Claude Lewis – A Journalist After Your Heart

Last fall – when pre-election angst and anger were at their peak – Dave and I contacted over two dozen Philadelphia artists,  writers and performers,  and asked them to pose for our windows holding upbeat signs with words like create,  collaborate,  envision and,  yes,  VOTE….

17_04_20 1 Tasker Street Windows CM_5602Twenty-eight smiling artists lit up our South Philadelphia windows last October to remind us that we really do have more in common than not.

As you may recall,  participants included everyone from singer Bobby Rydell and comedian Jennifer Childs,  to jazz pianist Alfie Pollitt and sculptor Miguel Antonio Horn.

But there was one window,  front and center,  that was reserved for my earliest role model.

IN  PHILADELPHIA,  NEARLY  EVERYONE  READS….

Like today,  the late 1960s were a confusing and complex time to be a teenager and,  three days a week,  I’d rush home from high school,  tear open the Philadelphia Bulletin,  and read Claude Lewis’ column.

17_04_20 2 Claude Lewis Phila BulletinPhiladelphia’s first black newspaper columnist,  Claude Lewis,  during his Philadelphia Bulletin days.  (Photo courtesy of the Lewis Family.)

Lewis had a magical way of taking complex and often scary subjects and bringing them down to human size – to people and ideas that you could relate to and care about – and I longed to write like him.

So when Sister Dolores Donovan named me the new feature editor of the St. Hubert’s High School newspaper,  I screwed up my courage,  called the Bulletin,  and boldly asked to interview him.

MEETING  MY  HERO

And,  yes,  I still remember the thrill of hopping on the Frankford el in my high school uniform and saddle shoes and walking into the Bulletin.

I was a few minutes early,  so Lewis asked me step around the corner and take a seat.   But – being a typical teenager and more than a little nervous – I turned the wrong way and sat down in the first empty office I saw.

Decades later,  my most vivid memory of that day in 1971 is of me standing next to my hero while an angry editor dressed us both down,  demanding to know “Who told this kid she could sit in my office?”

I was mortified,  but I also remember being impressed that  “Wow!  Real newspaper editors are just as grouchy as the ones in the movies….!”

17_04_20 3 Cathy Mellina 1971Cathy  (aka Kate)  Mellina,  girl journalist,  at left,  with St. Hubert’s sports editor Janice H.

INTO  THE  FUTURE

Somehow we both survived,  and I got my treasured interview – and I still have family members who talk about the day that  “Catherine”  interviewed Claude Lewis.

When I left for college,  Lewis followed:   Every week,  my mom would include his latest writing in her snail-mail care packages.

But  his influence went way beyond those newspaper clippings:   It was there when I joined the college newspaper and wrote about everything from closeted gay students to women’s liberation.

And it was there 25 years later when I became an Asbury Park, NJ councilwoman and newspaper columnist who wrote about poverty,  crime,  election fraud,  and the good-hearted people who were working to save our sad little town.

17_04_20 4 Claude Lewis National LeaderClaude Lewis in 1982,  shortly after he co-founded The National Leader,  the first national black weekly newspaper.   He later worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer,  wrote biographies,  and produced and/or appeared on a variety of television and radio programs.  (Photo courtesy of the Lewis Family.)

 And his influence was there again last October when we photographed over 300 more Philadelphians holding those same upbeat signs and posted their smiling faces on our blog.

RECONNECTING  IN  2016

That’s why,  when we started our anti-election-angst photo project,  I knew that the central window overlooking East Passyunk’s  “singing fountain”  belonged to him.

17_04_20 5 Claude Lewis - Vote WindowsLewis joined Bobby Rydell  (top left),  Jennifer Childs  (top center)  and two dozen other Philadelphia artists,  writers and performers in our pre-election windows.

It took me almost five weeks to find him.    And,  yes,  I cheerfully annoyed a whole new generation of newspaper editors and writers before Kate Binzen,  daughter of former Inquirer writer Peter Binzen,  reconnected us.

Lewis had just returned home from several weeks in a rehab hospital and he warned me that he could no longer see,  but he invited Dave and me to visit him and his wife Beverly.

BACK  TO  THE  PAST

 And so,  on a sunny summer day,  we drove across the Ben Franklin Bridge,  and I felt  like I was 17 years old again:   There was Claude Lewis,  characteristically gracious and kind,  and just as sharp as ever.

And there was me – totally mortified because we’d forgotten to pack the sign he was supposed to hold.

17_04_20 6 Claude Lewis DC_8000Working with Kate?   It pays to have a sense of humor….

So my second most vivid Claude Lewis memory is of him posing in the hall of his apartment building – holding two AARP newsletters that Dave then had to Photoshop over with a copy of the sign.

That night I went down to my studio and pulled out a manila envelope that I’ve been carrying around for,  well,  46 years now.   And inside was a 1971 copy of the St. Hubert’s High School “Tally-Ho” newspaper with my Claude Lewis interview.

17_04_20 7 Claude Lewis Interview 1971And, yes, I was so nervous about not misquoting him that I included not a single direct quote.

A  LIFE  OF  COURAGE  AND  HEART

At a recent memorial service,  a local television journalist noted that some people get your attention by getting in your face,  but Claude Lewis made points by getting into your heart.

To read more about Lewis’ remarkable,  ground-breaking career – from his early friendship with Langston Hughes,  to being beaten by police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention,  to his co-founding of the National Association of Black Journalists,  see journalist Pete Binzen’s 2016 tribute here and the Inquirer’s 2017 memorial here.

So thank you,  Claude Lewis,  for showing this awkward,  blue-collar,  1960s Philadelphia kid – in fact,  a whole generation of us – that we could be so much more than we knew.

Kate

17_04_20 8 Claude LewisClaude Lewis (1934-2017)

Flip the Script (Part 11): And So This Is….Thanksgiving

It’s been two weeks since the presidential election,  and we’d like to thank the more than two dozen artists,  writers,  and performers who offered words of pre-election encouragement from our South Philadelphia windows….

16_10_21-1-vote-tasker-side-dc_8280Click here to learn about the 28 inspiring Philadelphia artists who spent the pre-election month smiling  from our windows.

…and the hundreds more warm-hearted souls who let us photograph them for our blog….

composite-photoClick here to scroll backwards through all 11 of our pre-election posts,  starting with this one.

HOW  IT  ALL  BEGAN….

We dreamed up our non-partisan photo project this summer,  during a depressing campaign week that painted America as a failed experiment — with a candidate who somehow made it okay to overlook insults against minorities,  women,  the disabled,  the armed forces,  prisoners of war,  our allies – seemingly against basic human kindness itself.

And we did our best to put aside our own political leanings to remind people  (including ourselves)  of the goodness that built our country and the goodness we can still create together.

…AND  MOVING  FORWARD

But healing is largely missing from the holiday menu this year:  No one could have predicted that the candidate with almost three million more votes would be declared the loser,  and that the Ku Klux Klan would be planning a public victory parade – or that the election results would be hailed with racist graffiti and taunts against children and adults in cities all around America,  including our own.

This Thanksgiving  will be an especially hard one,  with families split along ideological lines and feelings so raw.

So where do we start?   There’s only one clear path….

16_10_28-270-tahi-nahl-neil-benson

BRINGING  IT  ALL  BACK  HOME

And so this Thanksgiving – when radio stations all over the country traditionally play “Alice’s Restaurant”,  that rambling folk ballad – what better musician to quote than self-described “folkslinger”  Arlo Guthrie,  in a fun-but-true riff built off a comment by fellow musician Pete Seeger:

 “If the world was perfect and everybody had money,

everybody drove a BMW,  nobody was homeless,  nobody ever got sick,

everybody was smart and…happy all the time,

you’d have to go an awful long way out of your way

to make a difference in this world.  

You’d have to do a whole hell of a lot to improve the way it was.

“But in a world that sucks,  like this one,

you don’t have to do very much at all.

 ♦

“There was never a time in the history of the world

where you could do so little and get so much done.”

16_11_24-arlo-guthrie-alices-restaurant-tour-dc_4575
Amazing Grace”:  Check out Arlo Guthrie’s fun,  inspiring,  and always rambling riff here on YouTube .

Time to get moving again….!

make-america-kind-againAnd,  yes,  we’ve been handing out dozens of these pins,  available at Via Delia,  to make ourselves feel better.   Sometimes,  you just have to get back in the game.

Happy Thanksgiving to all,

Kate & Dave

Flip the Script (Part 10): Nov. 8 Is Here, & It’s Now or Never

Well,  it’s come down to this….and there’s no do-overs after Election Day….

16_10_02-4-passyunk-windows-cm_5590Corny perhaps, but indubitably true:  Click here to learn more about these smiling faces in our South Philly windows – and about the hundreds more big-hearted Philadelphians we’ve photographed for our blog this month.

And,  yeah,  it’s easy to say that both major candidates are flawed,  and you don’t want to vote for either of them.  But their agendas are polar opposites,  and one of them will be elected this week.

And you  – and all the other smiling faces on our blog – will be living with the consequences for years to come.

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Flip the Script (Part 9): 48 More Ways to Beat That Pre-Election Stress

Over the past four weeks,  we’ve photographed scores of optimistic Philadelphians in our home studio,  as part of our pre-election,  anti-angst photo campaign…

16_10_25-01-vote-corner-view-dc_0137Click here to learn more about the smiling artists in our windows at E. Passyunk Avenue & Tasker Street – and our quest to show hundreds more upbeat Philadelphians on our blog.

ON  THE  STREET  WHERE  WE  LIVE…

Today we’ll stroll our South Philadelphia neighborhood to introduce you to just a handful of the equally upbeat business people and customers we’ve met during our four years here….

Metro Mens Clothing,  Halo Hair

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Flip the Script (Part 8): Our VOTE Windows on ABC’s Nightline & philly.com!

They say that a bad day is when you wake up and find a  60 Minutes  crew on your lawn.

Fortunately,  the same didn’t hold true for  ABC’s Nightline  last week.

16_11_4-3-nightline-kate-dc_5307_No warrants in sight:   Kate (second from left) with Nightline’s Ignacio Torres,  Jasmine Brown and Dan Harris.

STRESS?  WHAT  STRESS??

Nightline co-anchor Dan Harris and segment producers Jasmine Brown  (the lead producer that day)  and Ignacio Torres were in town to gauge the pre-election stress level in our hotly contested swing state.   (Hint:  Think high – very high.)

They also offered relief in the form of a daringly co-ed  (i.e., mixed Democrat and Republican)  meditation session.

In between,  they talked to us about our upbeat South Philadelphia window display….

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Flip the Script (Part 7): 65 More Ways to Beat the Blues

When we dreamed up our anti-angst, South Philadelphia window project this summer,  we knew this election season was going to get rough.

16_10_21-1-vote-tasker-side-dc_8280Click here to learn more about the upbeat artists in our lighted windows at E. Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street – and our quest to photograph hundreds more smiling Philadelphians.

But we had no idea how ugly it was going to get….

16_11_3-kate-in-door-2-dc_1289Go away!   I’ll be out on Nov. 9….of,  uhm,  2020.

NO  RETREAT,  BABY….

But it’s hard to abandon all hope when you can still find such goodness right outside your studio door.

So we are especially happy today to share more photos taken during last Saturday’s East Passyunk Fall Fest — along with another group of artists we’d like to introduce….

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Flip the Script (Part 6): Meet 8 More of Our Window Artists

Over the past several posts,  we’ve told you about many of the 28 artists,  writers,  musicians and performers who appear in our South Philadelphia window display.   (And,  yes,  if you’re not familiar with our pre-election,  anti-angst campaign,  you can read about it here.)

Today,  we’ll tell you about the remaining 8 artists overlooking South Philadelphia’s popular “singing fountain”….

16_10_02-4-passyunk-windows-cm_5590The view on our second and third floors at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street….

16_10_02-15-asa-maisie-cm_5576….and the bottom line on our first floor.

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