Wawa Welcome America! pulls out all the stops on Friday, July 4 with a non-stop day of exciting events. The day starts with the Celebration of Freedom Ceremony, which takes place in front of Independence Hall and will honor the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision. After the Ceremony, the Independence Day Parade will make its way through historic Philadelphia. More than 5,000 participants from across the nation, including Miss America, marching bands, floats, military organizations and several special performance teams will take part in the parade. The party continues over on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where Party on the Parkway will feature countless food vendors, interactive activities, and two performance stages – the Questlove Stage and the Multicultural Stage. The evening concludes with the Philly 4th of July Jam and Fireworks Grand Finale.
As Philadelphia prepares to celebrate Independence Day 2014, it is Desiree Peterkin-Bell who is behind the scenes crafting the week-long regional party. In addition to her role as executive director of Wawa Welcome America!, Peterkin-Bell serves in dual roles as Mayor Michael Nutter’s director of communications and city representative. “Everyone knows that Philadelphia is the hottest place — period — for the Fourth. There is some real creative and unique activity, and Philly is the only place to be,” said Peterkin-Bell during a brief break this week. “This year, we are doing a couple of new things. One is the largest block party, I’m calling it, in America at the Shops at Liberty. We are going to have tons of vendors to represent some of the best Philly food with some of the stuff you may not know and just want to try. We’re going to be honoring New Edition, which is amazing. It’s going to be food, folks and fun — and it’s all free — and will kick off the start of an amazing week.”
While speaking, Peterkin-Bell utilized the word “amazing” several times, and it is a description that could well be applied to her career. As one of the most powerful women in Philadelphia, Peterkin-Bell is “a strategic planner, brand strategist, consummate communicator and political strategist.” Honored as one of the industry’s best and brightest in PR Week’s “40 under 40,” a “Shorty Award” winner, and recognized by the Philadelphia Tribune as a “Person to Watch” and by Philadelphia Business Journal as a “40 under 40” recipient, she regularly strives to identify, create and leverage traditional and nontraditional media and navigate federal, state and municipal government.
“I think I bring a certain level of authentic,” reflected Peterkin-Bell. “I have worked in the biggest city in America … and I also helped in redefining New York City after 9/11. I took some of those best practices in terms of municipal marketing and attributed [them] to my experiences working for Mayor Cory Booker in the city of Newark, N.J., hoping to turn that city around and redefine what you can do in urban communities when you have great leaders. All of those talents are now coming to Philadelphia — a city which I am very, very familiar with as I went [to] Swarthmore College and prep school in this area.”
“I used to come and play in Philly all the time, and so it is a city that I love and now my family is here with me, so it makes it even much more amazing. One of the reasons I chose to come to the city, besides working for the mayor and really respecting him as a man of integrity and one who likes to get things done everyday, was also the city. There is a vibrant community that exists here, and I think that we are on the precipice of something huge. What my little role and experience can do is help in any way to leverage to help raise the national and international image of the city and hone in on creating events that are world class.”
A special part of her vocation includes mentoring minority students. She is a founding member of the Simmons Memorial Foundation, a non-profit that supports students in their efforts to achieve their education and self-reliance goals. She focuses on students whose backgrounds, like hers, are modest, encouraging them to break through boundaries and barriers to determine the path toward their goals.
“One thing that my mother told me very early on is that I recognize where I come from, because it is only then that I will know where I am going,” said Peterkin-Bell. “So, I recognize every single day that I drink deeply from wells that I did not dig … there are women who have come before me … it is extremely important that I not only pave a path, but I actually open the door and invite other folk — men, boys and especially young women of color to sit with me. I believe not only in giving back; I feel that is not a question because of what so many folk have done for me even without me knowing or asking, but they just did, so I have a responsibility to do the same.”
Right now, all eyes are on Philadelphia, the birthplace of independence, as it prepares for the Fourth of July in a big way. From the start of the annual Wawa Welcome America! festival, June 28, to the Independence National Historical Park Service’s reading of the Declaration of Independence, July 8, events celebrating America’s birthday will light up the streets, the skies and the stages throughout the city.
“Wawa Welcome America! is determined to provide our guests with the best possible experience during this year’s festival,” said Desiree Peterkin-Bell, City Representative and Executive Director of Welcome America, Inc. “This festival is constantly trying to outdo itself, making our celebration of America's birthday in America's birthplace bigger and better each year. We have some terrific events leading up to the Fourth of July, and the talent secured for the Philly 4th of July Jam will serve as the perfect ending to our celebrations.”
The Wawa Welcome America! Philly 4th of July Jam takes place each year on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and is followed by a fireworks display over the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Past performers include: John Mayer, J.Cole, Grace Potter, Jill Scott, Common, Joe Jonas, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill and more. 6ABC returns as the festival’s local media partner, and VH1 will serve as the national media partner for the second year in a row – broadcasting the Philly 4th of July Jam live across the country. Additional details about Wawa Welcome America!’s musical performances, including local acts that will be a part of the festivities, will be made available online.
Other organizations and attractions will host free events throughout the city during the festival week and even extending past the Fourth of July. Visitors will be able to check the Wawa Welcome America! website for a list of these partner events.
Wawa Welcome America! is a multi-day festival that celebrates America’s birthday in America’s birthplace, Philadelphia. Wawa joined the festival as the title sponsor in 2010. For more information, please visit www.welcomeamerica.com, like on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WawaWelcomeAmerica) and follow on Twitter and Instagram (@July4thPhilly).