A book of Acel’s “Urban Perspectives” columns

Back in December 2010, Acel Moore wrote a commentary for The Philadelphia Inquirer about his habit of shopping late for Christmas gifts at mom-and-pop stores in the city. It had been two years since he had written his “Urban Perspectives” column and five years since he had retired from the newspaper.

He also mentioned that several surgeries on his back had left him paralyzed from the waist down. That Christmas-eve message sparked an outpouring of emails from people who had followed him during the 25 years he wrote a column for the Inquirer. They were happy to be reading him again and many offered their prayers for his recovery.

Acel received nearly 200 emails from readers, both admirers who had agreed with him – and read him “religiously,” as one writer noted – and others who disagreed but appreciated his honesty and fortitude.

“Your columns made me laugh, cry, and sometimes angry but never let me down,” one reader wrote.

“I look forward to future columns,” another wrote.

Even though his byline is no longer seen as often in The Inquirer, Acel still has a large following in Philadelphia and his name still commands respect. He is as much a Philadelphia institution as the city’s storied cheesesteaks and pretzels – without the cheese wiz and mustard, though.

Now, he’s pulling together a book of the best and most popular of his “Urban Perspectives” columns. But it will be more than a book of columns; it will also be a treatise on what he stood for and fought for to make the neighborhoods and the city better. Although his message was Philadelphia-centric, the issues he took on were universal.

Urban neighborhoods across the country have a commonality that makes one a cookie-cutter of the other. The same issues that affected Philadelphia were just as predominant in other major metropolitan areas.

Unfortunately, those issues have not been resolved. They are still as entrenched today as they were 25 years ago when Acel began his column: African American youth (especially young men) and violence – those who commit it, those who are the victims and those who rise above it. The racism that stunts the lives of so many African Americans. The poor quality of urban schools. The lack of regard for the poor. The absence of black fathers in the home.

The columns, though, were not all about pathos. The heart of the book will be the narratives of people who worked to improve their neighborhoods – the true unsung heroes – even when the odds were against them. Acel found them all over the city, from the Italian guy in South Philly to the grandmother in North Philly – each with a human story that transcended race.

To add some freshness and timeliness, the book will include updates on some of the people from his columns. He will offer his perspective on each chapter through essays containing contextual information about what precipitated them. It will also include excerpts from letters he has received pro and con. It will be divided into four sections: issues brought home, people who dared, close to heart and where do we go now.

Acel was first tapped by Inquirer Editor Gene Roberts to write about Philadelphia’s urban communities in 1981, four years after winning a Pulitzer Prize with reporter Wendell Rawls for helping to uncover abusive conditions at Fairview Hospital in western Pennsylvania. He had been at the newspaper since 1966, working his way up from a copy boy to reporter.

To write about his city and its neighborhoods was an honor that he took to heart. This was his home: He was born in South Philly, grew up in Point Breeze and went to Overbrook High School a few years behind one of the city’s all-stars, Wilt Chamberlain. He knew the city’s underbelly and its top side, and told the tales of both as only a native could.

He had seen how white reporters had ignored black neighborhoods, or wrote negatively and stereotypically about them. He countered that coverage with stories of real people and how they lived, worked and survived. Unlike some reporters, he was not afraid to walk their streets because this was where he grew up and where his cousins and aunts and uncles lived.

At his core, Acel is a storyteller just like his father. You could hear it in his columns, the way he took his time with the details of people’s lives and the research he conducted on even the least interesting of topics. He was not writing to push a personal agenda but a public one. Having spent much of his time talking to neighborhood people, he knew and wrote about issues that worried them or moved them. The newspaper was his platform and he was theirs.

He was just as conversant with the movers and shakers in the city. He confronted and befriended corporate leaders in paneled conference rooms and elected officials in the stone corridors of government buildings or at public events or simply by picking up the phone. And they all took his calls.

His most cherished accomplishment was his mentoring of young people, many of whom he guided toward careers in journalism. A diverse news media was one of Acel’s most important goals. At the Inquirer, he created two training programs for journalists of color: a copy-editing internship and a high school journalism workshop that bears his name. These programs were picked up by other newspapers across the country.

This year, the National Association of Black Journalists announced that he would receive its 2011 “Lifetime Achievement Award” at its national convention in Philadelphia in August.

 

 

 

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