Team Liberia celebrates their 2016 Unity Cup win against Team Sierra Leone at Subaru Park Credit: Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Southwest Philly will be overflowing with rice bread, kala, and other Liberian foods this week in honor of Liberian Independence Day.

Restaurants like Cymel’s Liberian Restaurant and Musu’s Liberian Spot are donating the eats, to complement flag waving and dancing during parties on Wednesday and throughout the weekend. It’s a big deal in this city, as Philadelphia has the second largest population of Liberian immigrants in the U.S. after Hennepin County, Minnesota. 

Why have so many from the West African nation made their new home in Philly? 

“Liberians tend to stick together,” Trapeta Mayson, a recent poet laureate of Philadelphia who’s originally from Liberia, told Billy Penn.

Mayson arrived in the city in 1975 as a young child to be with family and get a better education, she said. Her father had heard of a group of Liberian families in Germantown, she recalled, so that’s where the family settled.  

Liberia was initially established as one of the colonies under the Quaker-run American Colonization Society, which gave people freed from enslavers the opportunity to relocate back to Africa. Some enslaved peoples believed that they were too far removed from their roots and chose to stay, but others returned.

Liberian independence was granted in 1847, about a quarter century after the colony was established. 

The following century, the newly independent nation fell into its own, protracted civil wars, lasting from 1989 to 1997 and 1999 to 2003. That led to an influx of reverse emigration, especially after Liberians were granted Temporary Protected Status in 1991. TPS was extended three times and eventually ended in June 2022, but before that happened, Liberians flocked to Philadelphia and other regions of the country to join family members that already lived here. 

Alphonso Samukai, the 22-year-old youth chair for the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, is grateful for the sacrifices his parents and elders made in their new home, creating nonprofits to help less fortunate relatives still in Liberia.

However, he’s frustrated that the next generation doesn’t seem to have the same passion, saying parents didn’t pass their knowledge down. 

“They forgot about the generation that was going to be born on this side,” Samukai said, “Individually, yes, they are setting up foundations for their children. But on a collective level the community isn’t there.” 

The chance to pass on tradition and create community is never better than this week, as Liberians in the region celebrate their country’s Independence Day.

Celebrations started last week with a gala ball in Bensalem, and conclude this Sunday with a church service at Victory Harvest Church International in Southwest Philly. 

Wednesday brings an honorary program at Philadelphia City Hall, where elders of the community will meet and the Liberian flag will be raised. At 4 p.m., the youth take over with a cookout on Lindbergh Field in Southwest Philadelphia. There will be lots of music and food. Just an all out jubilee.