Laura Pires-Hester Oral History

from

  • Oral Histories

Citation

Pires-Hester, Laura, “Laura Pires-Hester Oral History,” Harlem Education History Project, accessed September 17, 2019, https://educatingharlem.cdrs.columbia.edu/omeka/items/show/2262.

Transcript

Participant: Laura Pires-Hester, Social Worker and Organizer with Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Inc (HARYOU) and the Women’s Talent Corps (“R”)
Interviewer: Nick Juravich, PhD Candidate in History, Columbia University (“I”)
Date: March 9, 2015
Location: Laura Pires-Hester’s home in Riverdale, New York City

I: So we are recording. Excellent. And I can see the dial moving, I can see the clock ticking. Could I ask you to count to five?
R: One-two-three-four-five.
I: Perfect. Uh-, and actually, one more time.
R: One-two-three-four-five.
I: Excellent. Well, in that case we'll be ready to begin. Um-, this is Nick Juravich uh-, recording with Dr. Laura Pires-Hester.
R: Pires. [corrects pronunciation]
I: Pires.
R: Pires. P-I-R-E-S. It's actually, it means saucer in Portuguese. And as you know, my own background is Cape Verdean. So um-, it is not Pi-. Well, I shouldn't say it isn't Pires because some of my family in Massachusetts pronounce it as Pires. And it's not Perez, P-E-R-E-Z, which is what I've gotten ever since going out of my own hometown. People just want to-, even after I spell it, people will spell it back, P-E-R-E-Z. I say, did you hear me say P-E-R-E-Z?
I: (laughter)
R: So-. It's Pires. I'm sorry.
I: That's quite all right.
R: That's OK.
I: Thank you.
R: Right.
I: And we-, we're here in your lovely apartment. Uh-, in Riverdale. And we're going to talk today about paraprofessional educators uh-, in many contexts. And thank you so much for being with me.
R: Thank you. And it's uh-, I'm delighted and honored to be a part of the process and hope that uh-, what I can share will be helpful to you. Um-. I guess just to start back, I was, as you know, born in Massachusetts [squealing of recording while speaking: in a small town] which is about 50 miles southeast of Boston. And as you know, since you've been to Westport and know Massachusetts, uh-, the closest city is New Bedford.
And I was born in, in a-, not only a small town but also a, a lesser well known part of the town in which many of the other households were basically part of my extended family. And I went to the local high school, uh-, public school. The only high school in the town. And I was al-, always a very shy student and quiet. A, a good student basically. Uh-. And during my sophomore year we had an influx of new teachers. Younger teachers who came into the town. And they sort of took the system and our class by storm. And at the same time, we also had a uh-, woman-. We also had someone come into the school system as a guidance counselor. We had never-. The school had never really had a professional guidance counselor. And she was working at uh-, Harvard School of Education with uh-, David Teeterman. And she took a particular--.
She was interested in everybody, particularly a lot of her work focused on the, on human potential, particularly in girls and females. A lot of her writing was there and she was particularly interested in what was happening with the Cape Verdean American students um-.
And one of the things which she told me much later – we became friends – uh-, was that as she began to know, know them more, the Cape Verdean American students and also know the larger culture of the schools and the faculty and, and educational bureaucracy, she was aware that this was a um-, an example of people not really -- when I say people, the professionals in the school systems -- not really looking with great expectations as to what was, what happened with uh-, and for the education of Cape Verdean Americans. Not across the board.
I have to say that basically my recollection of my own experience is pretty positive. But I also know that there were underlying-, there was underlying stuff um-. And she had, she told me later that when she came into the high school, she was told by a couple of the teachers, um-, watch or pay attention to Laura Pires. And uh-, she's bright and etc., etc., all these positive things about me as a student. And she needs--. Probably they-. They probably said she needs guidance or she needs your help or whatever. And one of the um-.
As I myself have looked back at my own formative uh-, years, I realize that there was critical decision points within my own life journey. And one of them had to do with this particular person. Esther Matthews was her name. She just, just died about two, three years ago in Oregon. Um-. I was in the, in the-, when we were-, came into the high school in the ninth grade, um-. I was I guess encouraged to go into the college course. And at the end of that year, I remember that I decided to change to the general business course. And I realized that my reason was that most, if not all but one other Cape Verdean American student, including my own cousin, a first cousin, uh-, were in the general business or the vocational.
So I didn't talk--. I don't remember talking about this with anyone. I don't remember talking about this with my family. And of course, my father was a, um-, an immigrant from Cape Verde. My mother was born here. Her parents were immigrants. So although they were very concerned that I do well, uh-, they didn't really know the specifics of the, of the educational system. So I just did this and I don't remember--. This was before Esther Matthews came into the high school. And I don't remember any teacher asking me any questions about it. It's possible, but I don't remember any of that.
So I did this year as a tenth grade student in the general business course. And I learned to type, which was (heh, heh) you know, probably one of the best skills that all of us can learn, even though we're now much beyond that with the technology. But it basically [laughing while talking: starts] with the uh-, the fundamentals. Um-. And at the-, toward the end of that year, I be-, I remember that I began to think: Well. OK. I now know the, the fundamentals of general business and ledger and typing and all of that. I'm not sure what, what else there is for me to learn here. So I switched back to the college course.
And again, I don't remember that anybody had any conversation with me about it. I just did it. Um-. But it was a, it was, it was a-, as I said, a critical decision point because I knew that that, there was some significance in that. And I also knew that some of my Cape Verdean friends were much smarter [laughing while talking: than the rest] of, you know, most of the other students in my classes. Um-. And so-. I also learned-. My, my guidance counselor also told me years after I graduated--. She left and she was actually asked to leave. Uh-, probably the next year or even the year following my graduation. And she said that when it came time for awarding the highest scholarship, which at that point was $500 from Theodore Barthe, it's-, that is a scholarship that I think is still continued. It was a long term endowment from some person. Um-. She was on the scholarship committee, of course, and there were, I think, two or three other people. And she shared with me that in that discussion, they were trying to decide who would be the person to receive this. And they were going names after names. And she said, well, you know, what about Laura Pires? She's already been accepted at Smith. She, by the way, had driven me to Smith with a teacher, one of these new teachers who was a Smith graduate. And the two of them took me up. I had no idea what Smith College was. Of course, my family didn't know. You know, it was a college. But--. That was it. Um-. And she's a top student. So why not her?
And the response was, she never told me, she never identified the person who responded. The response was: Well, we can't send her to Smith College. Then who's going to come back and pick the cranberries? As you probably know, cranberries is a, is one of the, the maj-, if not, well, I'm not sure. Probably is still, in terms of the actual economy, major industries in uh-, in that part of the town. Uh-. Ironically, or as history would have it, in 1997, one of my high school classmates asked me if I would be the graduation speaker for the high school class. And they had invited President Clinton, Hillary Clinton [laughing while talking: somebody else. And they didn't-, and] and I happened to see him at a class reunion. He said: You know, I'm, I'm faculty advisor and I don't, you know, I-, we don’t have anybody yet. And I said: Fine.
And I actually told that story which um-, gave me a-, it was, it was a-, a wonderful kind of uh-, vindication. Not in revenge necessarily. I-, I actually-. The uh-. What I was talking about is life lessons. And one of the things I was uh-, one of my points was that where you are today or what you are today does not define necessarily what you will be, can be and, and um-, need to work towards. So this was a perfect example of that. Um-.
So--. I went to Smith. And for the longest time, I, you know, was wondering myself why am I here? How come I'm here? Uh-. Everybody else was-. Not everybody. But most people, most of the, my classmates were coming from private school educations and um-, music lessons and, etc. etc. Having traveled, smoking, or reading the [laughing while talking: New York Times every day.] Two of the things which I thought were, you know, that's really the most sophisticated that you can be. And the New Yorker, um-, which was um-, a number of the students in my class -- I was in the scholarship house -- were um-, actually from New York. Um-. And that was, that was another critical, you know, part of my own personal and individual formation. Um-.
While I was at Smith, uh-, and trying to decide what to do next, I became a part of um-. I was invited to join something that emerged out of New York, the National Association of Social Workers. It was called the Social Recruiting-. Social Work Recruiting--. Something. Recruiting Network or something. And I came to New York while I was still in my junior year and was placed in a uh-, child welfare uh-, organization, which is still existing. It's now instead of just child welfare and residence and uh-, a uh-, rheumatic fever or heart patient, Irvington House in Irvington, New York. Um-.
So that was really an exposure to a particular field. I was an English major. And I was an English major because uh-, the sociologist whom I worked with at, in my junior year, it was the first class I had as a seminar group. And Michael Olmstead. And I loved him. And my plan was to do Honors work with him. And at the end of that year, he died of leukemia. Uh-. And I knew the other persons in the sociology department. It was a very small department. But I didn't really think that was, that was for me. So I went with probably [laughing while talking: 75 percent] of the other students became an English major and minored in sociology.
Um-, years later, when I was vice president of the New York Theological Seminary, one of the students happened to be his daughter. And when she was go-, beginning, when she was going to be ordained, she asked that I do the charge. And I met uh-, his, her mother and the family, etc. So-. It's always a small world. You know. So we know this. Um-. So I was thinking, OK. Maybe I'll, I'll go do social work in graduate school. And I spoke to the uh-, dean of Howard Parad at, at the Smith College Social-, School of Social Work, which is one of the first schools of social work in the country. And I kept going back to him and trying to decide, trying to decide. And he said: Look. I had him in a seminar also. He said: Look. We'd love to have you here, but I really think you want to be in New York. So--. (heh, heh) That kind of gave me, you know-. I was not betraying him and Smith. So I came to New York and did my work at Columbia.
During my experience with um-, social work recruiting, by the way, we had a cohort of people who were in New York agencies and one of those who was, became my friend, was Mickey Schwerner. And he and I and two others within that group all went to Columbia, at the same time, we were in the-, in that class. And Mickey and I became quite friendly and I remember a group work professor -- my concentration was group work – one day - he was my advisor as well – took me aside and said: I see that you're friendly with Mickey. And I said: Sure. He said: Uh-, you know, you should tell him that he needs to be careful. That some of the professors see him as – I don't think he used the word radical uh-, but that was the gist of it. So you should tell him that, you know, if he wants to do well or whatever. And he, I'm sure he meant very well. And, and I don't know why he would have, would not have spoken to Mickey directly. Um-. And I just-, you know, didn't say yes or no. I did share it with Mickey. Uh-. And I knew that, that he was thinking about-. That was-. He didn't finish. That was in '63. And that's when he went, he went south. And he had married um-, Rita, um-. And he had another friend who, she and I were also close and we roomed together in the first year. That was uh-. That was a tough-. That was very tough to (___?).
He was a wonderful, wonderful human being. Um-. Anyway. Um-. So, where, where am I? (___?) So I was in New York and my field supervisor was Kenneth Marshall, a faculty at Columbia. And he-. I was placed-. My-. I had two placements. One was a-, the first year placement was a community center in a, a housing project in the Bronx. And the second was in a more protected, like a group placement uh-. There were several of us in, in a in-, what used to be called the Institute for Rehabilitation. It's now some-, I think it's the Rusk Institute or something. Downtown, where we had a, a specific uh-, faculty member who was a supervisor on site. And we had six students.
So the first one was like jump in. (heh, heh) And do everything. That everything that everybody is doing, which I think is a wonderful, you know, the-, the, the two different experiences were, were excellent in tandem. And again, at the end of that when I was graduating, um-, I was trying to figure out where would I, where would I work, and most of my colleagues in the class were taking positions that were pretty much straight within the social work track. Uh-. Either doing case work at, at uh-, case work agencies. Um-. And Kenneth was one of the early developers of the um-, what became the HARYOU and then the HARYOU-ACT experience. That he and uh-, Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. James Jones. And James Jones was my research professor at Columbia.
So Ken suggested-. He suggested first that I look into working at Spofford. That was one of the agencies that he had students in that was a um-, a detention center in the Bronx where the doors were locked and all of that. And I visited and I said I don't think [laughing while talking: this is what I want to do.] So I took-, I, I learned about HARYOU. And went to work with-. I was supervised by both him and the research professor. [laughing while talking: So my--]. I've always said an experience of slash, you know, like the Women's Talent Corps/proposed College for Human Services. I was program/research assistant. Um-.
So that kind of uh-, mushing of boundaries and some people would call it ambiguity or whatever has always been perfectly OK with me. Um-. I, I think it's the [laughing while talking: way to go, actually.] Um-. So and at HARYOU, it was, again, a major, major critical decision point. I was given, when I started-, actually the day before I graduated, uh-. We graduated on a Tuesday afternoon, and I actually started at HARYOU that Monday. And Kenneth gave me a sheet of paper that had a, like a half page, couple paragraphs on developing a leadership training program for that summer. And he said, OK. We're going to start this program in the beginning of July. So put it together. (laughter) (___?) So we started. And I worked in, with a, another person that he had working with him.
And basically it was a-, it, I used the social work model with-, it was to be a stipend program. And it was the um-, we had, I think 32-. We selected 32 young people between 14 and, and 18 or 19. And they-, we had them in four different groups where they would-. We would do seminars and, and sessions on Mondays and Fridays. You bring in speakers. And then Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday they would be at different placements. We had a group work contingent and that was mine as well as we had arts and culture and heritage and music. Music and art. Music and art. So we had a-. And that was a wonderful-. We had so many professionals who wanted to work within HARYOU. And Kenneth, in particular, had relationships with a number of these uh-, excellent professional musicians. Uh-. Kenny Dorham (sp?) and Bill Jones and Jackie McLean, and, and Julian Euell. And etc. So they worked with young people in the, in the arts and culture segment. And we had John Henrik Clarke - I'm sure you've come across his name – working with the young people uh-, teaching. That they would teach young people heritage sessions.
And then I was the group work person. So I had to set up placements in uh-, eight different locations for-. And then a social action-. Jesse Gray, who was a housing activist and guru (heh, heh) in Harlem. Uh-, and that was another interesting experience.
That summer, I would visit the sites on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and I made an appointment to visit the, the group who were working with Jesse Gray. It was on East, I think it-, 117th Street. And of course he was late. So I remember that we were seated on the stoop. And I was seated and some of the students were there. And a car came down the street. It was before 9:00 because I said, you know, I'd be there at 9:00. The students were supposed to be there at 9:00. And a car comes down the street. Uh-. And they, a couple of guys get out. And there's a young-, a woman walking toward us. Uh-. And the other young people-. The young people knew what was going on. I had no clue. Um-. And the, they come behind her and so obviously they're watching, were watching her or whatever, following her. And she comes and, and stops where we are on the stoop. And I said, you know: Let her sit down. To the students. And so she sat down. And there was a-, I think a paper bag or something that she kind of sat on. And one of the guys come over. Cause they were undercover cops, which I, you know, learned. Um-. And he said to her to get up. And I'm beginning to get very--. You know, these are my charges and I'm the supervisor and how dare you. (laughter) All of that. Um-.
And I said, you know: Is anything wrong? Or something like that. And he said: You, you all have to leave. And I said: No. We don't have to leave. You know, they-, we belo-. And of course the students said: It's OK. [laughing off and on while talking: It's OK. We'll leave. I said. I said: No. You know? I, we shouldn't have to leave.]
Well--. Finally-. By the way, his, one of his colleagues was saying: Look, she doesn't--. Oh. He pulled out a packet, glassine envelope, from what she, I guess she had put it under the paper bag, and said: Do you know--. To me. do you know what this is? I said: No. I don't know [laughing while talking: what it is.] And his colleagues are saying: Look. She doesn't know what it is. Let's go. You know. What--. (heh, heh) And then he just became-. I just attacked his manhood or whatever. Even though I wasn't yelling or screaming. So he puts us all in the car. Go to the precinct station. Started to do the fingerprinting-. We hadn't gotten to that point. And Jesse Gray [laughing while talking: comes into the-] into the station and he's yelling and screaming and what have you. (___?) do this. And I think Jean (Calen__sp?) or someone had called from the Board of HARYOU, and, and, you know, all of it was, it was just a-, one of those conflagrations that was created out of nothing.
But it was-, it was again one of those experiences. But one of the things that happened after that day is that the students told me, and when I went back I could also see it, is the other people in the neighborhood, in that street and block, began to kind of watch over them. And just, you know, be there for them because people, of course, stood around watching this and-. As I said, you know, the level of knowledge was like yea deep between what they knew and I knew.
But one of the things that connected when I talked with Audrey was that in-. By the way, that program of, of 32 became the next summer like 600. And it kept growing, you know, exponentially. Um-. And one of the uh-, one of the key programs out of the HARYOU model, of course, was in the area of employment. And my first husband was the uh-, director of that uh-, program. And we had-, I had been involved in helping to write the, the uh-, chapter on the HARYOU associates, which is called in the, in, Youth in the Ghetto. And I had drafted a lot of that. By the way, the--. I think I told you this that day that we met, uh-, when I finally opened Frank Riessman's book, New Careers for the Poor, I turned and saw that frontispiece. And I said: Oh, my goodness. I added in the draft that paragraph in the margins [laughing while talking: because I thought it--] you know, it needed something. And here it is appearing in the, in this book. Um-.
But the whole idea of different people, not just our young people, but they, of course, uh-, people having different talents that are not necessarily recognized and/or credentialed in our systems of education or employment, and/or employment. That something needed to be done about that. And also, while I was at HARYOU, I was there really just, you know, not a very long time. But a lot happened during those three years. And what I was--. After the, the initial leadership training program, I moved over to work with, within the employment program with my first husband and several other people. And then he resigned and then I became the acting director of the program.
And at the beginning, again because you were dealing with a smaller scale, we had uh-, on the job training. We had a nei-, first neighborhood youth corps. Uh-. Job Corps. Uh-, for Central Harlem. And they, of course, were just beginning. You know that history. Uh-, from the federal level. Um-.
In the beginning, we were very careful about the, the possibility of these training experiences becoming job and/or career opportunities. So we didn't generally accept, for example, in the uh-, in the, in eit-, in any of the programs on the job training, for example, we were really very conscious of--. We didn't-. We didn't want just the, the, the jobs that, that employers were just looking that, for ways that they wouldn't have to pay. You know, that they would get somebody on stipend and, and--. But there be nothing at the end. Um-.
As the programs grew, there was a pressure on numbers, of course. And I remember several times going down um-, to the meetings in, in, in uh-, Manhattan, um-, and discussing--, sit around the table with representatives from other agencies, each of us wanting to get as much a part of this uh-, pie that they were, that they were cutting up. And it was becoming more and more difficult to try to hold out for quality placements, particularly on the job training. Um-. And that was-. We knew that numbers were important. But when-. I didn't become the director. And that was another story. At that point, the, I think that was basically--. That was probably the only time that there was a gender um-, underlying issue. It was never clear, but there were-, there were people that had that, I know. And there was also one of my own staff, a woman, who uh-, would write these letters and say, you know: She's not quite the right person.
So they brought in a person and I was, I was the second person. That person knew nothing [laughing off and on while talking: about--, but he acknowledged it so-.] You know, about employment. He knew about labor relations, but he didn't really know about these things, which was um-. So we would go to these meetings. Mary (Kohler__sp?), by the way, Mary Kohler, I don't know if you know is Frank Riessman's mother-in-law. Uh—
I: I don't know who she is.
R: Yeah. Uh-. She was a judge, ju-, judge--. I don't know if she was an-, at-, uh-, a judge at that time. But she was a very well known uh-, judge. And she was the one who was kind of organizing and monitoring all of this development of, of the-. And--. These, developing these contracts around the city. Um-. One of the--.
There's an interesting uh-, piece around the March on Washington, too. This group of 32 young people that we had involved, during that summer, there was, there was a lot, there was a build up of, toward the March on Washington. And there was a lot of stuff coming out of Washington that uh-, the president really was very cautious about this and really wanted to make sure that it was, it was maintained or constrained. And the, there was differences between and among the leaders, etc.
And a-, we would talk about this in the Monday and Friday sessions. Uh-. And some of the--. We had people like James Baldwin and Malcolm X and John Henrik Clarke and um-, my first husband talked to them all. He was wonderful with young people. And what, you know, pushing their own potential. So was Malcolm. He was, he was so gentle with the young people. He was, he was, he was a magnetic personality, he really was. And he had a point of view, but he was so um-, he was just-, he was just magnetic. And he was, he was gracious and, and positive with the young people when he talked with them. And, and James Baldwin, who was a sis-, brother of, of one of the um-, staff members within the arts and culture program, she worked uh-, Paula Baldwin. There were lots of connections with, with people like that. Um-.
So it, we-, it, it-. The week before the uh-, going down to the March on Washington, I had invited Frank Riessman to come and talk with the young people about his-, he was just beginning to get this writing about the helper principle and the use of role play, etc. etc. And I will [laughing while talking: never forget this.] I think he was, it was to be a morning session. He could not crack through the resistance of the group. And I don't know if they had talked about it before, um-. This was, this was see-. I've always believed in the power of a group. But this was seeing it firsthand. They just, you know, the males just kind of slouched in their chairs. If they wore hats, they, you know, didn't take them off [laughing while talking: that day.] And they were, if they wore shades, they were wearing the shades. It was like--. They were not going to respond to this white person.
And we had had, you know, other people. It wasn't as if he was the first one. But the, the, the buildup, you know, because again, we would talk about current events, etc. And some of the people coming in would share what they were aware of. And the planning that was going on locally as well as nationally. Um-. And at one point, he got up on the table. He clapped his hands. He jumped up and down. And he, it finally, I think this came to him. He said: Well, you're all going down to March on Washington, right? And most of them were going. And he said: Well, let's, let's just do a role play. Uh-. So half of you will be marchers. And half of you will be hecklers. Uh-.
And as they got into it, we had to stop it because they really, really became-. You know, the hecklers became those against their, their own friends and colleagues against, against the uh-. So they began to-. The feeling really went very high. And that was the breakthrough, you know. Then they talked a little bit about, about what might happen. Um-.
One of the women at our church, we were talking about that this weekend, and she said: You know, my mother wanted us to go, but I – her daughter, and she had a son – I was afraid. So we never went to the March on Washington. Um-. But the night before--. Again, this was one of Ken-, Ken Marshall's ideas --, he was very creative -- um-, was that we would do a candlelight march through Harlem. And so we got the candles and we, I guess we, we probably left maybe very early in the morning or late at night. I can't remember. So about a couple of hours before, we began at, at 125th Street and then just walked through. And people just jo-, joined in. And it was very quiet. You know, there was not-. They knew that we were headed the next day. And as we went down on the trip, actually just outside of Washington, um-, and we were singing some of the songs that, you know, we did a lot of that singing during our sessions together. “Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” or whatever. People actually threw something at the bus. It wasn't, it wasn't a lot. It was just you-. Cause there were a lot of people, you know, a lot of busses coming in. So there were, by that time, in the morn-, as the morning was breaking there were a lot of people. Not a lot. But there were people lined up on the side.
And when that happened, you know, we just kept going. The bus got very quiet. Um-. But it was a-, um-. I don't know if you saw last year there was a-, there was a CNN 50-year retrospective. And they interviewed a number of people who were on, on the trip. And three of the people who were interviewed were part of our group.
I: Really?
R: And they talked about how the-. One was a brother and sister. And a third one. And they talked about the experience of going to the March on Washington. And how it was so great to be a, you know, a part of uh-, of history in the making.
So within that group, within the first year group, there were probably three or four who went, who actually went to, to college and to social work school. (heh, heh) Within my-, from within my group. And others went into other areas. It was like, it was like the college and Women's Talent Corps where you would see, for the first several years after I'd left the college, I would run into graduates who were either in the same place or working in the field. Uh-, or themselves had done to other graduate schools while the college was, you know, getting the authority to, to award the other graduate degrees. Um-.
So HARYOU was to me-. I learned a lot. And one of the things I, I am very grateful to the young people is that-, that I learned was be true to what you bring to the table. They knew that I did not have their experience. So--. And they didn't want me to pretend that I did. That-. Each one of us brought something very different and that's, that is, I think, a principle that I think is very apt in the, in the programs that we set up. You know, that we have to look at different resources that are brought by different people to a situation. Um-.
So when I met with Audrey and it was Preston Wilcox who came, I think one of the last days that I was boxing up my stuff at HARYOU--. By the way, I didn't know what I was going to do. I [laughing while talking: didn't have a new job.] I would not do that today and I would not recommend that to anybody today. Um-. And I had met at one of our events or celebrations, I had met Bob (Mangel__sp?) who was the regional manager of-, regional director of um-, OEO. And I remember just talking to him. We happened to be standing together at one point. And I think I'd met him before because he, of course, knew HARYOU very well and I had mentioned that I was leaving shortly. And he asked what I was going to do. And I said: Well, I'm not really sure. I think I'm going to do part time work. I want to do some writing. I was going to do some consulting. You know. All these wonderful possibilities, which were more available in those days than they are now. Um-. And he said: Well, you know, I have a position in the regional office. So, you know, would you like to consider it? Maybe you'd like to come-. And I look back and I say: How, how did I possibly up with this answer? I said: You know? I don't think I've had enough experience in the field yet. (laughter) To come and be, you know, like deciding who gets funded and who doesn't get funded and that kind of thing. So um-.
So while I was packing up my stuff in the office, Preston walks in and said that uh-. Asked me the same question. What I was going to do. And I gave him kind of the same answer. And he said: Well, you know, I've been talking with this woman from the east side, Audrey Cohen, at-, he had-, she had asked him-, I think at that point he was the, the president of the board. And uh-, I, I think, you know, she needs, she's looking at, at-. She'd just gotten this grant and she wants to, you know, develop this program. So, you know, I think you should give her a call.
And so I did. And, with Audrey. And again, the thing that, that was the linkage was that she had put together in the plan, not only the training and the identification of, of people who, who had this kind of interest and/or potential, with the aspect of jobs and careers. And I thought that was very important. Um-. And she was obviously very committed to it. Um-. So I said OK. I will come and help you develop the uh-, field placements. And it was going to be part time. And it was going to be temporary. Um-. And very soon that, you know, turned out to be something else. And it was another--, just a quick digression.
I have been blessed at the kinds of opportunities that I've had to work with amazingly talented and diverse uh-, credentialed and non-credentialed, social work and musicians (heh, heh) and thinkers and planners and, you know, social scientists, etc. And people who have been committed to doing something to creating opportunities for segments of the communities that don't, haven't had (___?). So um-. And in particular with Audrey, she brought together a number of women. So that was, that was great. You know. Women who uh-, you know, the connection back to the part time research associates where she wanted to get, give women opportunities, um-, who might have been raising families or coming back to the work force or whatever. Um-. She had a real passion for that and I think that uh-, it-. (___?) a lot to be done. But it, I think it was a major, a major force in, in continuing that trajectory of creating opportunity.
[cell phone] (___?) I hate it when Facebook now comes in your—
I: Oh, it texts you. Yeah.
R: I'm sorry.
I: It's all right-. Totally fine.
R: (laughter) Right. Um-. So--. Let me just take-. Stop talking for a while and just—
I: Absolutely.
R: --uh-, ask any questions or any connections or non-connections We can take a break.
I: Well, I've got lots of questions. Thank you so much for this. Uh-. I do want to ask you some more questions about HARYOU and people—
R: Sure.
I: So there's one document that we've fought in this collective project on Educating Harlem, has been a uh-, comic book.
R: Oh. (laughter)
I: So I wanted to ask you both about it and also the narrative it tells of, you know, sort of the Chessman Fraternity arriving at the HARYOU offices announcing that youth should have a role and sort of I wondered about the process of, of both, you know--. And responses to this, I guess.
R: Well, that was another of Ken Marshall's ideas. He, he wanted to--. And that was a project that I wasn't that much involved with. But basically, he was always looking for ways to get the different messages out in various forms to a variety of people. To as broad an audience as possible. So um-. And, because of his connection with all of these people in the arts and, and culture and performance arts field, he was able to get people to help him. Um-. I don't even think I have a copy of that anymore. But I know that--. And I don't-. I don't have any idea what, how broadly it was distributed. I don't know how many, you know, how many copies. It-. You-. Have you see it?
I: I have a-. I could send you a PDF, an electronic copy.
R: Yes.
I: If you'd like. We have a copy in the archives. (heh, heh)
R: Yes. Yes. Um-. Yes. It was-. He, he, he was the--. For example, he also started a cadet corps in HARYOU. He, he was interested in, you might call it (___?), but it was also um-, the message--. Medium is the message. That kind of trying to figure out ways to involve people, to attract young people, to the-, the cadet corps was, was strong discipline. But it was also, you know, flashing and marching in time and, and he had a, he had a baton [laughing while talking: that he would] sometimes use um-, as well. Um-. And, and the comic book was, was another one of his ideas. And, and Ken Clark, of course, was open, you know, to, to uh-, some of these ideas that might not be first, first level, you know. It might be third or fourth level in creativity. Um-.
So, again, I, I don't-, I was not that involved with that. I remember that uh-, when it's coming out and people being very excited about it. Uh-. And it would be interesting to know what its distribution was.
I: Yeah.
R: And I, I, I'm not even sure where you might, where that might be. I just don't know.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: If it ever got out of, within the community. If it-. I would-. It will be interesting to know, for example, in the libraries where, where I'm sure you have Youth in the Ghetto, whether or not that's a part of what they also received. Uh-. When uh-, Ryan, William-. William Ryan? What was his name? The one who wrote Blaming the Victim. Um-.
I: I should know. (heh, heh)
R: In that book, he referred to Youth in the Ghetto as one of the, one of the productions or one of the books that is most widely talked about but probably least widely read. (heh, heh) That people either assumed or had, maybe had seen excerpts or whatever, so they assumed what was in it. Uh-, but hadn't, hadn't ever really read it. And it's a, it's quite a powerful, a powerful document with-. One of the things that was, that I always find very intriguing--. Well, in, in employment, for example, my first husband, Larry Houston, I think was the first person to really pinpoint the fact that when the rates of, within the rates of unemployed that typically those who were looking for work but dropped out of looking for work was a very important statistic to follow. And in education, they, what they found-, the finding that by the third grade you begin to see the drop off in the scores that children typically are keeping, keeping up pretty much. And then the third grade, coming down.
And that, again, was something that had not been particularly noted by that point. And that, of course, led credence to the argument that there has to be some-, it's not the children's brains. (heh, heh) So we need to be looking at something else about the school itself and the culture of the school and the environment of the school and teaching and etc., etc. So there's-. I think it's so full of, you know, the idea of the street academies, for example, being part of that and their, you know, continue those in Harlem right now. I get very upset and I've been in these discussions since the sixties when people tear down the accomplishments or the significance of quote the sixties, and particularly the early community action and you know, maximum feasible participation. Nobody even talks about that anymore. But all of those ideas that either the conservatives or neo conservatives, you know, just say.
And I, I was just looking at-. It was yesterday's Times that um--. Uh--. [looking through paper] There were two pieces that-. This was uh, Putnam and he talks about the, the American Dream in Crisis, and what the-. That there is still the gaps. Um-. And he, he, he says this is an important book. But it's also one that he hasn't really looked at. The--. The--. Not necessarily just the people because he-, it's, it-. He talked to a lot of people and he interviewed a lot of people. But he also interviewed a, a, not a really a [laughing while talking: wide diversity of people.] And then he really didn't pay as much attention to those others. It's not really-. It's not really blaming the victim totally. But the-. Jason Riley, who's done a lot of-, what I've seen him write in the Times is a lot of uh-, uh-, music uh-, performance, particularly world music. And then this one, by Orlando Patterson, um-, who I used to not like his writing so much, but more lately I think he's, he's, he's uh-. And here, he's, looks at the, at the two people, Shelby Steele and this person I don't really know his writing so much. But again, they--. Shelby Steele in particular, has talked a lot about the uh-, you know, the personal responsibility of people, especially within African American and populations of culture. All of which is, yes, absolutely right, but there's another side to it. And I think that--. I, I guess these two just, just point out the fact--. And Orlando point-, Patterson does it, that it is an important thing to look at and we have to, particularly those of us within the populations of cultures and the African American, you know. And, and be very careful about how we are uh-, who we are educating our young people. And that they have a responsibility and it's not that everything should be, you know, done for them or, or to them. But there is still a great deal to be done to make sure that you don't have um-, racism and discrimination and/or low expectation of, of, you know, people, in particular the children and young people.
I used to say in the last century that I had wished that by the end of the twentieth century we had rid ourselves of cancer and racism. And we still have unfinished agendas in both. And it's, it's really-. When I look back at what we knew in the sixties, we knew what to do. We know what to do. And we know that it, that it does take a lot of work and it takes money. You can't do it totally by wishing it so. Um-. And we know a lot more about the quote unquote dependence that might be created by some of these strategies. We know a lot more about that. But, but that's not where the analysis or the, the strategizing should end. And in many cases, that's where they end. You know, with the dependence on--. I think I went off a little bit on that. Um-
I: No. Actually, that, I thought that was really useful because when I think about Youth in the Ghetto, which we sat down and read and it is, it's also a much longer document I think than most people—
R: (laughter)
I: --expect.
R: Right. (laughter)
I: Um-. The, the contrast between say that document and the Moynihan Report that comes out a year later. I mean, it's night and day. But-, and thinking about exactly the things that you were talking about, about skill and opportunity—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --um-, you know, as opposed to pathology, you know.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: In some ways, one of the things I always find particularly interesting about both para programs and about HARYOU is that they're, they're working with and developing, and in a way, you know, recognizing the talents of the very people the Moynihan Report says are pathologized, which is to say, matriarchs and their children. And I just-, that contrast to me is so distinct. And you pointed to exactly that just now.
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. And also I was interested and I, I'm sorry I never got a chance to really talk to Ken Clark because his-, about this issue, because the book which he put out after Youth in the Ghetto, the Dark Ghetto I think it's called.
I: Mmm-hmm. Yeah.
R: And I have to say that I would have to go back and read it and I probably didn't read it as carefully as I should have. But the imprint of that was not, I think, the same as Youth in the Ghetto. Uh-. And I was, I-. As I said, I'm sorry I never, I never asked him about that or never had a chance to uh-. Because in a sense, and I'm trying to think that the subtitle of Dark Ghetto was, but it, as I recall, it was pathologizing, it was more of the consequences of powerlessness caught up, instead of a blueprint for change, uh-, which was what we were trying to do in both, in, in concept and in theory.
One of the great things about working with Ken Marshall, and for Ken Marshall to be involved in this effort, is that he was always interested in: Well, let's do something to, to-. (heh, heh) You know, to test it out. And not even-. I don't know-. I don't, I'm not sure that he even said anything like let's test it out. Let's do something was more what, what he wanted. Sometimes, for example, he would find me late at night uh-, this is a time when many people worked late at night. Um-. I-. He would see me at my desk doing these, what do you call them, sociograms? You know, within my 32 people. And he was like: What are you doing? (laughter) You know. And that's the kind of thing that James Jones, you know, was, was interested in. Um-. And he was the one that pushed Ken Clark after the, after the-. When I got there, the document was just getting ready to be out. You know, we were still doing some. As I said, I drafted some of the parts and talking about the youth associates. Um-. But he was, he wanted to, let's, let's do something. Let's use some of this money to, you know, provide stipends and let's, let's, let's see what we can do.
And, and one of the things which was, to me, became very important in, in um-, the Women's Talent Corps proposed College for Human Services journey was that at HARYOU we, there was kind of an atmosphere an environment of anything is possible. And, you know, the beginning of the sixties, that's what, you know, the Kennedys and uh-. It was, it was like we can do anything. We really believed the budget of $118 million, that we believe that that would be forthcoming. We believed [laughing while talking: that that was going to make] a major change. And one of the things that Ryan-. I want to say William but I think William Ryan is a politician (___?). It might be William Ryan. I'm sure I can find it. But um-. One of the things that he said in, in his book was uh-, when he was talking about HARYOU, that-, talking about this budget proposal-. And we all remembered the figure. $118 million. That the--. Oh. Not only that, but also the po-, the programs, the other programs, that people believed that first of all, there would be, this money would be allocated. And secondly, that things would change. And then something about but-. And the Viet Nam war was why we, he made that, that linkage that the, you know, the attention and the funding and the uh-, commitment of course. Kennedy's death. Um-.
And I, I think that Jo-. I haven't seen the, the, the movie or the play about Johnson and I know that there's--. Or even Selma. I haven't seen that unfortunately. Um-. And I know this question about how, how Johnson is, is uh-, depicted, uh-. But there's no doubt that he took to (___?) implementation stage, you know, many of the things that were, that were made foundational uh-, in the earlier years. Um-. So that idea of, of just saying to the Youth Associates, for example, tell us what you think. Get involved in the doing. Get involved in not only the, the talking. Even though when, during the time of the explosion in Harlem, the, the uh-, the rebellions.
I: Mmm-hmm. Yes.
R: During the day, they would be doing whatever in the programs. In the night, some of them were out there with their Molotov cocktails. (heh, heh) So, you know, and, and it was a very, very--. To see armed men in the streets with rifles was--. And I lived in Park West Village at the time. And to go to work, you know, and, and to have to find my way to work and then go into-. You were really going into an occupied territory. It really felt like that. Um-.
It was, it was a-. We had everything, I mean in those three years it was really, it was really full of, of all kinds of possibilities, possibilities. And that's what, when, when I did-, when I would do the orientation for the new students at, at new-, um-, participants in the, in the programs at the Women's Talent Corps, while, when we had decided that we were going to try to become a college, one of the things I would say is: This is what we're looking at. This is a possibility. This is what we're working on. You are part of this because we have to make the case. We have to make the case that yes, there are people who have the potential and the talents and the, and the skills and can do these, this variety of human service work. And we need to think about different ways of preparing them. Not excluding education. That was important. But different ways of, different combinations, etc. And we're not guaranteeing that we're going to, for example, be chartered by New York State within the time that you're here. We can guarantee you to be part of the struggle.
I remember that that was part of my spiel, that you're going to be part of the struggle. Um-. But-. And there's something that we're, we're going for, with something that we're moving toward. And that's also, you know, I, I'm just using it-. I find myself using it more lately to going back to that, you know, in church where we have a building project, a reconstruction of the front of the church, which, for which we have to raise another quarter of a million dollars. And--. I find myself more and more saying things in the same way. That, you know, I'm not going to be here in the next 50 years. I'm not doing this for (heh, heh) you know, for me.
I helped to build this church. My late husband was the founding pastor. And uh-, I was a founding member with about ten other people. So we had to make sacrificial gifts to get that. And one woman who made an extraordinary gift of $90,000 you know, to purchase, after we had met in a house church and then um-, rented space in a synagogue for five years in Mount Vernon. Um-. So part of it is, you know, one of my, one of my concepts that I live by is uh-, I think language helps to create reality. That rhetoric helps to create reality. Uh-. And that's why the language and the rhetoric needs to be positive and you need to keep repeating it. It doesn't happen overnight.
But that's what, that's what we were trying to do with the young people is to say, you know, you're, you're worth something. And, as I look back again in my own life trajectory, I realize that that comes from a basic faith, which I'm now much more conscious about since I was raised as a Roman Catholic. So there's a difference in becoming more, more self conscious about your relationship with Christ. Um-. But it's the same thing at the church now. (___?) same thing with the initial--, particularly the earlier groups, you know, uh-, who were women that some of them hadn't been, hadn't done anything out of the home at all. Others had and were now raising their families. Um-. So it, it was, yeah, you can do this. You can read Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology.
By the way, I raise that as, I use that, I like to think of that as an example because one of our, one of the first coordinating teachers, Sydelle Bloom. I'm sure you've read her—
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: --some of her stuff. Um-. And she remembers coming to class one day and um-, one of her--. I think her favorite student, (____?) from Queens, told her that she had spent the night, or she had started reading Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology and she couldn't put it down. She just-. You know. Opening up their heads. And that was required. That was required for the young people. It was required for, you know, in the, in the uh-, college. Uh-, especially in the earlier days. Um-. And then it's required in any, in any effort. You know, bringing the schooner after six years of raising moneys to return her to the United States, uh-. You know, people told me I was crazy to be involved in this. It's a hundred year-, almost a hundred year old scooter and needs to be repaired and etc. Uh-.
So the, the platform and the, and the--. I guess you could call it propaganda. I don't call it propaganda. I call it a platform, a positive platform, I guess. And a, and a message. Um-. Positivity. A message of possibility. Um-. It's hard to go through life, I guess, without that.
I: Yeah.
R: Uh-. I guess some people call it faith or (___?). I call it faith as well. But it's, but I think in, in working in any of these areas where you, where you're trying to create a change, um-, that it is necessary to get over the, the obstacles or the humps of why it can't be done. Um-.
I was, I guess it was reading in, in the MCNY record of when Audrey was talking to--, uh--. I, I guess it must have been at, at-, before OEO, whatever, and there was a woman uh-. I can't remember her name. I remember her name, but I don't remember it now. And the, the woman said to--. Audrey was back again and she'd been there before. And the woman said to uh-, the person-. The woman came into the director's office. It's a well-known name. And said--. No. The director learned from his staff that Audrey Cohen was back again. And he called up one of his uh-, staff members and said: Look. You know, she's been coming back. I don't know what to do with her. Uh-. Talk with her and see, see what you think. Cause I don't know if we should do this or not. And the-. [banging sound] Um-. Person came back and said: Well, I spent a lot of time with her. I - something to the effect -- I know it sounds crazy. But I think we should go with it. He said fine. [laughing while talking: Let's go with it. Right.] And that was the beginning of that. But that's what it takes, you know? Um-.
And Audrey was that single focus. We were both Taurians, by the way. And she's-, her birthday was May 14, mine is May 11.
I: Oh.
R: So-.
I: Well, that-. I mean that segues really nicely into asking some more questions about Women's—
R: Sure.
I: --Talent Corps. You know, I read in NAME book, she has a great narrative of how you came in and one of the things you had to do was to reach out to all these sites and schools and get them on board.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And so one set of questions I had were about the process of convincing, right, the Board of Education -- these, these massive bureaucracies -- to accept, you know, with there being some federal money. But even then, to accept, you know, a very new kind of program that brought new kinds of people into their institutions.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: I'm thinking particularly about education.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: You know, what it meant to kind of come into classrooms—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --to come into schools—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --how, how you thought about that. How you, you know, strategically and politically but also then what it meant to sort of think about it as an intervention.
R: Mmm-hmm. Well, a number of these uh-, the first places that I went, um-, had been either recommended um-, to Audrey before. And in some of the, some of the sessions where we met with the, with women in these various groups where she had tapped, for example, Preston Wilcox would make a-, you know, why don't you talk to NAME Antonetti in, in the South Bronx, or somebody else. Uh-, um-. I forget her name in East Harlem. Alice Carnegie in East Harlem. That kind of thing. Um-. So some of them had already-, I had kind of se-, leads, initial leads. People that might be interested. Principals that might be interested. Um-.
I remember one session in particular where I was, went to um-, PS 126 in District Two, District One or District Two, in the Lower East Side. And the principal was-, a number of these principals at that time were still Jewish men. And uh-, I can't remember his name. But he agreed that I could come and talk to him. And I think I spent some time with him. He was very wary um-, not sure. And then he said OK, why don't you talk to my teachers? And I remember he, he-. In his office, he brought his teachers. Um-. I don’t know if there were all of them, but maybe in a grade. But there were several like, ten or 15 uh-, teachers. Uh-. And counse-, I think counseling staff. Um-.
And as I was explaining what we, what we had in mind. They had questions and he, he was part of the, the session, but standing in the doorway, like one foot in. (heh, heh) And one foot out. Um-. And, and basically I think he was, he wanted to see whether or not the teaching staff would be open to it. And it, it basically just took talking and continuing to talk. It is-, there's no other way to do it. You know. You have to-. As I used to say to, to, to the young people in the um-, in the group work, group at HARYOU, because they sometimes would say: Oh, we wish we could-. You know. And somebody playing in the band and everybody's cheering and everything. But we don't--. (heh, heh) You know. What do we do? [laughing while talking: you know.] I said, but your skill and your instrument is yourself. You know? This is all about how you use yourself.
So that's, I think that's what we had to do over and over again. How do we, how do we-. We had an idea. And we were convinced of the idea. So it really required trying to get as many people as possible. We did have to talk to the district superintendant and usually at the beginning, but sometimes not. If it was a, a lead in a particular school, then we would go to the superintendant. I, and I don't, I don't that there was any--, I can't remember that we had any flat turn downs at the beginning. Um-. Later, that would happen uh-, because maybe the district itself was going through major issues, especially in the, in the district superintendant. One of the districts in Brooklyn, for example, District 16 was, had all kinds of issues at the top. And it just didn't make any sense at that point. Uh-. Sometimes that was a good thing when there was a lot of stuff happening, like Oc-, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, because our, um-, students most often most of them really continued to work during that time. And these were schools that they knew. These were students that they knew. These were families that they knew. They would-, these were teachers that they knew. And they were able--. And that was because of their maturity, of course. Here we were dealing with mature adults who may not have had a certain type of experience and a certain skill at that point, but they had sense. (heh, heh) They had common sense and they used it well. And used it in their, you know, ability to kind of read situations and, and, and figure out what their bottom line commitment was and how to, how to work. How to work on this. Um-.
And then the whole negotiation with the (clears throat) getting them recognition. And I remember in your session when you were talking about that in the UFT, uh-, that I had a number of discussions with um- (clears throat) Sumner Rosen, who was taught at the School of Social Work at Columbia. I hadn't taken a course with him, but I sort of knew him. He was with D.C. 37. And I remember at one point he said something like um-, you know, you should be a negotiator. [laughing while talking: You know, something like that] because he was, yes, yes, you make a good point there. But there was clearly competition between the two. This was dues. You know, numbers. (laughter) And they really didn't know what was going to happen so much. Um-. And as that grad-, the graduate who pointed out that there's, you know, everything is not hunky dory in these, in these schools by any means. Um-.
And I think part of that is, is the, is the challenge or the challenges in bringing something to scale, in institutionalizing something. Something, unfortunately, gets lost in the--. And I, it's get lost or it's tradeoffs, you know. To get the numbers and to get the support for numbers. Um-. Somehow the, the, the cream has to be siphoned off or something--. That's mixing up metaphors terribly. But um-. And I think that's, that's a challenge in many of our action programs, that, you know, what happens when you bring this to scale? I think that's a, a-, with Teach for America I was on the board of Teach for America in its early years. And I think they, they've done amazingly well in being able to, first of all, to get the major support of private and public funds. And then to continue to have the support to go into these districts and schools around the, around the country. And then also, one of the things that was Wendy's uh-, very important objectives was to begin to build a cadre of people who might not necessarily stay within, but who would become advocates for this kind of educational opportunity in the broader, in the broader society.
And I am always so impressed and proud of my own piece of experience in that when I'm reading something and see that so-and-so being lauded for something in education is a Teacher for America graduate. Even more recently, um-, James Foley, who was beheaded.
I: Right.
R: It turns out that he was a Teacher for America graduate. Like--. So these changes, they might appear--. I mean the long term impact, I think, is something we always have to consider. And it's going to take a long time. Um-. I'm not that sure. I think I may have gotten off track.
I: --Oh. It's totally, completely fine.--
R: --(___?) –
I: (___?) on thing I wanted to ask you about, so you talked about teachers, meeting the teachers and principals. And I wondered, I know you weren't doing this yourself, but working with the students, the first Corps women. Um-. What, you know, if there were particular moments or memories or stories that stand out from their experience. Because I've talked to some people who were in this-, these early groups of paras. And it was quite, quite a pioneering thing to be going into schools, working with teachers who might never have had an adult, certainly not an adult from that community, in their classroom.
R: Right. Right.
I: And there were things to say about that.
R: Right. Um-. I think that--. I'm trying to think of a--. We had a guidance counselor, a district guidance counselor in the Bronx, in District 7. She died a few years ago. Lorraine Hale who was um-, um-, founder, with her mother, of Hale House. And she was very supportive of the, of the uh-, Corps women working within the guidance area. And, and one of the things that she said is that their, their ability to help move a child and/or a family from one point to the other was something that she treasured. That she could recognize this added resource that came into the, what the counse-, what she as a guidance counselor and, and I'm not sure that, you know, guidance counseling has never been the most, the best funded within the school systems. So I'm not sure that she had a number of other staff. But she recognized that this added resource within the school was very important to, not only the children but also the families. That they, what they could do in addition to or even in the place of what she could do in offering resources and services, that family is very important.
In a, in a Brooklyn--. I remember talking together with a number of the Corps women and the teachers and, from a Brooklyn school. And one of the things that they, they-, a teacher and the Corps women would say is that, said at that time when I asked this, I asked this kind of question. And I remember one of the women saying that--. And the, I think the teacher gave the example first and then she, she talked, that there was something that they, they, they had to, had to do that the teacher was asking the Corps woman to do something which was kind of optional, but, you know, it was something that she was asking to do. And she said, you know, I have to, I have to go to this group or this class because I'm responsible. I am responsible for being with them for this particular period to do something. And the teacher recognized the, the responsibility of both the Corps woman as well as the students, the children, expecting her.
So it was a kind of a confirmation of this is significant. It's not just, you know, we're doing just training and, and, you know, it's like a nice add on, but (heh, heh) so what? And it, and it was kind of a, it was one of the things that she said, and she was also linking it up to the fact that we were not necessarily there. That the, that the Women's Talent Corps or the, or the College. But we could leave and yet you still had that in place. And she said that was one of the things that made it this program different from so many of the other efforts, that they had been involved in. And, you know, this continues a lot of these different let's try this, let's try that. And, and very often, they don't last. They don't--. Once that particular grant is finished, that there's no lasting uh-, resource or, or something added that they didn’t have before. It depended on this, this outsider coming in and doing something and then when the outsider leaves, there's nothing left. And that was, that was District 15, I believe in Brooklyn.
And that was a very um-, that was, that was a, a turning-, kind of an epiphany for the teacher. (heh, heh) You know, that this, this was, this had a significance beyond just her taking the time to supervise and to assess and to work with the, the institution, to work with the Women's Talent Corps and then the college in this way. Um-. In, in the, in the uh-, what was then called the mental retardation field, often it was our person, our-, the Corps woman, who had the kind of patience and persistence to keep trying to help the residents move incrementally. Often, that would-, there, and, and the professionals would, would acknowledge that. You know, they, they were able to kind of put themselves in the place of the resident and to applaud and commend them for making just-, you know, maybe lifting a spoon, depending upon how, you know, the, the degree of disability. Um-. And to get that person to push, push forward.
I'm trying to think of some of-. But there was so many--. I mean this, I love the story about the, the reading that Greek Mythology (heh, heh). And see that it wasn't so-. You know, it was just a book. [laughing while talking: You know? You know?] I al-, I like, I always tell the young people at our church, you know, it's amazing what you find when you open a book. You never know what's going to be between that-, those pages. Um-. And, and then when we got the men, of course, and they-, most of them were, went into the legal, the legal field. Um-. Professors at uh-, at Columbia who worked with us, uh-, were surprised, you know. And I think that that was something that-, there was always an element of surprise at what these-, what could be done and what the person (___?) do.
I: And that comes through, I think, even in the--. So one of the great things about the, the detail in the archive at Metropolitan College today is that you can kind of see even edits on drafts of the reports, and you can see language evolving—
R: Yes.
I: --and it, it seems to me that the staff are experiencing some of that surprise. I mean perhaps not you as much since you come from HARYOU, but certainly some of the folks there, watching, you know, for instance the language of non-professional fall out. And para professional—
R: Right.
I: --come in and then new careers, new career women, new careerist. I mean—
R: Yes. Yes. And that was, and, and I, and I credit the, the people that we, that were hired because as you say, they might have been surprised but they were, they were very willing. They were really passionate in different ways about doing this. And about extending their own, about imparting what they knew to someone else. I mean that was a wonderful thing. Some of them had been retired. Um-. And, and some of them looked the part of the retired um-, very--, not necessarily sophisticated, but, you know, this white woman coming into, into one of these schools. Um-. But they loved what they were doing. And they loved the Corps women, the students. They loved them. And I think that was, that was obvious. And they, and the um-, and the people who were in the program, they knew it. They knew it. And that was an important thing.
I: One thing that comes through as well is, you know, especially I guess in the early years, that, the shared experience of being women perhaps challenging some of these expectations and roles. It shows up in the language and shows up in some of the things people said later, too.
R: Right. And I, and that's why I think that the-, again, the language of, of participating with them in this journey was so important. And why coming together often in, in wherever we were was so important. Because I remember one session that I did, and as I said, I'm trained in group work, so I always like to be prepared [laughing while talking: you know.] And kind of: OK. I know what I'm, where I want to go and how I want to do it. But for this particular session, I remember that I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen. And we started talking about um-, they were all coming from the different fields. Their field placements in occupational therapy, and, and uh-, development-, at that time mental retardation, education, guidance. And I, I started asking the question: So, you know, what, what kinds of things are you learning? What, what um-, and--. Quite organically, and I'm not sure how it, how it happened, we started to identify what was common in all of that.
So I started-. I was using a print uh-, newsprint. And it became this kind of uh-, circle of what kinds of later competencies. What, what do all of you, all of you kind of working with groups, all of you have to understand the system. Blah, blah, blah. And then the lines up. OK, so what do you do as an occupational therapy that, that's different [laughing while talking: from what] this person. And I remember that they got so involved in this discussion. And, and the, the uh-, the staff was there as well and participating. And we came to the end of the session and it was just quiet. (laughter) I remember saying: Ladies, [laughing while talking: the session is over.] But it was kind of a-, I think of that as kind of a highlight of just my own experience because when, what we came out with and I remember drawing that myself, was I did not-. I mean, that's why I believe in the power of the group. I mean, I-, you put people's heads together you can come up with something that's totally different from, you know, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven, you get a ten and a half or 200. Whatever. Um-.
So the, the, the eagerness to learn and the eagerness to uh-, use themselves in different ways was, was very um-, it was awesome. I don't use that word often. (heh, heh) But it was awesome.
I: That's great. I’m trying to think-. Yeah. I did want to ask about-. So one of the things-. Actually, the original paper that I wrote on this whole topic was trying to understand how the UFT could go from Ocean Hill-Brownsville, from closing the entire system for six weeks, to unionizing paras in the next semester, who were very much in some ways a part of what you might call a community based vision of schooling.
R: Right.
I: If not necessarily community control as defined by—
R: Right.
I: --say. The-, they got involved and certainly paras were—
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: I just wonder what, what did that look like from the Women's Talent Corps? From your--. You said a little about this already, but what was the perspective? And I know Preston Wilcox was reactive in community control. Others--.
R: Well, I think it was just another phase of the change. And UFT had a lot of self interest as did DC 37. And I think, I think it's also a reflection of the fact that you can't stay where you are. And the political scientists I think also call it-, you can't go back necessarily. Your status quo ante. You know, you have to, you-, um-. You have to move forward and I think that the persistence, the fact that these, these persons were in the schools. The fact that you may still have people who um-, were resisting. But you also had people and the, and the communities around them that were supporting. So um-.
I'm sure the UFT would see [laughing while talking: it very differently] from that.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: But I think in terms of the long term--. Why not? (laughter) And what else? (heh, heh) You know, what, what--, what else could they have done or should they have done? Um-. It'd be interesting to ask that question of--. Well, you can't ask it of Sandy or Al Shanker, but um-, uh-. What's her name? Randy. Or probably someone who is, was there at the, not there at the time but it was closer uh-, the vice president under Randy. Uh-, Tom. I can't remember his name. Uh-. But someone who was closer to that time. You might, it might be a very interesting question.
I: I have had a chance to talk with a few unionists.
R: Yeah.
I: It's been--. Velma Murphy Hill is one. She was the, the coordinator of the drive.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: I don't know if that's a name that rings a bell.
R: I remember a Velma. I don't remember the last--. Yeah. Uh-huh.
I: And um-, and it is, it's interesting. One of the things I’m trying to do is get the, these many different perspectives.
R: Right. Right.
I: Another thing about the programs that I find so interesting is you often had many different, many different people could get on board with paraprofessionals for many different reasons.
R: Sure.
I: So it could be able helping the teacher. It could be about community control. Or it could be about more people in schools, integrating the the Board of Ed.
R: Right.
I: And you just, you need bodies. At some, some very like—
R: Right.
I: --base line level.
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: And-
R: And which also led to the kind of thing that I think that the woman who, who made the point that there was-, it was not, all the issues were not solved. You still get, I'm sure, in many of the schools the push to push them to the margins in terms of, of the nature of the work.
I: Yeah. That's absolutely true.
R: That they're allowed to do or uh-. It-. Oh. It-. One of the things that, that we learned uh-, not just in the education but also in the other areas was that you couldn't stop the natural turnover. You know. You have a, a great district superintendant followed by one that's not so interested. Or you have a great principal followed by one who's not so interested. Or you have a, a principal who's not so interested followed [laughing while talking: by a great one.] And/or teachers. And so there had to be continuous re-training, re-orientation, um-. Figuring out the new systems. Um-. And, and again, I think that's one of the interesting things about looking at the Teach for America trajectory. That they've been able to do this quite well uh-, in uh-, moving around the country and developing, you know, keeping-, building their baseline of, of documentation and, and um-, ability to show what can be done (___?) the systems (___?).
I: Yeah. (pause) Also, I wanted to ask, you know, this is sort of playing the name game. But there are names I've come across, folks who either passed away or I haven't been able to reach them.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: [Note: I guess at the spelling of the names in the following section.] I wanted to ask-. A woman I was interested in because she comes across as someone who's almost of a different generation when she's at the Women's Talent Corp is Ann Cronin, who seems to be very much a new dealer in a way.
R: Right.
I: And I, you know, there's not a lot of information on her. There's a little bit.
R: Yes.
I: So I wondered—
R: And she, I think she's died and I’m not sure.
I: Yeah.
R: What, what the date is. Yes. And she was like-. If you look at her, (heh, heh) she was like a tinier Eleanor Roosevelt.
I: (heh, heh)
R: Yeah. Have you seen pictures of her? Yes.
I: I haven't actually seen a picture of her. No.
R: Oh. (pause) I'm sure there must be pictures of her.
I: I should look more closely.
R: Yes. Um-. Yeah. She was very slight woman, and she-, I think of her as having a little net on her hair, but I'm not--, that might be a, a--, retrospective. But it's sort of that um-, very proper. Uh-. Slight. Um-. Spoke very properly and, and, and clearly and um-. And she, she wrote very tiny, tiny letters. And she, she had come with this experience uh-, from that, from that era. And then she also had, as I recall, worked with uh-, was it Catalyst or one of the other organizations that was, was doing um-, I think it was Catalyst.
And she was, she would just-, very methodical. Uh-, lovely, personable, um-, wonderful smile and always very uh-, positive about-. And so it was, it was an interesting combination, you know. Audrey and Ann and I and the women loved her. Especially the women-, they, they just loved her. Um-. And she, she brought in another person. I think that-, Ethel, Ethel-, Ethel Ware? Have you seen her name?
I: Yeah. I've seen. Yep.
R: I think Ann brought in Ethel Ware, who-, I think had worked with the Girl Scouts and was very, um-, very much interested in curriculum development. And she did a lot of work in those early years in developing curriculum. White hair, glasses, um-. I remember that she used to bring these um-, not cans, but the, you know, the soup things?
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: For lunch. Um-. Sparkling blue eyes. Yeah. It was-. And Rose Salatine was one of the people who worked on the skills area uh-, with the women. And she, she also would keep pushing for the need to provide those necessary resources for the students. Um-, that was, that was her, that was her passion. And I think she also worked with someone at TC around that. Um-. A well-known person whose name I don't recall right now. Um-
I: I did have a chance to talk to Hope Leichter who's still at Teachers College.
R: Oh, yes, yes—
I: Remembers some of the same era.
R: Yeah. Is still at TC?
I: She's still at TC.
R: Wow.
I: I-, I sat with this very machine and did a long interview with her back in—
R: Oh. Wow.
I: --November.
R: Yes. Yeah. Right. A lot of, a lot of people. Now I’m sure you've, you've seen the names Barbara Buchanan.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: And as a matter of fact I intended the las-, every time I go up there I plan to give her a call. I don't know what her situation is right now. But Barbara was just a wonderful, powerful, um-, her, her, her late husband was the uh-, pastor at Episcopal Church uh-, down in, on the lower Manhattan. And she had a great, great way of working with the-, to develop the career directory, career possibilities and, and she was a good person to think about: Well, what about this? Or what about that? You know? Sort of like Debby, Deborah Allen, you know, just give you some time to think and then: Hm--. Well. Let's look at it another way. Um--.
Barbara was very good at that. And she actually, when she left New York, became involved in the development of the uh-, CPCS. Um-. College of Public and Community Service in UMass, Boston.
I: Wow.
R: And she became the director of field education. Barbara must be in her nineties now.
I: Wow.
R: And she's about Dodie Younger's age. Maybe a, maybe a little older. And the last time I, I uh-, saw her actually was when we went up to, to Maine, the New York Theological Seminary had a reception up there for Tom Weber, for Bill Weber. Um-. And she had a, a summer place--. She had had a summer place near there. So I picked her up and Falmouth and we went up there. And I had a feeling that she was kind of developing a little bit of dementia. I'm not sure. Um-. And her daughter--. She had very tragic--.
Her first daughter died of breast cancer. And then her husband had ALS.
I: Oh.
R: And then her son had a heart attack, lived in New York, was working for the City of New York. Had a heart attack and went out to, to put the trash one night.
I: Oh, my god.
R: And then her other daughter, who was a Ford Foundation uh-, religion program officer, developed MS. And I don't know what her situation-. It-. I have a feeling she may have moved up to Falmouth. Um-.
Barbara was very important, important, very important. And Barbara Prim, I don't know if you've been, if you've seen her name?
I: Yeah. The name is ringing a bell. I can't, I couldn't tell you who Barbara Prim was.
R: Yeah. She was one of the people that Audrey had, had brought on uh-, uh-, before we met to, I think, do some personnel, human resource work. And then Barbara Prim, the two Barbara's we used to say, they became the job-, the job and career developers. And Barbara Prim had all of these relationships like with Cesar Perales and uh-, Cyrus Vance, and all of those people. So she was the one that kind of organized these people around the, the, the new program for the legal services assistant.
And I've lost touch with her. She-, I think she was into her third marriage and, and she was living on a [laughing while talking: houseboat or something]. She was kind of--, um-, very interesting person. Very interesting person. But very-. Uh-. Committed to, to doing this. She and the two Barbara's were a good team. She was more the um-, Barbara Buchanan was more the, the planning one. And Barbara was the one who would kind of keep pushing and, and um-, see what the possibilities were.
Um-. Who-? Are there other people?
I: You know, so, so big names that I, you know, I've read-, I've looked in their papers and various places but haven't gotten a sense of them as people quite as well as I'd like are Preston Wilcox and Evelina Lopez Antonetty. I mean, they're, I-, they're papers and collections are there, but both of them only tangentially mention the Women's Talent Corps.
R: Right. And Jinx has told me that uh-, she was-, let's see. Preston died. When did he die?
I: 2006. Something like that.
R: Was it six? OK. And I think Jinx had told me that she wasn't able to get to talk to anyone in his family. His uh-, ex-wife is uh-, worked at TC.
I: Oh.
R: Did you know her?
I: No.
R: Gwen? Um-. Is her name Gwen? (pause) No. Not Gwen. Her daughter, I think, is Gwen. Uh-. Katha. Or Kathy. Katha or Kathy Wilcox. And I’m not exactly sure what her, what her role was. I don't--. I'm pretty sure she's retired by now. She's uh-, been active at Riverside Church. And that-. I see her periodically at Riverside. Um-. But I'm sure if you, if you check around at, at uh-, at um-, within TC that someone will-. They will know who she is.
Um-. And I'm not sure--, what Jinx mentioned is that he, in his own writings, didn't talk very much about--. I-. I'm not familiar with those writings except so-, I used to get some of his Afram Associates material um-. He was a very important figure. Very important figure at the very beginning, and he was an important figure also in the, when we had this conflagration (heh, heh) or strikes or whatever. And he would come in and talk to-, especially the students, um-, cause they respected him, they knew him, they knew his history, knew his commitments, etc. I am not sure if there was a-. I don't know how, how he, in his own mind. Whenever we saw each other, there was never any indication that the, that he treated the experience as anything less than positive and robust experience. And I-, I don't remember that-, that Audrey ever saying that there was any, any thing, you know, that came, came between them. Uh-. So I don't know. I don't know if—
I think J-, Jinx was getting the impression that somehow he maybe saw that experience, maybe looking back at something that didn't fit his-. But I don’t have any, any knowledge of that. So I don't-. I don't know why--.
Did you find any reference at all to Women's Talent—
I: There is some. I mean it maybe also be just a question of, you know, how archives get constructed.
R: Right.
I: It may have nothing to do with his opinions about it. It may be a question of what, what got saved by whom where and when.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And that-. Um-.
R: How did the archives come to--. This was at TC? Or Columbia?
I: This is at the Schomburg. It's—
R: --At the Schomburg.—
I: -- all of his papers are at the Schomburg where he did a lot—
R: OK.
I: --of work. But the bulk of the material is from 1970 on. So it's, you know, toward the end of his tenure.
R: Oh. OK.
I: And there are some biographical materials, some letters, and some writing certainly from the kind of beginning of 1966 from IS 201. But there's not um-. There's not a lot. The one thing I always thought was interesting, even as he became a huge opponent of the UFT, um-, and even as he moved on from the Women's Talent Corps, he was very involved in running Follow Through programs all through the seventies. And actually coordinating them around the country as a sort of sponsor, say.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And he-, as he-, as he envisioned follow through it included even more paraprofessionals, even more people hired and responsible to the community, than did the typical programs which had at least one or two.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And so I thought that was an interesting legacy of his--
R: --Mmm-hmmm. Mmm-hmm.—
I: --involvement of Women's Talent Corps.—
R: --Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.—
I: And—
R: Did his biography mention the Women's Talent Corps?
I: Oh, yes—
R: Mmm.
I: --It's, it's—
R: OK.
I: It's there in his, you know, in the—
R: Right.
I: --in the finding aid.
R: Right. Right.
I: It's not absent, it's just um-, he's someone who's so fascinating because of, you know, he evolves as, you know, a political thinker and an activist quite a bit from being a Columbia social work professor—
R: Sure.
I: --involved in East Harlem through to being the leading light of community control and then this—
R: Sure.
I: -- independent agent in a way—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --with Afram.
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: I mean, you knew him. You were there. I'm, I'm-. I'm hypothesizing. Am I getting—
R: Right. Right.
I: Mmm.
R: Right. Well, it-. Um-. I remember his coming in uh-, several times at one of the last uh-, I don't know what it, what to call it, protests or (heh, heh) strike or whatever. And we had a conversation after he was-, he had met with the students. And one of the persons who was involved in the, in the um-, the episode was a woman that, that had come on as the dean. And in the--, when, when we were, when I was still in the session with, with Doris (NAME), was her name, and myself and uh-, Preston was there. He was kind of facilitating. At one point she said something like um-: Laura is Cape Verdean, but, you know, I know Cape Verdeans and, and--. I don't know what she was saying. [laughing while talking: She's not a Cape Verdean? I don't know what she was saying.] And I remember talking to Preston after that. I said: Preston, what was [laughing while talking: that about?] And he, he was just saying: Look. You know. It's--. She, she was expressing something about, about not being comfortable with who she was. Or just wanted-. It was just a way of attacking you uh-, that, that built on her own information. She had some (___?). She had some Massachusetts experience I think, as I recall. So she I guess wanted to, wanted to make that uh-. It, it-. To me, it didn't, didn't quite fit the argument that she was making. But um-.
So he was very--. He was very supportive of, of me. He was very supportive of his students. Um-. And he was supportive of, of trying to-. When he would come in at those times, he would try to listen to everyone, and the students, and to share with us some things that we might not, you know. That he might have gotten that we might not have. So he was-. And he was very important in supportive the first program because his-. The nature of it and the nature of depending upon the involvement of numbers of um-, people in the communities, and low income communities in particular, uh-, was enormously helped by kind of the imprimatur of uh-, Preston Wilcox.
And he understood the, you know, the interracial stuff. He, he understood that. So yeah, he was, he was a key to that. So that--. It's too bad that uh-, you know, either you or Jinx could not have talked to him this how many years later. And I don't know if his wife um-. I'm not sure when they-, when they got divorced. It wouldn't hurt to give her a call, though. I don't know if Jinx ever did.
I: It’s worth looking up. Yeah.
R: Yeah.
I: No, it's, I mean, you know, he's also someone who, there's, there's so much in his biography in a way—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --I think, you know, what people know of him is varied because he had such a varied life.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: So perhaps it's just our, our little focus doesn't shine quite as brightly in some other ways but.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: Hmm.
R: But she would--. I mean just to talk with her generally about--. Because this is all part of the, the larger environment within which you are researching. So—
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: Um--. It would be interesting to, to get her take on when, when they were very close, uh-, of what she saw as the evolution.
I: Yeah.
R: His--. His, his own evolution.
I: That would be great. Well, we've been going for--. Actually, I looked up, it was exactly two hours.
R: Oh, my goodness.
I: Isn't that amazing? It's 1:24. Um—
R: Wow.
I: I-. We've covered an enormous amount of ground. And I, I can, I'm sure conjure up more questions. But I wondered, you know, thought I would take a sort of brief breath check here. (heh, heh) Um—
R: Sure. Anything else I'd like to say?
I: Anything I'm missing. Yeah.
R: (laughter)
I: What have I forgotten?
R: (laughter) Um-. (pause) I, I don't think there's any--. I think I might have some more to say or have some, you know, comments when I've read the book.
I: Yeah.
R: Um-. As I said, I was look-. I looked first at the chapter on the Women's Talent Corps because I was just curious as to um-, what was in there. And um-. So you know. And I was intrigued because Jinx and I had a long conversation about my name and how to-, treat that. And that when I see the, you know, the, the errors like in the uh-, frontispiece, uh-, that she repeats Laura Pires has-, Houston. And then in parentheses later, Laura Pires Houston. [laughing while talking: You know. And that's just-. That--]
I: (heh, heh)
R: It's just a copy-
I: Copy editor.
R: Copy-. And um-. Oh, and this is interesting. This is fascinating. I just-, I just love this. Um-. [flipping pages] This part here. (pause) I guess starting somewhere here. Um-. Oh. First of all, here-, this was the-. Up here was the Association of Black Social Workers. And I think this is a function of both Jinx is white and I'm sure the copy editor or editor is white. So, and, and probably this is out of their field. So they would have known that there must be something else in there because it's the National Association-, social workers. And then the, the significance of this when I um-, when Preston and I and George Wiley helped to organize the Association of Black Social Workers. But anyway, down here where she talks about-, she quotes Audrey.
I: Ah. Yes.
R: OK?
I: She had this experience on “How You Act?”
R: And I’m sure that this (heh, heh) this--, listening to a, um-, tape or a transcription and I-, I just have the most fun with that. I just think it's, it's--. Because as, as uh-, when I talked to a friend of mine, I was trying to think now who might understand this? You know, to share it with them. My family, they don't know.
I: (heh, heh)
R: You know, it's like what do she do anyway? What has she been doing all these years? And so I-, when I spoke to a good friend of mine who knew Preston and who knew all of this, knew Audrey, etc. She said: Well, you know, it could be sense. You're going to be talking to probably black folks and Hispanic folks, so that could make sense. Right? (laughter)
I: That's really amusing.
R: And Audrey would get a kick out of that.
I: Sure.
R: She would get a [laughing while talking: kick out of that. Yes.] Yes. So.
I: And actually that points to one thing that's shown up--. So there's a bunch of new--. People are returning to study the War on Poverty, kind of this-, I, I, at least I like to style myself as [laughing while talking: part of a new generation] of—
R: Oh, OK.
I: --historians doing this.
R: Wonderful.
I: But one thing that comes a lot, up a lot actually is the importance of social work and particularly of social workers, that actual association, Association of Black Social Workers. But also Hispanic social workers, people who—
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: --saw this vocation as a route to connecting the movement to their work and to communities um-. So there are new books on this. And you seem to be suggesting that I'm-, they're on the right track and maybe I am, too. (heh, heh)
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Yes. I agree. I think that there-, some of the key people in the beginning of HARYOU were uh-, professional social workers even at the same time as the whole profession and the professional agencies, the traditional agencies were moving out of (___?). And—
I: That's interesting.
R: And there was a, a, a great, a general kind of public disdain, you know, of the quote the “professional social worker.” Um-. So the fact that you did have people within the team that were working together that came out of that field was very important. And the models. I mean, I used it in the leadership training models with Ken Clark and, and uh-, and James Jones. You know, teaching at the, at the school of social work. Um-. So this whole idea of the, of the, of the practice and theory and the blending of both was, is a very important aspect. And it's an important aspect which, uh-, you know, the other professions are figuring out, you know, why should lawyers not-. Why shouldn't lawyers get some experience in doing this? Doctors, of course, always have had the internship. But even the kind of things that people are saying that doctors should be trained in more, not just the bedside manner but, but more of the understanding of the, the interplay of the physical and emotional, physical and psychological and all of that.
Um-. So-. And I think uh-, I'm not very active at all with my social work um-, Columbia for example, with the alumni association. Um-. But I think the, the schools of social work are also um-, recognizing some of the kinds of changes that must be made in terms of preparing people to deal with a lot more of the environmental issues and not just focusing on the uh-, the individual and psychological aspects of people. There's still a lot of work to do. And I think social work is one of those professions that still has a lot to contribute in, in helping to make these kinds of changes. Um-.
One of the things that Jim Dumpson said to us, said to me, I guess, when I saw him at a uh-, at a social event-, because he was one of the people that we went to when we were trying to-. We didn't talk about that, but went to like Columbia and the School of General Studies, and the uh-, other universities, the public universities, um-, to talk about this idea of a college. And to explore the idea of say becoming a part of an existing educational-, higher education institution. Um-. And exploring within the social work profession this idea of different ways to become credentialed. Um-. On the one hand, the-, becoming a part of the educa-, of existing higher educational institutions was probably the best thing we did not do. That uh-, creating an alternative was, turned out to be the best thing that we, we could have done. And should have done. Um-
And then secondly, within social work, Jim Dumpson, we had-, we were having this conversation maybe, I don't know, four or five years after the college was uh-, chartered. And he said: Laura, you all were just ahead of the time. I mean, it just came too soon. Of course now, there are Bachelor of Social Work programs and there are all of kinds of um-, you know, intensives, that kind of thing. And, of course, all of these schools are looking for more students. (laughter)
I: (heh, heh)
R: You know. It's like the UFT. They want dues. They want tuition. And so, you know, they have to think about these things. But I'm delighted to hear-. One of the-, one of the, the uh-, tragedies--. I guess you could call it a tragedy. Or--. Weakness. Or lack therefore, I think. From HARYOU is that we did not do a good job aside from the Youth in the Ghetto. We did not do collectively a good job of documenting what was actually done. Cyril Tyson wrote a book uh-, and I've read his book. It's his perspective, which is fine. Um-. And that's one of the things that was my wishful thinking when I was leaving [laughing while talking: in 1966.] I had lots of stuff. And I had wonderful, you know, things that I thought needed to be, needed to be put down in writing. Um-
And then, of course, on the other hand Mobilization for Youth, which came a little later than HARYOU, and, and they were doing all of this writing, all of this documentation. I was so envious. Um-. Um-.
I: I spoke to one of their social workers, actually. A woman named Mary Dowery who worked—
R: Oh. Yes.
I: OK.
R: I know Mary. Oh sure.
I: She was great. And it's very, many of the things you've said, as I've heard you say them, now Mary Dowery said something very similar as a—
R: Oh?
I: --parallel--
R: Yes. Yes. Oh, I know her quite well. I haven't seen her in a long time. Yes. And she-. Um-. I don’t know how much-. If she ever did any writing about the--.
I: Para question.
R: Yeah.
I: She had some materials that she brought for me to look at.
R: Yes. Yes. And while I was at the, at the college, you know, I'm sure you've seen the articles. But there was one piece that uh-, that was, was done-. What I had called in a, in a um-, in a session, I talked about the constants -- this must have been be-, just before I was leaving -- of the development of the college. And Audrey and Alita uh-, it's the one that's in Managing Academic Change.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: That uh-, that-. And then I had done another one for the uh-, uh-, Social Case Work on new careers and I had called it New Careers and Black People: Toward Humane Human Values. (laughter) And they turned the title around. Um-. I think Black People, New Careers, and Humane Human Values. They had a, they had a special issue dedicated to um-, I think issues in social work among black com-, black communities or something related to that.
But the documentation of the, these, all of these efforts is so critical. So I'm, I'm happy to hear that people are going back to, to really look at what happened and at War on Poverty because it gets such bad press. I used to get violent--. Not violent—
I: (heh, heh)
R: --but I used to get very upset talking to people. You know. You have no idea. You're just painting the broad brush and the whole thing that becomes remembered is the poverty pimp or whatever. Um-. And it was, it was so much else. It was so much else. That's why I appreciate Ryan's book.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: Blaming the Victim. When he really highlighted that the positive contribution that Youth in the Ghetto made.
I: Yeah. In a way, that's actually a great place to end for now.
R: (heh, heh)
I: Um-. Thank you so much for this time. And—
R: You're welcome.
I: --you know, as we both read the book and as I look this over, perhaps we can come back and do it again or, or follow up.
R: Ok--
I: But—
R: Not a problem.
I: Thank you so much.
R: You're welcome. I'm [laughing while talking: glad we finally got together.]
I: I'm glad it worked out.
R: Yes.
[end of recording]

Title

Laura Pires-Hester Oral History

Description

The reminiscences of Laura Pires-Hester, social worker and organizer with Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Inc (HARYOU) and the Women's Talent Corps.

Creator

Pires-Hester, Laura

Date

2015-03-09

Contributor

Juravich, Nick

Format

.mp3

Language

English

Type

Oral History

Interviewer

Juravich, Nick

Interviewee

Pires-Hester, Laura

Location

Laura Pires-Hester's home, Riverdale, Bronx, New York

Transcription

Participant: Laura Pires-Hester, Social Worker and Organizer with Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Inc (HARYOU) and the Women’s Talent Corps (“R”)
Interviewer: Nick Juravich, PhD Candidate in History, Columbia University (“I”)
Date: March 9, 2015
Location: Laura Pires-Hester’s home in Riverdale, New York City

I: So we are recording. Excellent. And I can see the dial moving, I can see the clock ticking. Could I ask you to count to five?
R: One-two-three-four-five.
I: Perfect. Uh-, and actually, one more time.
R: One-two-three-four-five.
I: Excellent. Well, in that case we'll be ready to begin. Um-, this is Nick Juravich uh-, recording with Dr. Laura Pires-Hester.
R: Pires. [corrects pronunciation]
I: Pires.
R: Pires. P-I-R-E-S. It's actually, it means saucer in Portuguese. And as you know, my own background is Cape Verdean. So um-, it is not Pi-. Well, I shouldn't say it isn't Pires because some of my family in Massachusetts pronounce it as Pires. And it's not Perez, P-E-R-E-Z, which is what I've gotten ever since going out of my own hometown. People just want to-, even after I spell it, people will spell it back, P-E-R-E-Z. I say, did you hear me say P-E-R-E-Z?
I: (laughter)
R: So-. It's Pires. I'm sorry.
I: That's quite all right.
R: That's OK.
I: Thank you.
R: Right.
I: And we-, we're here in your lovely apartment. Uh-, in Riverdale. And we're going to talk today about paraprofessional educators uh-, in many contexts. And thank you so much for being with me.
R: Thank you. And it's uh-, I'm delighted and honored to be a part of the process and hope that uh-, what I can share will be helpful to you. Um-. I guess just to start back, I was, as you know, born in Massachusetts [squealing of recording while speaking: in a small town] which is about 50 miles southeast of Boston. And as you know, since you've been to Westport and know Massachusetts, uh-, the closest city is New Bedford.
And I was born in, in a-, not only a small town but also a, a lesser well known part of the town in which many of the other households were basically part of my extended family. And I went to the local high school, uh-, public school. The only high school in the town. And I was al-, always a very shy student and quiet. A, a good student basically. Uh-. And during my sophomore year we had an influx of new teachers. Younger teachers who came into the town. And they sort of took the system and our class by storm. And at the same time, we also had a uh-, woman-. We also had someone come into the school system as a guidance counselor. We had never-. The school had never really had a professional guidance counselor. And she was working at uh-, Harvard School of Education with uh-, David Teeterman. And she took a particular--.
She was interested in everybody, particularly a lot of her work focused on the, on human potential, particularly in girls and females. A lot of her writing was there and she was particularly interested in what was happening with the Cape Verdean American students um-.
And one of the things which she told me much later – we became friends – uh-, was that as she began to know, know them more, the Cape Verdean American students and also know the larger culture of the schools and the faculty and, and educational bureaucracy, she was aware that this was a um-, an example of people not really -- when I say people, the professionals in the school systems -- not really looking with great expectations as to what was, what happened with uh-, and for the education of Cape Verdean Americans. Not across the board.
I have to say that basically my recollection of my own experience is pretty positive. But I also know that there were underlying-, there was underlying stuff um-. And she had, she told me later that when she came into the high school, she was told by a couple of the teachers, um-, watch or pay attention to Laura Pires. And uh-, she's bright and etc., etc., all these positive things about me as a student. And she needs--. Probably they-. They probably said she needs guidance or she needs your help or whatever. And one of the um-.
As I myself have looked back at my own formative uh-, years, I realize that there was critical decision points within my own life journey. And one of them had to do with this particular person. Esther Matthews was her name. She just, just died about two, three years ago in Oregon. Um-. I was in the, in the-, when we were-, came into the high school in the ninth grade, um-. I was I guess encouraged to go into the college course. And at the end of that year, I remember that I decided to change to the general business course. And I realized that my reason was that most, if not all but one other Cape Verdean American student, including my own cousin, a first cousin, uh-, were in the general business or the vocational.
So I didn't talk--. I don't remember talking about this with anyone. I don't remember talking about this with my family. And of course, my father was a, um-, an immigrant from Cape Verde. My mother was born here. Her parents were immigrants. So although they were very concerned that I do well, uh-, they didn't really know the specifics of the, of the educational system. So I just did this and I don't remember--. This was before Esther Matthews came into the high school. And I don't remember any teacher asking me any questions about it. It's possible, but I don't remember any of that.
So I did this year as a tenth grade student in the general business course. And I learned to type, which was (heh, heh) you know, probably one of the best skills that all of us can learn, even though we're now much beyond that with the technology. But it basically [laughing while talking: starts] with the uh-, the fundamentals. Um-. And at the-, toward the end of that year, I be-, I remember that I began to think: Well. OK. I now know the, the fundamentals of general business and ledger and typing and all of that. I'm not sure what, what else there is for me to learn here. So I switched back to the college course.
And again, I don't remember that anybody had any conversation with me about it. I just did it. Um-. But it was a, it was, it was a-, as I said, a critical decision point because I knew that that, there was some significance in that. And I also knew that some of my Cape Verdean friends were much smarter [laughing while talking: than the rest] of, you know, most of the other students in my classes. Um-. And so-. I also learned-. My, my guidance counselor also told me years after I graduated--. She left and she was actually asked to leave. Uh-, probably the next year or even the year following my graduation. And she said that when it came time for awarding the highest scholarship, which at that point was $500 from Theodore Barthe, it's-, that is a scholarship that I think is still continued. It was a long term endowment from some person. Um-. She was on the scholarship committee, of course, and there were, I think, two or three other people. And she shared with me that in that discussion, they were trying to decide who would be the person to receive this. And they were going names after names. And she said, well, you know, what about Laura Pires? She's already been accepted at Smith. She, by the way, had driven me to Smith with a teacher, one of these new teachers who was a Smith graduate. And the two of them took me up. I had no idea what Smith College was. Of course, my family didn't know. You know, it was a college. But--. That was it. Um-. And she's a top student. So why not her?
And the response was, she never told me, she never identified the person who responded. The response was: Well, we can't send her to Smith College. Then who's going to come back and pick the cranberries? As you probably know, cranberries is a, is one of the, the maj-, if not, well, I'm not sure. Probably is still, in terms of the actual economy, major industries in uh-, in that part of the town. Uh-. Ironically, or as history would have it, in 1997, one of my high school classmates asked me if I would be the graduation speaker for the high school class. And they had invited President Clinton, Hillary Clinton [laughing while talking: somebody else. And they didn't-, and] and I happened to see him at a class reunion. He said: You know, I'm, I'm faculty advisor and I don't, you know, I-, we don’t have anybody yet. And I said: Fine.
And I actually told that story which um-, gave me a-, it was, it was a-, a wonderful kind of uh-, vindication. Not in revenge necessarily. I-, I actually-. The uh-. What I was talking about is life lessons. And one of the things I was uh-, one of my points was that where you are today or what you are today does not define necessarily what you will be, can be and, and um-, need to work towards. So this was a perfect example of that. Um-.
So--. I went to Smith. And for the longest time, I, you know, was wondering myself why am I here? How come I'm here? Uh-. Everybody else was-. Not everybody. But most people, most of the, my classmates were coming from private school educations and um-, music lessons and, etc. etc. Having traveled, smoking, or reading the [laughing while talking: New York Times every day.] Two of the things which I thought were, you know, that's really the most sophisticated that you can be. And the New Yorker, um-, which was um-, a number of the students in my class -- I was in the scholarship house -- were um-, actually from New York. Um-. And that was, that was another critical, you know, part of my own personal and individual formation. Um-.
While I was at Smith, uh-, and trying to decide what to do next, I became a part of um-. I was invited to join something that emerged out of New York, the National Association of Social Workers. It was called the Social Recruiting-. Social Work Recruiting--. Something. Recruiting Network or something. And I came to New York while I was still in my junior year and was placed in a uh-, child welfare uh-, organization, which is still existing. It's now instead of just child welfare and residence and uh-, a uh-, rheumatic fever or heart patient, Irvington House in Irvington, New York. Um-.
So that was really an exposure to a particular field. I was an English major. And I was an English major because uh-, the sociologist whom I worked with at, in my junior year, it was the first class I had as a seminar group. And Michael Olmstead. And I loved him. And my plan was to do Honors work with him. And at the end of that year, he died of leukemia. Uh-. And I knew the other persons in the sociology department. It was a very small department. But I didn't really think that was, that was for me. So I went with probably [laughing while talking: 75 percent] of the other students became an English major and minored in sociology.
Um-, years later, when I was vice president of the New York Theological Seminary, one of the students happened to be his daughter. And when she was go-, beginning, when she was going to be ordained, she asked that I do the charge. And I met uh-, his, her mother and the family, etc. So-. It's always a small world. You know. So we know this. Um-. So I was thinking, OK. Maybe I'll, I'll go do social work in graduate school. And I spoke to the uh-, dean of Howard Parad at, at the Smith College Social-, School of Social Work, which is one of the first schools of social work in the country. And I kept going back to him and trying to decide, trying to decide. And he said: Look. I had him in a seminar also. He said: Look. We'd love to have you here, but I really think you want to be in New York. So--. (heh, heh) That kind of gave me, you know-. I was not betraying him and Smith. So I came to New York and did my work at Columbia.
During my experience with um-, social work recruiting, by the way, we had a cohort of people who were in New York agencies and one of those who was, became my friend, was Mickey Schwerner. And he and I and two others within that group all went to Columbia, at the same time, we were in the-, in that class. And Mickey and I became quite friendly and I remember a group work professor -- my concentration was group work – one day - he was my advisor as well – took me aside and said: I see that you're friendly with Mickey. And I said: Sure. He said: Uh-, you know, you should tell him that he needs to be careful. That some of the professors see him as – I don't think he used the word radical uh-, but that was the gist of it. So you should tell him that, you know, if he wants to do well or whatever. And he, I'm sure he meant very well. And, and I don't know why he would have, would not have spoken to Mickey directly. Um-. And I just-, you know, didn't say yes or no. I did share it with Mickey. Uh-. And I knew that, that he was thinking about-. That was-. He didn't finish. That was in '63. And that's when he went, he went south. And he had married um-, Rita, um-. And he had another friend who, she and I were also close and we roomed together in the first year. That was uh-. That was a tough-. That was very tough to (___?).
He was a wonderful, wonderful human being. Um-. Anyway. Um-. So, where, where am I? (___?) So I was in New York and my field supervisor was Kenneth Marshall, a faculty at Columbia. And he-. I was placed-. My-. I had two placements. One was a-, the first year placement was a community center in a, a housing project in the Bronx. And the second was in a more protected, like a group placement uh-. There were several of us in, in a in-, what used to be called the Institute for Rehabilitation. It's now some-, I think it's the Rusk Institute or something. Downtown, where we had a, a specific uh-, faculty member who was a supervisor on site. And we had six students.
So the first one was like jump in. (heh, heh) And do everything. That everything that everybody is doing, which I think is a wonderful, you know, the-, the, the two different experiences were, were excellent in tandem. And again, at the end of that when I was graduating, um-, I was trying to figure out where would I, where would I work, and most of my colleagues in the class were taking positions that were pretty much straight within the social work track. Uh-. Either doing case work at, at uh-, case work agencies. Um-. And Kenneth was one of the early developers of the um-, what became the HARYOU and then the HARYOU-ACT experience. That he and uh-, Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. James Jones. And James Jones was my research professor at Columbia.
So Ken suggested-. He suggested first that I look into working at Spofford. That was one of the agencies that he had students in that was a um-, a detention center in the Bronx where the doors were locked and all of that. And I visited and I said I don't think [laughing while talking: this is what I want to do.] So I took-, I, I learned about HARYOU. And went to work with-. I was supervised by both him and the research professor. [laughing while talking: So my--]. I've always said an experience of slash, you know, like the Women's Talent Corps/proposed College for Human Services. I was program/research assistant. Um-.
So that kind of uh-, mushing of boundaries and some people would call it ambiguity or whatever has always been perfectly OK with me. Um-. I, I think it's the [laughing while talking: way to go, actually.] Um-. So and at HARYOU, it was, again, a major, major critical decision point. I was given, when I started-, actually the day before I graduated, uh-. We graduated on a Tuesday afternoon, and I actually started at HARYOU that Monday. And Kenneth gave me a sheet of paper that had a, like a half page, couple paragraphs on developing a leadership training program for that summer. And he said, OK. We're going to start this program in the beginning of July. So put it together. (laughter) (___?) So we started. And I worked in, with a, another person that he had working with him.
And basically it was a-, it, I used the social work model with-, it was to be a stipend program. And it was the um-, we had, I think 32-. We selected 32 young people between 14 and, and 18 or 19. And they-, we had them in four different groups where they would-. We would do seminars and, and sessions on Mondays and Fridays. You bring in speakers. And then Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday they would be at different placements. We had a group work contingent and that was mine as well as we had arts and culture and heritage and music. Music and art. Music and art. So we had a-. And that was a wonderful-. We had so many professionals who wanted to work within HARYOU. And Kenneth, in particular, had relationships with a number of these uh-, excellent professional musicians. Uh-. Kenny Dorham (sp?) and Bill Jones and Jackie McLean, and, and Julian Euell. And etc. So they worked with young people in the, in the arts and culture segment. And we had John Henrik Clarke - I'm sure you've come across his name – working with the young people uh-, teaching. That they would teach young people heritage sessions.
And then I was the group work person. So I had to set up placements in uh-, eight different locations for-. And then a social action-. Jesse Gray, who was a housing activist and guru (heh, heh) in Harlem. Uh-, and that was another interesting experience.
That summer, I would visit the sites on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and I made an appointment to visit the, the group who were working with Jesse Gray. It was on East, I think it-, 117th Street. And of course he was late. So I remember that we were seated on the stoop. And I was seated and some of the students were there. And a car came down the street. It was before 9:00 because I said, you know, I'd be there at 9:00. The students were supposed to be there at 9:00. And a car comes down the street. Uh-. And they, a couple of guys get out. And there's a young-, a woman walking toward us. Uh-. And the other young people-. The young people knew what was going on. I had no clue. Um-. And the, they come behind her and so obviously they're watching, were watching her or whatever, following her. And she comes and, and stops where we are on the stoop. And I said, you know: Let her sit down. To the students. And so she sat down. And there was a-, I think a paper bag or something that she kind of sat on. And one of the guys come over. Cause they were undercover cops, which I, you know, learned. Um-. And he said to her to get up. And I'm beginning to get very--. You know, these are my charges and I'm the supervisor and how dare you. (laughter) All of that. Um-.
And I said, you know: Is anything wrong? Or something like that. And he said: You, you all have to leave. And I said: No. We don't have to leave. You know, they-, we belo-. And of course the students said: It's OK. [laughing off and on while talking: It's OK. We'll leave. I said. I said: No. You know? I, we shouldn't have to leave.]
Well--. Finally-. By the way, his, one of his colleagues was saying: Look, she doesn't--. Oh. He pulled out a packet, glassine envelope, from what she, I guess she had put it under the paper bag, and said: Do you know--. To me. do you know what this is? I said: No. I don't know [laughing while talking: what it is.] And his colleagues are saying: Look. She doesn't know what it is. Let's go. You know. What--. (heh, heh) And then he just became-. I just attacked his manhood or whatever. Even though I wasn't yelling or screaming. So he puts us all in the car. Go to the precinct station. Started to do the fingerprinting-. We hadn't gotten to that point. And Jesse Gray [laughing while talking: comes into the-] into the station and he's yelling and screaming and what have you. (___?) do this. And I think Jean (Calen__sp?) or someone had called from the Board of HARYOU, and, and, you know, all of it was, it was just a-, one of those conflagrations that was created out of nothing.
But it was-, it was again one of those experiences. But one of the things that happened after that day is that the students told me, and when I went back I could also see it, is the other people in the neighborhood, in that street and block, began to kind of watch over them. And just, you know, be there for them because people, of course, stood around watching this and-. As I said, you know, the level of knowledge was like yea deep between what they knew and I knew.
But one of the things that connected when I talked with Audrey was that in-. By the way, that program of, of 32 became the next summer like 600. And it kept growing, you know, exponentially. Um-. And one of the uh-, one of the key programs out of the HARYOU model, of course, was in the area of employment. And my first husband was the uh-, director of that uh-, program. And we had-, I had been involved in helping to write the, the uh-, chapter on the HARYOU associates, which is called in the, in, Youth in the Ghetto. And I had drafted a lot of that. By the way, the--. I think I told you this that day that we met, uh-, when I finally opened Frank Riessman's book, New Careers for the Poor, I turned and saw that frontispiece. And I said: Oh, my goodness. I added in the draft that paragraph in the margins [laughing while talking: because I thought it--] you know, it needed something. And here it is appearing in the, in this book. Um-.
But the whole idea of different people, not just our young people, but they, of course, uh-, people having different talents that are not necessarily recognized and/or credentialed in our systems of education or employment, and/or employment. That something needed to be done about that. And also, while I was at HARYOU, I was there really just, you know, not a very long time. But a lot happened during those three years. And what I was--. After the, the initial leadership training program, I moved over to work with, within the employment program with my first husband and several other people. And then he resigned and then I became the acting director of the program.
And at the beginning, again because you were dealing with a smaller scale, we had uh-, on the job training. We had a nei-, first neighborhood youth corps. Uh-. Job Corps. Uh-, for Central Harlem. And they, of course, were just beginning. You know that history. Uh-, from the federal level. Um-.
In the beginning, we were very careful about the, the possibility of these training experiences becoming job and/or career opportunities. So we didn't generally accept, for example, in the uh-, in the, in eit-, in any of the programs on the job training, for example, we were really very conscious of--. We didn't-. We didn't want just the, the, the jobs that, that employers were just looking that, for ways that they wouldn't have to pay. You know, that they would get somebody on stipend and, and--. But there be nothing at the end. Um-.
As the programs grew, there was a pressure on numbers, of course. And I remember several times going down um-, to the meetings in, in, in uh-, Manhattan, um-, and discussing--, sit around the table with representatives from other agencies, each of us wanting to get as much a part of this uh-, pie that they were, that they were cutting up. And it was becoming more and more difficult to try to hold out for quality placements, particularly on the job training. Um-. And that was-. We knew that numbers were important. But when-. I didn't become the director. And that was another story. At that point, the, I think that was basically--. That was probably the only time that there was a gender um-, underlying issue. It was never clear, but there were-, there were people that had that, I know. And there was also one of my own staff, a woman, who uh-, would write these letters and say, you know: She's not quite the right person.
So they brought in a person and I was, I was the second person. That person knew nothing [laughing off and on while talking: about--, but he acknowledged it so-.] You know, about employment. He knew about labor relations, but he didn't really know about these things, which was um-. So we would go to these meetings. Mary (Kohler__sp?), by the way, Mary Kohler, I don't know if you know is Frank Riessman's mother-in-law. Uh—
I: I don't know who she is.
R: Yeah. Uh-. She was a judge, ju-, judge--. I don't know if she was an-, at-, uh-, a judge at that time. But she was a very well known uh-, judge. And she was the one who was kind of organizing and monitoring all of this development of, of the-. And--. These, developing these contracts around the city. Um-. One of the--.
There's an interesting uh-, piece around the March on Washington, too. This group of 32 young people that we had involved, during that summer, there was, there was a lot, there was a build up of, toward the March on Washington. And there was a lot of stuff coming out of Washington that uh-, the president really was very cautious about this and really wanted to make sure that it was, it was maintained or constrained. And the, there was differences between and among the leaders, etc.
And a-, we would talk about this in the Monday and Friday sessions. Uh-. And some of the--. We had people like James Baldwin and Malcolm X and John Henrik Clarke and um-, my first husband talked to them all. He was wonderful with young people. And what, you know, pushing their own potential. So was Malcolm. He was, he was so gentle with the young people. He was, he was, he was a magnetic personality, he really was. And he had a point of view, but he was so um-, he was just-, he was just magnetic. And he was, he was gracious and, and positive with the young people when he talked with them. And, and James Baldwin, who was a sis-, brother of, of one of the um-, staff members within the arts and culture program, she worked uh-, Paula Baldwin. There were lots of connections with, with people like that. Um-.
So it, we-, it, it-. The week before the uh-, going down to the March on Washington, I had invited Frank Riessman to come and talk with the young people about his-, he was just beginning to get this writing about the helper principle and the use of role play, etc. etc. And I will [laughing while talking: never forget this.] I think he was, it was to be a morning session. He could not crack through the resistance of the group. And I don't know if they had talked about it before, um-. This was, this was see-. I've always believed in the power of a group. But this was seeing it firsthand. They just, you know, the males just kind of slouched in their chairs. If they wore hats, they, you know, didn't take them off [laughing while talking: that day.] And they were, if they wore shades, they were wearing the shades. It was like--. They were not going to respond to this white person.
And we had had, you know, other people. It wasn't as if he was the first one. But the, the, the buildup, you know, because again, we would talk about current events, etc. And some of the people coming in would share what they were aware of. And the planning that was going on locally as well as nationally. Um-. And at one point, he got up on the table. He clapped his hands. He jumped up and down. And he, it finally, I think this came to him. He said: Well, you're all going down to March on Washington, right? And most of them were going. And he said: Well, let's, let's just do a role play. Uh-. So half of you will be marchers. And half of you will be hecklers. Uh-.
And as they got into it, we had to stop it because they really, really became-. You know, the hecklers became those against their, their own friends and colleagues against, against the uh-. So they began to-. The feeling really went very high. And that was the breakthrough, you know. Then they talked a little bit about, about what might happen. Um-.
One of the women at our church, we were talking about that this weekend, and she said: You know, my mother wanted us to go, but I – her daughter, and she had a son – I was afraid. So we never went to the March on Washington. Um-. But the night before--. Again, this was one of Ken-, Ken Marshall's ideas --, he was very creative -- um-, was that we would do a candlelight march through Harlem. And so we got the candles and we, I guess we, we probably left maybe very early in the morning or late at night. I can't remember. So about a couple of hours before, we began at, at 125th Street and then just walked through. And people just jo-, joined in. And it was very quiet. You know, there was not-. They knew that we were headed the next day. And as we went down on the trip, actually just outside of Washington, um-, and we were singing some of the songs that, you know, we did a lot of that singing during our sessions together. “Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” or whatever. People actually threw something at the bus. It wasn't, it wasn't a lot. It was just you-. Cause there were a lot of people, you know, a lot of busses coming in. So there were, by that time, in the morn-, as the morning was breaking there were a lot of people. Not a lot. But there were people lined up on the side.
And when that happened, you know, we just kept going. The bus got very quiet. Um-. But it was a-, um-. I don't know if you saw last year there was a-, there was a CNN 50-year retrospective. And they interviewed a number of people who were on, on the trip. And three of the people who were interviewed were part of our group.
I: Really?
R: And they talked about how the-. One was a brother and sister. And a third one. And they talked about the experience of going to the March on Washington. And how it was so great to be a, you know, a part of uh-, of history in the making.
So within that group, within the first year group, there were probably three or four who went, who actually went to, to college and to social work school. (heh, heh) Within my-, from within my group. And others went into other areas. It was like, it was like the college and Women's Talent Corps where you would see, for the first several years after I'd left the college, I would run into graduates who were either in the same place or working in the field. Uh-, or themselves had done to other graduate schools while the college was, you know, getting the authority to, to award the other graduate degrees. Um-.
So HARYOU was to me-. I learned a lot. And one of the things I, I am very grateful to the young people is that-, that I learned was be true to what you bring to the table. They knew that I did not have their experience. So--. And they didn't want me to pretend that I did. That-. Each one of us brought something very different and that's, that is, I think, a principle that I think is very apt in the, in the programs that we set up. You know, that we have to look at different resources that are brought by different people to a situation. Um-.
So when I met with Audrey and it was Preston Wilcox who came, I think one of the last days that I was boxing up my stuff at HARYOU--. By the way, I didn't know what I was going to do. I [laughing while talking: didn't have a new job.] I would not do that today and I would not recommend that to anybody today. Um-. And I had met at one of our events or celebrations, I had met Bob (Mangel__sp?) who was the regional manager of-, regional director of um-, OEO. And I remember just talking to him. We happened to be standing together at one point. And I think I'd met him before because he, of course, knew HARYOU very well and I had mentioned that I was leaving shortly. And he asked what I was going to do. And I said: Well, I'm not really sure. I think I'm going to do part time work. I want to do some writing. I was going to do some consulting. You know. All these wonderful possibilities, which were more available in those days than they are now. Um-. And he said: Well, you know, I have a position in the regional office. So, you know, would you like to consider it? Maybe you'd like to come-. And I look back and I say: How, how did I possibly up with this answer? I said: You know? I don't think I've had enough experience in the field yet. (laughter) To come and be, you know, like deciding who gets funded and who doesn't get funded and that kind of thing. So um-.
So while I was packing up my stuff in the office, Preston walks in and said that uh-. Asked me the same question. What I was going to do. And I gave him kind of the same answer. And he said: Well, you know, I've been talking with this woman from the east side, Audrey Cohen, at-, he had-, she had asked him-, I think at that point he was the, the president of the board. And uh-, I, I think, you know, she needs, she's looking at, at-. She'd just gotten this grant and she wants to, you know, develop this program. So, you know, I think you should give her a call.
And so I did. And, with Audrey. And again, the thing that, that was the linkage was that she had put together in the plan, not only the training and the identification of, of people who, who had this kind of interest and/or potential, with the aspect of jobs and careers. And I thought that was very important. Um-. And she was obviously very committed to it. Um-. So I said OK. I will come and help you develop the uh-, field placements. And it was going to be part time. And it was going to be temporary. Um-. And very soon that, you know, turned out to be something else. And it was another--, just a quick digression.
I have been blessed at the kinds of opportunities that I've had to work with amazingly talented and diverse uh-, credentialed and non-credentialed, social work and musicians (heh, heh) and thinkers and planners and, you know, social scientists, etc. And people who have been committed to doing something to creating opportunities for segments of the communities that don't, haven't had (___?). So um-. And in particular with Audrey, she brought together a number of women. So that was, that was great. You know. Women who uh-, you know, the connection back to the part time research associates where she wanted to get, give women opportunities, um-, who might have been raising families or coming back to the work force or whatever. Um-. She had a real passion for that and I think that uh-, it-. (___?) a lot to be done. But it, I think it was a major, a major force in, in continuing that trajectory of creating opportunity.
[cell phone] (___?) I hate it when Facebook now comes in your—
I: Oh, it texts you. Yeah.
R: I'm sorry.
I: It's all right-. Totally fine.
R: (laughter) Right. Um-. So--. Let me just take-. Stop talking for a while and just—
I: Absolutely.
R: --uh-, ask any questions or any connections or non-connections We can take a break.
I: Well, I've got lots of questions. Thank you so much for this. Uh-. I do want to ask you some more questions about HARYOU and people—
R: Sure.
I: So there's one document that we've fought in this collective project on Educating Harlem, has been a uh-, comic book.
R: Oh. (laughter)
I: So I wanted to ask you both about it and also the narrative it tells of, you know, sort of the Chessman Fraternity arriving at the HARYOU offices announcing that youth should have a role and sort of I wondered about the process of, of both, you know--. And responses to this, I guess.
R: Well, that was another of Ken Marshall's ideas. He, he wanted to--. And that was a project that I wasn't that much involved with. But basically, he was always looking for ways to get the different messages out in various forms to a variety of people. To as broad an audience as possible. So um-. And, because of his connection with all of these people in the arts and, and culture and performance arts field, he was able to get people to help him. Um-. I don't even think I have a copy of that anymore. But I know that--. And I don't-. I don't have any idea what, how broadly it was distributed. I don't know how many, you know, how many copies. It-. You-. Have you see it?
I: I have a-. I could send you a PDF, an electronic copy.
R: Yes.
I: If you'd like. We have a copy in the archives. (heh, heh)
R: Yes. Yes. Um-. Yes. It was-. He, he, he was the--. For example, he also started a cadet corps in HARYOU. He, he was interested in, you might call it (___?), but it was also um-, the message--. Medium is the message. That kind of trying to figure out ways to involve people, to attract young people, to the-, the cadet corps was, was strong discipline. But it was also, you know, flashing and marching in time and, and he had a, he had a baton [laughing while talking: that he would] sometimes use um-, as well. Um-. And, and the comic book was, was another one of his ideas. And, and Ken Clark, of course, was open, you know, to, to uh-, some of these ideas that might not be first, first level, you know. It might be third or fourth level in creativity. Um-.
So, again, I, I don't-, I was not that involved with that. I remember that uh-, when it's coming out and people being very excited about it. Uh-. And it would be interesting to know what its distribution was.
I: Yeah.
R: And I, I, I'm not even sure where you might, where that might be. I just don't know.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: If it ever got out of, within the community. If it-. I would-. It will be interesting to know, for example, in the libraries where, where I'm sure you have Youth in the Ghetto, whether or not that's a part of what they also received. Uh-. When uh-, Ryan, William-. William Ryan? What was his name? The one who wrote Blaming the Victim. Um-.
I: I should know. (heh, heh)
R: In that book, he referred to Youth in the Ghetto as one of the, one of the productions or one of the books that is most widely talked about but probably least widely read. (heh, heh) That people either assumed or had, maybe had seen excerpts or whatever, so they assumed what was in it. Uh-, but hadn't, hadn't ever really read it. And it's a, it's quite a powerful, a powerful document with-. One of the things that was, that I always find very intriguing--. Well, in, in employment, for example, my first husband, Larry Houston, I think was the first person to really pinpoint the fact that when the rates of, within the rates of unemployed that typically those who were looking for work but dropped out of looking for work was a very important statistic to follow. And in education, they, what they found-, the finding that by the third grade you begin to see the drop off in the scores that children typically are keeping, keeping up pretty much. And then the third grade, coming down.
And that, again, was something that had not been particularly noted by that point. And that, of course, led credence to the argument that there has to be some-, it's not the children's brains. (heh, heh) So we need to be looking at something else about the school itself and the culture of the school and the environment of the school and teaching and etc., etc. So there's-. I think it's so full of, you know, the idea of the street academies, for example, being part of that and their, you know, continue those in Harlem right now. I get very upset and I've been in these discussions since the sixties when people tear down the accomplishments or the significance of quote the sixties, and particularly the early community action and you know, maximum feasible participation. Nobody even talks about that anymore. But all of those ideas that either the conservatives or neo conservatives, you know, just say.
And I, I was just looking at-. It was yesterday's Times that um--. Uh--. [looking through paper] There were two pieces that-. This was uh, Putnam and he talks about the, the American Dream in Crisis, and what the-. That there is still the gaps. Um-. And he, he, he says this is an important book. But it's also one that he hasn't really looked at. The--. The--. Not necessarily just the people because he-, it's, it-. He talked to a lot of people and he interviewed a lot of people. But he also interviewed a, a, not a really a [laughing while talking: wide diversity of people.] And then he really didn't pay as much attention to those others. It's not really-. It's not really blaming the victim totally. But the-. Jason Riley, who's done a lot of-, what I've seen him write in the Times is a lot of uh-, uh-, music uh-, performance, particularly world music. And then this one, by Orlando Patterson, um-, who I used to not like his writing so much, but more lately I think he's, he's, he's uh-. And here, he's, looks at the, at the two people, Shelby Steele and this person I don't really know his writing so much. But again, they--. Shelby Steele in particular, has talked a lot about the uh-, you know, the personal responsibility of people, especially within African American and populations of culture. All of which is, yes, absolutely right, but there's another side to it. And I think that--. I, I guess these two just, just point out the fact--. And Orlando point-, Patterson does it, that it is an important thing to look at and we have to, particularly those of us within the populations of cultures and the African American, you know. And, and be very careful about how we are uh-, who we are educating our young people. And that they have a responsibility and it's not that everything should be, you know, done for them or, or to them. But there is still a great deal to be done to make sure that you don't have um-, racism and discrimination and/or low expectation of, of, you know, people, in particular the children and young people.
I used to say in the last century that I had wished that by the end of the twentieth century we had rid ourselves of cancer and racism. And we still have unfinished agendas in both. And it's, it's really-. When I look back at what we knew in the sixties, we knew what to do. We know what to do. And we know that it, that it does take a lot of work and it takes money. You can't do it totally by wishing it so. Um-. And we know a lot more about the quote unquote dependence that might be created by some of these strategies. We know a lot more about that. But, but that's not where the analysis or the, the strategizing should end. And in many cases, that's where they end. You know, with the dependence on--. I think I went off a little bit on that. Um-
I: No. Actually, that, I thought that was really useful because when I think about Youth in the Ghetto, which we sat down and read and it is, it's also a much longer document I think than most people—
R: (laughter)
I: --expect.
R: Right. (laughter)
I: Um-. The, the contrast between say that document and the Moynihan Report that comes out a year later. I mean, it's night and day. But-, and thinking about exactly the things that you were talking about, about skill and opportunity—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --um-, you know, as opposed to pathology, you know.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: In some ways, one of the things I always find particularly interesting about both para programs and about HARYOU is that they're, they're working with and developing, and in a way, you know, recognizing the talents of the very people the Moynihan Report says are pathologized, which is to say, matriarchs and their children. And I just-, that contrast to me is so distinct. And you pointed to exactly that just now.
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. And also I was interested and I, I'm sorry I never got a chance to really talk to Ken Clark because his-, about this issue, because the book which he put out after Youth in the Ghetto, the Dark Ghetto I think it's called.
I: Mmm-hmm. Yeah.
R: And I have to say that I would have to go back and read it and I probably didn't read it as carefully as I should have. But the imprint of that was not, I think, the same as Youth in the Ghetto. Uh-. And I was, I-. As I said, I'm sorry I never, I never asked him about that or never had a chance to uh-. Because in a sense, and I'm trying to think that the subtitle of Dark Ghetto was, but it, as I recall, it was pathologizing, it was more of the consequences of powerlessness caught up, instead of a blueprint for change, uh-, which was what we were trying to do in both, in, in concept and in theory.
One of the great things about working with Ken Marshall, and for Ken Marshall to be involved in this effort, is that he was always interested in: Well, let's do something to, to-. (heh, heh) You know, to test it out. And not even-. I don't know-. I don't, I'm not sure that he even said anything like let's test it out. Let's do something was more what, what he wanted. Sometimes, for example, he would find me late at night uh-, this is a time when many people worked late at night. Um-. I-. He would see me at my desk doing these, what do you call them, sociograms? You know, within my 32 people. And he was like: What are you doing? (laughter) You know. And that's the kind of thing that James Jones, you know, was, was interested in. Um-. And he was the one that pushed Ken Clark after the, after the-. When I got there, the document was just getting ready to be out. You know, we were still doing some. As I said, I drafted some of the parts and talking about the youth associates. Um-. But he was, he wanted to, let's, let's do something. Let's use some of this money to, you know, provide stipends and let's, let's, let's see what we can do.
And, and one of the things which was, to me, became very important in, in um-, the Women's Talent Corps proposed College for Human Services journey was that at HARYOU we, there was kind of an atmosphere an environment of anything is possible. And, you know, the beginning of the sixties, that's what, you know, the Kennedys and uh-. It was, it was like we can do anything. We really believed the budget of $118 million, that we believe that that would be forthcoming. We believed [laughing while talking: that that was going to make] a major change. And one of the things that Ryan-. I want to say William but I think William Ryan is a politician (___?). It might be William Ryan. I'm sure I can find it. But um-. One of the things that he said in, in his book was uh-, when he was talking about HARYOU, that-, talking about this budget proposal-. And we all remembered the figure. $118 million. That the--. Oh. Not only that, but also the po-, the programs, the other programs, that people believed that first of all, there would be, this money would be allocated. And secondly, that things would change. And then something about but-. And the Viet Nam war was why we, he made that, that linkage that the, you know, the attention and the funding and the uh-, commitment of course. Kennedy's death. Um-.
And I, I think that Jo-. I haven't seen the, the, the movie or the play about Johnson and I know that there's--. Or even Selma. I haven't seen that unfortunately. Um-. And I know this question about how, how Johnson is, is uh-, depicted, uh-. But there's no doubt that he took to (___?) implementation stage, you know, many of the things that were, that were made foundational uh-, in the earlier years. Um-. So that idea of, of just saying to the Youth Associates, for example, tell us what you think. Get involved in the doing. Get involved in not only the, the talking. Even though when, during the time of the explosion in Harlem, the, the uh-, the rebellions.
I: Mmm-hmm. Yes.
R: During the day, they would be doing whatever in the programs. In the night, some of them were out there with their Molotov cocktails. (heh, heh) So, you know, and, and it was a very, very--. To see armed men in the streets with rifles was--. And I lived in Park West Village at the time. And to go to work, you know, and, and to have to find my way to work and then go into-. You were really going into an occupied territory. It really felt like that. Um-.
It was, it was a-. We had everything, I mean in those three years it was really, it was really full of, of all kinds of possibilities, possibilities. And that's what, when, when I did-, when I would do the orientation for the new students at, at new-, um-, participants in the, in the programs at the Women's Talent Corps, while, when we had decided that we were going to try to become a college, one of the things I would say is: This is what we're looking at. This is a possibility. This is what we're working on. You are part of this because we have to make the case. We have to make the case that yes, there are people who have the potential and the talents and the, and the skills and can do these, this variety of human service work. And we need to think about different ways of preparing them. Not excluding education. That was important. But different ways of, different combinations, etc. And we're not guaranteeing that we're going to, for example, be chartered by New York State within the time that you're here. We can guarantee you to be part of the struggle.
I remember that that was part of my spiel, that you're going to be part of the struggle. Um-. But-. And there's something that we're, we're going for, with something that we're moving toward. And that's also, you know, I, I'm just using it-. I find myself using it more lately to going back to that, you know, in church where we have a building project, a reconstruction of the front of the church, which, for which we have to raise another quarter of a million dollars. And--. I find myself more and more saying things in the same way. That, you know, I'm not going to be here in the next 50 years. I'm not doing this for (heh, heh) you know, for me.
I helped to build this church. My late husband was the founding pastor. And uh-, I was a founding member with about ten other people. So we had to make sacrificial gifts to get that. And one woman who made an extraordinary gift of $90,000 you know, to purchase, after we had met in a house church and then um-, rented space in a synagogue for five years in Mount Vernon. Um-. So part of it is, you know, one of my, one of my concepts that I live by is uh-, I think language helps to create reality. That rhetoric helps to create reality. Uh-. And that's why the language and the rhetoric needs to be positive and you need to keep repeating it. It doesn't happen overnight.
But that's what, that's what we were trying to do with the young people is to say, you know, you're, you're worth something. And, as I look back again in my own life trajectory, I realize that that comes from a basic faith, which I'm now much more conscious about since I was raised as a Roman Catholic. So there's a difference in becoming more, more self conscious about your relationship with Christ. Um-. But it's the same thing at the church now. (___?) same thing with the initial--, particularly the earlier groups, you know, uh-, who were women that some of them hadn't been, hadn't done anything out of the home at all. Others had and were now raising their families. Um-. So it, it was, yeah, you can do this. You can read Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology.
By the way, I raise that as, I use that, I like to think of that as an example because one of our, one of the first coordinating teachers, Sydelle Bloom. I'm sure you've read her—
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: --some of her stuff. Um-. And she remembers coming to class one day and um-, one of her--. I think her favorite student, (____?) from Queens, told her that she had spent the night, or she had started reading Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology and she couldn't put it down. She just-. You know. Opening up their heads. And that was required. That was required for the young people. It was required for, you know, in the, in the uh-, college. Uh-, especially in the earlier days. Um-. And then it's required in any, in any effort. You know, bringing the schooner after six years of raising moneys to return her to the United States, uh-. You know, people told me I was crazy to be involved in this. It's a hundred year-, almost a hundred year old scooter and needs to be repaired and etc. Uh-.
So the, the platform and the, and the--. I guess you could call it propaganda. I don't call it propaganda. I call it a platform, a positive platform, I guess. And a, and a message. Um-. Positivity. A message of possibility. Um-. It's hard to go through life, I guess, without that.
I: Yeah.
R: Uh-. I guess some people call it faith or (___?). I call it faith as well. But it's, but I think in, in working in any of these areas where you, where you're trying to create a change, um-, that it is necessary to get over the, the obstacles or the humps of why it can't be done. Um-.
I was, I guess it was reading in, in the MCNY record of when Audrey was talking to--, uh--. I, I guess it must have been at, at-, before OEO, whatever, and there was a woman uh-. I can't remember her name. I remember her name, but I don't remember it now. And the, the woman said to--. Audrey was back again and she'd been there before. And the woman said to uh-, the person-. The woman came into the director's office. It's a well-known name. And said--. No. The director learned from his staff that Audrey Cohen was back again. And he called up one of his uh-, staff members and said: Look. You know, she's been coming back. I don't know what to do with her. Uh-. Talk with her and see, see what you think. Cause I don't know if we should do this or not. And the-. [banging sound] Um-. Person came back and said: Well, I spent a lot of time with her. I - something to the effect -- I know it sounds crazy. But I think we should go with it. He said fine. [laughing while talking: Let's go with it. Right.] And that was the beginning of that. But that's what it takes, you know? Um-.
And Audrey was that single focus. We were both Taurians, by the way. And she's-, her birthday was May 14, mine is May 11.
I: Oh.
R: So-.
I: Well, that-. I mean that segues really nicely into asking some more questions about Women's—
R: Sure.
I: --Talent Corps. You know, I read in NAME book, she has a great narrative of how you came in and one of the things you had to do was to reach out to all these sites and schools and get them on board.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And so one set of questions I had were about the process of convincing, right, the Board of Education -- these, these massive bureaucracies -- to accept, you know, with there being some federal money. But even then, to accept, you know, a very new kind of program that brought new kinds of people into their institutions.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: I'm thinking particularly about education.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: You know, what it meant to kind of come into classrooms—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --to come into schools—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --how, how you thought about that. How you, you know, strategically and politically but also then what it meant to sort of think about it as an intervention.
R: Mmm-hmm. Well, a number of these uh-, the first places that I went, um-, had been either recommended um-, to Audrey before. And in some of the, some of the sessions where we met with the, with women in these various groups where she had tapped, for example, Preston Wilcox would make a-, you know, why don't you talk to NAME Antonetti in, in the South Bronx, or somebody else. Uh-, um-. I forget her name in East Harlem. Alice Carnegie in East Harlem. That kind of thing. Um-. So some of them had already-, I had kind of se-, leads, initial leads. People that might be interested. Principals that might be interested. Um-.
I remember one session in particular where I was, went to um-, PS 126 in District Two, District One or District Two, in the Lower East Side. And the principal was-, a number of these principals at that time were still Jewish men. And uh-, I can't remember his name. But he agreed that I could come and talk to him. And I think I spent some time with him. He was very wary um-, not sure. And then he said OK, why don't you talk to my teachers? And I remember he, he-. In his office, he brought his teachers. Um-. I don’t know if there were all of them, but maybe in a grade. But there were several like, ten or 15 uh-, teachers. Uh-. And counse-, I think counseling staff. Um-.
And as I was explaining what we, what we had in mind. They had questions and he, he was part of the, the session, but standing in the doorway, like one foot in. (heh, heh) And one foot out. Um-. And, and basically I think he was, he wanted to see whether or not the teaching staff would be open to it. And it, it basically just took talking and continuing to talk. It is-, there's no other way to do it. You know. You have to-. As I used to say to, to, to the young people in the um-, in the group work, group at HARYOU, because they sometimes would say: Oh, we wish we could-. You know. And somebody playing in the band and everybody's cheering and everything. But we don't--. (heh, heh) You know. What do we do? [laughing while talking: you know.] I said, but your skill and your instrument is yourself. You know? This is all about how you use yourself.
So that's, I think that's what we had to do over and over again. How do we, how do we-. We had an idea. And we were convinced of the idea. So it really required trying to get as many people as possible. We did have to talk to the district superintendant and usually at the beginning, but sometimes not. If it was a, a lead in a particular school, then we would go to the superintendant. I, and I don't, I don't that there was any--, I can't remember that we had any flat turn downs at the beginning. Um-. Later, that would happen uh-, because maybe the district itself was going through major issues, especially in the, in the district superintendant. One of the districts in Brooklyn, for example, District 16 was, had all kinds of issues at the top. And it just didn't make any sense at that point. Uh-. Sometimes that was a good thing when there was a lot of stuff happening, like Oc-, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, because our, um-, students most often most of them really continued to work during that time. And these were schools that they knew. These were students that they knew. These were families that they knew. They would-, these were teachers that they knew. And they were able--. And that was because of their maturity, of course. Here we were dealing with mature adults who may not have had a certain type of experience and a certain skill at that point, but they had sense. (heh, heh) They had common sense and they used it well. And used it in their, you know, ability to kind of read situations and, and, and figure out what their bottom line commitment was and how to, how to work. How to work on this. Um-.
And then the whole negotiation with the (clears throat) getting them recognition. And I remember in your session when you were talking about that in the UFT, uh-, that I had a number of discussions with um- (clears throat) Sumner Rosen, who was taught at the School of Social Work at Columbia. I hadn't taken a course with him, but I sort of knew him. He was with D.C. 37. And I remember at one point he said something like um-, you know, you should be a negotiator. [laughing while talking: You know, something like that] because he was, yes, yes, you make a good point there. But there was clearly competition between the two. This was dues. You know, numbers. (laughter) And they really didn't know what was going to happen so much. Um-. And as that grad-, the graduate who pointed out that there's, you know, everything is not hunky dory in these, in these schools by any means. Um-.
And I think part of that is, is the, is the challenge or the challenges in bringing something to scale, in institutionalizing something. Something, unfortunately, gets lost in the--. And I, it's get lost or it's tradeoffs, you know. To get the numbers and to get the support for numbers. Um-. Somehow the, the, the cream has to be siphoned off or something--. That's mixing up metaphors terribly. But um-. And I think that's, that's a challenge in many of our action programs, that, you know, what happens when you bring this to scale? I think that's a, a-, with Teach for America I was on the board of Teach for America in its early years. And I think they, they've done amazingly well in being able to, first of all, to get the major support of private and public funds. And then to continue to have the support to go into these districts and schools around the, around the country. And then also, one of the things that was Wendy's uh-, very important objectives was to begin to build a cadre of people who might not necessarily stay within, but who would become advocates for this kind of educational opportunity in the broader, in the broader society.
And I am always so impressed and proud of my own piece of experience in that when I'm reading something and see that so-and-so being lauded for something in education is a Teacher for America graduate. Even more recently, um-, James Foley, who was beheaded.
I: Right.
R: It turns out that he was a Teacher for America graduate. Like--. So these changes, they might appear--. I mean the long term impact, I think, is something we always have to consider. And it's going to take a long time. Um-. I'm not that sure. I think I may have gotten off track.
I: --Oh. It's totally, completely fine.--
R: --(___?) –
I: (___?) on thing I wanted to ask you about, so you talked about teachers, meeting the teachers and principals. And I wondered, I know you weren't doing this yourself, but working with the students, the first Corps women. Um-. What, you know, if there were particular moments or memories or stories that stand out from their experience. Because I've talked to some people who were in this-, these early groups of paras. And it was quite, quite a pioneering thing to be going into schools, working with teachers who might never have had an adult, certainly not an adult from that community, in their classroom.
R: Right. Right.
I: And there were things to say about that.
R: Right. Um-. I think that--. I'm trying to think of a--. We had a guidance counselor, a district guidance counselor in the Bronx, in District 7. She died a few years ago. Lorraine Hale who was um-, um-, founder, with her mother, of Hale House. And she was very supportive of the, of the uh-, Corps women working within the guidance area. And, and one of the things that she said is that their, their ability to help move a child and/or a family from one point to the other was something that she treasured. That she could recognize this added resource that came into the, what the counse-, what she as a guidance counselor and, and I'm not sure that, you know, guidance counseling has never been the most, the best funded within the school systems. So I'm not sure that she had a number of other staff. But she recognized that this added resource within the school was very important to, not only the children but also the families. That they, what they could do in addition to or even in the place of what she could do in offering resources and services, that family is very important.
In a, in a Brooklyn--. I remember talking together with a number of the Corps women and the teachers and, from a Brooklyn school. And one of the things that they, they-, a teacher and the Corps women would say is that, said at that time when I asked this, I asked this kind of question. And I remember one of the women saying that--. And the, I think the teacher gave the example first and then she, she talked, that there was something that they, they, they had to, had to do that the teacher was asking the Corps woman to do something which was kind of optional, but, you know, it was something that she was asking to do. And she said, you know, I have to, I have to go to this group or this class because I'm responsible. I am responsible for being with them for this particular period to do something. And the teacher recognized the, the responsibility of both the Corps woman as well as the students, the children, expecting her.
So it was a kind of a confirmation of this is significant. It's not just, you know, we're doing just training and, and, you know, it's like a nice add on, but (heh, heh) so what? And it, and it was kind of a, it was one of the things that she said, and she was also linking it up to the fact that we were not necessarily there. That the, that the Women's Talent Corps or the, or the College. But we could leave and yet you still had that in place. And she said that was one of the things that made it this program different from so many of the other efforts, that they had been involved in. And, you know, this continues a lot of these different let's try this, let's try that. And, and very often, they don't last. They don't--. Once that particular grant is finished, that there's no lasting uh-, resource or, or something added that they didn’t have before. It depended on this, this outsider coming in and doing something and then when the outsider leaves, there's nothing left. And that was, that was District 15, I believe in Brooklyn.
And that was a very um-, that was, that was a, a turning-, kind of an epiphany for the teacher. (heh, heh) You know, that this, this was, this had a significance beyond just her taking the time to supervise and to assess and to work with the, the institution, to work with the Women's Talent Corps and then the college in this way. Um-. In, in the, in the uh-, what was then called the mental retardation field, often it was our person, our-, the Corps woman, who had the kind of patience and persistence to keep trying to help the residents move incrementally. Often, that would-, there, and, and the professionals would, would acknowledge that. You know, they, they were able to kind of put themselves in the place of the resident and to applaud and commend them for making just-, you know, maybe lifting a spoon, depending upon how, you know, the, the degree of disability. Um-. And to get that person to push, push forward.
I'm trying to think of some of-. But there was so many--. I mean this, I love the story about the, the reading that Greek Mythology (heh, heh). And see that it wasn't so-. You know, it was just a book. [laughing while talking: You know? You know?] I al-, I like, I always tell the young people at our church, you know, it's amazing what you find when you open a book. You never know what's going to be between that-, those pages. Um-. And, and then when we got the men, of course, and they-, most of them were, went into the legal, the legal field. Um-. Professors at uh-, at Columbia who worked with us, uh-, were surprised, you know. And I think that that was something that-, there was always an element of surprise at what these-, what could be done and what the person (___?) do.
I: And that comes through, I think, even in the--. So one of the great things about the, the detail in the archive at Metropolitan College today is that you can kind of see even edits on drafts of the reports, and you can see language evolving—
R: Yes.
I: --and it, it seems to me that the staff are experiencing some of that surprise. I mean perhaps not you as much since you come from HARYOU, but certainly some of the folks there, watching, you know, for instance the language of non-professional fall out. And para professional—
R: Right.
I: --come in and then new careers, new career women, new careerist. I mean—
R: Yes. Yes. And that was, and, and I, and I credit the, the people that we, that were hired because as you say, they might have been surprised but they were, they were very willing. They were really passionate in different ways about doing this. And about extending their own, about imparting what they knew to someone else. I mean that was a wonderful thing. Some of them had been retired. Um-. And, and some of them looked the part of the retired um-, very--, not necessarily sophisticated, but, you know, this white woman coming into, into one of these schools. Um-. But they loved what they were doing. And they loved the Corps women, the students. They loved them. And I think that was, that was obvious. And they, and the um-, and the people who were in the program, they knew it. They knew it. And that was an important thing.
I: One thing that comes through as well is, you know, especially I guess in the early years, that, the shared experience of being women perhaps challenging some of these expectations and roles. It shows up in the language and shows up in some of the things people said later, too.
R: Right. And I, and that's why I think that the-, again, the language of, of participating with them in this journey was so important. And why coming together often in, in wherever we were was so important. Because I remember one session that I did, and as I said, I'm trained in group work, so I always like to be prepared [laughing while talking: you know.] And kind of: OK. I know what I'm, where I want to go and how I want to do it. But for this particular session, I remember that I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen. And we started talking about um-, they were all coming from the different fields. Their field placements in occupational therapy, and, and uh-, development-, at that time mental retardation, education, guidance. And I, I started asking the question: So, you know, what, what kinds of things are you learning? What, what um-, and--. Quite organically, and I'm not sure how it, how it happened, we started to identify what was common in all of that.
So I started-. I was using a print uh-, newsprint. And it became this kind of uh-, circle of what kinds of later competencies. What, what do all of you, all of you kind of working with groups, all of you have to understand the system. Blah, blah, blah. And then the lines up. OK, so what do you do as an occupational therapy that, that's different [laughing while talking: from what] this person. And I remember that they got so involved in this discussion. And, and the, the uh-, the staff was there as well and participating. And we came to the end of the session and it was just quiet. (laughter) I remember saying: Ladies, [laughing while talking: the session is over.] But it was kind of a-, I think of that as kind of a highlight of just my own experience because when, what we came out with and I remember drawing that myself, was I did not-. I mean, that's why I believe in the power of the group. I mean, I-, you put people's heads together you can come up with something that's totally different from, you know, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven, you get a ten and a half or 200. Whatever. Um-.
So the, the, the eagerness to learn and the eagerness to uh-, use themselves in different ways was, was very um-, it was awesome. I don't use that word often. (heh, heh) But it was awesome.
I: That's great. I’m trying to think-. Yeah. I did want to ask about-. So one of the things-. Actually, the original paper that I wrote on this whole topic was trying to understand how the UFT could go from Ocean Hill-Brownsville, from closing the entire system for six weeks, to unionizing paras in the next semester, who were very much in some ways a part of what you might call a community based vision of schooling.
R: Right.
I: If not necessarily community control as defined by—
R: Right.
I: --say. The-, they got involved and certainly paras were—
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: I just wonder what, what did that look like from the Women's Talent Corps? From your--. You said a little about this already, but what was the perspective? And I know Preston Wilcox was reactive in community control. Others--.
R: Well, I think it was just another phase of the change. And UFT had a lot of self interest as did DC 37. And I think, I think it's also a reflection of the fact that you can't stay where you are. And the political scientists I think also call it-, you can't go back necessarily. Your status quo ante. You know, you have to, you-, um-. You have to move forward and I think that the persistence, the fact that these, these persons were in the schools. The fact that you may still have people who um-, were resisting. But you also had people and the, and the communities around them that were supporting. So um-.
I'm sure the UFT would see [laughing while talking: it very differently] from that.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: But I think in terms of the long term--. Why not? (laughter) And what else? (heh, heh) You know, what, what--, what else could they have done or should they have done? Um-. It'd be interesting to ask that question of--. Well, you can't ask it of Sandy or Al Shanker, but um-, uh-. What's her name? Randy. Or probably someone who is, was there at the, not there at the time but it was closer uh-, the vice president under Randy. Uh-, Tom. I can't remember his name. Uh-. But someone who was closer to that time. You might, it might be a very interesting question.
I: I have had a chance to talk with a few unionists.
R: Yeah.
I: It's been--. Velma Murphy Hill is one. She was the, the coordinator of the drive.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: I don't know if that's a name that rings a bell.
R: I remember a Velma. I don't remember the last--. Yeah. Uh-huh.
I: And um-, and it is, it's interesting. One of the things I’m trying to do is get the, these many different perspectives.
R: Right. Right.
I: Another thing about the programs that I find so interesting is you often had many different, many different people could get on board with paraprofessionals for many different reasons.
R: Sure.
I: So it could be able helping the teacher. It could be about community control. Or it could be about more people in schools, integrating the the Board of Ed.
R: Right.
I: And you just, you need bodies. At some, some very like—
R: Right.
I: --base line level.
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: And-
R: And which also led to the kind of thing that I think that the woman who, who made the point that there was-, it was not, all the issues were not solved. You still get, I'm sure, in many of the schools the push to push them to the margins in terms of, of the nature of the work.
I: Yeah. That's absolutely true.
R: That they're allowed to do or uh-. It-. Oh. It-. One of the things that, that we learned uh-, not just in the education but also in the other areas was that you couldn't stop the natural turnover. You know. You have a, a great district superintendant followed by one that's not so interested. Or you have a great principal followed by one who's not so interested. Or you have a, a principal who's not so interested followed [laughing while talking: by a great one.] And/or teachers. And so there had to be continuous re-training, re-orientation, um-. Figuring out the new systems. Um-. And, and again, I think that's one of the interesting things about looking at the Teach for America trajectory. That they've been able to do this quite well uh-, in uh-, moving around the country and developing, you know, keeping-, building their baseline of, of documentation and, and um-, ability to show what can be done (___?) the systems (___?).
I: Yeah. (pause) Also, I wanted to ask, you know, this is sort of playing the name game. But there are names I've come across, folks who either passed away or I haven't been able to reach them.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: [Note: I guess at the spelling of the names in the following section.] I wanted to ask-. A woman I was interested in because she comes across as someone who's almost of a different generation when she's at the Women's Talent Corp is Ann Cronin, who seems to be very much a new dealer in a way.
R: Right.
I: And I, you know, there's not a lot of information on her. There's a little bit.
R: Yes.
I: So I wondered—
R: And she, I think she's died and I’m not sure.
I: Yeah.
R: What, what the date is. Yes. And she was like-. If you look at her, (heh, heh) she was like a tinier Eleanor Roosevelt.
I: (heh, heh)
R: Yeah. Have you seen pictures of her? Yes.
I: I haven't actually seen a picture of her. No.
R: Oh. (pause) I'm sure there must be pictures of her.
I: I should look more closely.
R: Yes. Um-. Yeah. She was very slight woman, and she-, I think of her as having a little net on her hair, but I'm not--, that might be a, a--, retrospective. But it's sort of that um-, very proper. Uh-. Slight. Um-. Spoke very properly and, and, and clearly and um-. And she, she wrote very tiny, tiny letters. And she, she had come with this experience uh-, from that, from that era. And then she also had, as I recall, worked with uh-, was it Catalyst or one of the other organizations that was, was doing um-, I think it was Catalyst.
And she was, she would just-, very methodical. Uh-, lovely, personable, um-, wonderful smile and always very uh-, positive about-. And so it was, it was an interesting combination, you know. Audrey and Ann and I and the women loved her. Especially the women-, they, they just loved her. Um-. And she, she brought in another person. I think that-, Ethel, Ethel-, Ethel Ware? Have you seen her name?
I: Yeah. I've seen. Yep.
R: I think Ann brought in Ethel Ware, who-, I think had worked with the Girl Scouts and was very, um-, very much interested in curriculum development. And she did a lot of work in those early years in developing curriculum. White hair, glasses, um-. I remember that she used to bring these um-, not cans, but the, you know, the soup things?
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: For lunch. Um-. Sparkling blue eyes. Yeah. It was-. And Rose Salatine was one of the people who worked on the skills area uh-, with the women. And she, she also would keep pushing for the need to provide those necessary resources for the students. Um-, that was, that was her, that was her passion. And I think she also worked with someone at TC around that. Um-. A well-known person whose name I don't recall right now. Um-
I: I did have a chance to talk to Hope Leichter who's still at Teachers College.
R: Oh, yes, yes—
I: Remembers some of the same era.
R: Yeah. Is still at TC?
I: She's still at TC.
R: Wow.
I: I-, I sat with this very machine and did a long interview with her back in—
R: Oh. Wow.
I: --November.
R: Yes. Yeah. Right. A lot of, a lot of people. Now I’m sure you've, you've seen the names Barbara Buchanan.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: And as a matter of fact I intended the las-, every time I go up there I plan to give her a call. I don't know what her situation is right now. But Barbara was just a wonderful, powerful, um-, her, her, her late husband was the uh-, pastor at Episcopal Church uh-, down in, on the lower Manhattan. And she had a great, great way of working with the-, to develop the career directory, career possibilities and, and she was a good person to think about: Well, what about this? Or what about that? You know? Sort of like Debby, Deborah Allen, you know, just give you some time to think and then: Hm--. Well. Let's look at it another way. Um--.
Barbara was very good at that. And she actually, when she left New York, became involved in the development of the uh-, CPCS. Um-. College of Public and Community Service in UMass, Boston.
I: Wow.
R: And she became the director of field education. Barbara must be in her nineties now.
I: Wow.
R: And she's about Dodie Younger's age. Maybe a, maybe a little older. And the last time I, I uh-, saw her actually was when we went up to, to Maine, the New York Theological Seminary had a reception up there for Tom Weber, for Bill Weber. Um-. And she had a, a summer place--. She had had a summer place near there. So I picked her up and Falmouth and we went up there. And I had a feeling that she was kind of developing a little bit of dementia. I'm not sure. Um-. And her daughter--. She had very tragic--.
Her first daughter died of breast cancer. And then her husband had ALS.
I: Oh.
R: And then her son had a heart attack, lived in New York, was working for the City of New York. Had a heart attack and went out to, to put the trash one night.
I: Oh, my god.
R: And then her other daughter, who was a Ford Foundation uh-, religion program officer, developed MS. And I don't know what her situation-. It-. I have a feeling she may have moved up to Falmouth. Um-.
Barbara was very important, important, very important. And Barbara Prim, I don't know if you've been, if you've seen her name?
I: Yeah. The name is ringing a bell. I can't, I couldn't tell you who Barbara Prim was.
R: Yeah. She was one of the people that Audrey had, had brought on uh-, uh-, before we met to, I think, do some personnel, human resource work. And then Barbara Prim, the two Barbara's we used to say, they became the job-, the job and career developers. And Barbara Prim had all of these relationships like with Cesar Perales and uh-, Cyrus Vance, and all of those people. So she was the one that kind of organized these people around the, the, the new program for the legal services assistant.
And I've lost touch with her. She-, I think she was into her third marriage and, and she was living on a [laughing while talking: houseboat or something]. She was kind of--, um-, very interesting person. Very interesting person. But very-. Uh-. Committed to, to doing this. She and the two Barbara's were a good team. She was more the um-, Barbara Buchanan was more the, the planning one. And Barbara was the one who would kind of keep pushing and, and um-, see what the possibilities were.
Um-. Who-? Are there other people?
I: You know, so, so big names that I, you know, I've read-, I've looked in their papers and various places but haven't gotten a sense of them as people quite as well as I'd like are Preston Wilcox and Evelina Lopez Antonetty. I mean, they're, I-, they're papers and collections are there, but both of them only tangentially mention the Women's Talent Corps.
R: Right. And Jinx has told me that uh-, she was-, let's see. Preston died. When did he die?
I: 2006. Something like that.
R: Was it six? OK. And I think Jinx had told me that she wasn't able to get to talk to anyone in his family. His uh-, ex-wife is uh-, worked at TC.
I: Oh.
R: Did you know her?
I: No.
R: Gwen? Um-. Is her name Gwen? (pause) No. Not Gwen. Her daughter, I think, is Gwen. Uh-. Katha. Or Kathy. Katha or Kathy Wilcox. And I’m not exactly sure what her, what her role was. I don't--. I'm pretty sure she's retired by now. She's uh-, been active at Riverside Church. And that-. I see her periodically at Riverside. Um-. But I'm sure if you, if you check around at, at uh-, at um-, within TC that someone will-. They will know who she is.
Um-. And I'm not sure--, what Jinx mentioned is that he, in his own writings, didn't talk very much about--. I-. I'm not familiar with those writings except so-, I used to get some of his Afram Associates material um-. He was a very important figure. Very important figure at the very beginning, and he was an important figure also in the, when we had this conflagration (heh, heh) or strikes or whatever. And he would come in and talk to-, especially the students, um-, cause they respected him, they knew him, they knew his history, knew his commitments, etc. I am not sure if there was a-. I don't know how, how he, in his own mind. Whenever we saw each other, there was never any indication that the, that he treated the experience as anything less than positive and robust experience. And I-, I don't remember that-, that Audrey ever saying that there was any, any thing, you know, that came, came between them. Uh-. So I don't know. I don't know if—
I think J-, Jinx was getting the impression that somehow he maybe saw that experience, maybe looking back at something that didn't fit his-. But I don’t have any, any knowledge of that. So I don't-. I don't know why--.
Did you find any reference at all to Women's Talent—
I: There is some. I mean it maybe also be just a question of, you know, how archives get constructed.
R: Right.
I: It may have nothing to do with his opinions about it. It may be a question of what, what got saved by whom where and when.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And that-. Um-.
R: How did the archives come to--. This was at TC? Or Columbia?
I: This is at the Schomburg. It's—
R: --At the Schomburg.—
I: -- all of his papers are at the Schomburg where he did a lot—
R: OK.
I: --of work. But the bulk of the material is from 1970 on. So it's, you know, toward the end of his tenure.
R: Oh. OK.
I: And there are some biographical materials, some letters, and some writing certainly from the kind of beginning of 1966 from IS 201. But there's not um-. There's not a lot. The one thing I always thought was interesting, even as he became a huge opponent of the UFT, um-, and even as he moved on from the Women's Talent Corps, he was very involved in running Follow Through programs all through the seventies. And actually coordinating them around the country as a sort of sponsor, say.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And he-, as he-, as he envisioned follow through it included even more paraprofessionals, even more people hired and responsible to the community, than did the typical programs which had at least one or two.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: And so I thought that was an interesting legacy of his--
R: --Mmm-hmmm. Mmm-hmm.—
I: --involvement of Women's Talent Corps.—
R: --Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.—
I: And—
R: Did his biography mention the Women's Talent Corps?
I: Oh, yes—
R: Mmm.
I: --It's, it's—
R: OK.
I: It's there in his, you know, in the—
R: Right.
I: --in the finding aid.
R: Right. Right.
I: It's not absent, it's just um-, he's someone who's so fascinating because of, you know, he evolves as, you know, a political thinker and an activist quite a bit from being a Columbia social work professor—
R: Sure.
I: --involved in East Harlem through to being the leading light of community control and then this—
R: Sure.
I: -- independent agent in a way—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --with Afram.
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: I mean, you knew him. You were there. I'm, I'm-. I'm hypothesizing. Am I getting—
R: Right. Right.
I: Mmm.
R: Right. Well, it-. Um-. I remember his coming in uh-, several times at one of the last uh-, I don't know what it, what to call it, protests or (heh, heh) strike or whatever. And we had a conversation after he was-, he had met with the students. And one of the persons who was involved in the, in the um-, the episode was a woman that, that had come on as the dean. And in the--, when, when we were, when I was still in the session with, with Doris (NAME), was her name, and myself and uh-, Preston was there. He was kind of facilitating. At one point she said something like um-: Laura is Cape Verdean, but, you know, I know Cape Verdeans and, and--. I don't know what she was saying. [laughing while talking: She's not a Cape Verdean? I don't know what she was saying.] And I remember talking to Preston after that. I said: Preston, what was [laughing while talking: that about?] And he, he was just saying: Look. You know. It's--. She, she was expressing something about, about not being comfortable with who she was. Or just wanted-. It was just a way of attacking you uh-, that, that built on her own information. She had some (___?). She had some Massachusetts experience I think, as I recall. So she I guess wanted to, wanted to make that uh-. It, it-. To me, it didn't, didn't quite fit the argument that she was making. But um-.
So he was very--. He was very supportive of, of me. He was very supportive of his students. Um-. And he was supportive of, of trying to-. When he would come in at those times, he would try to listen to everyone, and the students, and to share with us some things that we might not, you know. That he might have gotten that we might not have. So he was-. And he was very important in supportive the first program because his-. The nature of it and the nature of depending upon the involvement of numbers of um-, people in the communities, and low income communities in particular, uh-, was enormously helped by kind of the imprimatur of uh-, Preston Wilcox.
And he understood the, you know, the interracial stuff. He, he understood that. So yeah, he was, he was a key to that. So that--. It's too bad that uh-, you know, either you or Jinx could not have talked to him this how many years later. And I don't know if his wife um-. I'm not sure when they-, when they got divorced. It wouldn't hurt to give her a call, though. I don't know if Jinx ever did.
I: It’s worth looking up. Yeah.
R: Yeah.
I: No, it's, I mean, you know, he's also someone who, there's, there's so much in his biography in a way—
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: --I think, you know, what people know of him is varied because he had such a varied life.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: So perhaps it's just our, our little focus doesn't shine quite as brightly in some other ways but.
R: Mmm-hmm.
I: Hmm.
R: But she would--. I mean just to talk with her generally about--. Because this is all part of the, the larger environment within which you are researching. So—
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: Um--. It would be interesting to, to get her take on when, when they were very close, uh-, of what she saw as the evolution.
I: Yeah.
R: His--. His, his own evolution.
I: That would be great. Well, we've been going for--. Actually, I looked up, it was exactly two hours.
R: Oh, my goodness.
I: Isn't that amazing? It's 1:24. Um—
R: Wow.
I: I-. We've covered an enormous amount of ground. And I, I can, I'm sure conjure up more questions. But I wondered, you know, thought I would take a sort of brief breath check here. (heh, heh) Um—
R: Sure. Anything else I'd like to say?
I: Anything I'm missing. Yeah.
R: (laughter)
I: What have I forgotten?
R: (laughter) Um-. (pause) I, I don't think there's any--. I think I might have some more to say or have some, you know, comments when I've read the book.
I: Yeah.
R: Um-. As I said, I was look-. I looked first at the chapter on the Women's Talent Corps because I was just curious as to um-, what was in there. And um-. So you know. And I was intrigued because Jinx and I had a long conversation about my name and how to-, treat that. And that when I see the, you know, the, the errors like in the uh-, frontispiece, uh-, that she repeats Laura Pires has-, Houston. And then in parentheses later, Laura Pires Houston. [laughing while talking: You know. And that's just-. That--]
I: (heh, heh)
R: It's just a copy-
I: Copy editor.
R: Copy-. And um-. Oh, and this is interesting. This is fascinating. I just-, I just love this. Um-. [flipping pages] This part here. (pause) I guess starting somewhere here. Um-. Oh. First of all, here-, this was the-. Up here was the Association of Black Social Workers. And I think this is a function of both Jinx is white and I'm sure the copy editor or editor is white. So, and, and probably this is out of their field. So they would have known that there must be something else in there because it's the National Association-, social workers. And then the, the significance of this when I um-, when Preston and I and George Wiley helped to organize the Association of Black Social Workers. But anyway, down here where she talks about-, she quotes Audrey.
I: Ah. Yes.
R: OK?
I: She had this experience on “How You Act?”
R: And I’m sure that this (heh, heh) this--, listening to a, um-, tape or a transcription and I-, I just have the most fun with that. I just think it's, it's--. Because as, as uh-, when I talked to a friend of mine, I was trying to think now who might understand this? You know, to share it with them. My family, they don't know.
I: (heh, heh)
R: You know, it's like what do she do anyway? What has she been doing all these years? And so I-, when I spoke to a good friend of mine who knew Preston and who knew all of this, knew Audrey, etc. She said: Well, you know, it could be sense. You're going to be talking to probably black folks and Hispanic folks, so that could make sense. Right? (laughter)
I: That's really amusing.
R: And Audrey would get a kick out of that.
I: Sure.
R: She would get a [laughing while talking: kick out of that. Yes.] Yes. So.
I: And actually that points to one thing that's shown up--. So there's a bunch of new--. People are returning to study the War on Poverty, kind of this-, I, I, at least I like to style myself as [laughing while talking: part of a new generation] of—
R: Oh, OK.
I: --historians doing this.
R: Wonderful.
I: But one thing that comes a lot, up a lot actually is the importance of social work and particularly of social workers, that actual association, Association of Black Social Workers. But also Hispanic social workers, people who—
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
I: --saw this vocation as a route to connecting the movement to their work and to communities um-. So there are new books on this. And you seem to be suggesting that I'm-, they're on the right track and maybe I am, too. (heh, heh)
R: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Yes. I agree. I think that there-, some of the key people in the beginning of HARYOU were uh-, professional social workers even at the same time as the whole profession and the professional agencies, the traditional agencies were moving out of (___?). And—
I: That's interesting.
R: And there was a, a, a great, a general kind of public disdain, you know, of the quote the “professional social worker.” Um-. So the fact that you did have people within the team that were working together that came out of that field was very important. And the models. I mean, I used it in the leadership training models with Ken Clark and, and uh-, and James Jones. You know, teaching at the, at the school of social work. Um-. So this whole idea of the, of the, of the practice and theory and the blending of both was, is a very important aspect. And it's an important aspect which, uh-, you know, the other professions are figuring out, you know, why should lawyers not-. Why shouldn't lawyers get some experience in doing this? Doctors, of course, always have had the internship. But even the kind of things that people are saying that doctors should be trained in more, not just the bedside manner but, but more of the understanding of the, the interplay of the physical and emotional, physical and psychological and all of that.
Um-. So-. And I think uh-, I'm not very active at all with my social work um-, Columbia for example, with the alumni association. Um-. But I think the, the schools of social work are also um-, recognizing some of the kinds of changes that must be made in terms of preparing people to deal with a lot more of the environmental issues and not just focusing on the uh-, the individual and psychological aspects of people. There's still a lot of work to do. And I think social work is one of those professions that still has a lot to contribute in, in helping to make these kinds of changes. Um-.
One of the things that Jim Dumpson said to us, said to me, I guess, when I saw him at a uh-, at a social event-, because he was one of the people that we went to when we were trying to-. We didn't talk about that, but went to like Columbia and the School of General Studies, and the uh-, other universities, the public universities, um-, to talk about this idea of a college. And to explore the idea of say becoming a part of an existing educational-, higher education institution. Um-. And exploring within the social work profession this idea of different ways to become credentialed. Um-. On the one hand, the-, becoming a part of the educa-, of existing higher educational institutions was probably the best thing we did not do. That uh-, creating an alternative was, turned out to be the best thing that we, we could have done. And should have done. Um-
And then secondly, within social work, Jim Dumpson, we had-, we were having this conversation maybe, I don't know, four or five years after the college was uh-, chartered. And he said: Laura, you all were just ahead of the time. I mean, it just came too soon. Of course now, there are Bachelor of Social Work programs and there are all of kinds of um-, you know, intensives, that kind of thing. And, of course, all of these schools are looking for more students. (laughter)
I: (heh, heh)
R: You know. It's like the UFT. They want dues. They want tuition. And so, you know, they have to think about these things. But I'm delighted to hear-. One of the-, one of the, the uh-, tragedies--. I guess you could call it a tragedy. Or--. Weakness. Or lack therefore, I think. From HARYOU is that we did not do a good job aside from the Youth in the Ghetto. We did not do collectively a good job of documenting what was actually done. Cyril Tyson wrote a book uh-, and I've read his book. It's his perspective, which is fine. Um-. And that's one of the things that was my wishful thinking when I was leaving [laughing while talking: in 1966.] I had lots of stuff. And I had wonderful, you know, things that I thought needed to be, needed to be put down in writing. Um-
And then, of course, on the other hand Mobilization for Youth, which came a little later than HARYOU, and, and they were doing all of this writing, all of this documentation. I was so envious. Um-. Um-.
I: I spoke to one of their social workers, actually. A woman named Mary Dowery who worked—
R: Oh. Yes.
I: OK.
R: I know Mary. Oh sure.
I: She was great. And it's very, many of the things you've said, as I've heard you say them, now Mary Dowery said something very similar as a—
R: Oh?
I: --parallel--
R: Yes. Yes. Oh, I know her quite well. I haven't seen her in a long time. Yes. And she-. Um-. I don’t know how much-. If she ever did any writing about the--.
I: Para question.
R: Yeah.
I: She had some materials that she brought for me to look at.
R: Yes. Yes. And while I was at the, at the college, you know, I'm sure you've seen the articles. But there was one piece that uh-, that was, was done-. What I had called in a, in a um-, in a session, I talked about the constants -- this must have been be-, just before I was leaving -- of the development of the college. And Audrey and Alita uh-, it's the one that's in Managing Academic Change.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: That uh-, that-. And then I had done another one for the uh-, uh-, Social Case Work on new careers and I had called it New Careers and Black People: Toward Humane Human Values. (laughter) And they turned the title around. Um-. I think Black People, New Careers, and Humane Human Values. They had a, they had a special issue dedicated to um-, I think issues in social work among black com-, black communities or something related to that.
But the documentation of the, these, all of these efforts is so critical. So I'm, I'm happy to hear that people are going back to, to really look at what happened and at War on Poverty because it gets such bad press. I used to get violent--. Not violent—
I: (heh, heh)
R: --but I used to get very upset talking to people. You know. You have no idea. You're just painting the broad brush and the whole thing that becomes remembered is the poverty pimp or whatever. Um-. And it was, it was so much else. It was so much else. That's why I appreciate Ryan's book.
I: Mmm-hmm.
R: Blaming the Victim. When he really highlighted that the positive contribution that Youth in the Ghetto made.
I: Yeah. In a way, that's actually a great place to end for now.
R: (heh, heh)
I: Um-. Thank you so much for this time. And—
R: You're welcome.
I: --you know, as we both read the book and as I look this over, perhaps we can come back and do it again or, or follow up.
R: Ok--
I: But—
R: Not a problem.
I: Thank you so much.
R: You're welcome. I'm [laughing while talking: glad we finally got together.]
I: I'm glad it worked out.
R: Yes.
[end of recording]

Original Format

Digital audio recording

Duration

2:12:58

Added by

Juravich, Nick

Date added

2016-04-12