University hosts African American Heritage Month celebration

Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in Little Hall Room 223 on Friday, Feb. 19, for the 27th Annual “Dr. Ethel H. Hall African American Heritage Month Celebration” with guest speaker Clinton Dye, Jr., president and CEO of Human Service Systems, Inc.

The event, which was sponsored by the UA School of Social Work and UA Crossroads, was held in honor of Hall, who passed away on Nov. 12, 2011. Hall was the first woman and African American to graduate from the University's social work doctoral program.

The event began with Dr. Vikki Vandiver, dean of the School of Social Work, welcoming the audience and making introductions of notable people in attendance, including Hall’s children.

Vandiver then introduced Crystal Ramson, president of the Social Work Association for Cultural Awareness (SWACA), who talked about the importance of Hall’s legacy and the history of African American Heritage Month.

Alyssa Comins and Alecia Elam, UA students in the school of social work, then showed a slideshow of notable African Americans who passed away in 2015, including names such as Stuart Scott, Charmayne Maxwell and Natalie Cole.

Karen Starks, assistant professor and chair of the Dr. Ethel H. Hall African American Heritage Month Committee, then took to the podium to thank committee members, staff and others before introducing Dye.

“I stand here on the shoulders of many social workers and Dr. Dye is one of those persons,” Starks said.

Dye then took to the podium to give his speech, “An Observation of the Developmental Histories of the National Urban League Movement and Social Work Practice.”

“What I’m going to do for the next few minutes is kind of have a share in looking at social work in the National Urban League,” Dye said. “I do that because out of all the years I have been in the Urban League, you always ask the question, ‘Is the Urban League a civil rights organization.’”

Dye said that in order to answer that question, you have to go all the way back to the progressive movement era in the U.S.

He said that even though standards of living were getting better in the U.S. for minorities, blacks were still experiencing difficult times, especially in the south.

“Black folks were having a very difficult time and they weren’t sharing in some of the prosperity that was present at that time,” Dye said. “Now it wasn’t just the system itself. It was also the systems that had been set up to help. I’m talking about the social welfare system and unfortunately, social practice.”

He then went on to talk about how, during that time, blacks were not getting the proper care from social workers, who were predominately white, and that there were very few black social workers, and when there were, they were not allowed to serve white clients.

He said that the few black social workers that were in the industry were there only to serve black clients, and that they didn’t always have adequate resources to do so. He also mentioned that there had been reports that white social workers would even pay black clients to complain about the services provided to them by black social workers so their work could be discredited.

The National Urban League, which was founded in 1910 in New York City, spontaneously formed in response to the mass migrations of blacks to the north from the south after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Plessy v. Ferguson. The Urban League helped train black social workers, helped to create schools of social work in the south and provided other educational and employment opportunities to incoming migrants.

Dye said that the Urban League’s main focus though, was putting a strong emphasis on the quality of training black social workers received.

“So when you hear people say the National Urban League is a civil rights organization, that’s not totally true,” Dye said. “The National Urban League is a professional social work organization.”

At the conclusion of Dye’s speech, he took questions and comments from the crowd.

After Vandiver dismissed the audience, there was a reception in the Little Hall Student Lounge where desserts and coffee were served.

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