Talk is cheap when it comes to solving Philly’s problems

     The author hosted a forum regarding the future of the Germantown High School building's future in April. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    The author hosted a forum regarding the future of the Germantown High School building's future in April. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    It’s been nearly a year since I returned to writing full time, and in that year I’ve learned a lot about my profession.

    I’ve learned that it is counterproductive to attack people rather than problems.

    I’ve learned that beautiful prose is nothing compared to salient facts.

    I’ve learned, most of all, that none of us can change anything simply by writing. Not if we live in the communities we serve.

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    A service industry

    Perhaps, for some, it’s strange to think of writing as a service, but it is exactly that.

    Writing, in the journalistic sense, is illuminating the issues that hide beneath the surface of polite conversations. It is providing information to those who need it most. It is serving a community by telling uncomfortable truths.

    That’s the reason I decided to make my living by using the gift of writing. I wanted to be a combatant in the fight to do something.

    That’s what life is about, after all — doing something. We can talk until we’re blue in the face, write until our fingers are numb and endlessly debate the issues of the day. But if we don’t do something, if we don’t move the needle, if we don’t make a difference, our words are utterly useless.

    Issues faced

    In the past year, I’ve written about the problems in schools, but I’ve also helped high school seniors to win scholarships.

    I’ve written about the abandonment in our communities, but I’ve also participated along with my neighbors in the city’s clean-block contest.

    I’ve written about the scourge of crime in our neighborhoods, and I’ve also been trained as a member of Town Watch.

    I’ve learned that it’s not enough to sit behind a keyboard and shed light on the issues. Not in the place where I live and work and raise my children.

    Fighting for Philly

    Philadelphia is my home, and there is nothing objective about the way I see this place. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I love this city.

    I love the way the Schuylkill River ices over in the winter, and the sunlight filtering through Fairmount Park’s trees in the summer.

    I love the sound of old-school Hip Hop rising and fading as a car passes by in North Philly.

    I love the laughter of little girls playing Double Dutch between parked cars on a West Oak Lane street.

    But more than anything I love our city’s potential, and that is the reason I can’t sit by and do nothing.

    More than a week ago, in an open letter to young men playing the “Knockout Game,” I spoke of the lives our young people are destroying by making impulsive, wrongheaded and criminal decisions. By doing so, those young men lay waste to their potential.

    As a writer, perhaps I could tell myself that I should maintain a veil of objectivity when it comes to young men who might be thinking of engaging in such behavior. But as a father, as a community leader and as a man, it’s hard for me to do that, because those kids could very well be my own.

    The spirit of the season

    This Christmas season, as we prepare to give gifts to each other in a celebration that ignores the holiday’s true meaning, I prefer to celebrate the gifts that I’ve already received.

    I’ve been given the gift of writing, and the opportunity to use that gift to make a living.

    I’ve been given the gift of family, and the opportunity to nurture those closest to me.

    I’ve been given the gift of love, and the opportunity to share that love with those who need it most.

    This Christmas, I’ll be working with those who want to make a difference in the lives of young men who are teetering on the edge. Because where I come from, when you have the ability to help solve a problem, you can’t just talk about it. You have to be about it.

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