This I Believe: Philadelphia

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In Philadelphia, an idea was born more than 60 years ago – to ask citizens from all walks of life to write about and share the values that guide their daily lives. The idea grew from one radio station in Philadelphia into the international phenomenon This I Believe radio series. 
 

This I Believe: Philadelphia features 30 essays from that original 1950s This I Believe radio series, including those from publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg, classicist and educator Edith Hamilton, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author James Michener paired with 30 contemporary contributors including Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Fitzpatrick; Grammy Award winner Kenny Gamble; Jane Golden, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program; and Mayor Michael Nutter.

Click play below to listen to the This I Believe radio segment by Sozi Tulante. When Sozi Tulante was only a boy, he and his family fled the Congo and found themselves in the United States, where they were able to start a new life in Philadelphia. Mr. Tulante believes in the country that granted them political asylum, and he believes in the city that welcomed them home. Mr. Tulante is now an attorney in Philadelphia. He received his JD, cum laude, from Harvard Law School and his AB, cum laude, from Harvard College. He continues to pass on to his children the lessons he learned from his late father, Manuel Sozinho.


 


Read a sneak peek below from This I Believe: Philadelphia with an essay by Keith Wheelock, the son of the original founder of This I Believe:



 

My Dad and This I Believe



This I Believe is a Philadelphia story. That is where my father, Ward Wheelock, took a powerful idea and, based in Philadelphia, brought This I Believe to countless millions throughout America and globally.

   Dad lived in the Philadelphia area his entire life, except for his time at Cornell and serving in World Wars I & II. The seed of This I Believe was planted at the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr. My mother cut out a Joseph Fort Newton article from the 1949 Easter Sunday church program. Five days later my mother died.

   I was amazed by the impact that this Newton article had on Dad. He had it inscribed on plaques that he gave to me, my sister, and my brother. That was just the start of how Dad transformed Newton’s words into a memorial to my mother by creating This I Believe:

   We must take time, take pains, have a plan, form spiritual habits, if we are to keep our souls alive; and now is the time to begin….The same hard knocks come to him as to others, but he reacts to them by the central law of his life. He suffers deeply, but he does not sour. He knows frustration, but he goes right on in his kindness and faith. He sees his own shortcomings, but he does not give up, because a power rises up from his spiritual center and urges him to the best. - Joseph Fort Newton

   Dad, a dynamic Philadelphia advertising executive, lived his personal credo: “Don’t ask why, ask why not?” He also profoundly believed in the power of an idea. (In 1953, his idea about international fellowships led to the creation of Eisenhower Fellowships, which, headquartered in Philadelphia, is still flourishing more than six decades later.)

   Dad often spoke with me about how everyone has beliefs that affect his or her lives. He was convinced that there was a vast audience that would be eager to hear and be affected by the personal beliefs of others. He was clear that this would not be a religious program, though individuals could express their religious beliefs. At the outset, Dad assumed that people would express a belief in a Supreme Being. His only absolute guideline was that beliefs must reflect what a person believed in, not what he/she was against.

   In 1949 Dad began exploring his idea of a radio program about beliefs with dozens of his Philadelphia friends and colleagues. They provided a sounding board that more sharply honed what swiftly began to emerge as This I Believe. A critical catalyst was Donald Thornburgh, general manager of WCAU, then Philadelphia’s CBS TV and radio station. Thornburgh volunteered to pioneer This I Believe on WCAU.

   Dad had met Edward R. Murrow in London during World War II. Subsequently, when Murrow returned to the United States, Dad hired Murrow to air his first nightly CBS news program. (Murrow, a person of strong convictions, only permitted Campbell Soup—my Dad’s principal advertising account—ads at the start and conclusion of his evening broadcasts.) Murrow was captivated by the This I Believe concept. He volunteered to be the host of a daily This I Believe radio program, each episode of which would focus on a person reading his or her essay about their core beliefs. A major obstacle was to persuade CBS to broadcast these commercial-free, five-minute programs on its national radio network.

   Dad, Murrow, and Thornburgh met with William Paley, the head of CBS, who was, himself, a native Philadelphian (indeed, CBS had been based in Philadelphia in its early years before moving to New York). Dad told me that, initially, Paley was a hard sell. Ultimately, Paley agreed that Thornburgh could test the Murrow-introduced programs on his Philadelphia CBS radio station.

   The initial public response was stunning. Soon This I Believe was a regular feature on the entire CBS radio network, reaching 39 million listeners weekly. Dad ran the This I Believe operation from his Ward Wheelock Company office in the Lincoln-Liberty Building, adjacent to what once was the Philadelphia National Bank Building. A small editorial staff in New York oversaw the editing and recording of the actual programs.

   Philadelphians provided a number of the initial essays that were broadcast. Some were included in the first This I Believe book, which was published by Simon and Schuster in 1952 and became, excluding the Bible, the best-selling nonfiction book of the year. This I Believe, while national, was also local. One of the young staffers in Dad’s office suggested his dentist as a likely essayist. Thus a Philadelphia dentist joined hundreds of distinguished national individuals as a This I Believe contributor.

   I was away at school, and then college, while Dad expanded the power of his idea nationally and internationally. I experienced some of Dad’s enthusiastic conviction when I accompanied him on a visit with Louis B. Seltzer (editor of The Cleveland Press) in Cleveland and then, in 1953, to have tea with Professor Gilbert Murray in Oxford. Seltzer’s essay was included in the first book. Professor Murray, in addition to writing his personal essay, wrote an essay in the voice of Socrates, as part of the “immortal” series on historical figures ranging from Socrates to Franklin Roosevelt, which were included in a second book of essays and a CBS record.

   Dad was convinced that This I Believe had a universal message. Both British and Arabic This I Believe books were published, intended as forerunners of a book in Urdu. This I Believe segments were translated into six languages and broadcast around the world on The Voice of America. There was also a regular Armed Forces Radio Service feature. In early 1954 Dad took a world trip to expand the reach of This I Believe (and to introduce the Eisenhower Fellowships).

   In 1954 I wrote my own This I Believe essay that was broadcast and published in papers throughout the U.S. That same year This I Believe, after a meteoric rise, was abruptly terminated. Dad and other family members disappeared on a yacht in the Bermuda Triangle in January 1955.

   I never lost faith in the power of Dad’s idea. In 1992, when I commenced a 22-year career as a college history professor, I taught a segment on the similarities and differences between early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. With some trepidation, I had my students explore This I Believe and then write their own essays. I was astonished by the result. Over the years, more than 600 students wrote This I Believe essays. A number of students, whose writing skills seemed otherwise mediocre, wrote brilliant essays. Many said that it was their most meaningful college experience.

   I thought that this might provide an opportunity to rekindle Dad’s idea. I sent selections of my students’ This I Believe essays to Janet Murrow. Mrs. Murrow suggested that I contact Joe Wershba, her husband’s long-time colleague. After Wershba’s enthusiastic response, I submitted my idea to Simon and Schuster. The response was that, without a Murrow-type personality, a new This I Believe book was a no go.

   Five years later Dan Gediman called me, asking if I was the son of Ward Wheelock. Dan told me that he had read one of the This I Believe books and thought it was a natural for National Public Radio. I was thrilled by his passion for the power of Dad’s idea. Dan and Jay Allison made it happen. I vividly remember a dinner with NPR’s senior executives at which Ed Murrow’s son Casey and I were asked to speak.

   The new This I Believe was a public radio feature for years. The This I Believe website (thisibelieve.org) and a series of books spread the This I Believe message widely. Tens of thousands of personal essays poured in from across the country. Dan introduced This I Believe in many schools and colleges. I chose to introduce This I Believe to a senior citizen audience. I first led a four-week This I Believe program for residents in New Jersey’s Somerset and Hunterdon counties. The wait list was large, as we limited the program size to 35 participants. I used a series of This I Believe broadcasts prepared by Dan’s Louisville office, which also provided a history of This I Believe CD. The enthusiastic response was such that I was obliged to extend the program another two weeks.

   Subsequently I have conducted nine additional This I Believe programs for “mature participants” in both New Jersey and on Long Island. For me, this has demonstrated that This I Believe resonates with both young and old. Several of my more outspoken participants were in their nineties.

   I am heartened that the power of Dad’s idea is as vital today as it was over six decades ago. I applaud Dan and Mary Jo Gediman for making this happen. I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to what Dad initiated than to celebrate This I Believe in Philadelphia, where it all began.




  

 

Posted: 10/1/2015 12:00:00 AM| with 0 comments
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