People who dared

Acel is working on a book of his best and most popular columns. Here’s a glimpse of a chapter on some of the most fascinating people he met in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia. They’re the “unsung heroes” to whom he gave a face and a voice. He’ll follow up to see where they are now:

Out front and making a difference

Jean Hobson’s voice was bigger than her body. She was a small woman with a commanding voice and an even more forceful presence. She and about eight other women whom Acel called “Philadelphia’s Steel Magnolias” were the impetus behind the elimination of gang violence in Philadelphia during the 1970s.

I watched as she and other mothers of gang members walked into the middle of fights, her swinging at them to make them back off. None of them dared touch her; she had a charisma the boys respected and spoke in a vernacular they understood. She was like their grandmother, and no one back then laid a hand on their grandmother.

Acel Moore dubbed them "Philadelphia's Steel Magnolias," a group of women who fought against gangs and for their neighborhoods in the 1970s.

Hobson was one of those people who lived in rough neighborhoods but would not allow them to be taken over by young toughs and criminals. They all were courageous leaders who didn’t back down. The city of Philadelphia was filled with people like her who were in the trenches but never got written about. I found out about them through my forays into the neighborhoods, from visiting community meetings, or through a phone call from someone who knew them or saw them in action.

Some of the people didn’t run programs but made a difference by the way they lived. They were married and had jobs, and were treated with respect by young and old. They were addressed by titles of Mr. and Mrs. They were sanitation or other city workers – strong men and women who were not intimidated by tough-acting boys.

They were not the types of people who touted themselves because they didn’t see what they were doing as anything special. In their minds, they were just saving their children – and their neighborhoods along with it. By telling their stories, I was hoping that people in other towns would be inspired to act just as these people had – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways, but always for the better.

A Column Excerpt:

A boy needed help, and a cop answered

Nov. 8, 1990

Although bright, (the boy) fits the classic profile of a child at risk. At school he is performing below his potential. Lateness and absenteeism dot his record. He is a behavioral problem. The product of a single-parent household, he suffers from low self-esteem and is in need of a strong and positive male influence in his life.

Enter the cop.

Three weeks ago, Sgt. William J. Walls, a 10-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, assigned to the 22d Police District at 17th and Montgomery, was sent to the school that the boy attends by his commanding officer, Capt. Al Lewis. It was in response to a call from school officials about a boy who was unruly and creating a disturbance.

When Walls arrived in the principal’s office, he saw a male teacher holding the boy around the waist in an effort to restrain him. The boy was shouting in anger and flailing his arms and legs about. Despite the boy’s small frame of 60 pounds or so, the teacher was having difficulty controlling him.

Walls later learned that the boy had been in three fistfights that day with other students and had been belligerent to teachers and the principal. Upon seeing the uniformed officer, the boy began to calm down. Walls, 33, the father of two boys – an infant and a 7-year-old – immediately began to talk to the child.

“Are you going to arrest me?” the boy asked.

“No, but you have to calm down,” responded Walls. “Tell me. What’s the problem?”

Walls took the boy aside and began a conversation that has turned into a relationship between a boy in need of a man friend and a man of compassion who wants to help a troubled boy. …


Read excerpts from other sections of the proposed book:

Issues brought home

Close to heart




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