Jan. 13—Meet Adam McNeil, founder of SistaTalkPHL, a grassroots project to support Black Philly moms.
—On his mission: "My love goes to all mothers, but as a young Black man my frontward vision is Black women because that's who raised me."
—Kindness finds a way: "I don't have the funds to do it, but I also didn't have the funds to start it, either. You don't have to make a million dollars to make a difference."
As Adam McNeil sat alone in a hospital lobby in Maryland for two days after being discharged from a serious car accident with nobody to come pick him up, one thought ran through his mind.
"I just kept saying to myself, 'You almost died and you have nothing,'" McNeil said. "I asked myself who got me through these 30 years. The answer was Black women — my mom, my aunts, my grandmom, and my cousins. If it wasn't for them, I would have seen Hell a long time ago."
And so, in that hospital lobby in 2018, 150 miles away from Philadelphia, SistaTalkPHL, McNeil's grassroots effort to support Black Philly moms, was born.
In the last six months of last year alone, McNeil, 34, of Lansdowne, gave away more than 25,000 diapers, two refrigerators, and two sets of washers and dryers to moms in Philly. He also rented out entire Laundromats for "community wash days," inviting moms in to do their laundry for free, while also hosting vendors and nonprofits on-site to provide resources like the Defender Association of Philadelphia, Forget Me Knot Youth Services, and Bebashi, a health and social services agency.
Here's the thing about SistaTalkPHL: It doesn't have a fancy executive board or big donors — it's just got McNeil, his unemployment checks, and donations from people who believe in his work.
"He's just a guy. He's not polished. He's bold, and he is who is but he gets something done," said Janice Tosto, a project coordinator at Bebashi who partnered with McNeil on his community wash days.
Brian Holland, whose Laundry Café Laundromats have hosted some of McNeil's community wash days, agreed.
"His impact is gritty and granular and at a grassroots level. It's raw and I love that," Holland said. "He sees a need and meets a need. What could be more simple than that, or more beautiful?"
Born in West Philly and raised in Upper Darby and West Chester, McNeil didn't know his dad, who was incarcerated for most of his life. He grew up watching his mom struggle as a single parent, sometimes walking more than a half hour each way to go to work cleaning houses.
"That's one of the reasons I started selling drugs, to help my mom, but I eventually became selfish," McNeil said. "I broke my mom down. She didn't know whether I was going to kill someone or if someone would kill me."
McNeil was first arrested at 14, first incarcerated at 16, and spent almost a decade in prison from the time he was 19 to 28 for various offenses including aggravated assault, drugs, robbery, carjacking, and parole violations.
Upon his last release in December 2014, McNeil began volunteering at a youth shelter and working with teens in anger management. He also got jobs at Domino's and with a photo-booth company, traveling to weddings, parties, and bar mitzvahs. It was while coming back from a photo-booth event in Virginia that McNeil fell asleep at the wheel in Maryland and hit a truck at 90 mph.
"I don't know if it was God or the accident saying, 'Calm down, I have a mission for you,' but I realized I was called to serve and I was called to be a good Samaritan," he said.
McNeil began SistaTalkPHL by holding bimonthly empowerment sessions for Black women, featuring Black women speakers and vendors. Those sessions trailed off in 2019, when McNeil got a girlfriend and a job as a phlebotomist, but when he was laid off last January and COVID-19 hit, he once again felt pulled to help Black Philly moms.
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With his unemployment checks and community donations, McNeil rented out Laundromats in North Philly, South Philly, Olney, and West Philly, and he put together care packages filled with diapers, toiletries, and household items to give away.
"People have just continuously been a blessing and made this very impactful," he said.
When McNeil's community wash days were put on hold in November due to rising COVID-19 rates, he decided to give away two fully stocked refrigerators and two sets of washers and dryers for the holidays. Interested moms registered on McNeil's SistaTalkPHL Facebook and Instagram pages and were chosen through a raffle.
In his spare time, McNeil scours Facebook Marketplace to buy diapers at steep discounts that he can give away.
This month, McNeil is hosting a makeover weekend for 10 teen girls who live in Philly shelters. They'll attend a vision-board party with guest speakers and receive gift cards for a $100 shopping spree at Ross Dress for Less or T.J. Maxx, and VIP makeovers at Royal Mane Beauty Studio.
Among those who donated items to his latest event is Philly Councilmember Kendra Brooks, who said McNeil's work is "a model of what community aid should be in this city."
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"Adam understands that Black women are the most impacted by systems of oppression — whether it's our city's eviction rate, our underfunded public schools, or our pitiful minimum wage — Black women withstand the worst of these crises," Brooks said in a statement. "He identifies a problem, listens to the community, and steps up."
As for McNeil, he's just grateful to be alive and able to help Philly moms.
"I have taken so much in my life," he said. "Now, I just want to give."
—West Philly resident Nic Patino is a pro pogoer with the Xpogo stunt team.
—To bond with his daughter, Michael Gardner taught himself how to sew. Now, he makes all her clothes.
—Check out the full We the People archive here.
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