We entered 2021 much as we leave it: Uncertain what the next few months will bring, hopeful that we are turning a corner on the epidemics we face, prepared to adapt and jump into the fray whenever and however we’re needed.
Because that’s another thing that has remained consistent this year: Philadelphians from all corners of our city came out to support one another, nourishing our bodies and our spirits, and reaffirming what we love most about Philly—citizens who are committed to making it a better place for all of us.
Take Dr. Dan Taylor, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children who, on his daily commute, recognized the absence of proper basketball nets on local playgrounds—and set about raising funds to replace them, as a means of enticing kids to want to play and instilling neighbors with a sense of pride in their surroundings.
RELATED: We can all be incredible Philadelphians. Check out our Do Something guides for ideas on how to get involved in solving everyday city issues, such as hunger, homelessness school woes and more.
Or Thomas Quinn, the Central High School teacher who doesn’t just preach to his students that their voices matter, but has empowered them to register to vote, and to register their peers to vote, in droves.
There are the grieving mothers who hunt down their children’s killers; the neighbors advocating for their rights; the business leaders creating jobs and putting oft-overlooked candidates in positions of power; and the doctors doing so much more than just doling out medicine.
Below, some of the most dedicated Philadelphians who inspired us over the last year.
DOCTORS THINKING BEYOND THE EXAM ROOM
Through her research, publications, and testimonies in front of various state committees, the CHOP pediatric ER doctor and public health manager became the program manager for the Injury Prevention Program at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. And that role opened the door for Abaya—one of last year’s Integrity Icons—to simultaneously be named a Stoneleigh Fellow, through which she is working on a project to create a registry of people who are injured by gun violence, tracking them to understand how well we as a city do in getting them the resources they need.
At Penn Medicine, when they learned that White workers were three times more likely to sign up for a vaccine than Black workers, Dr. Florencia Greer Polite, Dr. Eugenia South, and fellow Black physicians set out to change that with a program getting noticed across the country. The three-part effort was designed to educate and remove barriers for Black staff members to get vaccinated. “As Black leaders at Penn Medicine, we recognized our unique position to address our community directly: to own the past mistakes of the medical profession, acknowledge present-day racism in healthcare and offer an opportunity for conversation about the vaccine with trusted messengers,” Dr. Polite and Dr. South wrote in an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times.
The founder of the Black Doctors Covid-19 consortium made headlines in 2020 for the speed and efficiency with which she reached out to test overlooked communities in Philly; in 2021, she broke even more barriers, launching The Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity (ASHE) at 2001 W. Lehigh Avenue—better known as 20th and “Dr. Ala Stanford Way,” thanks to the city rightfully renaming it in her honor—where her team’s focus has expanded to include addressing the wide array of health disparities and challenges that affect our communities of color.
The St. Christopher’s pediatrician is constantly finding new ways to uplift Philly youth. His latest endeavor is Need-a-Net Philly, a grassroots movement to repair basketball hoops around the city—and restore dignity to neighborhoods.
Philadelphian Ashley Ritter and the other women nurses, doctors, and scientists who answer questions and allay fears through their Facebook page and blog, Dear Pandemic, have provided a no-nonsense, no-panic voice of reason throughout Covid-19 to 100,000 regular followers around the globe. We have turned to them with questions about going back to school, gathering with friends, understanding vaccines and variants, and keeping track of the often baffling science behind the coronavirus. As Ritter says, “Science is not a fixed body. It changes all the time. People have a hard time with that.”
The high school history teacher has met the challenges of illiteracy and disenfranchisement with creativity and passion. The nonprofit he launched, We Love Philly, empowers students with professional skills and community engagement through volunteerism, mindfulness, content creation, and entrepreneurship.
The Principal of the Year—and The Citizen’s people’s choice Integrity Icon—thinks the key to turning around Philly schools comes down to human connection. His work at Robeson High School may prove him right. Among other accomplishments, he turned Paul Robeson High School for Human Services, a school with a 90-percent poverty rate and 100-percent minority population and one that the District had been planning to close in 2013, into one with a 95-percent graduation rate.
His success can be attributed to the formal programming he’s put in place—from mental health counseling to career mentorship to partnerships with Philly’s institutions of higher ed. But his progress all comes back to his unique gift of empathy.
The Central High School social studies teacher is empowering our city’s youth to exercise their most profound civic right: voting. Since 2015 Quinn has been organizing Philly Youth Vote, through the Caucus of Working Educators—an activist coalition within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—to lead a non-partisan effort to register every eligible high school senior in the city. So far, the group has recruited teachers in 45 district schools who have volunteered to get registration information and forms into the hands of any of the 8,000 seniors who turn 18 each year.
Melanie Cataldi turned her masters thesis into the hunger- and poverty-fighting culinary school at Philabundance. The goal: Ending hunger for good. Cataldi has worked for Philabundance for 20 years, during which she helped to launch and expand Philabundance Community Kitchen—which itself has launched hundreds of careers in the food industry.
Over the course of the last six years, in between working paid jobs like driving for rideshare companies, Santiago estimates that he’s given around 8,000 haircuts to homeless Philadelphians through his nonprofit, Empowering Cuts. Through a GoFundMe that raised $70,000, this year he purchased an RV and outfitted it with all the tools a barber needs. Then he hit the road, heading to California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Texas, offering free cuts all the way.
The Somerville native started Farmacy in 2019 to bridge the gap left behind when neighborhood produce stores—like the one his grandfather ran while Steward was growing up—shut down. Farmacy sources fruits and vegetables mainly from local Black and Brown farmers and makes them available to Philadelphia residents at affordable prices, to an average of 50 families every other week and at pop-up farmers markets at Franny Lou’s Porch and the Second Sundays market in Fishtown.
Brandon Chastang, publicly known as B. McFly, has leveraged his own experience with opiate addiction to preach sobriety, prevention, anti-violence and love to more than 95,000 Instagram followers, on his Self Inventory podcast and in speaking events throughout the city. In particular, the West Philly native connects with African American audiences through, in his own words, his strong ties to urban culture—the way he speaks and dresses, for example—that portray a sincerity others can’t imitate. “[Urban culture] is more to us than just entertainment,” Chastang says.
Terrill Haigler, aka Ya Fav Trashman, began as a largely anonymous sanitation worker and civil servant with an intriguing Instagram account that promised an inside look into his work. Within the span of roughly 18 months, he’s become one the city’s best-known activists, a man who has garnered national attention for the work he’s doing, shining a light on the city’s trash issues, and how the city is (or is not) dealing with them. Today Haigler is CEO of YaFavTrashman LLC and founder of the nonprofit Trash 2 Treasure, is an influencer (with 28.7K Insta followers), sanitation guru, public speaker, brand ambassador, entrepreneur, author, environmental activist and clean-up evangelist.
In Jo Piazza’s seven-part podcast chronicling a year of our city’s horrific gun violence epidemic, one group of people stood out among all the others working to fight this issue: Moms, who are not only the emotional and moral voices of this issue, but are also often the ones tracking down their childrens’ killers. Listen to the full series here.
Fulmore-Townsend, part of our Generation Change Philly, has spent the last 16 years, including the last seven as president and CEO, at Philadelphia Youth Network, which has provided more than 225,000 opportunities for young people in the city to get paid work experience and develop career readiness skills. For each of those paid opportunities, money has been put in the pockets of Philly young people—and then, data shows, circulated back into their communities. In 2019-2020 alone, for example, a total of $4,206,538 was distributed to youth via wages and incentives.
Guzman describes herself as a “trabajadores social sin titulo”—a social worker without a title. On a given day, she could be seeking out health care for a mom and her kids; connecting a young student with English classes; packing up food and clothing donations to distribute; or showing a recent arrival how to navigate the city by bus. All this, while juggling cleaning houses, making and selling pupusas and volunteering with organizations like The Philadelphia AIDS Consortium and Alianza.
THE CULTURAL MAKERS
Everything about Cook is baller: She founded Harriett’s Bookshop in Fishtown with its focus on writers who are women of color; she employs student interns, mentoring them in the ways of entrepreneurship and activism; she hands out free books; she delivers books on horseback; and this year, she added a second, “sister,” location. She has revived—and changed—what a bookshop can and should be, and we cannot wait to see what she does in 2022.
The Philly native and Temple-trained choreographer uses dance to celebrate the Black queer experience, and offer hope for all of us. His digital dance pieces have gone viral—with more than 14 million hits worldwide.
With The Unscripted Project, the recent Penn grads are pioneering an improv program for teens in Philly’s public schools that is boosting confidence, decreasing social anxiety and helping students understand their own emotions. It’s so successful, Wharton is starting to use its methods in its classes for executives and MBA students.
PARTNERS FOR CHANGE
Spark Therapeutics Marrazzo and Drexel University President Fry are betting big on a new $575 million innovation center that will bring 500 middle class pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs to West Philly—with another five jobs outside biotech expected to follow. For the city—and for the average Philadelphian—Spark’s ascendance means not only the potential to rewrite the city’s story, but also growth on a grand scale.
FS Investments founder Forman and labor leader Boyer’s Philadelphia Equity Alliance has an audacious goal: To make Philly the most equitable big city in America. The unlikely partnership between the two men during Covid has garnered support from FS, Boyer’s Laborer’s Council, Drexel University and CHOP. It has formed working committees on a handful of pressing problems facing Philadelphia—gun violence, getting capital to Black and Brown businesses, health equity, education—and has, on the policy front, engaged both McKinsey Consultants, for a roadmap on how to fuel Black and Brown jobs, and Drexel’s Bruce Katz, Citizen columnist and former chief of staff at HUD under President Clinton, who is a national leader on fostering inclusive growth in cities.
Only two elected officials have long spoken out against the tyranny waged on Philly’s body politic by John Dougherty and his enablers: State Representative Jared Solomon and City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. Corruption in Philadelphia costs everyone: A 2014 study by Indiana University and the University of Hong Kong found that corruption in Pennsylvania costs the average citizen of the Commonwealth $1,300 per year. No doubt, that’s much higher in Philly, where government is so often hijacked by private interests. To avoid being an accomplice, take in what Solomon and Quiñones-Sánchez had to say in this Zoom chat with Citizen co-founder Larry Platt and, as Platt says, “get in the game of defibrillating local democracy yourself.”
For the first-year IBX CEO, diverse hires and tackling health equity is smart business. Right out of the gate, Deavens has put his stamp on his company and in the region around two of his abiding passions: diversity and inclusion, and confronting stubborn health equity issues.
In 2017, Generation Change Philly’s Morris launched Mom Your Business, a nonprofit that helps Black and Brown female entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses, whether they’re in the early stages of brainstorming, or the later stages of seeking capital. “My mission is to help Black and Brown females turn obstacles into opportunities. Mom Your Business is like coming full circle, having had all those relationships that have shaped and molded me in business and in my personal and my professional and my spiritual life as well,” she says.
This pipeline builder is helping to place people of color on boards and in high-powered jobs to make meaningful change to our city’s institutions. Since launching in 2017, the program has graduated over 160 people and filled over 145 nonprofit board seats. Simultaneously, the executive search arm of Rahman’s business is placing workers in roles that fall into the sweet spot of $100,000 to $250,000 salaries. And in November, DiverseForce opened the doors to P4, a membership community in Germantown with co-working space for individuals, public, private, and philanthropic partners, and limited office space rentals. Lendistry, Founders First, and NFL Alumni Performance Lab have all committed so far.
Last year, Seer Interactive founder Wil Reynolds turned down a $50 million offer for his internet search firm. Instead, he’s investing his company’s wealth in his employees and his community: spreading his company’s wealth to his employees through new minimum salaries and profit-sharing; spending money to encourage volunteerism and charity among his workers and clients; and launching a determined effort to use Seer’s success to invest in the neediest in our community to the tune of $15 to $20 million over the next decade.