Whitney Young Project Unveiled at BPD Conference

Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


The Whitney Young Film and Leadership Development Project was introduced at The Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD) conference, held March 18-22 in Phoenix, Ariz.

NASW partnered with BPD to promote the 2009 conference. The conference theme was "BPD: Generalist Practice: The Future is Now," and NASW co-hosted a special plenary session on the project.

Bonnie BoswellThe plenary session reviewed the life of Whitney Young, including his use of social work skills in providing leadership not only to the National Urban League, but also to his profession and to the nation. The Whitney Young Film and Leadership Development Project was started by Young's niece, journalist Bonnie Boswell. Boswell, a Black Power student activist during the Civil Rights movement, produced the film at the heart of the project, which is titled "Finding Uncle Whitney: The Search for Leadership in America." The film's trailer was shown during the session.

Boswell said the presentation went very well. "We could see how enthusiastic everyone was to have rediscovered the work and legacy of Whitney Young. They learned how much he accomplished using the tools of social work," she said. "People had great ideas and are looking forward to the expansion of the program."

A teaching guide was also distributed during the session. NASW staff in partnership with BPD collaborated with Boswell to develop the teaching guide to help social work faculty focus on developing social work leadership. Using the guide, faculty can provide students with an understanding of Young's philosophy of social justice and his ability to use social work strategies to achieve his goals. The teaching guide is available online and can be updated as needed.

Linda S. Moore, co-editor of the teaching guide and a social work professor at Texas Christian University, said most of the people at the conference were undergraduate social work educators. "They are the ones who will take this message to the students and implement the project," she said. "They were excited and enthusiastic and wanted as much information as we could provide. The more we can expand this and provide specific tactics for teaching leadership, the more people will include it in their programs and on their campuses."

The film and teaching guide inform students about Young's life and experiences, his social work philosophy, his approach to leadership and his contributions to social work and the larger society. Young was president of NASW between 1969 and 1971, the year of his death. He was elected an NASW Social Work Pioneer in 1993. He also headed the National Urban League from 1961-1971 and developed a "Domestic Marshall Plan" emphasizing federal aid to cities, community development and leadership skills for African American youth.

"While we had known about Whitney Young's work and leadership activities, creating these resources and meeting Bonnie has deepened our understanding of his social work practice and gifts to the profession," said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark. "He exemplified the creative tension or paradox inherent in the social worker's practice - working in the reality that is now, while helping people to see another vision and a new reality. He challenged people within the government and corporate systems to develop a new understanding and to take appropriate action regarding eliminating racial prejudice and discrimination, while at the same time working alongside them."

The project aims to develop leadership skills among community organizers and students in high school, college and graduate school so that they can work effectively to promote democracy and work toward racial, social and economic equality across the globe.

NASW Communications Director Gail Woods Waller, who contributed to the teaching guide, presented Young's model of leadership at the conference. She said that his life and legacy illuminate five essential leadership qualities for social workers and others who seek to make a lasting impact in society: collaborating and negotiating; building pride, respect and trust; communicating high expectations; encouraging problem solving; and valuing each individual. "The social work profession must create effective community development leaders who have outstanding communication, analytical, technical, political, visionary, risk-taking, ethical, and culturally competent skills," she said.

A questionnaire was distributed at the end of the session, and all who attended agreed that the presentation helped them understand Whitney Young's philosophy of leadership and the leadership strategies he employed. Responses from the questionnaire also indicate that many of the attendees have an interest in acquiring resources for teaching and are considering incorporating the project in their curriculum.

Susan Kosche Vallem, professor of social work at Wartburg University, wrote several parts of the teaching guide and has started educating her students about Young. She has used the trailer for the documentary and some of the history and leadership information on Young with her sophomore-level education class on diversity. "None of the students knew who Young was until I told them about his work," she said. "When I asked for student feedback, they were interested to know more about how Young managed to connect with people in power and how he was able to build community connections." Vallem has also discussed minority protest movements with her students. "We had just a taste of what will be an important part of Warburg's curriculum next year," she said.

Vallem will be teaching a course called Community Theory and Practice and will incorporate the documentary and curriculum into the class.

The film will be completed this summer. It will first air on a cable or broadcast channel before being made available to community groups, high schools, colleges and universities.

See more from PBS about The Powerbroker which premiered February 18, 2013.