Zori Amaya may have thought she was going to have a quiet 8th birthday. Her father, Avery Amaya, however, had other plans.
“This band started walking down, and I was like, what?” Zori recalled shortly after the celebration on Monday. “It was awesome, and it felt really great. I felt really special.”
The drum line was Positive Movement, the ensemble that famously performs around Philly incorporating characters from TV and comics, often led by William Fulton, better known around town as Philly Elmo. Positive Movement took a hiatus initially during the coronavirus pandemic, but after debating whether to stay inside, made the decision that its adult drummers, should they choose, would still hit the streets, while youth participants would stay home.
In 2018, the drum line became known outside of Philadelphia when a video of it marching near a four-alarm fire hit the internet. Earlier this month, its return to public performances quickly brought about its latest viral moment, when spectators posted about the group’s making its way through South Philadelphia.
Tone Royster, founder of Positive Movement, said it’s back in action, in part to help uplift people. Royster, who has been doing deliveries through DoorDash to support himself, finds motivation in the smiles he sees on passersby.
“When we link up,” said Royster, “it makes me feel better. It takes away all the stress.”
On Monday afternoon when the drum line showed up at the Amayas’ home in Northern Liberties, dozens of neighbors came out to watch. Philly Elmo gifted the birthday girl with a confetti popper, stuffed animals, bracelets, and balloons, among other presents. He broke the social distance barrier and gave Zori a hug. Avery is glad they were able to “break up the monotony.”
“People were texting me like, ‘That was amazing, thank you so much for doing that,’ ” Avery said. “You just don’t get things like this during quarantine.”
For Philly Elmo, the risk of being out and about is worth the reward.
“I know what it is to sit in the house with nothing to do,” Fulton said. “I’m not trying to get sick, but I’m willing to get sick to keep everybody happy.”
Staff photographer Tim Tai contributed to this article.