The event was founded by Spiral Q in 2000 Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn

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Philadelphians have a knack for putting a unique spin on parades, and Saturday’s 22nd annual Peoplehood Parade in West Philadelphia was no different.

It was a bright and sunny fall afternoon when I stepped outside my door onto 50th Street. I was greeted by the sounds and sights of people from all walks of life, greeting one another and making final adjustments to their elaborate props, costumes, puppets, banners, and artwork.

The event is organized by Spiral Q, an activist puppet theater group and educational nonprofit founded in 1996. Its goal is simple: to showcase the work of people in community. It starts the month before with coordinated art builds and rehearsals, and culminates in a grand march.

This year’s parade route went from the Paul Robeson House to Clark Park, and continuing my stroll to the starting point, I ran into Gritty. Well, not exactly Gritty, but someone wearing Gritty headgear. It made total sense. Like the orange fuzzy mascot monster, the Peoplehood Parade is quintessential Philly.  It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from — or even if folks can’t quite pin down your origin story. All are welcome.

A likeness of Gritty marches down the streets of West Philly Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn

This is a gathering that makes space for everyone to dance, walk, ride a bike, or move in whatever way makes sense. It embraces the notion that everyone should have the right to thrive and be themselves, and highlights the power of art and self-expression to make compelling statements against oppression and discrimination.

It felt like I stepped into a portal as the procession wound through the streets of West Philly. It was easy to forget that life as we all knew it was put on pause in 2020, and that several tumultuous years would pass before we could pick up where we left off — if we were lucky.

But during the parade, it felt like the best of peoplehood was on display, sending the message that humanity has at least a fighting chance to overcome all that is wrong and unjust.

Scroll down for more images from the celebration of art and freedom.

Bowtie wearing crocodiles — because why not? — in the annual Peoplehood Parade Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
The West Powelton Steppers and Drum Squad marched in the parade Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
Some marchers carried trippy tubas, others carried activist signage Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
Members of the Save UC Townhomes coalition next to larger-than-life paintings of themselves Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
Gretjen Clausing, executive director of PhillyCAM community media Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
‘Community care is radical’ says a sign carried by one group of marchers Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
A group of marchers catches a fellow parade participant’s attention Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
Neighbors came out to watch the spectacle go by Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
‘Trust children’ reads a sunflower sign Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
Freedom was a big theme of the 2022 Peoplehood Parade Credit: Tieshka Smith for Billy Penn
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Tieshka K. Smith (she/her) is a Philadelphia-based photographer and content creator. She uses as many tools at her disposal to challenge and disrupt the status quo. Her community-based artistic practice...