Remarks by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at a Black History Month celebration to honor USC School of Social Work Professor and Vice Provost Emerita Barbara J. Solomon:
“Thank you, Dean Flynn, for inviting me to be here this evening to address the importance of diversity at USC’s School of Social Work. Barbara and Donald Solomon – thank you for graciously inviting all of us into your home.
“Barbara, as USC’s first African-American dean, you are a leader who has transformed the field of social work, contributing both as a social worker and as an academic who helped shape the careers of countless professionals during your 50-year career.
“When Barbara embarked upon a career as a social worker, the world was a very different place. Diversity within schools of social work meant people came from different parts of the country. It most certainly did not mean diversity due to race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
“Barbara set out to change that – not only through her presence, but also through her writings, her teachings, her living example. And now, all of this has become orthodoxy.
“Barbara’s book, Black Empowerment: Social Work in Oppressed Communities, published in 1976, has had considerable influence on the practice of social work, both in this country and around the world. Through Barbara’s teachings, we are reminded that empowerment is an intentional, ongoing process centered in the local community.
“Empowerment involves mutual respect, critical reflection, caring and group participation, through which people lacking an equal share of valued resources gain greater access to and control over those resources.
“As the founder of the Empowerment Congress, which celebrates its 25th year in 2017, I have, on many occasions, applied Barbara’s wisdom and teachings. And as a County Supervisor, I know that social workers affect multiple aspects of my constituents’ lives – from the abandoned newborn found alive under a slab of concrete – to the senior citizen who calls my office for help after months of abuse at the hands of a caretaker.
“When social workers are empathic, compassionate, empowering, and culturally competent, people can thrive in their care.
“Barbara also wrote the initial proposal for USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), the seven-year college program that prepares low-income students for admission to college. NAI has demonstrated that when students of color are provided with intensive academic support involving their families and their communities, they not only graduate from high school but also succeed at some of the most selective universities in the nation.
“Financial grants such as the Barbara Solomon Endowed Scholarship ensure that these students can continue on in their educations to become the social workers who will reflect the rich diversity of the County they serve.
“What better way to honor Barbara’s legacy than to recommit ourselves to the recruitment and retention of a diverse and empowered student body who can deliver empathic and culturally competent services.
“Thank you for this opportunity to reflect upon the remarkable legacy of Barbara Solomon, her influence on the University of Southern California School of Social Work, and the role that each of us can play in continuing her important work.”