Billies co-hosts Sakeenah Benjamin and Danya Henninger

? Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

The Billies is Billy Penn’s annual awards show honoring local connectors, creators, champions, innovators, leaders, allies, and heroes. Presented by Pat’s King of Steaks, the second-ever edition went down last week, and it was a night of celebration.

Since live events have been on pause, we put all our effort into making a virtual broadcast that kicked butt, and a couple hundred viewers joined us on Zoom for the event.

It all took place at WHYY’s Center City studios, where set designer Sara Outing totally transformed the biggest meeting room so it was unrecognizable.

Under the direction of BP audience coordinator Elaina Di Monaco, Outing created a setup for house DJ Bounce Gawd that truly looked like a basement club. Bartender Barry had a fancy bar where he created the Billies signature cocktail, and 2021 Billies MVP Ya Fav Trashman joined co-hosts Danya Henninger and Sakeenah Benjamin on center stage.

As we danced to Bounce Gawd’s beats, the hosts highlighted our Billies nominees, helped along by killer graphics by Erin Bracken and Tristen Horan, and announced the popular vote winners in each of our 10 categories.

Each honoree received a custom trophy by crochet artist Lace in the Moon, which we presented live in person the following Saturday at a Philadelphia Phoenix match in South Philly.

These are people doing great things in the world’s greatest city — people whose names you should know.

Check out the videos below to hear more about them.

? Never Delete Your Account

Most persuasive social media use

This year forced us to find new avenues to stay connected, and several people found different ways to make their social media accounts invaluable.

From niche musical theatre comedy, to fat liberation, to sushi art, to community organizing, these nominees carved out a space to influence the internet, and we hope they’re here to stay.

Winner: Rasheed Ajamu, @phreedomjawn

[youtube url=”” /]

? Better Than Wooder

For creating great drinks and places to enjoy them

It’s no secret 2020 was a tough year for the hospitality industry, and the struggle isn’t even fully over. With bars forced to close, everyone had to adapt. Bartenders found new life on Instagram, old hangouts came alive with snazzy to-go drinks — and inventive newcomers beat the odds and thrived.

These nominees showed they know to go with the flow.

Winner: Tattooed Mom

[youtube url=”″ /]

? Graffiti Glowup

Most interesting street art

Historically, graffiti was considered vandalism, and the artists, predominantly people of color, were discriminated against. Street art has since expanded into the mainstream and evolved to include many different mediums. This formerly underground culture is now featured in museums — and even publicly funded.

The nominees include artists enriching the city with dynamic portrait murals, politically charged crochet, distinctive graffiti on surfaces from concrete to shoes, and social-justice-driven community murals.

Winner: Samuel Rodriguez, Walls for Justice

[youtube url=”” /]

?? We All We Got, We All We Need

Mutual aid organizations providing for their neighbors

When the city closed down, schools transitioned to virtual, school lunches disappeared, food pantries paused distribution — the most basic needs were a stretch for many families, and unemployment reached an all-time high.

From community fridges attached to small businesses, to pop-up free food in city parks, to distributing cloth masks when PPE was impossible to find, to top-level chefs cooking in their communities, these nominees went the extra mile to lend a hand to their neighbors through mutual aid, which proudly upholds the motto: solidarity not charity.

Winner: Sonia and Sonam Parikh, The People’s Fridge

[youtube url=”” /]

? Best Pandemic Pivot

Celebrating a small business that “made it work”

With all of the changes brought by the pandemic, small businesses and local organizations had it rough this year.

Instead of throwing in the towel, these entrepreneurs and leaders adjusted their models for this moment in time. From providing much-needed outdoor entertainment options, to taking the unexpected online, to partnering with other local vendors, to changing their function completely, our nominees made savvy pivots worthy of celebration.

Winner: Mighty Writers

[youtube url=”” /]

? The Kids Are Alright

Zoomers breaking barriers and making waves

Every new generation gets a lot of pushback from their elders. But not today. Billy Penn wants to celebrate the next batch of Philadelphians bringing a light to this world, despite the shadows that were left for them.

These nominees have accomplished incredible things, from starting nonprofits while in high school, to using art to raise mental health awareness, to creating documentaries tackling tough topics, to overcoming all odds and ruling the world anyway.

Winner: “Our Philadelphia”

[youtube url=”″ /]

☀️ Lenfest Sunshine Award

Most impactful local journalism project

In addition to being the nonprofit parent of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Lenfest Institute has a mission to develop sustainable solutions for local journalism throughout the region and around the United States.

For this award sponsored by Lenfest, nominees range from community news hubs, to podcasts addressing important issues, to investigative data journalism, to new print publications that fill local news deserts.

Winner: Germantown Info Hub

[youtube url=”” /]

? Socially Distant Showstopper

For excellent (and safe) pandemic live arts production

The live arts industry took a hit this year, with all indoor performances suspended for months on end. While many stages went dark, some groups found ways to connect with their audiences.

Through experimentation and innovation, these nominees created plays by mail, held classical concerts outdoors, produced entire seasons virtually, and adapted choose your own adventure performances so they worked on Zoom.

They dug into the cliche of “the show must go on” and made it work despite the odds.

Winner: “A Breath for Us” by Tiny Dynamite

[youtube url=”” /]

? Stoop-er Star

Honoring a neighbor that leveled up their community

These individuals take being neighborly to the extreme. They tirelessly serve those around them, always thinking of others, spreading positivity, and changing lives as they go.

The nominees include the founder of one of Philly’s first community fridges, the leader of Operation Save Our City in Kensington, the creator of Hoopsb4streets, a nonprofit serving teens through basketball, and a high school sport coach whose work extends far beyond the court.

Winner: Michelle Nelson, PhD, Mama Tee Fridge

[youtube url=”” /]

? MVP: Most Valuable Philadelphian

2021 honoree: Ya Fav Trashman

Terrill Haigler grew up in both North and South Philly, and trained as a dancer at Freedom Theatre on North Broad. After graduating from CAPA, went on to become a professional dancer. When he had his first child, he realized he wanted a more permanent job.

He worked as everything from grocery store clerk to a youth swimming coach at the YMCA. In late 2019, after two years on the waiting list, he was finally hired as a city sanitation worker.

Two months later, the pandemic hit — and Terrill stepped up big time.

As he and colleagues struggled to keep up with rising piles of trash and the danger of the virus, Terrill launched a campaign to get his fellow sanitation workers PPE. It was a huge success, and Ya Fav Trashman was born.

Since then, Terrill has doubled down on his commitment to helping keep Philly workers safe and keep the city clean. He coordinates fundraising drives for equipment, and organizes cleanups in the neighborhoods.

[youtube url=”” /]

Huge thanks to everyone who registered for a pay-what-you-wish ticket to The Billies, and especially our Billies VIPs, who donated at least $75 and received a custom-made cocktail kit delivered to their home.

And major props to presenting sponsor Pat’s King of Steaks, category sponsor the Lenfest Institute, VIP sponsor Bluecoat Gin, and entertainment sponsor Neshaminy Creek Brewing.

Can’t wait to see everyone next year when we’ll be back in person.

You can watch the whole 2021 Billies show below.

[youtube url=”” /]

Avatar photo

Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...