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Love letter Philadelphia
Image: Time Out

Dear Philly: A love letter to one of four cities that saved America

Celebrating the grit and take-no-mess tenacity that makes the Black community in Philadelphia so great

Written by
Cassie Owens
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Dear Philadelphia,

A lot of folks know that you’re a take-no-mess kind of place, but some of us have the privilege of knowing how soulful you are. When I think about your soulfulness, I think about how, within Black Philadelphia, you can experience art, music, culture and spirit easily, and sometimes all around you. 

When there’s not an airborne pandemic, you can feel it walking past drum lines on Market Street, or on the dance floor at the party Friends and Fam, or while moving among the crowds at the Odunde Festival.  During the coronavirus pandemic, Black Philadelphians have continued generations-long traditions of mission-based community work, mutual aid and resistance.

And I think of the pride you inspire. Some people are surprised to learn that Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, John Coltrane, Barkley Hendricks, and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor were all from here—but Philadelphians will remind you. 

And much of the nation got to see how proud Philadelphians are of our city during the Election, as protesters turned out to insist that the vote count continue, to music, dancing, with many in costumes, in ways that only Philadelphians would. 

Sometimes folks from out of town wonder why the pride runs so deep. I could point to our food or our cultures, or list more Philly legends who made a difference. But really, Philly, there’s never been a time when you and your residents haven’t been critical to the American story. Last year just gave us more examples.

Love,

Cassie

Photograph: Courtesy Cassie Owens 

Black-owned businesses shaping Philly right now

Uncle Bobbie’s, which first opened in late 2017, quickly became a common meeting ground and cultural space for locals. The brainchild of Temple professor and public intellectual Marc Lamont Hill, Uncle Bobbie’s welcomes a diverse mix of Black readers. The bookstore, which survived multiple attempts of vandalism and burglary last year, is currently selling its stock online. 

This new Strawberry Mansion pizzeria brings Detroit-style pizza to North Philadelphia. The vision for the restaurant grew out of co-founder Kurt Evans’ End Mass Incarceration dinner series, and Down North staffs formerly incarcerated people as part of its mission. Currently, the pizza shop has been sellings pies and wings through weekend pop-ups where customers select specials like the “Glamorous Life,” a crab, shrimp and vodka sauce pizza.

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Some fashion lovers may know Milan Harris and her brand Milano di Rouge because of the celebrities, like Saweetie and Monica, who wear the label. But Harris has also made a name for building her fashion house off the muscle. With success, she’s become a philanthropist and ceaseless advocate for local businesses and women’s entrepreneurship. Behind her twist on active wear with sex appeal lies a clear philosophy around women’s empowerment and Philly supporting Philly.

This Queen Village brand is more than a home goods store and design studio. With founder Shannon Maldonado’s carefully curated offerings, fromdesign-forward ceramics to its mix of sculptural and scented candles, the brand has become a bellwether of taste. Yowie has expanded in fashion as
well. In December, Yowie released a capsule collection for colorful sweats, as a tribute to the throwback styles from the Gap and United Colors of Bennetton.

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Self-taught urban farmer Christa Barfield saw community supported agriculture on a trip to Martinique, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and returned to her native Germantown with the goal to start farming in Philly. With an overarching goal of addressing food injustice in marginalized communities, she expanded the business last year, moving into Farmer Jawn’s Elkins Park greenhouses and growing produce with regenerative soil practices. 

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