Photos from 2021: Looking back on the year of the new normal

Philadelphia School District students at Samuel Powel Elementary School and Science Leadership Academy Middle School returned to in-person learning on Aug. 31, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The world came back to a new kind of life in 2021. We returned to some things we love — to the theater, to the gym, to work, and to school — albeit with new protocols and risk calculations.

But the recovery has been slow, and while grappling with an ongoing pandemic, the Philadelphia area faced catastrophic flooding and tornadoes, and a rampant gun violence epidemic. 

Here’s a view from WHYY News photographers of how the last 12 months unfolded in real time.

The race to vaccinate

The year began with a massive effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. To get things started, Philadelphia turned to a student-led startup. Philly Fighting COVID launched an ambitious mass vaccination clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, but that effort soon crumbled when the city cut ties with the group, and resulted in the resignation of Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Caroline Johnson.

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Philly Fighting COVID CEO Andrei Doroshin invited reporters into his apartment building for a press conference claiming dirty city politics were to blame for the city’s cutting ties with his company
Philly Fighting COVID CEO Andrei Doroshin invited reporters into his apartment building for a press conference claiming dirty city politics were to blame for the city’s cutting ties with his company. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Hundreds of people, mostly first responders and medical workers, line up at Rowan College of South Jersey in Sewell, N.J.,to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Hundreds of people, mostly first responders and medical workers, line up at Rowan College of South Jersey in Sewell, N.J., to be vaccinated against COVID-19. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Another effort, by Dr. Ala Stanford and the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, brought vaccines and testing to underserved communities in Philadelphia hit hard by the virus.

Stanford went on to found the Center for Health Equity in North Philadelphia, with a new mission to deliver primary care and behavioral health services.

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Dr. Ala Stanford speaks glowingly of Pastor Glen Spaulding of the Deliverance Evangelistic Church, which provided the space for her new medical clinic, Black Doctors COVID Consortium, in North Philadelphia.
Dr. Ala Stanford speaks glowingly of Pastor Glen Spaulding of the Deliverance Evangelistic Church, which provided the space for her new medical clinic in North Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Edna Evans, 88, gets a COVID-19 vaccination at the Liacouras Center at a vaccine clinic organized by the Black Doctors Consortium.
Edna Evans, 88, gets a COVID-19 vaccination at the Liacouras Center at a vaccine clinic organized by the Black Doctors Consortium. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Meanwhile, a Philadelphia activist staged a hunger strike outside City Hall, urging leaders to do more to confront the gun violence crisis and treat it with the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jamal Johnson resumed his hunger strike on Monday, March 1, 2021. He’s protesting outside City Hall in Philadelphia for more resources to combat gun violence
Jamal Johnson protested outside City Hall in Philadelphia on March 1, 2021 for more resources to combat the city’s gun violence epidemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Members of the organization Voices by Choices held an event on the Simpson Street block where 7-year-old Zamar Jones was fatally shot in the summer of 2020 for those affected by gun violence on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Members of the organization Voices by Choices held an event on the Simpson Street block where 7-year-old Zamar Jones was fatally shot in the summer of 2020 for those affected by gun violence on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner celebrates with supporters at his campaign party after recovering the Democratic nomination on May 18, 2021
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner celebrates with supporters at his campaign party after recovering the Democratic nomination on May 18, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A glorious summer

With mass vaccination under way and infection rates dropping, thousands gathered on Benjamin Franklin Parkway to watch the Fourth of July fireworks.

Thousands gathered at Eakins Oval and along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway hours ahead the scheduled 9:30 pm fireworks display
Thousands gathered at Eakins Oval and along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway hours ahead the fireworks display. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)
Fireworks explode in the background behind a gargoyle atop of the central portico of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Fireworks explode in the background behind a gargoyle atop of the central portico of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

In the safety of the great outdoors, people dined and danced. Pools opened, and parks became theaters.

Veterans bow their heads during a Veterans Day ceremony at the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors at Logan Square in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Veterans bow their heads during a Veterans Day ceremony at the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors at Logan Square in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Jennifer Pieretti stops on her lunch break to dance with Mark ‘Maestro Flaco’ Best at LOVE Park in Center City, Philadelphia
Jennifer Pieretti stops on her lunch break to dance with Mark ''Maestro Flaco'' Best at LOVE Park in Center City. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Mesiah Clark, 4, cools off at the newly reopened 8th and Diamond Playground. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Mesiah Clark, 4, cools off at the newly reopened 8th and Diamond Playground. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Joyful kids were welcomed into the pool for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed city amenities at the James Finnegan Playground in Southwest Philadelphia on June 30, 2021
Joyful kids were welcomed into the pool for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic closed city amenities at the James Finnegan Playground in Southwest Philadelphia on June 30, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Saba Tedla, owner of Booker’s restaurant in West Philadelphia, said she’d like to keep their outdoor seating permanently
Saba Tedla, owner of Booker’s restaurant in West Philadelphia, said she’d like to keep their outdoor seating permanently. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
The Shakespeare in Clark Park production of Peril’s Island pays homage to a fabled fountain in Harrowgate Park. The dance/theater perfortmancer was created in collaboration with residents of North Philadelphia
The Shakespeare in Clark Park production of Peril’s Island pays homage to a fabled fountain in Harrowgate Park. The dance/theater perfortmancer was created in collaboration with residents of North Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Trenton native Athing Mu raced to Olympic gold in Tokyo, while hometown fans cheered her on half a world away.

The hometown crowd at the Trenton YMCA cheer as participants in the women's 800-meter take their places at the Tokyo Olympics. Among them was 19-year-old Trenton native Athing Mu, who won the gold
The hometown crowd at the Trenton YMCA cheer as participants in the women's 800-meter take their places at the Tokyo Olympics. Among them was 19-year-old Trenton native Athing Mu, who won the gold. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

And at a camp in rural Chester County, young music students got a chance to play together for the first time in months, courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Percussionist Sarah Cassanova grooms a horse after morning orchestra practice at Music and Mindfulness camp
Percussionist Sarah Cassanova grooms a horse after morning orchestra practice at Music and Mindfulness camp. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Return to school

Philadelphia students returned to schools in the fall wearing masks. But in nearby Bucks County, a mask mandate was the subject of bitter debate.

Kindergarten students at Powel Elementary school line up to enter their school on the first day of classes, Aug. 31, 2021
Kindergarten students at Powel Elementary school line up to enter their school on the first day of classes, Aug. 31, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Parents gather outside a Central Bucks school board meeting to protest or defend the board’s decision to open schools in the fall without requiring protective face mask
Parents gather outside a Central Bucks school board meeting to protest or defend the board’s decision to open schools in the fall without requiring protective face masks. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Mural Arts staff joined Morris Home residents and alumni to celebrate the dedication of We Are Universal to Philadelphia’s trans community on Sept. 28, 2021
Mural Arts staff joined Morris Home residents and alumni to celebrate the dedication of We Are Universal to Philadelphia’s trans community on Sept. 28, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

And then came the storm

In September, the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through the Philadelphia region, spawning tornadoes and causing catastrophic flooding along the Schuylkill River.

The Vine Street Expressway is filled like a bathtub from Broad Street to the Schuylkill River after torrential rain from the remnants of Hurrican Ida. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
The Vine Street Expressway is filled like a bathtub from Broad Street to the Schuylkill River after torrential rain from the remnants of Hurrican Ida. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Philadelphia Fire Department personnel carry residents of the Riverwalk apartments to safety at 22nd and Arch streets after they were trapped by flood waters
Philadelphia Fire Department personnel carry residents of the Riverwalk apartments to safety at 22nd and Arch streets after they were trapped by flood waters. (Emma Lee/(WHYY)
Workers prepare to pull down the one grain silo still standing at Wellacrest Farms in Mullica Hill. It was left structurally unsound after a tornado swept through the farm
Workers prepare to pull down the one grain silo still standing at Wellacrest Farms in Mullica Hill. It was left structurally unsound after a tornado swept through the farm. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Cows on Wellacrest Farm in Mullica Hill, N.J., peer out of their damaged shelter a week after a tornado swept through, heavily damaging the farm's structures and killing more than a dozen cows
Cows on Wellacrest Farm in Mullica Hill, N.J., peer out of their damaged shelter a week after a tornado swept through, heavily damaging the farm's structures and killing more than a dozen cows. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Kim Paulus, general manager of Stomping Grounds Cafe in West Philadelphia and Workforce Development Instructor at Youthbuild Charter High School (center), teaches seniors Imani Frye (left), and Nyasia Flowers (right) to create a design on a mocha drink
Kim Paulus, general manager of Stomping Grounds Cafe in West Philadelphia teaches seniors Imani Frye (left), and Nyasia Flowers (right) to create a design on a mocha drink. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Down North Pizza executive chef Mike Robinson behind the counter on Oct. 21, 2021
Down North Pizza executive chef Mike Robinson behind the counter on Oct. 21, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Kai'Lyn Ellis, 5, and her sister, Li'Ana Ellis, 10, members of the Nanticoke Lenape tribe, perform a toe dance while their father, Tyron Ellis chants at Philadelphia's Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at Penn Treaty Park
Kai’Lyn Ellis, 5, and her sister, Li’Ana Ellis, 10, members of the Nanticoke Lenape tribe, perform a toe dance while their father, Tyron Ellis chants at Philadelphia’s Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at Penn Treaty Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Superstar and Philadelphia-native Will Smith visited Harriet’s Bookshop in Fishtown where he met with owner Jeannine Cook and answer questions via Instagram live
Superstar and Philadelphia-native Will Smith visited Harriet’s Bookshop in Fishtown where he met with owner Jeannine Cook and answer questions via Instagram live on Nov. 8, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Dozens of students enrolled in University of Pennsylvania's introductory anthropology course made plaster casts of their own faces. In the exhibit, each is accompanied by a QR code that leads viewers to discover details about the individual. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Dozens of students enrolled in University of Pennsylvania's introductory anthropology course made plaster casts of their own faces. In the exhibit, each is accompanied by a QR code that leads viewers to discover details about the individual. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Comedian Clint Coley launches the second season of his World Series of Spades with a watch party at Brooklyn Bowl Philly in Fishtown
Comedian Clint Coley launches the second season of his World Series of Spades with a watch party at Brooklyn Bowl Philly in Fishtown. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Some notable goodbyes

In 2021, we said goodbye to John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School, which graduated its final class on June 7.

Members of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School Class of '21, the school's last class, leave the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul after their graduation ceremony
Members of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School Class of '21, the school's last class, leave the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul after their graduation ceremony. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley resigned due to his involvement in the mishandling and desecration of remains of the victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley oversees the opening of Philadelphia's first standing city-run COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Martin Luther King Jr. Older Adult Center on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley oversees the opening of Philadelphia's first standing city-run COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Martin Luther King Jr. Older Adult Center on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
A sign reads,
Protesters marched on the University of Pennsylvania’s Campus on April 28, 2021, over the Penn Museum's mishandling of MOVE bombing victim remains. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Mike Africa raises a fist at a protest
Mike Africa, joined by BLM Philly and the Black Philly Radical Collective and supporters protested outside the Penn Museum on April 28, 2021, over the museum's mishandling of MOVE bombing victim remains. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Schools Superintendent Dr. William Hite announced he would not renew his contract after 10 years with the district.

Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite greeted students on their first day of school on Aug. 31, 2021
Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite greeted students on their first day of school on Aug. 31, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Soccer superstar Carli Lloyd, a native of Delran, retired from the sport at 39 with a big party thrown by her hometown in South Jersey.

Carli Lloyd takes a selfie with some young soccer fans during a celebration of her storied soccer career in her hometown of Delran, N.J.
Carli Lloyd takes a selfie with some young soccer fans during a celebration of her storied soccer career in her hometown of Delran, N.J. (Emma Lee WHYY)

Union leader John Dougherty stepped down from his post at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 after being convicted on federal conspiracy and fraud charges.

John
John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty walks to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Belmont Plateau’s iconic sugar maple tree was cut down for safety reasons.

Philadelphia Parks and Rec work to remove the Belmont Plateau’s iconic sugar maple tree on the morning of Dec. 15, 2021
Philadelphia Parks and Rec work to remove the Belmont Plateau’s iconic sugar maple tree on the morning of Dec. 15, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Over 300 votives bore the names of people who experienced homelessness, lost in 2021 at Homeless Memorial Day at Thomas Paine Plaza in Philadelphia on Dec. 21, 2021
Over 300 votives bore the names of people who experienced homelessness, lost in 2021 at Homeless Memorial Day at Thomas Paine Plaza in Philadelphia on Dec. 21, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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