I hope everybody is having a happy (and safe) Memorial Day weekend. The Philly area is still under a stay-at-home order, but there’s finally some movement on the restrictions. Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania can begin to reopen on June 5.
And, we talked to Inquirer columnist Helen Ubiñas about the reunion between a Philly police officer and a boy he saved years ago.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Helen Ubiñas about a reunion between a Philly police officer and the boy he saved after a brutal accident in 1996.
What first inspired you to write about Shareif “Reef” Hall and recount his story?
I’d love to say it was my idea, but if I’m remembering correctly, (staff photographer) Tim Tai took the idea to Ronnie Polaneczky for The UpSide (The Inquirer’s section designated for positive news stories), and she asked me if I had any interest in pursuing it. Of course the answer was yes. While I wasn’t in Philly in 1996, after reading the stories I also wanted to know what happened to the little boy who lost his foot on a broken SEPTA escalator.
What was your response like when Curtis Ghee’s wife, Falesha, connected you with Curtis and you learned more about the backstory of that traumatic day involving him and Reef?
I knew that lots of people had helped, or tried to help, Reef and his mom that day. It was a chaotic scene, from everything I read. And I knew — I knew! — that if I wrote about Officer Ghee I would probably be hearing from other Good Samaritans and police officers and medics who probably helped that day. (And I did. There is absolutely a bigger reunion to be had.) But after talking to Officer Ghee I was so taken by how he and his career were impacted after this incident. When I talked to Reef, he wanted more than anything to impact others with his story and with his efforts in modeling. But here was a man who was telling me that without Reef even realizing he had already impacted someone’s life all those years ago. I had to tell that story.
This isn’t the first time you’ve connected people who’ve been involved, or impacted, by your reporting. Why are these types of stories important to you?
I live for these stories because I know that way before I became a journalist or even knew that journalism was a possibility for some kid from the Bronx, I would read stories and often wonder: “And then what happened?”
As much as I can, I don’t want my readers wondering that. I want to take them from beginning to end. So when I write about men and women paralyzed by gun violence — I want to tell you what happened to them, what their journey is like, how they formed a still-going-strong support group. I want my readers to be my copilots, my Ride-or-Dies, if you will, as I pop into all sorts of places to meet people and find stories and introduce myself (and The Inquirer) to people whose stories I want to tell and share and amplify. I want readers to see how journalism can impact lives. That often means connecting one subject of my column to another... I’m not building a portfolio, I’m trying to build a community. The more I write, the more I realize how few degrees of separation there are between the people I write about because I try to find ways to connect them all, to help amplify their struggles and triumphs so they can help the next group.
In the age of the coronavirus pandemic where there’s a lot of “doom and gloom” stories, how are you trying to stay positive, and what stories have lifted your spirits recently?
I’m currently eating way too much ice cream. But it makes me happy. My dogs are the biggest bright spot in my life right now. I’m trying to exercise and be grateful for what I have, and what I can control. There have been so many stories that have lifted my spirits recently, many written by my colleagues at The Inquirer. Most recently it was a story by Barbara Laker about a tight-knit neighborhood that has become even more bonded during the virus. It was just a lovely reminder that even in the darkest of times, humanity can be that flicker of light that promises us a better day is ahead — if we just keep moving forward together.
What do you think are some critical issues that Philadelphians should be paying attention to right now?
Now, more than ever, we have to pay attention to who is being impacted the most by the virus, and how — and it’s been proven that it’s people of color. Black people. Latinos. Native Americans. It’s about lack of access, to health care, to testing, to technology — to the services and respect that they were already fighting so hard for. So many Philadelphians are living in poverty. This has impacted all of us, but it has, and will continue, to impact them most.
Love some positivity while we deal with rain. Thanks for sharing, @phillyphotoculture.
Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout-out!
Finally, cocktails to go are legal in Pennsylvania. Rather than contemplate why it took this long, how it’s going to be implemented, or why it’s so difficult to buy booze in the state to begin with, why not celebrate with a to-go drink? This law is temporary. It’ll stay in place only until businesses are able to seat at 60% of capacity. Here’s a list of places in Philly where you can grab a cocktail. Remember, calling a restaurant to place an order directly might help the business avoid fees from third-party delivery services.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is here to keep you informed about your community. But you may not know exactly how we work. For the next six editions of this newsletter, we’re taking you behind the scenes to learn more about what we do and how we do it.
Today, we’re looking at The Inquirer as a whole. Our newsroom staff — which includes reporters, photographers, producers, editors, and more — works every day to make sure you’re informed. Right now, we’re all working remotely. We live in the same communities that we’re covering, so we care just as much about what’s happening in them as you do. We want to connect you to information that helps you make the best decisions for you and your family. Watch this video to learn more about who we are.
Tomorrow, we’ll tell you a little bit about Curious Philly, a service where we answer your questions.
If you have a question or comment about this weeklong section in the newsletter, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A true athlete! And creating his own path! I would travel to see him on the big waves! Gotta get his board! Amazing!” — jkramp, on Suburban Philadelphia bodyboarder Andrew Karr takes big-wave world by storm.