Young Project Aims to Teach Leadership

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


Whitney M. Young, Jr. A documentary film on social worker and civil rights leader Whitney M. Young, Jr. will be completed this spring and made available to community groups, high schools, colleges and universities.

The documentary is part of a Film and Leadership Development Project, which 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 throughout the world.

The film and training course teaches students about Whitney Young's leadership style. Young headed the National Urban League from 1961-1971 and brought it to the forefront of the civil rights movement. Young worked to end employment discrimination and focused on economic development. He conceptualized a domestic "Marshall Plan," believing government and businesses needed to invest in and hire minorities, and that economic opportunity and advancement must be part of social change. Young served as an adviser to presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. President Johnson honored Young with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.

Young was the president of NASW from 1969 until his death in 1971. He was elected an NASW Social Work Pioneer in 1993. Young also became dean of the Atlanta University School of Social Work in 1954.

"NASW and the NASW Foundation are proud of the leadership and legacy of Whitney M. Young Jr. We believe this is an important project, not only for the profession, but also for the country," said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark.

The film, titled "Finding Uncle Whitney: The Search for Leadership in America," is being produced by Young's niece, journalist Bonnie Boswell, a Black Power student activist during the civil rights movement.

"This project is significant because we really need a list of role models who have been effective in promoting the concepts of peace, justice and equality in America. Young should be considered an eternal mentor for anyone concerned about social welfare issues because he was revolutionary in the sense that he moved in a very active way to understand that a lot of these problems were systemic and he was effective in bringing about lasting change," Boswell said.

NASW is assisting in developing the training guide for social work students, which is designed for professors to use with the film. The guide is based on Young's philosophy of social justice through the use of quintessential social work skills, including his three P's of passion, pragmatics and patience. It will include current media to help faculty expose students to Young's leadership strategies. The guide will be distributed during National Professional Social Work Month at the Baccalaureate Program Directors Conference, March 18-20, in Phoenix.

"Students can learn how to think pragmatically about things by looking at Young's examples. They can learn how to persevere, which is required in order to make changes," said Boswell. "They will also learn how to use the three P's and see that they must have emotional passion for the job."

The Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago has developed a course on leadership based on Young's life with the proposed film as its centerpiece. More high schools, colleges and universities will be able to obtain the film in DVD format and the companion written materials. Also, the film, educational downloads and leadership training modules based on Young's philosophy will be available on the project's Web site. The new media will be used to connect students to the project through video streaming of completed interviews, inter-school "chats" on conflict resolution and other mediation strategies used by Young.

"The Internet will be used as a place where the dialogue participation between high school students can occur," said Boswell.

In addition to the film and the training guide, a teleconference that will focus on Young's philosophy of leadership as it is modeled through the Whitney Young Film and Leadership Development Project is scheduled for March 30. Boswell will moderate the event. Members can register for the event by going to the NASW Web site and clicking on the Lunchtime Series icon.

"I don't think most of us understand what the civil rights movement was about. It's about America living up to its ideals," said Boswell. "Understanding that will hopefully encourage people to read Whitney Young and Martin Luther King Jr. with a different eye."

The project continues and builds upon many other activities NASW has undertaken to memorialize and honor Young. The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act is also named in part for Young.

The NASW Foundation is assisting with fundraising for the project; members can make a donation to the Foundation to benefit the project.

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