(Photo: W. Wilson Goode)
W. Wilson Goode made his way into the history books when he became the first black mayor of Philadelphia in 1984, a position he held until 1992. But in recent years, he has become known for his work as a founder and champion of a program that provides mentors for children of parents who are incarcerated.
Goode is now the director and organizer for the nationally-acclaimed Amachi program, a faith-based mentoring program. Goode estimates that there are more than 7 million children who have one or both parents who are incarcerated.
At age 73, Goode has completely refashioned his life in public service. He is a onetime community activist who became known as the mayor whose tenure included the controversial MOVE police action and house bombing in 1985. Instead of living the relaxed life of a retired former mayor, his life after City Hall has been even busier and more demanding than his life as mayor.
He went on to hold positions in the United States Department of Education. In addition, he earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Palmer Theological Seminary and began preaching throughout the country. He became a professor at Eastern University and plunged into what he calls his major passion: the Amachi program.
Amachi’s aim is to provide mentors who meet weekly with the program’s mentees. The program’s hope is that the one-to-one mentoring by encouraging adults will significantly improve the experience, confidence and future prospects of the children.
Goode said he felt so passionately about providing opportunities for children of incarcerated parents that he was led to organize the program almost singlehandedly.
“It was me working by myself going out and recruiting 42 congregations in this city who would then provide at least 10 volunteers per congregation,” Goode said in an interview with BET.com. “And I did that between Thanksgiving in 2000 and Martin Luther King’s birthday in 2001.”
Now, Amachi operates in 200 cities in 38 states with a network of support from churches and other organizations.
“Children of inmates are most likely to end up in prison themselves,” Goode said. “So, this intervention method diverts them away from that path. It redirects them into college and into positive roles."
The former mayor said that the young people served by Amachi are overwhelmingly Black and said that the program is in dire need for more Black men to volunteer as mentors for the children.
“The real challenge has been finding African-American men to mentor African-American boys,” Goode said. “There's a huge waiting list of boys in this program and we have more women than we need in the program. So the program could very easily have 60 percent males if we could find the men to volunteer.”
Goode was recently awarded the Purpose Prize, a $100,000 award given to exceptional individuals over age 60 who are working to address critical social problems.
The former mayor said that he receives the greatest satisfaction from “seeing the child of an incarcerated parent diverted from prison and into careers where they become lawyers, doctors, scientists, and engineers. That's key for what we're trying to do.”
Goode said he doesn’t consider his change in career focus to be a significant transition in his mission.
“I don’t call it a transition at all,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, my life has been a continuum and public service is natural for me.”
He continued, “When you look at my record as mayor, and my record throughout my career, it was all about working on behalf of young people. So there’s no real transition from my point of view. It’s an onward journey of advocating and working on behalf of those who are most at risk in our society.”
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