In Praise of Inner Cities' Unsung Heroes

Article excerpt

Robert L. Woodson Sr. has worked with men and women who, against considerable odds, have fought and overcome poverty, crime and racial tensions in their low-income neighborhoods. But the veteran community activist has often been at a loss for words to describe the extraordinary achievements of these unsung heroes.

Now, in his new book, "The Triumphs of Joseph: How Today's Community Healers are Reviving Our Streets and Neighborhoods," Mr. Woodson has finally found a suitable analogy: the biblical story of Joseph, the favored son of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob and his wife, Rachel.

As recounted in Genesis, Joseph endured many acts of wickedness, beginning with his being sold into slavery by his own brothers.

But through his faith, Joseph successfully interpreted the dreams of the Egyptian pharaoh about a coming famine and was catapulted to a seat of power to prepare for the hard times. In time, Joseph saved both Egypt and his own people from starvation.

Inner-city heroes who rise above adversity armed with faith and a passion for goodness are "modern-day Josephs," Mr. Woodson writes in his new book.

These Josephs include ex-addicts Freddie and Ninfa Garcia, who run Victory Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas; community leader Carl Hardrick, who works with gangs in Hartford, Conn.; and Tyrone Parker, who works with D.C. gangs through the Alliance of Concerned Men.

These and hundreds of other Josephs deserve to be embraced and supported by "good pharaohs," such as foundations and caring individuals, Mr. Woodson says.

But it won't necessarily be easy for modern pharaohs to side with these Josephs, he warns.

Like the Egyptian pharaoh, modern-day pharaohs will have to "overcome class consciousness," he says, noting that Joseph's pharaoh had to overcome educational gaps, ethnic differences and political tensions when he placed his country's fate in the hands of a young Hebrew prisoner.

Would-be good pharaohs also have to rise above the advice of the "turf-guarding counselors" who work in their courts.

Many leaders of the civil rights establishment and poverty industry decry the plight of poor blacks but propose remedies that benefit themselves and their middle-class friends, he maintains.

Such black leaders were called "problem profiteers" years ago by legendary black educator Booker T. Washington, Mr. Woodson recalls in his book.

"Any time you have a class of people who thrive when the condition of those whom they are supposed to be serving deteriorates, there is something corrupt about that relationship," he adds in an interview this week at the offices of his 17-year-old National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. …