine that like a lot of independent places, it wasn’t just a bookstore, it probably became a hub for people.
Absolutely! And Charita was really, really helpful for me because at that time she was doing her jewelry and she set up a little area in my store to sell her stuff. It brought in lots and lots and lots of people. It was a way we were able to support each other.
What was a favorite memory or moment from the bookstore?
I guess the opening day. It was my dream coming true and so many people came out to show their support. It was absolutely wonderful. Even Giovanni’s Room gave their support, so I was thrilled and happy.
That must have been exciting!
Oh it was, and challenging. The place was just an empty room when I got it. We had to go out and get everything, the book shelves, the furniture, all of it. But it was worth it.
What were some rewarding moments as a social worker?
I enjoyed working in a hospital setting, so most of my social work years were spent at Temple University Hospital. I eventually left there and went to WAWA, Women’s Association for Women’s Alternative, for a few years, and then I went and got a degree in education and became a teacher.
What? How many degrees do you have? Are you still teaching, Miss Mayfield?
No, no, no, no. No more work for me! Not like that anyway. I taught 4th & 5th grade in several different schools. Mostly schools that were located in inner city areas that were impoverished and needed help. I enjoyed being with the kids. I saw so many kids with great potential who worked really, really hard and went on to accomplish major achievements. It was a whole different scene. That was when the parents worked with the teachers to help better their kids. I don’t see much of that going on now.
Do you watch Abbot Elementary?
Yes, I do!
So backing up, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to own a bookstore! Well, I really wanted to be a nurse and I went to nursing school for a couple of years, and then I left nursing and went into social work. I started at Community College and ended up going to Temple for my bachelor’s degree and my masters.
What was it about that field that drew you in?
I just wanted to do something where I would be able to help people. I saw a lot of suffering in my life, and I always wanted to try to alleviate the pain I saw in other people.
What were some of the things you faced?
There were financial challenges, and sometimes trying to get other people to open their eyes and see.
What was your experience as a lesbian back in the day?
I never had any kind of official coming out with the family; it always was just something accepted. But it wasn’t something you talked about. I never had a conversation with my family about being gay. Now, I talk about it with my nieces, but back then we didn’t. It was just quietly understood.
Even when you had the bookstore?
Even then. But that time my grandparents were very, very old and never even got to come down to see the store.
Who’s the funniest in the family?
My grandmother! She was everything to me. That woman, she lived to be 100 years old and she didn’t have any formal education, but she was the most intelligent and well rounded person you could imagine. I mean she knew everything. She was my rock, she still is. She’s my everything.
What’s a good memory with your siblings and what’s something you fought about?
My brother was a little bit older than me, so I wasn’t as close to him as I was to my sister. She and I were very close. Our younger years were really fun. Especially around the holidays, my grandparents weren’t rich but they tried to make sure we got everything we needed and most of what we wanted! And that included their love.
Speaking of love, let’s talk about your love of travel.
Oh yes, I love to travel. [Shouts to the air] Thank you Charita! She’s one of my oldest friends. I’ve been hanging out with her since she was about 18, so it’s been a long time. Because of the business she travels a lot and invited us to go to travel with her. We’ve been to Bali, we’ve been to South Africa, all over. And because she knows the different places, she made a great tour guide!
What’s the most exotic thing you’ve eaten in your travels?
Me? I think sushi is about as exotic as I get!
[Laughing] Oh lord, okay, you don’t get any points for that.
I’m so sorry! Wait, I just thought of something. When Charita took us to Bali, or rather when we went with her, I was telling her about this exotic fruit I’d read about and seen in videos on YouTube. I couldn’t remember the name of it, but when we went shopping I saw it in the grocery store. We bought one to try it and when we cut it open it had the worst odor! It smelled horrible! It was the stinkiest… I mean I don’t know how you would even… it was just bad. I don’t know how you could get past the smell to eat it. Sandy, Charita’s wife, that brave little soul, tried it and loved it. I don’t know how, just having it in the car was stink, stink, stinky! And it was considered a delicacy there. For future reference, it was called a Durian fruit.
Duly noted. You said, “we”, do you have a partner?
No, we went with a bunch of friends. My partner passed away in 2005 from breast cancer.
Well, that’s a trial to go through.
Yes, it was a horrible experience, but I try to focus on the good years that we had together and the fact that she was no longer in pain. It made it just a little bit easier to accept. That was my first real experience with death.
Then I’m guessing that she passed before your grandparents?
Yes, they just passed in the last 10 years
Now that you’re a lady of leisure, what are you up to these days?
I take care of my nephew. He has cerebral palsy.
You are a caretaker at heart.
Very much so, I like it. I get satisfaction from helping people. It’s why I love greeting people at the Amazulu events.
Speaking of which, what’s a favorite item that you’ve purchased from them?
Oh, so many things. Mostly artwork and various birthday and Christmas presents, things for my nephew. I also love her hats, but my favorite purchase is a painting by an artist, K. Books. I cherish it.
I have a chair and a lamp that I love. So, as old school lesbians, what’s something that’s missing from the community in this era that you wish the young folks could experience?
Not only young people but all of us. There is no sense of community any more. When I came out there were women’s bars and women’s music concerts and organizations. Now you can try to find a MeetUp, but it’s just not the same. It’s nowhere near what we used to have.
What was the first women’s bar you went into?
Sneakers! Over on 3rd Street, right off of Market Street. Yas! That was my first experience. When I decided to acknowledge that I was gay, I’d spoken to one of the women I worked with and she told me about Sneakers. I was so scared I went down on a Sunday morning when it was closed, just to walk by and peek in the window! I was like, “Wow, this is it!” so I made my other best friend, who wasn’t gay, come with me. She became my Sneaker buddy until she was finally like, “Rose, you have to start doing this on your own. Stop hiding behind me!”
You had a wing woman.
Yes, and I had some crazy times there. I remember one time when I ran into someone I’d gone to high school with. That person said to me, “Did you go over to the bar yet?” I was like, “No”, and walked over. Turns out the bartender was my gym teacher from high school! It was quite an exciting time for me. Ode to the gym teachers!
Cheers! Okay, let’s do some rapid fire questions. You wouldn’t know it from looking at me but I’m really good at…
Cool. I would not have expected that. Last time you laughed until you cried?
I laugh every day! But let’s see, the last big laugh… Oh, it was when my neighbor came outside and locked himself out in his underwear! I was looking out of my second floor window and he looked up and we both started laughing. I had to call his son to get the key to come and let him in. It was quite funny to see him standing out there freezing in his undies.
Ha, I thought that only happened in movies and sitcoms.
No, I live in Fishtown. Everything happens here!
What genre of music would I find on your playlist?
It varies. It used to be mostly women’s music, but now I’m more into jazz and some old soul music. I’m not into this rap stuff, I can’t even tell what they’re saying most of the time.
An old beat up Mustang. It was a sweet car, I loved it. It was supposed to be blue, but it was so rusted it was hard to see.
[As Mr. Peabody barks] When my dog looks at me I imagine he is thinking?
Get off the phone with Suzi and come pet me!
Okay Mr. P, I get the hint.
For more information, visit https://amazulucollections.shop/events/.