The Billies

Meet the 2021 Billies nominees, three dozen awesome Philadelphia people and projects

The annual gala honors local creators, leaders, artists and innovators — and you decide who wins.

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A roster of 36 awesome Philadelphians and local organizations are up for a Billie this year, and each is deserving of recognition.

This year’s Billies nominees, selected from your suggestions by a committee of Billy Penn and WHYY staff who live and work in the city, encompass a huge range of projects and industries. There are artists and entrepreneurs. Entertainers and healers. Newsmakers and news writers. And they’re all our neighbors.

One winner in each of the nine categories will join Most Valuable Philadelphian Terril Haigler, aka Ya Fav Trashman, in being honored at this year’s Billy Penn awards gala.

Presented by Pat’s King of Steaks, the 2021 show streams virtually at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 16, so you can attend from anywhere. When you pick up a ticket ($25 or pay what you wish), you’ll join our live hosts as they present the winners, with a DJ spinning live and other local entertainment along the way.

Who’ll walk away with this year’s trophies? That’s up to all the audience members who cast ballots during our online voting stage.

We’ll see you on June 16 for the grand reveal.


Jump to a category:


🍹 Better Than Wooder

For creating great drinks and places to enjoy them

La Llorona Cantina Mexicana | Arturo Lorenzo & Maricela Tellez

The couple behind two West Passyunk spots, Cafe y Chocolat and La Mula Terca, Lorenzo and Tellez didn’t let the pandemic stop them from adding their first liquor-licensed establishment to the neighborhood, complete with a spacious outdoor dining area and bar.

Resa Mueller | R&D Cocktail Bar

A longtime spark in the local restaurant scene who helped bring Filipino food to Philadelphia with the Pelago pop-up series, Mueller filled social media with drink lessons and created a banging bottled cocktail menu for Fishtown’s R&D.

Barry Johnson | Bartender Barry

One of the people who nominated Johnson summed it up perfectly: “They are a Black queer bartender in Philly who has an incredible website/social media that teaches the most basic people how to make some of the dopest cocktails.”

Tattooed Mom

Even when customers weren’t able to sip next to the swirls of color on its street art-covered walls, this South Street mainstay brought the fun, with a menu of to-go drinks that kept the vibe. Swedish fish in boozy form? Mango boba in a cocktail? Check and check.

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📲 Never Delete Your Account

Most persuasive social media use

@artisnteasyofficial | Art Isn’t Easy

Can you perform compelling musicals with just two people? This duo proves its not only possible, it can also be a ton of fun. Supported mostly by Patreon, their online performances poke fun at artistic snobbery and will have you rolling.

@jesseito | Jesse Ito, Royal Sushi & Izakaya

If you haven’t watched this sushi chef’s Instagram videos, you might not realize how artistic it can be to slice through huge bellies of tuna and crack open giant live scallops. The work comes together in gorgeous layouts for his Queen Village restaurant.

@phreedomjawn | Rasheed Ajamu, Phreedom Jawn

Over the past year, Ajamu has turned his Instagram page into a one-stop information hub for Black Philadelphians and people who care about the community. The overarching goal, per his bio: “Elevating stories and opportunities to aid Black folks.”

@thefatsextherapist | Sonalee Rashatwar, Radical Therapy Center

With 145k Insta followers, Rashatwar is probably better known globally than in their home city. A clinical social worker, they share resources and advice on sexual healing, and generally help promote body positivity.

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🎨 Graffiti Glowup

Most interesting street art

Nicole Nikolich | Lace In The Moon

With her recognizable crochet pinned to walls across the city, Nikolich turns yarn into commentary on mental health, politics, sex education and other serious issues, but also puts up pieces that provide splashes of levity and colorful fun.

NOMAD | Good Samaritans

Philadelphia is the birthplace of traditional graffiti, and Nomad keeps handstyle alive with his recognizable writing on surfaces large and small. Words meld with drawings in the Germantown native’s work, most of which feature his signature “face.”

Samuel Rodriguez | Walls For Justice

Inspired by the social justice protests of summer 2020, this longtime Mural Arts employee spun off a new initiative. The Walls for Justice project grew organically at first, painting boarded up storefronts in various neighborhoods, and has since become a full-fledged nonprofit.

Symone Salib | Symone Salib Studio

Even if you don’t recognize her name, you probably know her work — the outline-heavy, portrait-focused murals that grace surfaces all over Philadelphia. A Cuban/Egyptian artist, Salib is entirely self-taught.

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🔄 Best Pandemic Pivot

Celebrating a small business that “made it work”

Herman’s Coffee | Mathew Falco and Amy Strauss

Several Philly restaurants set up retail stores in their spaces when the city suspended indoor service, but the team behind this Pennsport cafe turned theirs into an industry showcase, stocking products from local producers and hosting a rotating cast of chefs at pop-ups and their outdoor cart.

Mighty Writers

Unable to hold regular classes or tutoring sessions, this longtime reading and writing nonprofit switched its focus to providing other necessities to families who struggled, distributing free food, diapers and other goods — with books included in every bag of groceries.

PFS Drive-In at the Navy Yard | Philadelphia Film Society

The joy brought to stir-crazy Philadelphians last summer when PFS announced its outdoor movie series was obvious by how fast the events sold out, snapped up by eager couples and families looking for new things to do.

Rutabaga Toy Library | Krystal Cunillera

When things changed about a year after she launched one of the city’s only repositories for borrowable kids toys, Cunillera invented a new system: all the playthings were listed online, and then delivered weekly to families who signed up, with new donations picked up along the way.

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☀️ Lenfest Sunshine Award

Most Impactful Local Journalism Project

Germantown Info Hub | Maleka Fruean & Team

Launched in late 2018, this community news and resource really came into its own during the pandemic, when it not only provided crucial updates to the neighborhood, but also virtual spaces for important and healing conversations.

The Homicide Files | Samantha Melamed, The Philadelphia Inquirer

As they tried to battle rising homicides, Philadelphia detectives gained a reputation for using fabricated statements and coerced confessions to get murder convictions. Along with deeply reported features speaking to exonerated people, this unique database lets people filter through 89 cases where misconduct is alleged.

Philly Under Fire Podcast | Jo Piazza, The Philadelphia Citizen

In a seven-part audio series, Piazza tells the stories and investigates the roots of Philly’s violence epidemic, talking to victims, mothers, healthcare providers, city officials, journalists, and dedicated grassroots leaders here and around the country.

Uptown Standard Newspaper | James Williams

A former political consultant whose job it was to place campaign ads in print, Williams turned publisher after he noticed there wasn’t one catering to his Northwest region. The Standard has grown from eight black-and-white pages to more than 20 in full color.

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🚪 Stoop-er Star

Honoring a neighbor that leveled up their community

TonYetta “Coach Tea” Brown | Hoopsb4streets

One of few women to coach boys basketball teams in Philadelphia, Brown has become a mentor to dozens of teens around the city, helping them gain skills and achieve greatness not just on the court, but the rest of their lives.

Michelle Nelson, Ph.D. | Mama-Tee Community Fridge Project

A small business owner in Philadelphia, Nelson was one of the first to recognize that the pandemic was making it hard for many families to access healthy food and fresh fruit and vegetables, so she organized the launch of one of the first community fridges in the city.

Warren Brown | Coach and Community Leader

A former YMCA staffer and current basketball coach at Neumann Goretti, Brown is known for going above and beyond to help the kids he trains, helping projects get off the ground with new grants, and even taking in those who don’t have a place to stay.

Rosalind Pichardo | Operation Save Our City

Activist Pichardo is a well-known face in Kensington, where she walks the street distributing gun locks, Narcan, clothing, and meals. During the pandemic she added PPE and masks to her arsenal, and helped serve more than 100k meals to people living in the neighborhood.

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🤝🏼 We All We Got, We All We Need

Celebrating mutual aid organizations providing for their neighbors

Everybody Eats Philly | Stephanie Willis, Kurt Evans, Aziza Young, Gregory Headen, Malik Ali

As protests surged and the pandemic bore down, a group of Black Philadelphia chefs decided to step up. Using their industry connections, they sourced donated ingredients and turned them into meals for families and residents facing food insecurity.

The People’s Fridge | Sonam and Sonia Parikh

On the corner of 52nd and Larchwood, this large-edition “leave a food item, take a food item” cabinet and fridge pays homage to the Parikh sisters’ dad, who died of COVID early in the onslaught and was known for his selfless generosity to his neighbors.

Sew Face Masks Philadelphia | Eugene Desyatnik & staff

More than 30,000 face masks were donated by this collective, whose leaders recruited dozens of sewers, sourced cloth and materials, and then distributed the PPE to anyone who needed it.

The West Philly Bunny Hop | Jena Harris & Katie Briggs

Jumping into action, this donation-based grocery supply hub was one of the first groups to organize regular deliveries to families and people who were homebound or unable to afford regular food shopping because of pandemic hardships.

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🎭 Socially Distant Showstopper

For excellent (and safe) pandemic live arts production

A Breath for Us | Sara Outing & Jarrett McCreary, Tiny Dynamite

Known for their very in-person series “A Play, a Pie and a Pint,” this socially-distant show featured six packages delivered via U.S. mail that lead the viewer through the story of two young Black women during the civil rights movement of the late 1960s.

Concerts on Cambridge | Andrea Levine, Miss Musique

A violinist and business owner, Levine brought together classical musicians from around Philadelphia to perform outdoors on stoops around the city. The mini concerts not only brought joy to neighbors, they also allowed music makers to flex their talents while venues were closed.

The Fleecing | Nathan Alford-Tate & Company, Almanac Dance Circus Theatre

How do you put on a popular murder mystery show based on a site-specific location when no one is allowed to visit the location? This performance troupe took it virtual, with a “choose your own adventure” style experience that pushed Zoom’s capabilities to the limit.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning | Blanka Zizka, The Wilma Theater

With in-person audiences disallowed, the Wilma ran a series of virtual shows, and this tale of four students at a Catholic college — performed as a live theater/film hybrid — grabbed critics’ attention, gaining accolades from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and beyond.

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💡 The Kids Are Alright

Zoomers breaking barriers and making waves

Akayla Brown | Dimplez 4 Dayz, Inc.

At 18 years old, Brown is already a seasoned organizer. After founding her youth empowerment nonprofit five years ago, she’s grown it substantially, and has now helped more than 5,000 young Philadelphians build confidence and fulfil their potential.

Melvin Floyd, Elijah McFarland, Kashmir Alston | Our Philadelphia

This group of high schoolers at Boys’ Latin interviewed other students and shared their own stories about friends lost to gun violence and how they’ve been affected, providing an uncommon look at the city’s crisis from a teen perspective.

Destiny Jackson | New Options More Opportunities (NOMO)

Once struggling in the foster care system, 18-year-old Jackson is planning to attend college next year. She found help at NOMO, a North Philly nonprofit where she now serves as inspiration to others who come through the organization.

Creative Resilient Youth

This diverse group of teens formed an artist collective to shed light on and support awareness of teen mental health issues, particularly in LGBTQ and Black/brown communities, continuing their work virtually even when in-person meetings weren’t allowed.

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👑 MVP: Most Valuable Philadelphian

Terrill Haigler | Ya Fav Trashman

Known throughout Philadelphia as Ya Fav Trashman, Haigler is being honored for his relentless advocacy for COVID protections for the city’s essential workers, and his continuing work helping clean Philly’s streets.

 

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