Who would Philadelphia invite over for Thanksgiving Day, if it could? Sure, all our stellar teams would be in attendance, including the (nearly) undefeated Eagles, NLCS champion Phillies (Don’t bother washing your hair for dinner, Brandon Marsh!), MLS Cup finalists Philadelphia Union (someone please give Philly guy Jim Curtin a key to the City), and we-can’t-wait-to-go-to-all-the-games Sixers and Flyers. We could invite candidates for mayor, or the newest members of City Council. But …
To be honest, we’d really like to invite the people who work so bad-word-ing hard every day to make Philadelphians’ lives safer, happier, better. These are our true heroes. These are the true Philadelphia Citizens. And we couldn’t be prouder or more thankful. So, on Thanksgiving Day in Philadelphia, thank YOU.
Founder and CEO of Asia Adams Save Our Children Foundation Shelah Harper has spent the last two decades speaking to youth in Philly about dating violence. Visiting schools citywide, she has frank conversations with young men and women about a subject more widespread and less talked about than domestic violence. Her inspiration comes from her foundation’s namesake, her daughter Asia, who was taken by intimate partner violence at 21. Her work doesn’t just help the students she sees at her program, but is shaping policy around dating violence.
Michael O’Bryan is best described by those who know him as a thought leader. You can also call him a humanitarian. Through his childhood in an impoverished neighborhood, running youth programs at Salvation Army’s Red Shield Shelter, working with Project Home, Project Ceasefire, the Mural Arts initiative, and more, O’Bryan knows trauma. O’Bryan, one of our Generation Change Philly fellows, has taken that experience and established Humanature, a design-strategy firm that helps organizations improve the way they “understand and support human development, interaction and performance.” His goal is nothing less than to ensure a better, more inclusive, and equitable society.
Trapeta B. Mayson
If you need some hope and inspiration, you can call 1-855-POEMRX2 (855 763 6792) right now and hear a fresh poem. This Healing Verse Hotline is just one of Trapeta Mayson’s contributions to making life better through the arts. She is a social worker, teacher, nonprofit administrator, and Poet Laureate. Born in Liberia, Mayson calls Philadelphia one of her two homes, and is passionate about the Germantown neighborhood she grew up in. Her love of community and its power is evident in her work, like the angry yet hopeful verses of “But there is still life here,” her poem about the gentrification of Germantown and the resilience of the residents who keep those values alive.
Michelle Freeman, another Generation Change Philly fellow, is the captain of Philly’s cheerleading squad. Her events and engagement firm Witty Gritty is focused on supporting nonprofits, civic organizations, and city agencies — specifically, organizations whose purpose is to make Philadelphia a better place. Her love of the city brought her all the way to the SXSW festival, where she teamed up with REC Philly to run Amplify Philly, promoting Philadelphia to the music, media, tech, and innovation crowd. Freeman’s devotion to Philly is matched only by her commitment to its betterment.
If you don’t recognize Cesar Viveros by name, you surely know his work. His murals in North Philadelphia and Fishtown encompass entire facades. Viveros has brought his art into prison, where inmates told the stories they helped paint on the walls, and to Mexican immigrant families through his work on the La Ofrenda project celebrating traditional family altars. But Viveros doesn’t just make the city beautiful, he is also turning his talents toward activism. He is at the forefront of the effort to save the Cesar Andreú Iglesias Community Garden, a cherished community space that he co-founded.
Richard Guffanti and volunteer caretakers of Cobbs Creek
“Retired” teacher Richard Guffanti joined with some of his neighbors to clean up leaves along 63rd street, and the next thing he knew, he had helped found Cobb’s Creek Park Cleanups, volunteer Ambassadors who adopt sections of the park to clean up. He is passionate about cleaning up trash, partnering with other community groups and tirelessly working to recruit more volunteers in the hopes they can cover the entire park (right now they are at 62 percent!) and eventually the creek and surrounding floodplain.
Cristina Martinez is the chef behind South Philly Barbacoa and Casa Mexico, traditional Mexican food made with love. She has been featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table and on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. But her success isn’t all about good eats: Martinez, another Generation Change Philly fellow, is a champion for the undocumented workers who are the hidden backbone of our economy. Herself having fled to the U.S. to survive and experienced the danger of crossing the border, she knows both what immigrant workers have been through and the appreciation they deserve. She helped start the #Right2Work movement and is one of the faces of undocumented immigration.
Kensington activist, community volunteer, harm reduction worker, and founder of Operation Save Our City Rosalind Pichardo has made it her life’s mission to end senseless loss in Philadelphia. Whether she is administering naloxone to people who’ve overdosed on opioids, teaching others how to save lives, or counseling families of homicide victims, Pichardo channels her personal experiences with violence into indomitable strength. Her organization is focused on supporting families of homicide victims, ensuring unsolved homicides are not forgotten by the community nor the police.
The founder and leader of Harriett’s Bookshop and Ida’s Bookshop Jeannine Cook is a social justice activist whose love of literature guides her principles and passions. She ensured thousands of Philly hospital workers received the gift of books during the pandemic — and delivered her online book orders on horseback. Cook, another Generation Change Philly fellow, crisscrossed the country delivering books on organizing during protests against racism and police brutality, mingled with celebrities promoting both books and celebrating Black-and women-centered stories, and began working with U.S. Congress to establish a federal holiday honoring Harriet (which she spells “Harriett”) Tubman.
Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons
Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons is a beacon of light for women trying to re-establish their lives after incarceration. She is the founder of Why Not Prosper, a city-lauded program supporting women before and after release from prison through mentorship, education and job training, and housing resources. Taking from her own experience with the criminal justice system, Rev. Simmons’s unique approach reinforces building skills and strength, which she herself draws from her faith.
The Citizen’s Integrity Icons
Want to talk about real heroes? Look no further than the 10 city workers nominated by Philadelphians for going above and beyond their job descriptions to provide fair, respectful, caring and high-integrity service to the people of their city. Our Integrity Icons from 2021 and 2022 include folks who work in education, public health, parks, taxes and more. What they have in common is their mission to help all of us live better in the city of Philadelphia.
The Roots co-frontman, drummer, and prolific creator of films, music, and more, Questlove might be the coolest human on our list. His cultural impact is unparalleled: he is a musician, DJ, author, producer, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker. His work in Philadelphia transcends entertainment, focusing on getting students more academic and artistic opportunities, tackling social justice through participation and engagement. (He also showed up at City Hall on Election Day 2022 to DJ for voters.)
The veteran MSNBC anchor and host didn’t grow up in Philly. But, thanks to his family, he made Philly his home. The Philadelphia Citizen is honored to have this cogent, compassionate journalist, fierce defender of democracy, and dear friend as a member of our board of directors. We thank our pal Ali for speaking truth to power, championing the American value of freedom of speech, letting us turn his onscreen reporting into posts and podcast episodes — and for showing up for our events, where we are all proudly Velshi stans. (See our guy Ali Velshi at our 5th annual Ideas We Should Steal Festival® on December 15, y’all!)
Andrea “Philly” Walls
“I see you. You are beautiful.” The greeting and premise of the digital Museum of Black Joy come from the mind of Andrea “Philly” Walls. James Peterson describes Walls as “a poet, photographer, curator and creator.” She’s also a storyteller of Black life in Philadelphia. In Ramona Africa, the Fletcher Street Riding Club, roller skating, and WURD, Walls depicts the most beautiful, joyful people in the world. Next month, she’s hosting the Black Joy Symposium. One not to miss.
Terrill “Ya Fav Trashman” Haigler
Made famous by advocating for PPE for Philadelphia sanitation workers during the height of Covid, kept famous by relentlessly recruiting Philadelphians to help him clean up our way-too-littered and dumped-upon city. Terrill “Ya Fav Trashman” Haigler — another Generation Change Philly fellow — hasn’t slowed down for a moment, or backed off his cause. In fact, the unabashed optimist and single dad is now setting his sights on a spot on City Council. It’s up to voters to decide if they want him — but either way, we can say we truly admire him for trying.
Everyone’s favorite offensive lineman (and fearsome ball snapper!) doubled down on doing good this year. Underdog Apparel makes the wearer feel Philly and Eagles proud — and a little bit like Jalen Hurts. What’s more, sales of Jason Kelce’s dog- and QB-emblazoned items benefit Steppingstone Scholars and Coded by Kids, two Philly organizations vastly improving our children’s lives through education. Not to mention how Kelc chugged a beer then hugged the Phanatic before a home World Series game. Or, that he prefers to wear sweats to travel to away games. Or … OMG we just want to eat stuffing and mashed potatoes with this guy.
Brandon “B.McFly” Chastang
The West Philly native came out of recovery five years ago with a mission to preach sobriety, recovery and love to his 100,000+ Instagram followers and in a popular podcast. The key, for him, is “transparent” about his own lived experience — something easy to say, but hard to stick to. “It’s so hard to be transparent,” Chastang says. “We are afraid to tell somebody we’re going through something because we’re afraid that they’re going to use it against us. But a person like me that’s transparent—and there’s other people out there, I’m sure there is, that can do the same thing that I’m doing—I don’t know, man. Like, that’s the only way.”
Cast of Abbott Elementary
Because they do Philly better than most Philadelphians do Philly. To be fair, creator Quinta Brunson is Overbrook born-and-bred. And, Brunson dedicated the incredibly clever sitcom to — and named it after — her sixth-grade teacher, Joyce Abbott. Also, (finally) Emmy-winning cast member Sheryl Lee Ralph — she of the incredible Emmys serenade — is married to iconic Philadelphia politician Vincent Hughes. Still, thanks for seeing us as we are, making us laugh, and giving us hope for our somewhat broken public school system.
Going to the barber is a sacred ritual in this city. But barber Joshua Santiago takes it a step further. He makes getting your crown cared for an act of love, a restoration of dignity. For seven years, the North Philly native has been offering Empowering Cuts to people experiencing homelessness. He’s even traveled the country in a mobile barbershop-day spa do so. These days, however, you’ll find the empathic listener and talented clipper-wielder back in Kensington, where people need him most.Photo by Brandi Alexandra on Unsplash