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What my friendship with the Rev. Louise Williams Bishop taught me about being a mentor

By Patty Jackson

On Nov. 4, 2008, I was sitting at Warmdaddy’s, surrounded by about 300 other people, when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. It didn’t sink in until I was driving home that I had just witnessed a moment in Black history. I never thought that I would see a Black man become president in my lifetime. I hugged my mom tight as soon as I walked in the door.

The next day when I came to work at WDAS, we had a major celebration. I remember that TV cameras came by to record our reaction. We were living through history. In 2008, it was the unity that stood out to me — a kind of unity that felt new. I saw so many people motivated to go to work and make a change.

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Personally, that election inspired me to dream bigger. On the radio, you can either announce records or be an agent of change. I decided to take my job seriously in communicating to my audience about life and pop culture. I wanted to make my voice heard. When I suffered my stroke in 2015, I was very vocal about it because I wanted to be able to help others. Some people wanted me to keep quiet, but I said no. I wanted people to know what happened to me.

I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the Black leaders who came before me, especially those who mentored me in my work in radio in Philadelphia. At the end of Black History Month, it’s important to focus not only on moments in the timeline of our nation’s history but also on the personal experiences in our own Black histories that shape who we become.

Understanding and amplifying these personal stories can be a way to talk about Black history in a more expansive way — a way that takes into account not only where we come from but also inspires the future we want to create.

In 1987, soon after I started working at WDAS, I met the Rev. Louise Williams Bishop in the hallways of the station. I would watch her work, selecting records and leading prayers. I grew up listening to her voice on the air, and I was enamored with her poise and perseverance.

I wasn’t expecting that she would become a mentor to me, and eventually a close friend.

Rev. Bishop found out that I loved to cook and she introduced me to making oyster stuffing. In addition to swapping recipes we talked about being a Black woman in radio and the role that you represent. It goes much more than just playing the music. You have to be of service to the community.

Rev. Bishop had great advice because she had been there before as a woman. She had walked through it, whether the struggle was at work or in personal life.

Rev. Bishop gave me the courage to be able to persist in a business that can change at the drop of a dime. She has continued to encourage me throughout my journey. I visit with her daily at her home and even as she struggles with her health, she continues to use words of love and encouragement. This friendship has helped shape who I am.

Mentorship, to me, means not being afraid of who is coming up after you — that you find the youth and encourage them and support them. If they stumble, you help them so that they don’t fall. Rev. Bishop mentored me, so I feel it’s important to reach back and mentor younger people.

There are small acts of kindness that also stand out to me from my early days at WDAS. Jocko Henderson came into the studio one day. I thought I had done something wrong. He said: “You know what, kid. You got it. Everybody don’t have it. You got it. You know how to pause, tell a story, keep everybody enthralled. You got it.”

It’s still one of the best compliments I have ever received. Sometimes the kindness that you bestow upon others, especially when they’re young and very impressionable, goes a long way. Those kind words made me want to keep going.

My hope for the future is that there is a young Black woman out there who has my determination and won’t give up. She has to want to work at it. She can’t just say: “I don’t feel like doing this today.” I want to pass the mentorship that I received from Rev. Bishop on to someone else. I want to be a part of shaping someone else’s future, just as Rev. Bishop helped mold mine, becoming a part of my personal history.

The Inquirer strives to present a diverse range of views from a wide variety of writers on our opinion platforms. Our goal is to elevate civic — and civil — discourse. These pieces are based on interviews conducted by Inquirer Opinion staffers: Abraham Gutman, Devi Lockwood, Erica Palan, and Daniel Pearson.

Years ago, one of my former interns told me: “You push me too hard.” Ava DuVernay was coming to the station and I told the intern: “You must make connections. This woman is not going to walk into the studio again. She’ll be in Hollywood and everywhere.”

But the intern didn’t show up that day. I was so angry that she blew off the meeting.

I get my work ethic from my dad, Robert Nolan, who was a rigger at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He didn’t care if it was snowing or any other kind of weather. He got up and out there and went to work. He showed me how to work hard through his example every day. He was so serious about his work and it wasn’t a glamorous job.

That intern taught me a lesson that not everyone has the same drive.

Being on the radio is more than just flipping on a mic. Listeners like to feel that you know what you’re talking about, and like you’re a friend. When I first came to WDAS, I sounded like a kid from South Philly, talking too loud and too fast. As I learned more about radio, I was forced to talk more slowly. I honed my craft.

I am grateful for the ways that my mentors shaped my future and became a part of my history. We owe it to our ancestors to work hard — and I always will.

Patty Jackson is a 40-year veteran of radio who reports on entertainment and pop culture for WDAS. You can find her on Instagram (@wdaspatty), Youtube, and Twitter (@mspattyjackson).

Hearing James Brown play live sparked my career in music

By King Britt

My parents used to take me to hear live music. In the 1970s, we saw James Brown playing with a full string orchestra at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, N.J. Seeing an all-Black band and hearing James giving Black Excellence lit something in me. From then on, music changed my future.

I am focused on the advancement of Black people and culture. We are the most resilient, beautiful, and innovative people on the planet. My hope is that our communities truly embrace our ancestral past and utilize the knowledge and power that have been handed down.

My path shifted in 2019 when I became a professor. I created the course “Blacktronika: Afrofuturism in Electronic Music” that celebrates the innovators of color that advanced electronic music to where it is today. Many of these stories were fading into nothingness. My mission is to enlighten and show young people where these sounds come from.

King Britt is an educator, DJ, composer, and record producer from Southwest Philadelphia. He is a recipient of a Pew Fellowship and is an assistant teaching professor in computer music at the University of California, San Diego.

A teacher's comment pushed me to build a collection honoring Black History

By Charles Blockson

When I was 8 years old, I had a teacher who said that “Negroes have no history. They were born to serve white people.” She was a good teacher, but she was a victim of her environment. No one was taught Black history back then. We had to go on our own to find it. That’s what got me started looking for and collecting Black history.

I went from being a kid collecting Negro stuff to traveling all over the world and writing a cover story for National Geographic in 1984. I’m still collecting, even now. I inherited 39 items from Harriet Tubman, including the shawl that Queen Victoria gave her.

I have donated collections to Penn State University and to Temple University. The one thing we need is more space, especially at Temple, where there are more than 700,000 items related to Black history. We have offices and reading rooms, but we need spaces for classes, public programs, and workspace to process new items. We also need space for the new collections that are coming. Temple’s first Black president, Jason Wingard, could possibly help.

Charles Blockson is a cofounder of the African American Museum in Philadelphia and a founding member of the Pennsylvania Black History Committee of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests should lead to more equity in transportation

By Marcus McKnight

For me, the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests were a reminder that despite all of the progress we have made, we have a lot of work ahead of us to dispel racism and discrimination. Even though discrimination based on race or national origin has been illegal since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, organizations and people will find subtle and quiet ways to continue the way life was.

For example, some organizations hire people of color, but the board- and executive-level positions won’t be as diverse. At the top of the ladder are mostly older white men.

During the pandemic, when a lot of the people who were still working were poor and Black, SEPTA cut services. Whose idea was this? How did its planning department determine what service to cut and where?

A simple, effective, and free way to improve transit is by getting people on the board who actually use and work in transit. Recently, Justin Bibb, the mayor of Cleveland, appointed two bus riders to the city’s transit board. Instead of paying consultants, SEPTA can incorporate the viewpoints of employees and passengers by funding a community engagement program.

Marcus McKnight (@marky_phl) is a lifelong Philadelphian and has more than a decade of transit experience.

Looking back at Reconstruction helps me envision better community services

By Andre Reid

When I think about Black history, I go back to the desire and the strength that our ancestors had coming through Reconstruction — the decade after slavery. At that time, our country had several Black senators, members of Congress, and Black lawmakers in Georgia, Alabama, and Illinois. These leaders were elected just a few years after the abolition of slavery. They didn’t overcome roadblocks, they overcame mountains.

As a community, we have to start dealing with trauma. We are seeing PTSD at a young age related to gun violence. In white suburban America, it’s common to have kids in therapy and treatment. If something happens in the school, a bunch of therapists rush in and deal with it.

Black kids need to have centers in the community where they can get support, work on trauma, and that they won’t be embarrassed walking into. There is all this trauma in the Black community that isn’t being dealt with because of our reluctance to go to people who don’t have the same background.

In order to get the most effective outcomes of any practice in the Black community, we need people coming from within the community to deliver the services.

Andre Reid is the founder of Phila Nama, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Alliance of Medically Assisted Treatment, and Lived Experience Consulting.

The South Philly refinery explosion set me on a path towards environmental justice

By Sanija-Lanea Aikens

My grandparents live close to Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the South Philly refinery that exploded in 2019. That same year, a friend and I worked together in summer camp. We decided to take the kids to the community meetings about the future of the refinery. I gave a speech at the first community meeting, the first speech of my life, and I realized that I have a passion for the issue.

I play Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech a lot in my head, especially when I’m in a new place that I’m not really comfortable with. It inspires me more to be like him and pursue my mission.

Most of my dreams revolve around what kids told me when I speak at their schools about environmental justice. Some kids want a water park. Some kids just want forest or parks or recreational areas where they could play sports or have a pool. That is what plays into my dream. I don’t want to see it as a refinery anymore. I want to see something better come out from such a tragic thing.

Sanija-Lanea Aikens is a high school senior from New Jersey and a board member of Philly Thrive, a community group organizing for environmental justice in South Philadelphia.