There are a lot of stories The Temple News has missed in the past. There are community stories that matter to this university, that matter to this city, that matter, if only by the trends they represent, to this country, but aren’t being covered because we haven’t and others won’t.
Like how Evelyn Boyer, an intrepid woman who moved to the 2000 block of North Carlisle Street in the wake of World War II and lasted more than six decades, decided things had gotten bad enough that she left last year. She wasn’t talking about too many dead in her neighborhood but too many drunk on her block.
Temple does wonderful things every day for this portion of “the desert of North Philadelphia,” as former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Buzz Bissinger once called it. That said, there is something unhealthy about a place that has no room for a strong woman with wisdom and life left to be lived.
When I first met Boyer two years ago outside the Sonia Sanchez community garden on the corner of Diamond and Carlisle streets, she wasted no time in laying into her neighborhood Temple partiers.
“They don’t understand,” she said as she fanned her tiny frame, “that these are typical neighborhoods with children, working people and elderly.”
For too long now, many Temple students haven’t understood these neighborhoods. Of course, that wasn’t always the way. Great traditions tend to have great beginnings. Temple University is no exception.
The university regularly touts founder Russell Conwell to new students. He is part of the owl creation myth, his combing troubled Philadelphia neighborhoods to find those who could most benefit from his academic tutelage. He is a staple of Temple marketing, but his words are no less powerful.
“The ‘Acres of Diamonds’ which I have mentioned through so many years are to be found in this city,” the Baptist minister lectured. “And you are to find them.”
To the university’s credit, we do find them. Much attention was given when Jameel Rush, a neighborhood kid who grew up in the shadow of the Temple Regional Rail stop, gave the commencement speech at last May’s graduation. It was a beautiful story. Whether that happens enough is for another column.
When The Temple News has covered the community, often these accounts have been forced uncomfortably into our news section, as was the story of Agnes Butler, a foster mother who, in 25 years, has taken 38 boys into her home on the 1700 block of North Willington Street, southwest of Temple’s campus. These stories have a home now. Here. Weekly. In column form.
Understand, despite what you may think, The Temple News is a nationally respected collegiate publication. Beyond oodles of individual prizes and scholarships, last year the Associated Collegiate Press honored The Temple News with a national Pacemaker Award, the association’s highest honor. Only 20 collegiate newspapers and magazines in the entire country can boast that. I hope it isn’t too indulgent to add that no other Philadelphia-area school is in that number. But our sights are higher.
Let’s consider it an experiment. Since this swath of North Philadelphia became a decidedly bleaker portion of urban America, Temple has awkwardly, if admirably, brought Joe Middleclass into neighborhoods that sometimes have trouble convincing someone that anything, aside from anyone, is working.
We know that isn’t entirely true. Let’s parse what is true from what is not.
If you know a story or if you are a story, contact me. E-mail me or call me if you know something is wrong or if something is right, whether you’re fighting for parking with a little old lady or some local teen is doing something great. If Temple wants to be a broader community, its student newspaper should reflect that. Let’s see if perhaps collegiate journalism is not dead and if this forum can execute a clearer vision of the community.
Christopher Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.