Red, Wawa, and Blue: A Star-Spangled Recap of Philly’s Independence Day Celebration

As fireworks and festivities united the Philadelphia community on the Fourth of July, Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) partnered with Wawa Welcome America throughout the week to promote the city’s status as a World Heritage City. Here’s a recap of our young journalists’ favorite events from the weeklong celebration: 

Historic District Block Party

With food, games, and music for families to enjoy, the fifth annual Historic District Block Party on June 30th brought people of all ages together to celebrate Philadelphia’s history with a modern flair. A free outdoor festival, this block party was held at 5th and 6th streets between Market and Chestnut streets.

One of the biggest highlights of the event was the food; swarms of food trucks and beer gardens offered options for everyone to enjoy.

The block party also hosted multiple stages for its diverse entertainment line-up, which culminated in the evening’s Gospel on Independence performance by the Philadelphia Men’s Fellowship Choir.

Sunny and crowded, the event was a big hit and everything an American block party should be. 

Free Museum Days

The Wawa Welcome America festival was more than just a weeklong party. Visitors and residents alike jumped at the opportunity to explore some of the city’s biggest exhibits and hidden gems through the festival’s Free Museum Days. Some of our favorite museums visited included the Philadelphia Free Library’s Rare Book Showcase, the Independence Seaport Museum, and the National Constitution Center. We loved how these GPA member museums highlighted the diversity of Philadelphia’s rich history and culture. We were fascinated by how the Independence Seaport Museum shone a spotlight on Philadelphia’s role in the Civil Rights movement through its “Tides of Freedom” exhibit.

We were also excited to see the Alexander Hamilton exhibit at the National Constitution Center, and, although we wish we could have seen more, we have a lot of respect for how intricate and authentic the featured documents were. 

In addition to these three museums, we enjoyed having the opportunity to take a free tour of the Penn Museum. Best known for its collection of ancient Egyptian mummies, the Penn Museum first opened its doors in 1889 to provide the public with access to its archeological discoveries. With a collection of artifacts that dates back over 10,000 years, their collection has grown significantly since its opening and has become one of the city’s biggest educational destinations. 

There is no better way to explore Philadelphia’s history, international reach, and role on the global stage than through Free Museum Days. 

Go 4th & Learn: Service Day at Hunting Park

The Philadelphia community came together on July 2nd to celebrate Independence Day with a day of service at Hunting Park. With opening remarks by Wawa Welcome America CEO Michael DelBene, the event was hosted by Esperanza Academy. Even Mayor Jim Kenney came to show his support and give encouragement to the community as they continued working in the sweltering heat. Everyone was excited to take part in this amazing day and clean such a beloved and beautiful community park. As a souvenir, all volunteers were allowed to take home a free book, courtesy of Books in Homes USA. 

Kimmel Center Great American Party on the Plaza

The Great American Party on the Plaza piled all of the fun of a block party into the Kimmel Center’s Commonwealth Plaza, complete with showtunes, balloon animals, and everything in between. Held on the evening of July 2nd, parents cheered as they listened to live performances from the casts of the hit Broadway shows, "Dear Evan Hansen," and "Mean Girls". Eyes wide with excitement, kids explored all of the different booths, including a face-painting station, picnic-style games, and festive food stands.

We loved having the opportunity to interact with kids at our postcard coloring station, and were especially happy to see how many parents knew about Philadelphia’s World Heritage status.

To tie the whole evening together, the Kimmel Center’s ShowStoppers led the crowd in Hamiltunes, a sing-along revolving around the Broadway show Hamilton. We can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Go 4th & Learn: Firehouse

The Philadelphia community came together at PECO’s Go 4th and Learn event on the morning of July 3rd to unveil a new mural that commemorates the rich history of Philadelphia’s Fire Department. One of the oldest professional fire departments in the nation, the Philadelphia Fire Department was established in 1871 and has worked to protect the community ever since. 

PECO’s Go 4th and Learn event gave firefighters a chance to engage with the community by teaching kids more about fire safety. Running around with plastic fire hats and toy whistles, kids had the opportunity to climb on an actual fire truck, try on firefighting uniforms, learn electricity safety tips, and paint their own murals. We were more than happy to have the chance to color alongside the kids at our postcard station, and loved taking pictures of families at our photo booth activity. The children colored over 50 postcards celebrating Philadelphia’s world heritage that we mailed all over the world the following day.

After learning so much about the history of the fire department, we were excited to continue the conversation and share even more of the city’s rich history by talking about our upcoming GlobalPhilly19 Expo. 

Salute to America Independence Day Parade

Thousands of participants, colorful floats, and live performers flooded Philadelphia’s streets on the morning of July 4th to march in the Salute to America Independence Day Parade. Beginning at 11 a.m. at 5th and Chestnut streets, residents and visitors lined the sidewalks to cheer on the procession. Philadelphia Airport CEO Chellie Cameron led the global pack in an antique 1950s automobile. More than anything, we loved hearing the crowd roar as we marched with the Canvas of America, a 190-foot canvas sponsored by the Philadelphia International Airport. The canvas represented the flags of 195 nations, and captured Philadelphia’s diversity and global reach. 

Just outside Independence Hall, CEO of Wawa Welcome America Michael DelBene addressed the crowd and discussed the different parade floats, including the canvas, as they passed in front of the podium. In an interview with NBC10, DelBene described the inspiration for the Canvas of America, “The Wawa Welcome America Festival has always been about celebrating inclusivity. This year we really wanted to shine a spotlight on Philadelphia’s position as a global city.” 

DelBene has worked closely with Global Philadelphia Association to promote the global message, including Philadelphia’s global positioning and its UNESCO World Heritage City designation. “Global Philadelphia Association is proud to support the Wawa Welcome America celebration,” said Robert McNeill, Board Chair of GPA’s Board of Directors. “Under Michael DelBene’s leadership and with the support of the sponsors, this multi-day free festival touches our neighborhoods, which is the heart of the city and captures the spirit of our World Heritage city. I know the rest of the world takes notice when Philadelphia leads the celebration of our Nation’s birth. Wawa Welcome America truly raises awareness of Philadelphia on the global stage.”

With light clouds cooling off the marchers, the parade kicked off the day’s celebration on a high note and set the stage for the night’s festivities and dazzling fireworks show. 

July 4th Concert and Fireworks

After such an amazing week of events, it only makes sense that the Wawa Welcome America Festival should end with a literal bang as fireworks illuminated the skies at the Party on the Parkway.

Hosted annually on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the event is one of the largest free celebrations in the country and featured a free concert headlined by Jennifer Hudson and Meghan Trainor. But before the music even started, the crowd went wild as the event opened with a salute to women. Our favorite part was watching the crowd; there’s nothing more festive than seeing the joy on people’s faces as they dance and sing with American flags in hand.

The night drew to a close with booming fireworks shimmering above the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ending Independence Day in the most inherently Philadelphian way possible. 


Article written by Ameila Winger, with contributions from Valeria Bossio Chavez, Daniel Ortiz, Zimri Hinshaw, Akansha Chauhan, and Scott Blum-Woodland, on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association.