Tim Whitaker’s Mighty Writers Program Empowers Philly Kids to Raise Their Voices

The Wynnewood resident and former editor of Philadelphia Weekly puts his writing experience to good use through a three-year old initiative that’s taking the city by storm.

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In 1988, Whitaker focused on a celebrity of a different stripe, devoting a year to write a biography of former Phillies’ slugger/lightning-rod Dick Allen. “He was a rebel,” says the biographer of the first-baseman, who clashed with fans at Connie Mack Stadium. “You either loved him or hated him.”

The project overlapped his new post as editor of the late, lamented PhillySport, a classy magazine whose budget outstripped its circulation. Then, a hoops buddy directed him to a magazine opening in Naples, Fla. But paradise had its shortcomings: After a few years at Gulfshore Life, he missed Philly’s pop and snarl—and its culture.

Back in Center City, Whitaker joined the weekly Welcomat as new publisher Michael Cohen was changing the name to Philadelphia Weekly and its editorial profile to longer, staff-written articles. The expanded newspaper attracted a wider readership and improved its bottom line, variables that eventually came under pressure as upheavals in the newspaper industry squeezed advertising dollars. When Whitaker left the paper in 2008, critics charged that his leadership had been on the wane. In truth, PW had continued to win journalism awards.

If Whitaker was somewhat fatigued by the long hours and financial troubles of the newspaper business, he quickly found restoration. In San Francisco, he observed writer Dave Eggers’ nonprofit 826 Valencia literacy project in action around the city’s Mission District and left with a new personal mission. “I wanted to adapt Eggers’ program to Philadelphia,” says Whitaker of 826’s volunteer-rich, street-front concept. “After I saw Rachel Loeper’s flyers, we met and very quickly joined forces.”

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