What Wilson Goode is preaching these days is the gospel of mentoring disadvantaged children.
Making a difference "Having a loving adult spend one hour with a child every week for a year can change the direction of a child's life," he told me recently in his Center City office.
Goode is well-cast as the erudite elder statesman. A cropped gray beard has replaced the clean-shaven look he sported during his days as the city's first African American mayor. A large crucifix dangling around his neck testifies to the spiritual obligation that compelled him to earn a Ph.D. in theology at 62.
If you're part of Philadelphia's faith community, you've undoubtedly heard of Amachi, the program Goode helped develop that provides mentoring for children with incarcerated parents.
Since its launch in 2000, Amachi has grown to 273 programs in 48 states. Goode has enlisted mentors from more than 50 congregations in the Philadelphia region alone.
Research shows that kids who lack adult guidance are less likely to be able to read, more likely to grow up in poverty, and way more likely to take up a life of crime.
"Before you criticize anybody else, what are you doing?" Goode asked. "You can blame slavery and segregation . . . those are all factors. So what? What's your next step?"
Despite all he has done in a life of service, Goode is still haunted by the 1985 MOVE tragedy. His decision to bomb a West Philadelphia house, which led to the deaths of 11 people, including five children, prompted him to seek redemption.
"I promised God every single day he gives me strength that I'm going to do something positive to help a child," he said. "If every African American can make the same commitment, we can turn this thing around."
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