Profiles of Late Style: The Reverend Dr. Wilson Goode

The Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode is a prominent African-American civic leader and was Philadelphia’s first African-American mayor. To read more about The Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode’s latest leadership roles, visit: Amachi: www.amachimentoring.org and SELF Inc: www.selfincorp.org. (Photos by Erin Rufledt)
“Growing older has given me a sense of urgency…What drives me everyday is knowing that if I don’t do certain things it’s probably not going to get done.”

The Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode is known for being the “first” in many things: first member of his family to graduate college, first African-American member of Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, Philadelphia’s first black managing director and ultimately, Mayor.

Goode reflects, “I want to be remembered as someone that in spite of the odds, was able to come from a very humble beginning and fight my way in a new city…To break the barrier of becoming the first African-American mayor of the city at a time when it was a majority non-black city is an achievement in itself.”

A Growing Urgency

With such a rich career behind him, it is a bit surprising that, at nearly 80 years old, Goode continues to devote energy towards new challenges. He remains as committed as ever to seeing Philadelphia, and all of its residents, thrive. Goode explains, “Age has given me a special gift called experience and knowledge. Growing older has given me a sense of urgency to get certain things done before I move to the next space. And I will work as long as I can work to accomplish those things.”

Goode is clear that he has more time behind him than in front, which fuels his sense of urgency. “I don’t have 50 more years, but I have a few more. And I will continue to work and do all I can in those years that I have left”.

Goode has built his post-mayoral career on bringing public awareness to many of the social challenges in Philadelphia. “When I reached the age of 62, I wanted to give back and I didn’t want to help anyone make money. I wanted to spend my time helping people get a chance in life. What drives me every day is knowing that if I don’t do certain things it’s probably not going to get done. In rooms I go into, there is no one talking about the poor, the disabled, the lack of education, the lack of opportunity, those children with a parent in prison, and those high schools that students are not graduating from. There is no one talking about the issues. And I am a voice that is able to say ‘there is an elephant in this room’.”

Focusing on the Least Among Us

Goode’s late style can be best described as an expansion and deepening of his public service career. No longer in elected office, Goode has recently focused his energy on creating and managing a number of non-profit organizations in Philadelphia.

Amachi is a nationally-recognized mentoring program for children impacted by incarceration. SELF, Inc. serves clients that struggle with homelessness, behavioral health issues, and substance abuse. Both organizations leverage Goode’s reputation and experience for the sake of those at the margins.

Goode explains, “I do what I do because I am compelled to do it. I am compelled by the life that I’ve been given and I have a burden for ‘the least among us’ — those with the most challenging problems.”

Breaking Down Barriers

“This burden, to serve the most vulnerable of society, is connected to Goode’s deep sense of personal calling and an understanding of his role in creating a more just city.

When asked about Philadelphia’s greatest challenges, he was quick to talk about the issues he sees: “I still think we have a race problem and I think we need to talk more about that. I know we have a problem with poverty. To live in a city where over a quarter of the people live in poverty is not something the founding city of this great country ought to wear as a badge….I think we need to deal with education. There are too many students who are failing…I think we need to do something about the abandoned housing stock in the city and begin to systematically think about other uses…”

Goode feels a sense of responsibility to help catalyze and participate in the broader conversation around these challenges. “I know I’ve broken down a lot of barriers and I take that seriously.” And he knows that in Philadelphia, there are always more barriers to break down. For the Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode, each additional day is a new opportunity to employ the wealth of his knowledge and experience towards the betterment of the city he loves and its citizens.


The Profiles of Late Style blog series is part of the Departure and Discovery Project led by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society which is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Over the next few months, we will be featuring weekly stories that explore a whole range of perspectives on late style and its impact as an altogether universal human experience.