11 Philly groups get funds for projects to mark the nation’s 250th birthday
“We cannot celebrate independence without justice,” said the Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons, founder of Why Not Prosper, one of the semifinalists. Other orgs receiving funding include Philadelphia Music Alliance and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Whenever the United States has had a milestone birthday, such as the Bicentennial celebration in 1976, all eyes were on Philadelphia, the country’s birthplace.
On Tuesday, Philadelphia 250, the nonprofit group leading the city’s planning for the 250th national birthday in 2026, named 11 community-focused organizations as semifinalists in its “Leave a Legacy” grant competition.
The groups will each receive about $11,000 to plan a commemorative project as a way to mark the country’s 250th birthday.
Past major anniversaries were recognized by monuments or infrastructure projects such Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park or the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, said Erike De Veyra, the Leave a Legacy project manager.
Philadelphia 250 wanted this anniversary to be more inclusive of various communities in the city and become more of a real, “by the people, for the people” celebration. The thought, De Veyra said, was: “How can we capture the communities’ needs in the form of a legacy project?”
The goal was to seek projects that have a community impact that will create a stronger city for everyone.
We feel proud. We feel recognized, and we’re going to take this opportunity and really manifest it and make change.
The Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons’ Why Not Prosper, a nonprofit that provides housing and other assistance to formerly incarcerated women, is one of the semifinalists.
“We feel proud. We feel recognized, and we’re going to take this opportunity and really manifest it and make change,” Simmons said after learning the news Monday afternoon. She said Why Not Prosper proposed to use the grant money to provide services through its S.W.A.G., or Sisters With a Goal, social justice program.
Currently, Why Not Prosper provides a home for 25 women in three houses in Philadelphia. Another apartment is opening in Harrisburg next month.
The organization works to help women who are imprisoned and those formerly incarcerated to gain access to health care and regain parental rights if they have lost custody of their children.
S.W.A.G. is also organizing to get legislation drafted to end unfair labor practices for women in the state’s prisons.
“We are working on bills for inmate labor rights to stop making us work like dogs for 11 cents for an hour. We want to really transform the system, as it relates to Black and brown people.”
The 11 semifinalists were selected from a pool of nearly 80 applicants.
They will now enter a four-month incubation phase hosted by the Cambridge Innovation Center and assisted by the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University and Econsult Solutions.
Four finalists are to be named in December.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Philadelphia Foundation provided $125,000 to award the grants to the semifinalists.
Funding for the final projects that will be part of the city’s official Semiquincentennial celebration is still being determined, De Veyra said.
Some of the ideas the semifinalists produced included creating ways to increase access to recreational access, making a more inclusive city to serve people experiencing disabilities and challenges, and capitalizing on the musical heritage of Philadelphia.
“We have a huge heritage when it comes to music,” De Veyra said. “And Philadelphia should be a city we think about when it comes to music.”
She described the public call for legacy-creating projects a success
“People are coming to a realization that their ideas are important and have so much worth and so much value for all the city,” De Veyra said.
Simmons said she is very excited to be at the table helping to celebrate the birth of the nation.
“But we cannot celebrate independence without justice,” she said.
“In my proposal, I referenced Dr. Martin Luther King and his dream. They gave us a half a cup of freedom. Give us the whole thing.”
The 10 other semifinalists are:
* Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia proposes to bring bicycles and biking resources to underinvested communities in North and Northeast Philadelphia.
* HealthTribe Student Network, which seeks to become a permanent, community-based solution connecting students to health-care professionals.
* Philadelphia Music Alliance proposes a decentralized mobile music museum, connected by a heritage trail.
* Our Market will work to deliver a community-centered, multiyear public art project that tells the stories of cultural and commercial corridors, beginning with the 9th Street Market in South Philadelphia.
*Red Feather’s Legacy wants to establish a cultural center and hub for Native American/Indigenous People’s engagement, social service, advocacy for policy and dialogue with the City of Philadelphia, and for promotion of their culture.
* Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse wants to teach children the history of underrepresented heroes and social activism through play.
*Special Olympics Pennsylvania wants to advance Cities of Inclusion by ensuring that neighborhoods work for the 246,000 city residents who identify as having a disability.
* The Miyanda Project wants to address the lack of counselors in public schools.
* The West Philly Bunny Hop, a mutual aid program that provides free, healthy food to families.
* Writers Room at Drexel University wants to create a house-sharing program through its Second Story Collective program.