In Defense of Kenny Gamble

And, while I'm at it, the Inquirer's Kia Gregory

Two days ago, Sandy Hingston, a fellow Philly Post blogger, took a number of broad shots in this space at Kenny Gamble, the music mogul turned developer and community activist, and his Universal Companies.

Hingston’s post charged Gamble of hustling up big government money to build his company’s largesse, citing a recent Promise Neighborhoods grant of $500,000 to Universal from the Department of Education to study ways to improve life in Point Breeze and Grays Ferry as only the most recent example. [SIGNUP]

Hingston also whacked Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Kia Gregory in the process, pointing out what she thought were striking similarities in Gregory’s opening anecdote in a just published Inquirer story about Gamble and the Promise grant to one that led off a Philadelphia magazine story about Gamble published in 2007. Then, just as she was reaching the finish line in her allegation, Hingston slammed on the brakes and skidded, writing, “But this isn’t a story about plagiarism.”

Oh.

Since I’ve got more than a little skin in this game, let me numerate my disclosures before going a step further: (1) Mighty Writers, the writing program for city kids I oversee, is housed in a rent-free building owned by Universal; (2) Universal also donates money to Mighty Writers; (3) Universal Institute Charter School is located across the street from Mighty Writers, and (4) I see a good number of Universal kids at Mighty Writers every day.

And one more disclosure: Kia Gregory, the Inquirer reporter who was sideswiped in this car accident of a blog post, was a staff writer for a time at the Philadelphia Weekly when I was the editor there.

So you’re welcome to think I’m writing this post out of loyalty and/or gratitude to Kenny Gamble or Universal or Kia Gregory. Welcome, but wrong; it was the superficiality and singularity of tone that got me fired up and wanting to address the debatable veracity of this Gamble-Universal slam. For example, the only cited references are the previously mentioned Philadelphia magazine story written in 2007 and a story published in Black Enterprise in 2001. Still, dated as this material is, Hingston somehow has no problem adopting a bold and condescending tone in her post, depicting Universal’s Promise Neighborhoods Grant as more tax dollars that will “be flowing Gamble’s way, to prop up the scaffolding of the vast enterprise he’s got going.”

I don’t know from vast enterprises, and I know even less about scaffolding; what I know about Kenny Gamble and Universal is purely observational, and that is this: (a) the Universal neighborhood where Mighty Writers is located is friendly, clean and safe—and it wasn’t that way before Kenny Gamble arrived; (b) whenever I run into Kenny Gamble, which isn’t all that often, he talks almost exclusively about education and sometimes inquires about specific kids by name; (c) whenever I talk to anyone associated with Universal, the topic is always the same—education and kids, and (d) it seems to me there isn’t a particularly long line of people or companies or nonprofits showing the will or vision to do something big about the deep ills that plague the Point Breeze and Grays Ferry neighborhoods.

What I read in Hingston’s post just doesn’t match up with that I see and experience every day in the Universal neighborhood where I work; and as for Kia Gregory, she is one really good and ethical reporter, and it seems to me if you’re going to call her out, best step up or step back. Way back.

Some subjects, like this one, in my view, are simply too big, complex and nuanced to be riffed about or summarized blithely in a loosely knitted blog post. If you’re going to bandy about a charge like avarice, it might be a good idea to get out there and do some reporting to make the case; otherwise, far better to stick to topics where opinions don’t have the same consequences.

Like that snowstorm out there. Sure is a doozy, isn’t it?

Tim Whitaker ([email protected]), is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.