Best of Philly 2017: 38 Philadelphians We Love

They make us laugh, they make us think, they make us proud — say hi to 38 Philadelphians we love right now.

Instagrammer Albert Lee, left, and Fox 29’s Mike Jerrick. Photography by Adam Jones

Edited by Brian Howard. Reported by Fabiola Cineas, Victor Fiorillo, Brian Howard, Holly Otterbein, Claire Sasko and Sandy Smith. 

tv personality

Mike Jerrick, host, Good Day Philadelphia
The big-yuks Fox 29 host displayed surprising depth and honesty when he disclosed that he was taking some time off to deal with depression. The city’s warm welcome upon his return made it clear that — the occasional on-air gaffe be damned — Philly’s got his back.

instagrammer

Albert Lee, @urphillypal
Philly is filthy with Instagram influencers, but none is so singularly devoted to showcasing the city from all its best angles as this La Salle alum. The result? Thousands of highly heart-able snaps that accentuate the positive. Thanks for making our feeds so pretty.

philly ambassador

Dawn Staley, basketball coach, University of South Carolina
Given Staley’s prodigious skills both on the court and with the clipboard, we’re not the least bit surprised that she led the Gamecocks to the NCAA women’s championship this year — or that she gave a shout-out to her Temple University roots almost immediately after cutting down the net.

badass prosecutor

Zane David Memeger, former U.S. Attorney
The recently resigned U.S. Attorney (he’s currently at Morgan Lewis) put Chaka Fattah behind bars, convicted Ironworkers union boss Joseph Dougherty, and wiped out the city’s traffic court. Put another way: He’s done a better job cleaning up the city’s Democratic Party than Bob Brady has.

sports hero

Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
The signal-calling ginger parachuted into the still-hot embers of the Chip Kelly Memorial Dumpster Fire and restored actual real-deal hope to an Eagles team that was legitimately on the trash heap.

council crusader

Allan Domb, City Councilman
When he ran for Council in 2015, the condo king promised to be Philly’s toughest tax collector. He said City Hall could rake in millions in property taxes that deadbeats owed — plus more from commercial parcels that were wildly under-assessed. He delivered: The city will reap $120 million more in property taxes this year than it did last year.

example of police professionalism

Raymond Baysmore, officer, Philadelphia Police Department
Remember that June viral video of the unhinged PHL 17 reporter outside Helium Comedy Club? Turns out the most remarkable part was neither her lewd tirade nor her regrettable assertion “I work at a fucking news station, motherfucker.” It was the unflappable Baysmore, an 11-year PPD vet who absorbed the brunt of her rage. This 35-year-old guy could write a book on restraint.

Office of LGBT Affairs executive director Amber Hikes, left, and Sen. Bob Casey. Photography by Adam Jones

trump resistance

Bob Casey, U.S. Senator
PA’s ho-hum senior senator finally found a cause worth fighting for: combating Trump extremism. When the President signed his travel ban, Casey dashed out of a fancy ball — in white tails and all — and drove straight to the airport, where Syrian families were being detained; he unleashed a full-on Twitter rant when ICE deported a boy and his mother to Honduras, and called POTUS “Nixonian” after the canning of FBI director James Comey. We knew you had it in you, pal!

prodigal daughter

Amber Hikes, executive director, Office of LGBTQ Affairs
The longtime Philly activist had struck out for California. But a year later, in a time of unrest for Philly’s LGBTQ community, she returned to take the reins at this city office. She’s winning praise — and, yes, ruffling a few feathers — with her straight talk and inclusive, take-no-BS approach. (Her support of a rainbow flag that includes black and brown stripes made national news.) The community leader wants everyone at the table, not just the privileged.

prodigal grandpa

Joe Biden, Penn professor
We’ve been claiming Scranton-born, Delaware-reppin’ Biden as a de facto Philadelphian for years. (They didn’t call him Pennsylvania’s third senator for nothing.) Now that he’s taking his post-veep game to a professorship at Penn’s Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, we don’t have to pretend anymore.

sports debut

Joel Embiid, center, Philadelphia 76ers
The expectations for the 2014 first-round pick were impossibly high. They were compounded by two excruciating years of anticipation, during which the average Philadelphian learned more about navicular fractures than most first-year med students do. It was worth the wait: Embiid performed like an MVP over the 31 games of his rookie season, suggesting that the team’s much-maligned rebuild might soon produce results. And his Twitter game (funny! Cuddly! Fearless!) is just as attention-demanding as his stat sheet.

sports prophet in exile

Sam Hinkie, former GM, Philadelphia 76ers
Oh, woe! We see it so clearly now, Sam. You were Cassandra, and we were the disbelieving Trojans. “The Process!” you cried. “I shall amass second-round picks and lead you to the Promised Land!” We laughed. We ridiculed. We hectored, until you left, after penning the world’s best FU letter. Now that your plan has borne fruit (Joel, Ben, Dario, Markelle, Furkan … ), we get it. You were right. We didn’t deserve you.

community visionary

Luis Cortés, CEO, Esperanza
By focusing on education in North Philly’s Latino enclave and building a college modeled after Notre Dame — another institution that educated immigrants when no one else would — Cortés, with Esperanza, has built a national model for creating opportunity and hope in marginalized communities.

supermarket impresario

Jeff Brown, owner, ShopRite and Fresh Grocer stores
Brown has turned the 13 area supermarkets he owns — from Cheltenham to Haverford — into community anchors for his customers by offering services like in-store medical clinics and financial counseling. He does good by his employees, too: By hiring ex-felons who want to make amends, he helps former drug dealers take their sales and marketing skills from the streets to the produce aisle.

talk-show host

Michael Smerconish, host, SiriusXM and CNN; columnist, the Inquirer
The “refreshingly independent” (as he now puts it) political pundit finds himself in an unexpected — and much-needed — role these days: voice of reason. He’s using his self-styled centrist perch to call things as he sees them, putting on blast everyone from Donald Trump to Stephen Colbert to Alex Jones to the media writ large. How trusted is he? Bill Cosby chose him for his first public interview in two years. Even the Media Hater in Chief calls him “pretty fair.”

reporter

Samantha Melamed, reporter, the Inquirer
In the past year, Melamed has revealed that our criminal justice system is anything but woke, documenting suicidal children being thrown in solitary confinement and impoverished parents getting hit with child-support payments because their kids are locked up. Council members have called for hearings on Melamed’s alarming findings. And people say journalism has up and died. Hmmm …

radio host

Maiken Scott, host, The Pulse
Her Philly-based health-and-science show went from airing only on WHYY in 2013 to 89 stations today. Haven’t heard it? Think Radiolab without the pretension thanks to charming German expat Scott, who has fresh, fascinating takes on everything from gene editing to the meat sweats.

band to watch

Sheer Mag
Existing somewhere between classic ’70s rock and early punk, this Philly five-piece, presided over by girl-power exuder Tina Halladay, has been on the verge of making it big. (See: late-night TV appearances and props from critics.) Safe bet that their wickedly fun just-released full-length debut, Need to Feel Your Love, is going to push them over that edge.

emerging theater artist

Jennifer Kidwell
It wasn’t the least bit surprising when this 39-year-old Fishtown gal won New York’s prestigious Obie Award in May for her work with South Philly’s Scott Sheppard on their groundbreaking play Underground Railroad Game. Kidwell, one of the first graduates of the Philly-based Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training, is funny, smart, incisive, and a powerhouse onstage.

medical hacker

Bon Ku, director, JeffDesign at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Ku sees the flaws in America’s health-care system as partly problems of design. That’s how he came to lead the first design program at a U.S. medical school. (Right here! At Jeff!) He has med students thinking about making innovative medical and patient-care tools (they’ve created stuff like smart nightlights for hospitals) and reimagining the spaces and systems within which health care happens. Oh, and he sends these future docs out into the streets to make them work on their people skills, too — also revolutionary.

rapper on the rise

Lushlife
The 2016 debut Ritualize from this South Philly rapper/producer (a.k.a. Raj Halder) was good. Then he dropped a star-studded ACLU-benefiting mix tape (featuring Killer Mike and Moor Mother) in January. Then he penned a cutting WaPo op-ed in the wake of the Kansas City shooting death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla. And then he announced a book deal. Consider us anxious to see what comes next.

humorist

R. Eric Thomas
Whether he’s covering the Trumps, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or The Bachelorette for his Elle magazine online column or having lively exchanges on Twitter (@OurEric), this South Philly comedian and storyteller knocks us over with his wit, style, grace — and ability to keep us engaged amidst all the online noise.

neighborhood champ

Malcolm Kenyatta, engagement coordinator, Chamber of Commerce
The 26-year-old pundit, LGBT activist and fearless political and civic dynamo is leveraging his burgeoning network and rising profile to will people to care about his native North Philadelphia. To wit: He brought political candidates to the neighborhood to weigh in on Temple’s controversial stadium proposal, and as a DNC delegate he landed in a fiery Clinton ad and on NPR, making yet another impassioned case for supporting his home turf.

podcaster

Yvonne Latty, host, Mouthful
Latty takes a deep dive into a place few of us want to visit: the complex and contemplative minds of young adults. And through her Philly-based show, a collaboration with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, she adds a fresh perspective to topics that aren’t easy to discuss (eating disorders, gender identity, racial inequality), bringing some real talk and positive messaging to a vulnerable group.

poet

Mike Fuller, trolley driver, SEPTA
You know it’s gonna be a good day when you get to hear Route 36 trolley driver Fuller’s spoken poetry over the intercom. He’s got a way with words: “Here … is where … two tracks merge into one … in beautiful unity … 30th Street Station.”

Clockwise from top left: Rachel Loeper and Tim Whitaker with students Sunny Morgan, Serenity Baruzzini and Zoie Thomas. Photograph by Adam Jones

After-School Pioneers

Tim Whitaker and Rachel Loeper, executive director and education director, Mighty Writers
The Mighty Writers mission — teaching kids to think clearly so they can write clearly and thus express themselves clearly — seems more relevant than ever (#covfefe). And with a series called “Girl Power Voices” and classes on fake news and political protests, Whitaker and Loeper make good writing resonate with younger generations. There’s even a program in Spanish.

comedians

Kenneth Guglielmino and Matthew Larsen
Their brand of YouTube humor is indeed “funny ha-ha,” but it’s also deeply “funny strange,” from their Sundance-approved short Deer Squad, about a PA teen who befriends a family of the ruminants, to their alter egos the Hovertwins, hoverboard-riding mega-star Philly DJs. Then again, their in-progress documentary Waldo on Weed — about Pizza Brain founder Brian James Dwyer’s fight to treat his young son’s rare eye cancer with medical marijuana — promises to be more of a heartstring-tugger.

curmudgeon

Arthur Wolk, aviation attorney, Wolk Law
The Gladwyne lawyer who made his bones suing airlines became a tax reform hero when he took the Lower Merion School District to court over its latest super-size property tax hike, claiming the district — one of the flushest in the state — already had enough money in the bank, thank you very much. He took particular offense at $48,00 spent on sushi. (“Back in the day, we got beans and franks,” grumped Wolk of his stint at Northeast High.) A judge agreed last year, ordering the district to slow its roll. And an appeal was just dismissed (on a technicality, but still— burn!).

hope for harrisburg

Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania Attorney General
The new AG has shown he’s got the guts to stand up to Trump, DeVos and Big Pharma. Now we’re praying he can overhaul the office the way he promised and won’t become the next Kathleen Kane. Or Rob McCord … or Chaka Fattah … or Vince Fumo … or …

comedian on the rise

Addie Weyrich
The 21-year-old offspring of longtime Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky and her writer husband Noel Weyrich (once a Philly Mag columnist) headed to the Big Apple to study at NYU. But her career in improv and comedy immediately took off: Among her credits are a Buzzfeed production pitting her training routine against that of Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, appearances with the Upright Citizens Brigade, and contributions to Funny or Die. Hey, we knew the Masterman grad when.

good samaritan

Sharon Suleta, attorney
This benevolent Wallingford lawyer doesn’t stop at handing out socks and sandwiches to the homeless at Suburban Station— this spring, she helped plan a wedding for a formerly homeless couple.

visionary developer

Rahil Raza, founder and CEO, Raza Properties
The Temple Pharmacy grad’s prescription for Philly’s working folks: low-cost, high-quality rental housing in neighborhoods on the mend. He’s got a fleet of 47 rehabbed properties (and counting) in Point Breeze and Brewerytown and is adding new construction to his portfolio, including duplexes, triplexes, and a 20-unit project in Sharswood. By doing all this with an in-house team, he can deliver solid returns for investors, tenants, and the communities where he builds.

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