To appreciate the trust and love that people felt for the crusading journalist Chuck Stone, all you had to do was walk beside him in Philadelphia. It was like walking with a Kennedy in Boston.
Starting in 1979, I was privileged to co-direct with Stone several summer journalism workshops for high school minority students at Rider. I got to walk the walk every year.
People would run up to shake his hand. They would wave from across the street, shouting his name as one word, “Hey, Chuckstone!” Kids would beg for autographs — from a journalist.
Stone died on April 6 at the age of 89 in North Carolina. His obituaries made me remember what an important guide he had been for me — and what a modest one. In all those years, I never heard him mention a top obituary fact: He was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II.
Tall with a flattop haircut, horn-rimmed glasses and a bow tie, he enjoyed a distinctive look that made him stand out. But it was his passion for justice that made him a hero. Two of his favorite words were “righteous” and “audacious,” and while he applied those adjectives to others, they really described him.
His weapon was old-fashioned reporting — “boots on the ground,” as he called it. The workshop students conducted yearly political polls. Stone made us do them the hard way, door-to-door. That was why we walked so many Philadelphia streets.
Criminals (some quite scary) would surrender to him to ensure they were treated fairly. When inmates at Graterford Prison outside Philadelphia rioted and took six guards as hostages in 1981, Stone was called in to negotiate their release. He succeeded, but later dismissed any talk that he was a cool hero. “I was a nervous wreck,” he said.
It wasn’t just tough Philadelphians who were touched by his charisma. I saw him mesmerize rich publishers at banquets. When he received an honorary degree from Rider in 1985, his call-and-response oratory roused the audience.
When a workshop was over, Stone would send every participant an individualized postcard, handwritten with his Cross fountain pen, always filled with brown ink.
His warmth as well as his courage made their marks on me. One summer, I had dreams that I was Stone’s son — black, embroiled in his causes. He remains a major influence. Just ask my students what my mantra is: “Boots on the ground.”
-Dr. Thomas Simonet
Professor of journalism
I met Chuck Stone in the summer of 1983 when I was a rising senior at the Hun School in Princeton.
Mr. Stone was an inspiration, mentor and friend to the 20 or so young men and women who were selected for the program. African-American, Asian and Latino youth came from all over New Jersey to participate in a rigorous reporting, research and writing program.
Many of us had excelled at our respective high school newspapers and/or radio stations, but Mr. Stone formulated a program that humbled many of us for the first time in our lives. We were challenged on a daily basis to stretch our boundaries of comfort in both journalism and life.
Two particular assignments stand out for me from that summer. The first was door-to-door polling in an all-white, long-segregated community in Northeast Philadelphia. Chuck encouraged us to be cordial and open even though there were many doors slammed in our faces. However, as Chuck had surmised, there were also many warm neighbors who treated us kindly and were thrilled to help budding journalists get a story.
The other memorable moment for me was at the Phoenix House rehabilitation facility in Philadelphia. For many of us, it was our first experience with addiction, while for others in the program it was a subject that had affected immediate family members. The courage of the rehab participants to share their stories created a moving experience for all.
Chuck encouraged us to be prepared for all assignments through thorough research, poignant questions and effective writing. Many of my colleagues in the workshop did indeed become journalists, but many are lawyers, doctors and successful business owners. The values and skills that Chuck imparted left lifelong impressions upon me and many others. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with a man so passionately dedicated to minority youth, journalism and excellence.
The writer, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia, is a partner at the law firm Bryant Rabbino in New York
Printed in the 04/30/14 edition.