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Why Philadelphia Embraces Liberian Independence Day with Zest?

July 27th 2023

Southwest Philly is gearing up for a week filled with the delectable aroma of rice bread, kala, and other traditional Liberian delicacies in celebration of Liberian Independence Day on July 26.

Local establishments like Cymel’s Liberian Restaurant and Musu’s Liberian Spot are generously donating these culinary delights to complement the festivities, including flag waving and exuberant dancing that will resonate through the streets on Wednesday and throughout the weekend. The city of Philadelphia holds this occasion in high regard, as it boasts the second-largest population of Liberian immigrants in the entire United States, ranking only after Hennepin County, Minnesota.

The question arises: What draws so many individuals from the West African nation to make Philadelphia their new home?

Trapeta Mayson, a celebrated poet laureate of Philadelphia with roots in Liberia, sheds light on this phenomenon. She arrived in the city as a young child in 1975, seeking to be reunited with family and pursue a better education. Her father had heard of a community of Liberian families in Germantown, and that’s where they settled down.

Historically, Liberia was established as one of the colonies under the Quaker-run American Colonization Society. This society provided freed slaves with the opportunity to relocate back to Africa, allowing them to reconnect with their roots. While some chose to remain in America, believing it to be their home, others returned to Liberia. Eventually, Liberia gained independence in 1847, about twenty-five years after its establishment as a colony.

In the subsequent century, Liberia experienced its own set of challenges, including protracted civil wars that lasted from 1989 to 1997 and 1999 to 2003. These conflicts prompted reverse emigration, particularly after Liberians were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in 1991. While TPS was extended multiple times, it eventually concluded in June 2022. Before that, many Liberians flocked to Philadelphia and other regions of the country to join their family members already residing there.

Alphonso Samukai, the 22-year-old youth chair for the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, expresses gratitude for the sacrifices made by his parents and elders in their new home. They established nonprofits to aid less fortunate relatives still in Liberia. However, he laments that the younger generation seems to lack the same fervor for preserving traditions and building a unified community. Samukai observes that while parents set up foundations for their children individually, the collective strength of the community has waned.

But this week offers a unique opportunity for the Liberian community to pass on traditions and create a strong sense of togetherness. The region is ablaze with celebrations that commenced last week with a grand gala ball in Bensalem and will culminate this Sunday with a joyous church service at Victory Harvest Church International in Southwest Philly.

Wednesday marks an honorary program at Philadelphia City Hall, where community elders will gather, and the Liberian flag will be proudly raised. Later at 4 p.m., the youth will take charge, hosting a delightful cookout on Lindbergh Field in Southwest Philadelphia, accompanied by lively music and an abundance of delicious food. It promises to be a jubilee of unmatched excitement and camaraderie.

Photo credit: Liberian Association of Pennsylvania(LAP)

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