Social work faculty member participates in national forum

Friday, February 22, 2013

Jeffrey Shears, director of the Social Work Research Consortium in the College of Health and Human Services Department of Social Work, recently participated in a national Web forum that examined the experience of black American families.

He was selected by the Urban Institute and Fathers Incorporated to participate in the forum, which was funded by the Open Society Foundation's Campaign for Black Achievement. The event revisited the landmark 1965 analysis "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action."

The report, penned by then-Assistant Secretary for Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is considered by many to be the most poignant collection of statistical analysis and social commentary in modern times - not because of what it revealed but because of how close it has come to the truth. 

"The study introduced the idea that the black family was matriarchal and pathological," Shears said. "This depiction of the black family suggested that black men had a subservient role in society and questioned their ability to serve as authority figures even within their communities and families. The irony is that the Negro family was deemed pathological in 1960s but had a much higher rate of traditional family structure than the current African-American family."

During the forum, participants addressed these questions: Do the truths of five decades ago still hold today? Have the daunting statistics of the 1960s improved or worsened? Over the decades, have the unsettling circumstances of black families become part of the white and Hispanic experience? What must fathers and others do to improve family well-being? And what policy pathways await national action?

In addition to Shears, other national forum participants were:

  • Gregory Acs, director, Income and Benefits Policy Center, Urban Institute
  • Michelle Alexander, author, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness"
  • Kenneth Braswell, executive director, Fathers Incorporated
  • Ronald Mincy, director, Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being, Columbia University
  • Helen Mitchell, director, strategic planning and policy development, Office of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis
  • Janks Morton, producer, "What Black Men Think"
  • Margaret Simms, director, Low-Income Working Families project, Urban Institute

A recording of the Web forum is online.