From the Editor: Good Times
By definition, if you’re a journalist, you kvetch a lot. You wring your hands and try to poke and prod people to do better. We do our share of this. Most of the time, it comes from a place of local patriotism; when we put a gun on our cover to call attention to our murder crisis, when we called for police commissioner Sylvester Johnson’s firing, when we argued that, yes, Philadelphia is worthy of hosting the Olympics, when we published a year-long series on race in these divided times — all of it was done in the tradition of speaking truth to power.
It’s a fine line, though — I want this magazine to cajole area leaders to swing for the fences, but I also want each individual issue to be a celebration of all worthy things in our region. That balance was a particular goal this month, since we’ve devoted an entire issue to the growing trend of “doing good.”
How widespread is the trend? In his new book Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, Bill Clinton points out that there are now more than one million private philanthropic foundations in the country; half of those didn’t exist just seven years ago. Increasingly, public good is being done through private means, as Tom McGrath notes in his essay on page 116. Clinton’s book, by the way, was the genesis for this issue; when I read how moved he was by his visit to the North Philly homes being developed by the rock stars who adorn our cover — Bon Jovi, Sister Mary Scullion (the coolest nun I’ve ever met) and Joan Dawson McConnon — it dawned on me: We should do locally what Clinton is doing nationally, and shine a light on those whose quiet commitment and eloquent example can’t help but inspire.
One of those people is the behind-the-scenes guy we didn’t put on our cover. Craig Spencer is Bon Jovi’s partner in the Philadelphia Soul arena football team; more important, Spencer is also one of the hands-on leaders of the Philadelphia Soul Foundation, the team’s charitable arm. Space doesn’t allow me to go into all of the Soul’s good works (you can check them out at philadelphiasoulfoundation.org), but suffice it to say that the days when athletes and sports teams paid mere lip service to “giving back” are a thing of the past. Real differences are being made, and community leaders like Craig Spencer are making them.
It’s important that in reporting on this trend, we don’t fall into knee-jerk boosterism, which doesn’t help anyone. That’s why, in this issue, we address some of the thorny considerations surrounding the philanthropic boom. In Dan Lee’s thoughtful essay “The Giver’s Dilemma,” he mines the moral conundrums with which wealthy donors from our area constantly wrestle. In Matt Teague’s moving portrait of Kenny Gamble, the pop music impresario turned developer of blighted areas, we catch a glimpse of how hard it is to turn ideals into action. In Jason Fagone’s story about PhillyCarShare, we see that a successful business model and doing good need not be mutually exclusive.
Most of all, the takeaway from our look at local giving is that doing good is a selfish act. When you act to help others, it feels good. “Getting a business deal done feels great,” Spencer, a longtime Philly Master of the Universe in that area, says, “but doing the Foundation work is right up there. You get the same kind of high.”
It makes sense that this city should once again lead the charge for personal civic engagement; it was here, after all, that Ben Franklin organized the nation’s first volunteer fire department (40 years before the Declaration of Independence), and where Presidents Clinton and Carter, along with Colin Powell, kicked off a national volunteer movement a decade ago. So flip through these pages, get inspired by the stories, and pick something to, as Craig Spencer puts it, get “high” on in our roundup of 67 ways to be a better Philadelphian. And tell others to buy this magazine — 10 percent of our newsstand sales will be donated to Project H.O.M.E. and the Philadelphia Soul Foundation.