Through the years, Chester Township has managed to produce a number of notable names.
NBA star Jameer Nelson, Broadway singer Ethel Waters and the first superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy Hubert R. Harmon are just a few from Chester that have gone on to accomplish big things in their careers.
Well, don’t be surprised to see local news reporter and Chester native Dray Clark of CBS 3 added to that list. One could label him as local kid who came home to do good.
From the time he was tot, Clark appeared to have a passion for news. At a young age, Clark had his first experience with the media, after a young girl fell out of a window near his house and a reporter later interviewed his mother on the incident.
“My son was the one who told me the reporter wanted to speak to me about the incident,” said mother Terri Clark. “At the time, I told my son I didn’t want to speak to the reporter, but five minutes later there she was. After she left, Dray says ‘mom, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.’”
Born and raised in Delaware County, Clark attended Chester High Academy. He is a 2000 graduate of Lincoln University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in English Communications.
“Dray got his motivation from the people around him,” his mother Terri said. “He always watched the news and read books from an early age. He even made a commercial in high school where he was doing the news. I’ve always supported everything that my son has done. I’m very proud of him and excited to see him achieve his dream.”
Years later, Clark is now an Emmy-winning news reporter for local CBS affiliate Channel 3.
“I realized at a young age that I wanted to be a reporter,” he said. “I would watch the news and study people like Lisa Thomas Laury, Ukee Washington, Joyce Evans and Tracey Matisak. Those were the only people that I watched closely to try to get a sense of how they do what they do. The more I watched the more I realized I wanted to do it.”
Clark joined CBS 3 and the CW Philly as a general assignment reporter in September 2008. Clark came home to the Delaware Valley from WJW-TV, the FOX station in Cleveland, Ohio where he has been a reporter and weekend anchor since 2005.
Previously, he had served as a reporter and weekend anchor for WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich. He also worked at WMAZ-TV in Macon, Ga. as a reporter and weekend anchor.
“It’s good to be able to work in a city that you’re very familiar with,” he said. “Philadelphia is a very tough news market. It’s very fast paced and if you’re not prepared it’s the kind of market that will eat you alive. Philadelphia is the fourth largest television market in the country, once you make it to this level you need to make sure you’re prepared because the only other way to go is down. Some people elect to go back down by choice, but no one wants to go back down because they failed from a higher level.”
Clark has garnered many accolades throughout his career. According to him, that’s not what motivates the reporter to succeed.
“I like to do great things without people knowing about it,” he said. “I still have dreams that I’ve yet to accomplish, one being building a school in Chester. I already have the concept in my head. The kids in Chester deserve a better education.”
When it comes to news and Chester — news within the city limits have not been the most positive.
“A lot of the kids in Chester come from difficult circumstances,” Clark said. “They feel like they can’t make it out. When you’re constantly around death, destruction and depression you just take on that spirit and your spirit becomes broken. You don’t want to succeed or progress because you become comfortable. I want to make people in Chester understand that we are at a serious impasse here.
“If we don’t start making some constructive and positive changes in Chester we’re going to lose a lot more lives,” he added. “Kids need to see an example of someone who is positive and works hard the traditional way. I spend a lot of time in Chester to try to encourage and inspire them as much as possible. I’m here to tell them they can make it; there is a whole world outside of Chester. I’m just trying to inspire and encourage as many people as I can young and old.”
In addition to reporting, Clark is also known for speaking and hosting various events throughout the community.
“His level of excellence is what always got my attention — he’s a natural,” said Clark’s father, Isiah A. Jones Jr. “I can remember listening to him at the Martin Luther King breakfast and he had one of the most profound speeches I have ever heard. It’s a powerful feeling to wake up in the morning and see your son on TV before you go to work.
“I’m real proud of him because I really had the desire to do it myself as far as news or radio, but I just didn’t have what he had, which is the presence of mind at a young age and to prepare for what you want to do and stick to it,” he added.
Clark has received numerous accolades through his career.
His reporting has been honored with a 2004 Michigan Emmy Award for Best Health and Medical Series and two awards from the Press Club of Cleveland for Spot News and General News.
“I watched Ukee Washington for years and to be able to be friends with him is a dream coming true,” Clark said. “If you have that kind of friendship with people you grew up watching it’s a blessing. Every time I see that three on that building I say ‘wow, I get to work here.’ This is such huge blessing for me and I don’t take it for granted.”
Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 brings back the spirit of Philadelphia’s own Ethel Waters with her life stories and memorable songs in “Ethel!” Written by and starring Broadway’s Terry Burrell, this world premiere begins with previews today and runs through March 11.
Burrell first appeared at the Walnut in the pre-Broadway tryout of “Eubie” in 1978. Since then, Burrell, a Trinidad-born performer, has appeared on Broadway in “Three Penny Opera,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Swinging On A Star,” “Into The Woods,” “Dreamgirls” and “Honky Tonk Nights.”
She also appeared in numerous off-Broadway productions, various concerts, and was honored with nominations for Helen Hayes Awards for other work in both “Queenie Pie” and “Showboat.”
Burrell says that, much like Ethel Waters, growing up she never had any doubt she would be a performer. “In high school, I really got involved with musicals. I think the first one I ever did was ‘West Side Story,’ but that became the defining moment in my life when I knew this was really what I wanted to do.”
But unlike Waters, she continues, hers was a happy life with parents who were very supportive of her dreams. However, Burrell explains, “Ethel didn’t have an easy life. A child of rape, her mother rejected her almost from birth. Her grandmother raised her in poverty, and Ethel was always hungry and had to learn to steal. She learned to be tough and had this armor around her which colored everything she did.”
Burrell says she decided to write this performance piece simply because she had no choice. “I first started doing the research about twenty years ago when I was looking for something to develop. I knew I needed to produce something of my very own. My friends encouraged me to work on this piece because they felt Ethel was in danger of being forgotten.”
And the more research she did, the more Burrell became interested in the life of Ethel Waters. “I was especially interested in the music she sang which was the music I grew up singing — the great songs of the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s and ’50s. But in the beginning, my idea was that I would do the research and then find someone else to write the piece. But that never worked out, so about a year and a half ago, I decided to write it myself.”
And so she did, producing a show full of colorful language, rough men and a woman full of good old American street skills that led to a career that featured hit records, Broadway shows, and even an Academy Award nomination — the second African-American actress to ever be nominated.
“Ethel!” entertains with personal stories of Waters’ life and unforgettable songs, including “Dinah,” “Heebie Jeebies,” “Taking a Chance on Love” and “Stormy Weather.”
Burrell says that when the show closes at the Walnut, she’d love to take it to Broadway. “Either Broadway or off-Broadway. I think it absolutely belongs there.”
As for her own future, Burrell says she might like to write more, although she might also like to add some film and or television to her resume.
“I love playing roles that go against what people think they know me for when the look at me. I love playing strong women — whether they once lived on the planet or not. All I do know is I want to continue to have a vibrant, lucrative career in the theater. And if that’s all I ever do, that’ll be just fine with me.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 574-3550.