Inquirer Editorial: Understanding was his goal

E. Steven Collins
E. Steven Collins
Posted: September 12, 2013

The passing of radio journalist E. Steven Collins, who died this week at the age of 58, deepens a hole in mainstream media coverage of Philadelphia's African American community that the rest of the city needs to understand.

Philadelphia was once blessed with daily newspaper columns by exceptional writers - Art Peters, Acel Moore, Chuck Stone, Claude Lewis, Elmer Smith, and others - who eschewed political and commercial ambitions to eloquently convey black Philadelphians' fears, aspirations, and successes.

But as those stalwarts retired, the newspaper industry has endured a storm of economic challenges. That has reduced not only its overall workforce, but particularly its number of black reporters and columnists, who had an added incentive to ensure that African Americans were portrayed accurately.

The Philadelphia Tribune and other black newspapers have tried to fill that void. But African Americans have increasingly turned to radio to find commentators who share their perspective on world and local events. Their listening habits have boosted radio personalities such as Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, and Michael Baisden to national prominence.

In Philadelphia, African Americans came to depend on Collins to articulate their point of view to the rest of the world - whether on his Sunday talk show on WRNB-FM (100.3), Philly Speaks; television news shows such as Fox29's Good Day Philadelphia; or countless appearances at community events, church services, political forums, protest rallies and marches, and all kinds of other occasions for discussion of human rights.

That his voice has been muted forever by a heart attack should be meaningful not only to African Americans, but to all Philadelphians. All benefited from Collins' efforts to help them understand feelings and motives that, coming from a different experience, they might not have considered otherwise. Collins helped to promote understanding in a city that desperately needs more people who are willing to do so.

Indeed, anyone looking for a way to pay tribute to Collins should emulate his zeal for the cooperation and coordination that can improve the quality of every life in this city - not just those of African Americans. He was a strong proponent of education in a town that too often does more talking about caring for its children than providing the resources they need. E. Steven Collins wasn't all talk. He delivered.

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