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Called to Serve, Shaped by Experience: POWER Honors Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr

By October 21, 2014January 15th, 2016No Comments

At POWER’s first gala fundraiser this Thursday, we will honor Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr with an award to thank him for his leadership towards economic and social justice in Philadelphia. 

Our organizer Fabricio Rodriguez sat down with the Councilman to learn more about his life, his faith, and his dreams for his city. Here’s what he learned.

Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr has been the primary sponsor of some of the most impactful economic justice legislation in Philadelphia City Council within the past decade, including the 21stCentury Living Wage and Benefits Ordinance that was passed orginally in 2005 and has continued to be strengthened since then.

Following Council’s action this year and the ballot measure POWER supported, the City’s minimum wage will apply not just to City workers but to all employees subcontracted by the City, with wages starting at $12/hr. on January 1st, 2015 and tied to inflation thereafter.

Having served as an at-large representative for almost 15 years, Councilman Goode has evolved into one of the most passionate and powerful advocates for low-wage workers in City Hall today.  He knows that having a decent job can be a major determining factor in whether people live positive of social contribution or a life of drug or alcohol addiction, violence and crime.

Councilman Goode has led on issues like living wages because he says he believes in giving everyone a chance to live a dignified life.  These lessons are deeply personal and engrained in his own story, and his faith.

Goode describes himself as a born-again Christian who was raised in a church but did not take religion too seriously until later in his life. An experience of salvation in his college years “changed [his] life forever,” he said.  He attended seminary, though ended up working in economic development instead of the church.

But just because he didn’t land in the church does not mean doesn’t view his work as ministry.

“I didn’t want to fit into a mold,” he said. “I wanted to respond to my own individual calling.”

That calling, he said, is to serve people outside of church walls. “The church should be a lighthouse to the community,” he said. “You’re supposed to go out.”

Councilman Goode was motivated to run for Council based on this sense of vocation and also his own family’s history of public service—his father, Wilson Goode Sr, was the first African American mayor of the city from 1984-1992.

While he entered Council to carry out this calling, it has been shaped even further by life events that he never expected.

Goode’s family is politically connected but it doesn’t mean they haven’t known poverty or hard times.  In 2005, Councilman Goode’s cousin James, who was then addicted to crack cocaine, kidnapped and assaulted a woman in West Philadelphia.

Following the tragedy, Goode became even more determined to make a difference in Philadelphia – a difference for the poor and desperate – people like members of his own family and thousands more whom he saw living without hope. He stayed away from City Hall briefly, in deep contemplation about his purpose as a public servant, and eventually dove into research about how to alleviate poverty through systemic change.

When he returned, he brought with him the Philadelphia 21st Century Minimum Wage Standard Bill. Although the bill passed unanimously, its implementation was not guaranteed.  Then-Mayor John Street refused to implement the bill until the end of his term in 2007. Even Mayor Michael Nutter, who voted to support the legislation in 2005, didn’t apply the provisions to subcontractors until May of 2014.

Undaunted, and with his belief in giving people a chance to have a dignified life with a decent paycheck, Councilman Goode has pressed on and built upon his original legislation with the backing of SEIU 32BJ, the Working Families Party, Action United and POWER.

Recently, City Council unanimously approved a bill from Councilman Goode that will give a multi-year tax credit to businesses that create living wage jobs.

Councilman Goode is the kind of leader that Philadelphia needs right now.  He is a leader guided by values that were formed by his faith and his family’s history of public service. Thousands of Philadelphia families will directly benefit from his work, some even getting a raise up to at least $12 per hour and paid sick days in 2015.

What keeps him going, he says, is still his feeling of being called to serve – and a powerful feeling of hope he gets from those who have been positively impacted by what he has accomplished.

“It was a challenge to walk away from traditional ministry into the work I do,” he said. “But I’m very fulfilled by the work I do as a manifestation of my faith.”

He also sees great potential in the work of POWER towards building the capacity of religious communities in Philadelphia to advocate for change in their neighborhoods.

“POWER has been instrumental in the fight against educational and income inequality,” he said. “Faith matters.”

We are proud to honor Councilman Wilson Goode this week at our Fall Fundraiser. Buy your ticket here.