It is easy to celebrate Temple’s international presence. Some might think it more difficult to do the same for North Philadelphia. There is a cloak of provincialism that is meant to cover this place. That covers, some might say, all of Philadelphia. It is a town that looks inwardly and offers little in internationality, critics suggest.
This is nonsense, of course. There are examples, so many examples, of those who have brought Philadelphia’s influence to bear far outside of southeastern Pennsylvania. Two such examples are rooted in the outskirts of Main Campus.
REVEREND BILL GRAY III
The Gray name has been connected to Philadelphia’s century-old Bright Hope Baptist community since May 1925. After the sudden death of Bill Gray, Sr., his namesake and son took on the role in early 1950. Twenty-two years later, after his own unexpected death, Bill Gray III was chosen as his replacement.
In 1978, Gray began a 16-year tenure as a U.S. Congressman. After a stint as leader of the United Negro College Fund, then-President Bill Clinton tapped him to serve as special advisor to Haiti, launching him into international distinction.
In May 1994, Haiti was being overrun-by its ruling military junta, by refugees, by human rights activists. It might be said that Gray was a sacrifice. His international political capital was nonexistent, so it wasn’t so surprising that he was swallowed by the situation, a situation for which the Clinton Administration was then without answers.
No other nation would agree to offer Haitian refugees asylum or support military intervention. Their trade embargo was being undermined by rebels – and allegedly the government -from the neighboring Dominican Republic. So the ruling Haitian leaders were uninterested in relinquishing their power back to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically-elected leader.
For a time, Gray was in the spotlight throughout the world. His diplomacy and leadership found criticism, and eventually the U.S. military brought Aristide back to power. Now, Gray is a Dell board member and is leading a large-scale fundraising campaign for Bright Hope Church, which now sits quietly at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
REV. DR. LEON SULLIVAN
Gray’s brief spell at the forefront of global politics is paled when compared with the work of the legendary Rev. Leon Sullivan, who died in April 2001. His work to find business opportunities for blacks in Philadelphia is too lengthy to discuss, but his work beyond borders can be addressed.
In 1971, Sullivan became the first black man to be appointed to the board of a Fortune 500 company. From the pulpit of General Motors, Sullivan launched a worldwide campaign to reform apartheid in South Africa. The crusade that branded a generation of activists was started by a wide-smiled man based at the Zion Baptist Church, now located at Broad and Venango streets just north of the Health Sciences Campus.
He designed programs to help sub-Saharan African governments reduce poverty. He devised a set of doctrines for corporations to follow, hoping to improve human rights and economic equity through international business.
Then-President George H. W. Bush called his a “voice of reason for over 40 years” as he awarded Sullivan the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992. Still, more than six years after his death, he is considered the foundation of policy designed to benefit the African continent.
Both North Philadelphians. Both international presences. It is important to understand, as we celebrate Temple’s large global shadow, there are those with sizable marks around our very home.
Christopher Wink can be reached at email@example.com.