Mary Dowery Oral History

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  • Oral Histories

Citation

Dowery, Mary, “Mary Dowery Oral History,” Harlem Education History Project, accessed September 17, 2019, https://educatingharlem.cdrs.columbia.edu/omeka/items/show/2263.

Transcript

I: (comments on recording) To begin, today is Thursday, January thirtieth, 2014. This is Nick Juravich interviewing Mary Dowery as part of my dissertation project as well as for the Harlem Digital Research Collaborative, the larger program at Teachers College that I’m participating in. Thank you very much for being here.
MD: Well, thanks for inviting me.
I: And before we begin, we’d also like to say for the record on the tape what’s in the release, which is that at any time you’d like to stop the tape, go off the record, be done with the interview, skip a question, anything at all, just say the word and it will be done.
MD: Okay.
I: This is entirely up to you. And also before any of this is used for academic or journalistic or any kind of public publication, you’ll have a chance to review the transcript of this conversation and at that point decide what, if any of it, you would like to keep, make public.
MD: Delete, et cetera.
I: Exactly. So this is the preliminary raw data but there’s a process before it becomes archived. So again, thank you so much and thank you for meeting with me last week as well. So I guess the first question in a history like this is sort of where do we begin? I wanted to start by asking how you came to the work that I’ve been studying, which is the work in public education with paraprofessionals. But also first, just to hear a little bit about where you come from and who you are.
MD: Well, I come from Kentucky, a state that’s known for education. I think in Newsweek or 2013 or ’12, there’s a high school in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that reasonable one in terms of high school education, and it’s because of the technology and the structure of the whole educational program. And I thought it was pretty good considering the whole country. Kentucky basically is a rural state, with Louisville being the largest city and they keep expanding, expanding. Now it’s well over a million people. But I was born twenty-eight miles from Louisville, and now they have annexed it, so eventually where I was born will be a part of Louisville before long, that’s how they expand. But thinking about my background, I come from a family of educators. Thirty, forty educators in my family. My mother, my father, cousins, and you know, male, female. We’re all about education because that was a way out of poverty. So it wasn’t whether or not you were born because you were gonna go. It was where and how much would it cost, and that kind of thing. So I’ve always been a part of education. And I was home-schooled by my mother from age four, and then at the age of six, when she took me to the school in the town where I was born, which is Shelbyville, Kentucky, she asked that I be placed in second grade because she had taught first grade, blah blah. And they said no, ‘cause I’m February, my birthday’s February, so you know, you don’t start in September, you start like in January, et cetera. But anyway, to make a long story short, my mother said, “Well, look, she’s ready for second grade. I’ll just keep her home and continue to teach her.” And so the authorities said, “Well, if you do that, we’ll bring charges. You will be forced to bring her to public school.” So I don’t know how it happened, but I heard my parents “discussing” that we were gonna leave Shelbyville and move to Frankfort, which is the capital of Kentucky, and only nineteen miles away. And there was a state university there and a laboratory school for teachers to train. So the decision was made that we’d move there and we would go to the laboratory school, so that’s what happened. So I was sort of like a guinea pig in terms of learning and education and experiences most of my life, you know. And it seems like we went to school year round and we were ungraded. And we went to school year round because in Kentucky, there were a lot of towns that didn’t have high schools. They had grade schools but they didn’t have enough capital to warrant (pause) funding high schools, so they had a high school that was a boarding school which was really Lincoln Institute, run by Whitney Young’s father.
I: Oh wow.
MD: And it came into being after Jim Crow was established in Kentucky. Part of that, Berea College had a high school and a college and Blacks and Whites were integrating. But after the Civil War, then they divided Blacks and Whites in Kentucky. And it was always a lot of mixing and mixed folks, you know, you couldn’t tell. Even though they might live in a Black community, they could pass for whatever. Kentucky is also classified as the gateway to the South. So going back to Frankfurt where I attended Rosenwald Elementary School, which was the laboratory school, it was established by Julius Rosenwald from Chicago. The Foundation exists today.
I: Of course.
MD: He funded a lot of educational schools, not just in Kentucky but around the country, and they still have a foundation, I don’t know, but they’re still based in Chicago. So that was my education until eighth grade. So we were exposed to everything in the college, all the college major Black speakers, noted, outstanding Black people that came to the college for the students. As children, we were in the front row taking it all in.
I: That’s wonderful information.
MD: So Du Bois, Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, both singers, we just heard everybody. And then beyond that, my parents made sure that wherever we lived, we sold newspapers. I had an older brother and we were newspaper children. And the way we got these newspapers, black Pullman porters have always been the source of information for Black community and many of them had been college educated. Until they could get a better job, some of them were Pullman porters. In fact, my father was before he got his degree and started teaching. So we sold papers, in fact four: The Louisville Defender, The Louisville Leader, Chicago Defender, and The Pittsburgh Courier, wherever we lived. So we always had access to lots of information. So I’m jumping around but I’m just trying to tell you, that’s my educational foundation.
I: Yeah. No, that’s great.
MD: And so after I left Frankfort, my father became a principal in a school in another part of the State of Kentucky and that’s the first time I attended a school where my father was the principal, so that was very difficult.
I: I’m sure (laughs).
MD: Here, I’m coming as an outsider, not from the neighborhood, and it was very hard for your father to be in charge and you from somewhere else.
I: Right.
MD: So I had a lot, more information than some of the people, but my father had high standards for everybody, and so he made sure that as students, we competed nationally on the various tests for college funding.
I: That’s great.
MD: So when I graduated from high school, I was part of the National Honor Society. And so were some of the other people in my classes. It was small classes but he had a high standard. And I (pause) we could get scholarships to go to college, but I—since my father was the principal, I opened up the situation so the people from the town could take the scholarship because I would go to college anyway.
I: Sure. What town was this?
MD: Pardon?
I: Which town was this in Kentucky?
MD: Franklin, Kentucky. That’s where I finished high school. So I went on to college, but the parents always put a lot of responsibility on me to handle things, and they said, “Well, if you’re going to college, you have to get your application in.” I’m sort of like a last-minute person. I had had twelve years of piano and played very well, and my music teacher was the person who taught all the White people in that town, and she said I was the first Black student she’d ever had, that I was very talented.
I: That’s great.
MD: And that I should major in piano. So when I went to college, I went as a major in piano. And freshman year, I played Bach with another young person on the baby grand, two piano, and I was so nervous I felt that you’re not supposed to get nervous, so maybe I don’t have the talent to be majoring in piano ‘cause my legs were shaking. But I played it well, but I was very nervous. But I majored in piano for two years, and then I said, well, why am I majoring in piano? I don’t plan to teach piano. So I decided I would change my major to Sociology, which I did, but I continued to study music and I also sang in the college choir and in the chorus. Later, I learned to sing popular music, jazz, and stuff. But my family said they didn’t want any jazz singing people in the family, that it was low life. (laughs) So then my first marriage, my first husband didn’t want me to sing jazz. He didn’t want a jazz singer wife because, you know, it was attracting too much attention from other people, so that was my music career. I just never pursued it. But I could have, but I didn’t. I went into social work.
I: Where were you at college?
MD: Knoxville College, a Presbyterian College in Knoxville, Tennessee.
I: And that was when you switched from music to sociology.
MD: Sociology. The thing that was good about Knoxville College, it was Presbyterian. The faculty was made up of Russian Jews who had migrated to the United States/Most of them had their—already had their Ph.D.s, but they were in Germany, wherever they came from, and they were all very scholarly people. So the man that taught me sociology taught at that college for twenty-five years. He was dedicated to teaching us about social issues and even then, he said Black people do not have a social problem, they have an economic problem. That was in 1940s, ‘50s. It’s an economic, it’s not a social problem. We have become a social problem in later years. But we didn’t initially have.Because we build this country, you understand? So anyway, I know I’m jumping around. Maybe you can ask me questions ‘cause there’s so much. (laughs)
I: No, this is great. And so when you finished at Knoxville, then did you go on to a social work graduate degree then?
MD: Yes. Knoxville was a Presbyterian college, we had a lot of support for the students to complete, and so we had ways of working during the summer.
I: That’s great.
MD: And it so happened that there were other colleges, White colleges, who had access to summer jobs, and one of the summer jobs were at a place called Pilgrim State in Brentwood, Long Island. This was at that time the largest mental health institution in New York State, I guess in the whole country. It had a capacity for twenty-five mental health patients. And so one of my school mates said, “Well, Mary, we worked at this place last summer and you can always work, and if you just show up, they will hire you the same day. You live on the grounds and you work twenty days and then you have five days off.” So I told my father that I had a summer job, and back then, if you tell your parents, then it better be true ‘cause your word was your bond, yeah. So my father gave me the money to take this job, and sure enough, I arrived at Pilgrim State Hospital and we were hired immediately. But it was a training place for doctors, for psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and all the profession. So we worked on admissions, on every level of mental illness from admitting people who came in in all kinds of conditions, up until the sixth floor where people had to be restrained. So we learned everything about mental health before I went to social work. (laughs) We could sit in on lectures with the medical students, the psychiatrists, and we could watch lobotomy operations.
I: Oh my gosh.
MD: We took people for shock treatment, then they were doing shock treatment. We sat in on every interview that a psychiatrist had—we were there to protect the psychiatrist from the patients. (laughs) That’s when psychiatrists were afraid of patients, you know.
I: Oh well, sure.
MD: You know, so ahead of whatever. That wouldn’t be permitted now.
I: Right.
MD: We were there to keep the patients from harming them, but they didn’t care about what we heard. So that was before I went to social work. And so (pause) I realized that I didn’t want to be a psychiatric nurse and that I might want to explore social work, but I said, what is it that makes people go crazy? I couldn’t understand why people would lose their mind! (laughs) Being a country girl from a place of four thousand people. Why do people go crazy? So when I got back—well, after my freshman year at college, I go back to school and I meet a young man who was from St. Louis, Missouri, and his father was an A.M.E. Bishop. And he had been to so many schools, and he got put out because he was a jazz musician and he was on drugs.
I: Oh wow.
MD: So he confided in me about his issues and that even sparked up my curiosity about social work. And he could play any kind of jazz and I would sing in the dining room at dinner time ‘cause I knew all the jazz songs. And he stayed I think one year, and then the next thing I knew, he was leaving ‘cause he just couldn’t make it. He left. But he gave me a Bible and I never heard from him anymore. And then after I finished not only college, but graduate school in social work, I’m in Harlem, Lenox Avenue, and I see this person coming in. “I know you!” Mmm. And it was this guy after all these years. He was still a musician and still on drugs. So that’s one aspect of my, you know, experience in social work and studying the different aspects, ‘cause in Atlanta, we studied all aspects of social work: community organization, psychiatric information, medical information, community organization, and group work. And we had two years of that kind of training. We had a two year Master’s. So we were prepared to use ourselves in a lot of different ways back then. It’s very different now. And the people who taught us, we were taught medical information by a medical doctor. We were taught psychiatric information by a psychiatrist. Group work by a group work specialist. One of the people who taught us case work ended up teaching up at Boston University, case work for a lot of years.
I: Who was that?
MD: Huh?
I: Who was that?
MD: Her name was Hortense Cochran. She was my case work teacher at Atlanta University, and she was—they were all Master’s in their fields. (pause) So I just felt that we got the best training available at the time, and I had to go to—I didn’t have to go to Atlanta. The time I went to Atlanta to get my Master’s, I could have gone to University of Louisville and the School of Social Work ‘cause by then, you know, integration had occurred. But I decided I wanted to go where there were more middle-class Black people and I didn’t want to be in an all-White school. I wanted to learn more about middle-class Black people.
I: Sure.
MD: So that’s why I stayed in Atlanta. (laughs) And ‘cause actually in Kentucky, my parents were always, you know, the leaders and in charge. I just wanted to meet other folks that were in charge, so I did. Am I making sense?
I: Absolutely. This is wonderful.
MD: But you know, the story is so vast and so much and it’s, you know, it’s hard. But maybe ask me questions. That might help me.
I: Sure. Well, so after—was it during your time in Atlanta or afterward that you’d already been up to New York City, but what led you to New York? I think you said you came in the Fifties and were working in Brownsville and then later with adolescents.
MD: Oh, after I graduated. I did my field work here in New York.
I: Oh, okay, so that was—
MD: Salvation Army. That’s how my—
I: Oh, you did mention that.
MD: Yeah. Let me see. (pause) In the South, there was—Black students could not do field work in White agencies. So our dean, we have block placement all over the country, different agencies, and we would spend six months in these agencies doing our field work.
I: Oh wow.
MD: (pause) The first year, we did our field work locally in some Black situations. In second year, we would come (pause) go to different agencies in the country. So mine was Salvation Army. And while I was there, the Salvation Army recognized Josephine Baker. They honored her because she’d done all this work with adopting all these children and stuff, and (pause) and my assignment was Harlem, so I worked with the elderly, I developed youth programs, and what else did I do? (pause) I guess elderly and youth, and that was it.
I: And so that was the Salvation Army’s office? They had a branch office in Harlem?
MD: At that time, there was a Black agency in Harlem run by Black professionals around the corner from the Theresa Hotel, and as you know, Blacks—at that time, Blacks weren’t able to stay downtown. They had to stay at Theresa, so the Theresa Hotel was a capital jewel(?) for Black activity in New York City, so people would stay there and we lived around the corner. So we got free room and board, that was our pay for our work, and we got a little stipend. So the stipend we used to enjoy Harlem. We would go to all the jazz clubs on the weekend, whenever we could go. We could go to the Savoy every Sunday because that was the capital for social clubs having dances in the afternoon. They had two shifts: afternoon and evening, and all the big bands played there. So we danced and had a ball at the Savoy! And at the jazz clubs. At Birdland, I heard every major jazz player during that era.
I: It’s amazing.
MD: I can’t think of one that I didn’t hear during that time. Because of my interest in music.
I: Makes sense.
MD: Mmm.
I: Must have been wonderful to be—
MD: Oh, it was wonderful. I mean, really, really wonderful. So let’s see, where else? Ask me some more!
I: I will, I will! (laughs) So in Harlem, you said you were working with the elderly and with youth. Was the young programming, was it based out of schools? Was it after school, was it summer programming? What kind of work at that time were you doing with youth?
MD: Well, the Salvation Army had facilities where, you know, you would meet with the elderly in groups and meet with the youth in groups at that building, ‘cause it was (pause) a big structure.
I: This was downtown or this was in Harlem?
MD: No, it was a Hundred and Twenty-fourth Street in Harlem. (laughs) That’s where it was at the time.
I: Right around the corner from the—
MD: Now there’s new buildings there. Right around the corner from Theresa Hotel.
I: That’s right, that’s right. (pause)
MD: And (pause) there were other students there that went about—there were five of us that were students living there.
I: So you came as a small group.
MD: Yeah, five from Atlanta, and then one person was working on his Ph.D. in Psychology at NYU. He stayed there. And so we were like family, it was good.
I: That’s great.
MD: Yeah, very good.
I: And so I was curious, then, with the youth was it, was it sort of psychological group work that you were doing with them or was it—
MD: No, no, it was, what do you call it? Socialization, prevention. You don’t hear that word anymore. (laughs) Not that much, right?
I: No. I’m actually not even sure soc—
MD: When I came along, we were focusing on prevention. (pause) You know, keeping children out of trouble, not bringing them together after they were in trouble. So it was more like socialization, appropriate social skills, and how to develop interest in activities and things like that.
I: How old were the students? How older were the children, sort of—
MD: Well, we worked with children who were school age primarily at that time [8-14 years].
I: And so they would come after school?
MD: Mmm, after school ‘cause they were in school during the day.
I: Right, makes sense. That’s really interesting. So then after you finished at Atlanta, were you—did that experience incline you to come back to New York?
MD: Yeah, after I finished from Atlanta, (pause) you know, with a two-year Master’s, which is equivalent to a Ph.D., right? It was hard for me to even get a job.
I: Oh wow.
MD: It was very difficult. Over-qualified. (laughs)
I: So I was thinking it was segregation.
MD: Hmm?
I: I was thinking it was segregation.
MD: Yeah, segregation. So anyway, I started my career after I graduated (pause) in what they call community education, which was prevention, an after school program with the Board of Education, and we developed programs in the schools after school. My first job was in Brownsville, New York, and I arrived, I found fifty students—I think I mentioned this the other day—waiting for me to develop programs for them to do, get some in-service training [community service for credits] from five different colleges. And I programmed them all.
I: Wow.
MD: Fifty students. And with different assignments in place. And it worked.
I: That’s great. What did you do?
MD: What did I do?
I: What kinds of programs?
MD: Well, small groups. They would work with parents. All kinds of different things that would help students learn about community, family, and home visits, things like that.
I: And so these were students mostly in social work?
MD: No, no, these were just college students who needed community experience for credits.
I: Okay.
MD: They still have that. They needed community experience, so they would go into these, it was called the Brownsville Community Center, and we would have assignments for them.
I: Wow.
MD: We would develop assignments for them.
I: And that was, and so you were employed by the Board of Education and so the community center was kind of a command center.
MD: We were funded at that time by (pause) New York City Youth Board. (pause) They had grants, I don’t know where the funds, maybe the city or whatever, but we were not on any city lines as such, the way people are today that was part of all these unions and all this stuff. They didn’t have all that then. (laughs)
I: How did—I’m curious what Brownsville was like when you arrived. I know that community was in rapid transition in those years.
MD: (overlapping) When I arrived, Brownsville Community Center was still primarily Jewish. There were a few Black families, but the families that were there were more middle-class, working, both parents working. There was not a lot of wealthy and stuff like you have today. They were working and upwardly mobile people. And the Jewish people were moving out and then Blacks were moving in at that time.
I: And did the students you worked with from the school, so that was a mixed group as well.
MD: In the housing projects Black families were moving in as Jewish families moved out at that time.
I: Not as much.
MD: No, it wasn’t that mixed. (pause) I’m trying to think. Back then, I think the Jewish people had their own private education, you know? Schools. And then there was a Brownsville Community Center primarily for Jewish youth that was privately run nearby. It was not run by the city, but we developed a cooperative relationship and we did programming together to bring the groups together even then. And the thing that—Kentucky being a borderline state, I remember (pause) before I went to college, church groups in Kentucky would meet at Kentucky State College, Blacks and Whites, and pray about race relations even before I went to college, and my mother would always expose me to this integrated activity to make race relations better. So I’ve never had any problem in race relations with people because this is part of my history and value. (laughs) You know? So working in Brownsville was very enjoyable, and we had an integrated staff. We had Irish, we had Japanese, we had (pause) West Indian, we had Southern Black, we had Northern Black, and did I leave—Jewish. The staff where we worked.
I: That’s quite a mix, yeah.
MD: And so because we worked till nine o’clock at night, we would (pause) go to different kind of restaurants and dinner on the break, and then from time to time, we’d take turns cooking and sharing food and things like that.
I: And what was—I’m curious what the response of the Brownsville community was. So did you get good feedback from parents, from the students, as those relationships developed?
MD: Well, yeah, we did a good job. We worked closely with the parents and (pause) oh, we would bring speakers in to the community centers to speak to the students.
I: Oh cool.
MD: I remember one time I planned a drug education (pause) speaker from the police department for my youth. And I think I might have had a hundred of them present. So this representative came with all his demonstration of different drugs and blah blah blah, and the officer said, he said, “Miss,” he said, “you didn’t need me. They coulda educated me!” (laughs) They knew more about drugs than— (laughs) Oh boy! That was just one example. But I really enjoyed my work.
I: That’s great.
MD: Yeah.
I: And so how did you find yourself then moving from Brownsville to the Lower East Side, to Mobilization for Youth? Or was there something in between?
MD: Well, it wasn’t direct. Let me see. (pause) From Brownsville, let me see, what did I do? (pause) Then after Brownsville, I’m trying to think what I did. (pause) Hmm. (pause) Brownsville. That was in the Fifties. (pause) What came in between? (pause) Um (long pause) Hmm. (pause) I lived—oh, I went to California. (laughs) I got married, moved to California, worked for a private agency called Community Charity Agency, called Special Services for Groups. And our role there was prevention also. And I worked with primarily Mexican Americans. They considered it prevention and group development. I worked with a group of Mexican American girls for two years. One group. It was like group therapy, and the whole job was prevention. You had to have a car, you had to pick up your group from their homes because it called for you to pick up ten group members before you could have a meeting. Then you would go to a recreational center to hold your group meeting. And then you would have to take everybody home.
I: Oh wow.
MD: And you were considered a sponsor for each one of those members. So it was ten to fifteen members. That was considered socialization.
I: Where in California was this?
MD: Hmm?
I: Where in California?
MD: Los Angeles. It was Watts. And (pause) it was sort of like group therapy. I worked with this group for two years. We went camping, Yosemite National Park.
I: Wow.
MD: And it was camping in the rough, and we had male leaders for males and female leaders for girls, and we drove to Yosemite National Park with a bus. We had enough supplies to last a week. We were supposed to be camping in the rough and cook our own food. (pause) And you know how active Mexican people are, you know? Well, we couldn’t stay a week because you couldn’t sleep. (laughs) You had fifteen or twenty teenagers up in Yosemite National Park and you think you can sleep? So we had to bury our food at night to keep the bears from eating it up. And then we had to watch to keep the kids from sniffing the white gas that we cooked with. And after about four days, I decided, look, we’re breaking camp. I have to get some rest. (laughs) So we broke camp and drove back to Los Angeles, which is quite a ways from where, you know. So that was my experience with that group. After I worked with them two years, I told them—I was married at the time. I said, “Look, I have to take some time off,” because it was a lot of hard work. I said, “I’m going to spend some time just being married.” And we had the relationship like I was their sponsor and we were like “Mary,” you know, a first name basis, and they said, “You know? You have been just perfect. Not too hard and not too soft.” (laughs) And they didn’t want to see me leave, but I did two years of intensive work. It was really kind of a group therapy.
I: Yeah, it sounds—
MD: Up close.
I: Sounds intense, yeah.
MD: And I did that for two years. And then I took the tests in senior social worker. I went to work for the California Youth Authority in an all-male union.
I: Oh wow.
MD: And one year I interviewed four hundred and fifteen youth males from age eight and a half to eighteen.
I: Wow. More than one a day.
MD: (overlapping) And prepared case summaries.
I: More than one a day.
MD: I had to prepare five briefs a week for the board to decide what to do with these—it was the reception center, so I would make an analysis and go before the board and make recommendations as to what should happen to them. Now what I learned in living in California, in California, they had no youth programs compared with what they had in New York. They were bored and kids would be arrested for throwing rocks at passing cars. They needed activities. But in New York, it was gangs and, you know, the problem was, you know, severe. So after interviewing four hundred and fifteen males at age eight to eighteen and making these summaries, I decided, first of all, I didn’t like working for the California Youth Authority because they would come in with folders this thick with all the bad stuff, and I would never read any folder until I interviewed the person. I said, “What’s left?” (laughs) With all of this documentation, I can’t read it. And I would interview the person, see what there was to work with, and then I’d make my recommendation. And half of the time, it was the lack of activity in Los Angeles because they just didn’t have the programs that New York had. That’s what I found. So after I did that a year, I came back to New York.
I: And that was when you came to the Lower East Side?
MD: Um, I came back in fifty-nine, let me see. (pause) It must have been—no it wasn’t. I’m trying to remember. So much has happened! (laughs)
I: It’s quite all right.
MD: I came back from California—no, no, no. ’60 (pause), it was after that I went to the Lower East Side. But before that, I was the first clinical director for an organization called Girl Service League in Gramercy Park. That was a residential treatment (pause) that was run by the Junior Leaguers.
I: I don’t know, I don’t know them.
MD: It’s, you know, it was very wealthy White women. A quarter of a million dollars for a treatment center for twenty adolescent girls [the population was racially mixed]. And (pause) so I was the first residential director ‘cause they had, they had a lot of psychiatric case workers, they had a psychiatrist, but they didn’t have any trained director of the facility. So when they gave me the job, I said, “Well, look, I don’t even know what this is.” (laughs) “What I’m dealing with.” So I decided I would move in and assess what’s going on twenty-four hours. That’s the only way I could know. And I learned that they had a night watchman that couldn’t tell—at night, he couldn’t tell whether you were Black or White ‘cause he couldn’t see. (laughs) And the girls were slipping out and in and—
I: Oh man.
MD: bringing guys up the windows and oh! That was another kind of education. And they had all kinds of money. They could go to private schools, they could have any kind of private lesson ‘cause there was all this money, and good food and blah blah. So oh, they had a few girls who were (pause) had been classified as mental health, but most of them were just adolescents acting out. So what I did, I began to assess what needed to be done. I said, first of all, you don’t need to have a residential treatment facility with house mothers that have no life. Get these women out of here. On their days off, if they don’t have any place to go, get outta here. They have their independent quarters, not the lives of these girls. So I made those kind of recommendations. And in the final analysis, I recommended that they close down the residential part and make it outpatient. And they did.
I: Oh wow.
MD: They did.
I: That’s great. That’s fascinating. And so that was, so it was a center for then, the girls were there also from wealthy backgrounds.
MD: Yeah, it accommodated twenty adolescent girls. And then they had I think four house mothers or something like that. But there was too much wealth and not enough expectations. They could (pause) have all kinds of lessons, they could go to private schools, they could do whatever, and they did. But that was—I think I did, I completed that project in about a year and a half, my evaluation as to what should happen.
I: That’s great, that’s great. And so I think at one point you mentioned to me too, did you—were you at the University at Michigan?
MD: I used to go up there in summer time and study when I was teaching at Ball State.
I: Oh, so that was, I’m jumping way ahead.
MD: All this is after, right.
I: Yeah, that’s right.
MD: I went up, I studied architecture and housing for the elderly and I was part of the first Afro American National Survey on Mental Health [James Jackson was the director of the project].
I: Cool, that’s great.
MD: They did that in ’79 to I think ’81, something like that. I was an investigator.
I: Wow. That was nationally.
MD: Yes.
I: That was nationally that was—
MD: Yeah. That was just part-time. I did that on my own [while teaching at Ball State University].
I: I guess I’m jumping ahead now because I suppose then it was (pause) I should ask you about Mobilization for Youth because that’s in the early, I guess mid-Sixties.
MD: Yes.
I: I should you ask you about Mobilization for Youth.
MD: You were trying to get me back to Mobilization.
I: If we’re going chronologically, I suppose.
MD: I went to Mobilization for Youth after (pause) the Girls Service League and also, I was also, I’ve always—one thing about the kind of social work I’ve trained, we’ve always been involved in the different housing, health, senior citizens, it’s always like been a component, part of the whole, meeting people’s needs.
I: Right.
MD: And that’s the foundation of how we were trained at Atlanta. We’re not just all clinical. We’re more than just clinical.
I: Right. And it sounds like Mobilization for Youth was on that model too, in a way.
MD: Right. Right. More of a systems approach.
I: So I’d love—I know you told me a bit about the experience last time, but I’d love to hear it again for the, for the recording, but also just to ask you more about it.
MD: What’s that?
I: About your experience there.
MD: At Mobilization?
I: Yeah.
MD: (pause) Okay. A friend of mine got me involved in the job. His name was Kenny Marshall. He was a part of Kenneth Clark’s staff. You’ve heard of Kenneth Clark?
I: Yes, yes.
MD: They were sort of like co-workers and he said, “Well, Mary, I have a project for you at Mobilization.” And it was this program. Kenneth, Kenny Marshall was his name. And I’m thinking, did he teach (pause) at Columbia? Oh, he came out of New York City Youth Board. You heard of them?
I: Mmm.
MD: I think he came out of that, but I can’t remember whether he had his Ph.D., but he was brilliant. He got me involved with Mobilization for Youth.
I: And he was working with Kenneth Clark as a team?
MD: Yeah, they were all part of that [prevention movement].
I: That’s great. And so what was, what was it, what was the project like? I mean, it was—this was the project of hiring or recruiting these parent educators, parent educational—
MD: Well, the thing is the way we would train, we had no problem in confronting projects and going to the community and exploring and organizing and, you know, getting down with the nitty-gritty, you know, doing the project. It was part of our foundation. So all I had was the outline and I had to develop a program. And that’s it.
I: And this was it.
MD: Mmm. [Parent education].
I: And so in, in developing the parent education program, what were the sort of steps you went through? What kind of—how did you, how did you develop it, I guess? For somebody who doesn’t know how one would go about developing a program like that.
MD: Well, you know, I guess (pause) coming from the kind of parents I had, my father and mother were always moving, going into new places and developing—my father was always trying to upgrade schools in Kentucky, making sure that they had qualified teachers. So it was always some place else and you get to know who’s who and who you can deal with and who you couldn’t.. You know, that was not new to me. It was part of my experience and the whole organizing. And you can’t do it by yourself and you become one of the whole to get the project done. You can’t do it by yourself, you know?
I: Yeah.
MD: So I can’t tell you how I selected, you know, these people. But I selected all of them.
I: That’s great.
MD: You know?
I: And you mentioned, I think you mentioned last time that you had put out—there were radio ads for the programs with—
MD: Oh yeah. (pause) I told you there was a man named Marone(?), Lero—Ma—what was his name?
I: Was it Ramon Valez?
MD: Valez. Ramon. Oh, wow. Valez, Ramon, Ramon Valez was his name. Who had a radio show. And he knew everybody in the Spanish community, [everybody] listened to it. And so I spoke to him about advertising the people, you know, for the job.
I: And you got a few people that way?
MD: Yes.
I: That’s great. And so the Lower East Side at that time was, you know, it’s in here in this document, The Parent Educator, but it was quite a mix, sort of melting pot place or many different people from many—
MD: It was quite what?
I: Quite mixed. Many different people from many different backgrounds.
MD: Yes, it’s still mixed.
I: Yeah. And was that, was that one of the challenges, then, of building the kind of programs, sort of finding ways to reach different groups and different (pause) [sources for jobs].
MD: Well, the one thing (laughs) I find and I learned it when I had the first ________ one of the things that corporate America used to, what they look for now, but they looked for people who have music in their background.
I: Interesting.
MD: Because music and how you blend chords and notes together, it’s a mix of many dimensions, you know, Black, White. And actually the piano to me is the key to everything. You can augment [or diminish] with a black or white key, and to me that’s my model, the piano, in life. (laughs)
I: That’s great!
MD: Huh?
I: That’s really interesting. And so you recruited, it was about twelve people then, into the—
MD: Yeah, because I showed you the other ladies around the table. There was about four or five others. So I don’t think I brought that picture today, but—
I: That’s okay.
MD: It was about fifteen more people. Mmm.
I: And so then you worked together to develop the program but also these folks went out into, into homes, into community, into their communities to speak with parents and work with parents.
MD: Oh yeah, I trained them to go into homes and we did role playing. You know, the picture I showed you of Frank Riessman and that was teaching these people how to do role playing. That’s what that session was about. With the, with the families, you know, how to confront authorities, authority figures. Don’t be afraid, don’t be intimidated. Be respectful and courteous but don’t take any crap! (laughs)
I: And that was—and this is particularly geared towards then the schools and—
MD: Hmm?
I: This was particularly geared towards—as authorities, you’re thinking, I’m thinking of I guess for the schools.
MD: Right, mmm.
I: On the Lower East Side. And what was—I mean, I knew you didn’t, you weren’t an aide yourself, because you were a coordinator(?), but what was their experience like? Did they get into it? Did they have a good time?
MD: We were like family. We had a good time.
I: That’s great.
MD: I was just thinking, I said I wonder what happened to, you know, everybody. You know? I don’t know what happened to everybody because, you know, people move on in their lives, you know.
I: Sure.
MD: And I’ve moved around a lot, you know, I have all of my life. Before I went to college, I had lived in five different places in Kentucky, and that’s a lot.
I: It is, yeah.
MD: Mmm.
I: Especially when you’re a kid and you move from place to place.
MD: A kid, right.
I: I was also curious, so what—I’m curious about the folks you worked with at Mobilization. You know, Frame Riessman comes up so much in my research, but I don’t know much about him as a person. What was he like?
MD: Frank was very serious and he was always about his research. (laughs) He was that kind of person. He knew (pause) he was bent on new careers and how to get that going, and that was his focus. Mmm.
I: And then, and he worked, I mean he would have been working here also with Lloyd Olin and Cloward and other folks who were _____.
MD: [Social researchers].
I: Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward were involved too in Mobilization for Youth at that time or a little later?
MD: Yeah, I didn’t work that closely with Fran and Cloward with this group. We were friends and we were all part of a whole, a larger group. (pause) I’m trying to think. They were about putting people on welfare. As I said, I was not for that. (laughs) [They wrote a book together, Regulating the Poor].
I: Right.
MD: Definitely not for that. I was about helping people find jobs. But we remained friends till the end, you know.
I: One thing I also wanted to ask about that you mentioned last time. I noticed most of these aides were women, and I was curious what the kind of gender dynamics then were of recruiting women to work outside the home. You’d mentioned talking to some husbands.
MD: Yeah. Culturally, the whole Spanish culture is very different from the Black culture, and I only had one—this was the only Black woman that I could recruit for that job at the time. This lady was more like a supervising type person, but she ended up with a big position with Planned Parenthood.
I: Oh, that’s great.
MD: A supervisory position.
I: That’s fantastic.
MD: Now I don’t think any of those others reached that level.
I: That was one of the more—
MD: And she may have retired from Planned Parenthood. But she had had some, a different kind of educational exposure to the Hispanic women because she had had, you know, more community exposure than the Hispanic women.
I: And those women, I think you mentioned last time, some of their husbands were somewhat re6sistant to them taking on this kind of a role.
MD: They had to get permission from the husbands to take a job.
I: And did you have to speak with some of them?
MD: Oh, I had to. Yeah, I did. (laughs)
I: What did you say?
MD: I can’t remember what I said. You know, having sold newspapers from a child, I know how to sell. (laughs) You know, you know how to sell.
I: Sure, sure. And then so through these, through the parent education piece, did it feel as though you were able to reach a pretty large group of folks, then, sort of on the Lower East Side through these folks so that each of them kind of worked with different groups and different people? Was there a sort of—I’m trying to think how to best say this.
MD: Of what?
I: I’m trying to think how to say it correctly. Was there a kind of (pause) did it seem to sort of involve more parents, parents who weren’t aides but who interacted with these aides? Did it seem to involve more of them than in, in education?
MD: Well, you can see that we involved more parents at the community meetings.
I: Yeah, they’re remarkable.
MD: (laughs) So anybody could come and ask for assistance from us, you know. It wasn’t just a few parents.
I: Right, right.
MD: Oh, and I—the thing that I didn’t mention (pause), the person that worked closely with me on this project was a man, Harry Speck(?). Harry Speck was the community organization specialist at the time and he was very much interested in our project and he left Mobilization for Youth and went on to become the Dean of the School of Social Work at Berkeley. [The University of California at Berkeley].
I: Oh wow.
MD: California. And he wrote a book, I forget what his book was about, but you might want to check to see what he wrote about, but he was very aggressively in community organization. Harry Speck. He’s deceased now. But I have to mention him because he was in this audience. I had a lot more pictures, but I might have had a picture of him somewhere.
I: Yeah. Well, I wanted to ask too about some of the philosophy behind these kinds of programs. You have this great piece in here, “Can Education Make Man Free?” And so how, you know, in sort of working with this program, how did, how did you articulate that, realize that, work towards it?
MD: Well, information (pause) gives a person a different level of freedom. Information. (laughs) Basic information. And more information you have, the freer you are. Very simple. Not ______. Huh?
I: Fair enough. What I was curious too, this is at a time when they were, you know, they come up in this, in this volume, there were massive protests in New York around integration of education, around sort of the quality of education in places like the Lower East Side. I mean, how did those—did those movements have an influence on sort of the work you were doing? Was there a relationship at all?
MD: Well, there was a resistance, first of all, because there was more influx of Hispanics and not all of them were fluent in English. So there were those kind of tensions that we experienced then. And some of the Hispanic parents said they were not recognized when they went to the schools. They couldn’t communicate with the teachers and things like that. So we were sort of like a bridge.
I: Yeah, makes sense. And did some of the aides then work—there’s some great images here in the classroom, you know, sort of as translators, sort of informally, or just—
MD: Yeah, this woman was working with a guidance counselor and she’s there discussing some issue that one of her families had, so she’s intervening on behalf of the parent with the guidance counselor at the school.
I: That’s great. And I mean the language issue in particular seems like such a, in a way, a difficult hurdle at first, right? If you could, if you would go to your school but you couldn’t fully understand what a teacher or administrator was saying, that would leave you feeling pretty powerless.
MD: Mmm.
I: So it seemed having people who spoke the language to help you seems like it would have been a really—
MD: Well, as you know, in the Hispanic culture, a lot of them take their children along to interpret for them.
I: Oh sure.
MD: That’s, you know, that still exists.
I: Definitely.
MD: But it helps to have paras that also speak the language.
I: Absolutely.
MD: To clarify any misconception in that.
I: Definitely. Yeah. (pause) Now this, all what you were saying about there being all these connective issues really comes through in this. You know, you’ve got mention of how to get access to school clothing and gradation grants, and there’s also information about the parent association, about the need for social action. There’s all of this information about everything.
MD: Resources, mmm.
I: Yeah, resources. And this bit about public hearings and sort of going and being heard, and then it ends here with a bit about voting. So it seems like you’ve got a really, it’s a really amazing amount of—well—
MD: Well, they’re all community issues. (laughs)
I: Absolutely, yeah.
MD: It reached the community organization, you know? And it’s, it’s in essence everything I learned at Atlanta U. (laughs)
I: That’s great, that’s really great.
MD: All in a nutshell.
I: And I was curious just to ask you about the idea of a paraprofessional or someone in the new careers position, because you went on to do some of that work as well at Lincoln Hospital then. And was that, you know, at this time was that something that really felt like it was offering opportunities to people who might not otherwise have had them?
MD: Well, I got invited to go to Lincoln Hospital and work with them just because of this program.
I: Sure.
MD: And they invited me up there to train mental health aides. That’s how I got the job. But I did it very differently because I was also training the psychologists and psychiatrists, because I trained (pause) I think it was fifteen people in a one-way, you know, you have these one-way mirrors.
I: Oh wow, yeah.
MD: With these psychiatrists and psychologists observing as to how to do it. Now that wasn’t easy. (laughs)
I: I’m sure.
MD: Huh? I trained the staff. First of all, I selected the staff through interview. I had a man who’d been a carpenter, he was seventy-two years old. I selected him to be a counselor. I selected a woman who had eleven children and they were all grown. I selected twenty-two year olds, I selected a whole range of people.
I: Wow.
MD: To give service in the area of mental health. That’s what I did.
I: And that was both with the hospital, but then you mentioned also that there was a storefront clinic that you started with these folks.
MD: But that was after I trained them. I had to train them first and then I set up the clinic.
I: Wow.
MD: And we even renovated the clinic physically for them to give the service. So it was a whole process.
I: That’s remarkable. I realize I should have asked this about the aides in Mobilization for Youth too. But I have some sense, but I’m curious. What was the range of things that they did once they were trained?
MD: These, among these people?
I: Yeah, I should ask about these and then I should ask about the Lincoln Hospital folks.
MD: They did whatever the families needed. If they had to go to the doctor, they went with them. If they had to go to the school, if they had to go to court, if they had to go to welfare. We even brought welfare people to these kind of meetings.
I: I had this—there’s an image of that.
MD: The Commissioner of welfare, we even had meetings—right—with the welfare department to educate them about what’s available.
I: That’s great.
MD: Mmm, we did all that.
I: That’s remarkable. And then at Lincoln Hospital, a different set of activities for the—a different set of responsibilities for the aides probably.
MD: Well, Lincoln Hospital, it was—the mental health was primarily services for people to get the mental health services they need. That was a different, you know, focus.
I: And was Frank Riessman involved with the Lincoln Hospital as well?
MD: Not as much.
I: I know he had done some research there at some point.
MD: Yeah. He wasn’t as involved in the Lincoln Hospital as he was in this project. Mmm. ‘Cause there was another psychologist, Mel Roman, that felt that you can accomplish as much working with a group than one on one. He didn’t believe in seeing people individually.
I: Interesting.
MD: He felt that the group process was more effective, you know, more sustaining than the long-term one on one. And so I worked with both of them. They’re both deceased now, but you might want to read up on Mel Roman and his theory. Didn’t believe in one on one.
I: (pause) Sorry about the cord, it tangled. And one thing that comes to mind, at least for me, and it’s a connection other people have drawn when I’ve asked them about paraprofessionals, is the question of community control which starts to be a big issue by the mid to late 1960s. And specifically, of course, in New York of education, the idea of community control of education and having a much larger role for community members in education. But it does come up in, I think in health too. And so I was curious if that was a connection that you made, if there were people who were interested in paraprofessionals and aides and that context. It’s sort of an open-ended question, I realize.
MD: Well, you know, I guess I—at the time I was involved, the community control issue came up because the super—oh, when the paraprofession—when the aides felt that the superintendent [of schools] saw them as an invisible people. And they wanted the superintendent fired. That got us into a lot of trouble. (laughs)
I: I’m sure! To go up against the Board of Ed. What was that like?
MD: Huh?
I: What was that like?
MD: I’m telling you, that’s what ended the program.
I: Oh gees. Really?
MD: Yeah, it ended the program because they said s/he talked to them like they were dirt and stuff like that.
I: Oh man.
MD: So it ended the program.
I: Oh gees.
MD: Mmm.
I: But it sounded like, I mean in many ways it would have been a pioneer, and I think a lot of what happened at Mobilization for Youth was a kind of inspiration and just some of the larger programs that got developed with War on Poverty funding later on, and certainly paraprofessionals.
MD: Well, they were the forerunners, there’s no way about it and no way you can get around it. They demonstrated the need and they also reinforced the whole attendance problem, you know, like you have attendance teachers were making home visits and so forth. Well, these people were also making home visits and sometimes they would, you know, the whole profess—paraprofessional thing evolved out of paraprofessionals going into homes, finding out why students—not attendance teachers, but paraprofessionals, finding out why the students weren’t coming. It just sort of piggy-backed on what we started [at Mobilization for Youth. Paras were not unionized at that time].
I: Yeah.
MD: That’s what happened.
I: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And the attendance teachers then must have been glad for the help or at least it was certainly—
MD: Attendance teachers were primarily teachers who maybe didn’t want to be in a classroom and liked the freedom.
I: Right.
MD: But they were college educated, when these peop—many of these people were not.
I: Yeah. But those attendance teachers probably didn’t have nearly as much of a sense of the community as the paras did.
MD: Well, as I said, they had come not from the community but from all over, and these were jobs that they had taken tests for.
I: Right.
MD: (laughs) There were no test jobs in this case. No tests that you had to take.
I: And did you have any involvement—I know so the Board of Ed starts to hire paras formally within the system I think in 1967, and then the positions expand quite rapidly so that there’s about I think something like twenty thousand paras employed.
MD: Paras now?
I: Even more now I think.
MD: Really? I don’t know anything about it. (laughs)
I: Fair enough.
MD: I’ve been so removed from it. You know, it’s been a long time.
I: Sure, sure. Well, I was just curious in sort of in the late Sixties and early Seventies when they were starting to hire these folks, if people came and asked about these kinds of programs.
MD: They used them a lot in working with special ed families, I know.
I: Yes, definitely. And Alan Gartner, I know, has written a lot on that, worked on that [he also worked with Frank Riessman].
MD: Special ed?
I: Yeah.
MD: And paras?
I: Yeah.
MD: Okay.
I: That’s something he’s—
MD: Well, see, I didn’t know anything about special education. I never worked in it until I came back here in, from the Midwest in the Eighties. And I was surprised. I’m not sure that I fully believe in it, you know? I think a lot of teachers saw it as a way to make extra money.
I: Oh, interesting.
MD: Hmm? I shouldn’t say that. But special ed teachers make more money than regular teachers. You knew that, right?
I: This is—
MD: Huh?
I: I didn’t know that, no.
MD: Mmm. You work, you make more money in special ed than you do as a regular teacher with fewer students. And so it became a big thing.
I: Interesting.
MD: And when I found out that people were sitting in there with six children (pause). Some of the brightest kids I found were in special ed that didn’t necessarily need to be (laughs) in special ed, you know? They put a lot of in—there was an influx of drugs in the Black community in the Seventies, and that’s when this whole special ed thing boomed.
I: That’s interesting.
MD: Okay? The parents were on drugs, the children were placed in different [learning classes] and that’s what gave rise to special ed, and people retired at much higher salaries with less work. Take that out. (laughs)
I: We certainly can edit that out.
MD: Mmm.
I: In the final transcript. I also wanted to ask, I was curious, there are other folks we mentioned last time who were working on some similar issues, and I was just curious how you interacted with them. Audrey Cohen, you mentioned she had spoken with you as she was getting the women’s ____
MD: (overlapping) She wanted me to come and help her start a school.
I: Yeah.
MD: And I knew it would be a lot of work. I don’t think at that time I just wanted (pause) to start another project.
I: Sure.
MD: At that particular time, because she liked what I had done, you know, here. That’s why she asked for me to come.
I: Makes sense.
MD: And she did a fabulous job with the college, she really did.
I: So you kind of kept and—
MD: Mmmm.
I: followed along with her?
MD: Yeah.
I: And I think you mentioned also a woman named Laura Pires. Did she—she had worked with you and then went to work with—
MD: No, no, no. Laura Pires joined Audrey after I told her I wasn’t coming.
I: But she hadn’t worked for Mobilization for Youth.
MD: Hmm?
I: Laura Pires hadn’t worked for Mobilization for Youth.
MD: No.
I: That makes sense. And another person I know who was very involved in the idea of parent participation and education here in Harlem was Preston Wilcox, who was also a social worker.
MD: I told you Preston and I were colleagues, you know. We all had been involved with Columbia School of Social Work, community organization. Then I belonged to the Harlem Council with Al Wilson and Preston was part of that. So we shared a lot of (pause) common interests in things like that.
I: And when he was developing some of his program through Afram, were you ever—did you have conversations about those?
MD: Well, a lot of the things he did, a lot of the things he did locally and some nationally. I don’t know about all of that.
I: Fair enough.
MD: You know, I used to go up to his office and he was involved in conferences and things all over the place, but I wasn’t involved in that.
I: Sure enough. I know that we haven’t even gotten to your work at Boys and Girls and I should ask you about that. But lingering on the Sixties a little bit, I guess, because I’m interested in some of these people and institutions. (pause) I had been curious when the school boycotts happened.
MD: Hmm?
I: When the school boycotts happened in Nineteen—I think it’s 1964, were there, were some of these folks in the community—I think the Lower East Side had a very high turnout for that. The boycott that Milton Galamison [a Brooklyn minister] led around integration in New York.
MD: I remember all of that, but I wasn’t involved. In ’64, ____ what I was doing in ’64. (pause) 1964, I was up at Einstein [Medical College, training community mental health aides]. Mmm.
I: Makes sense.
MD: ‘Cause right after that, I opened [an employment agency, placing minorities in private industry]. Oh, I had promised. When I lived in California, somebody introduced me to the Commissioner of Personnel in the State of California, in L.A., a friend of mine, and he asked me to troubleshoot the corporations in L.A. Now he knew I had credentials to do whatever, I’ve always—and he asked me to go to different corporations and see if they would hire me. And I did that as a part-time project just for the Commissioner of Personnel in L.A. And he said, “It’s not that you don’t have good credentials, you’re just the wrong color.”
I: Sure.
MD: So after we finished our survey, I went to—I applied for different levels of positions and I couldn’t get hired. So he made me promise him that I would open up an employment agency. (laughs) That’s how I ended—it took me ten years! But I did open it up. That’s how I did that.
I: That’s right.
MD: ‘Cause it was needed. He said, “You know, it’s not that you—you know—the color thing is the problem.”
I: Right. And then after that, that was when you went to Ball State as a professor, is that right?
MD: Not then. I didn’t go to Ball after the employment agency.
I: Right.
MD: But before I went to Ball State, I had worked up in Harlem at the Architectural Renewal Committee. ARCH. (pause) Somebody asked me to come in and help him out because they were having problems with the director, and he said, “You won’t have to leave your employment agency. Just come and help as a consultant.” When I got up there, there were so many issues, I never got back to my employment agency. (laughs) I couldn’t get back! Couldn’t go back. [I didn’t have staff to help me with the agency. I was also endorsed by the National Urban League. Whitney Young, Jr. was also my mentor for this project].
I: So what kind of work was ARCH doing at that time?
MD: ARCH was a community development center that worked with community groups. Local groups had ideas for projects, they had architects and planners to help them with the plans, the drawings, and help them implement whatever it is they wanted to do.
I: Oh wow.
MD: So we had architects, planners, engineers, and people to help the local people do that.
I: That’s remarkable.
MD: Mmm.
I: There’s a woman as part of this Educating Harlem project who’s writing a paper about a Harlem-based, a female architect who I think might have also been involved in ARCH. And I wish I could remember her name, but I can’t at the moment.
MD: Who is she connected with?
I: She’s—the woman who’s writing the paper is connected with City College, but I don’t know if she was. (pause) It’s completely escaping my mind but I’ll have to look that up because I’m sure she would be interested to hear more about that work. (pause) I should say thanks so much. This is great. I know we’ve been talking for a while.
MD: There’s so much. I’m telling you. I said, whew!
I: But it’s really wonderful. So you said you went to Ball State in the Seventies, then.
MD: Mmm. ’76.
I: And taught Social Work.
MD: Mmm.
I: But as you mentioned, eventually then you found yourself coming back to New York to work at Boys and Girls, right?
MD: Yeah, mmm. I gave up my tenure. People don’t give up tenure, right?
I: Not anymore.
MD: You can’t even get it anymore.
I: Well, you’re talking to a grad student (pause) tenure is--
MD: But I thought, you know, having been around the college arena, university arena, I said tenure’s not everything. Some people ____ “Tenure!” And I said no. I told them I want it, I worked to get it, and I did. But I said for me to sit out here and be tenured and every time I’m looking, I’m trying to head to New York, it doesn’t make sense. (laughs) So you gotta give it up. You can’t hold on to everything.
I: Sure.
MD: You can’t. But I do miss academia. I like the college environment. I like the stimulation, the challenges. You can’t beat it.
I: Yeah.
MD: You really can’t.
I: That’s great.
MD: And now I feel that (pause) you never get too old to learn and to grow. Like I’m just appalled at some of the stuff I’m exposed to now in terms of ____ (laughs) I can’t believe it’s true, but it is true, you know? (pause) But people don’t have the kind of people to fill in the gaps that some of us have, and you need people to fill in the gaps, you know, for you.
I: Yeah, that’s right. (pause) Well, I also wanted to ask you then, since I’m thinking about education in New York, about your experience in Boys and Girls when you came back. And you talked to me a little bit about that last time, but you were the counselor there, is that right?
MD: I was the senior clinical social work consultant for the school of four thousand students.
I: (overlapping) You were a social worker. That’s right. Four thousand and some students, is that right?
MD: I was school based.
I: Wow.
MD: And I also worked with the school based support team. But Mr. Mickens [the principal], depended on me, but people—I got, they gave me a hard time. I mean, I got put in a corner in a Xerox room (laughs).
I: Oh my gosh!
MD: I got treated like dirt, believe me.
I: Oh gees.
MD: By other women. But luckily, you know, because of my foundation (pause) I stayed there thirteen years. Ended up with my own office and everybody coming to me for help, even the principal. (laughs) That was the fun part. But Mickens was a tough character, but he respected me. I had no idea he was as young as he was. Sixty-seven years old. You would have thought he was at least seventy something, but he was a young man. But he loved those students, he really did.
I: And what kind of, what kind of work and programming were you developing? I mean, mostly working with individual students or did you have—you mentioned a school based support team, so is that including paras?
MD: Well, I worked with the—at one point, I worked with the clinical team that did these updates [for special ed students] and all that kind of stuff, and then I got to the point that I didn’t do any of that. I just worked with the whole school. I did teacher training, HIV training. What else did I do? Health fairs for parents. I set up a resource room for the students where they could come and talk about whatever. We did group therapy. Those kinds of things.
I: That’s great. And did you have folks you worked with sort of as part of that team, sort of paras or guidance counselors?
MD: Well, I worked with—first of all, Boys and Girls had a high Caribbean population.
I: Makes sense.
MD: So a process (pause) all the students who were from out of the country, we made sure that they had their immunization. We’d set up group visits to the clinic. Everybody would be immunized at the same—that kind of stuff, to get it done, you know. If it hasn’t been done, we’ll get it done.
I: I saw similar things actually in this, they were doing the same thing.
MD: Oh, I was?
I: Yeah, for the Puerto Rican women and—
MD: Really?
I: Yeah, it was, it comes up in here.
MD: Immunization?
I: Yeah, for students if they haven’t—
MD: And that was—
I: been admitted to kindergarten yet. (laughs)
MD: A lot of years before, right?
I: Mmm.
MD: Hasn’t changed. (laughs) It’s all basic. Just survival.
I: That’s fascinating. I’m going to look at my notes from last time about (pause) Boys and Girls. Yeah, I mean four thousand students is a very big number.
MD: Where I was born [the town population] was four thousand people and I said here I am, working in a school with four thousand students and almost three hundred teachers. And we did teacher training.
I: Wow.
MD: We did, you know? I really loved that job. I had been—and I learned a lot. You know, you can’t do much without growing yourself. So I grew a lot and I’m proud of that.
I: That’s great. It’s amazing. (pause) Forgive me for looking at my notes.
MD: Okay.
I: Just thinking. (long pause) Well, in so much, like you were saying, so much of this work seems about ____ like you said, the basic, laying the under sort of, laying the foundation maybe would be a way of saying it for students to learn, right? So making sure that they have access to these kinds of basic things, health care, and the mental health care and being able to understand, having their parents be able to understand and move through bureaucracies and things. And that seems to be a thread through a lot of these different programs and projects.
MD: Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve taken a little piece from whatever and transferred it into it. I’m going to share this with you. When I was at the Counseling Youth Authority, one of the things that I used with my students when I interviewed them, I always used essays and drawings. And sometimes I’d have them draw self-image or whomever or whatever, and you learn a lot from that, and that was how ____ I would begin my interview, analyzing their drawings. And I remember one time at Boys and Girls, a mother came to me. She was talking about her son. All he was doing was watching these—he was obsessed with these movies, sexual movies. So I said, “Draw me a picture.” And he drew this picture. I kept it a long time. It was so bizarre. (laughs) I said, “Look, you’ve got to get him immediately to a hospital.” All kinds of weird stuff, and he ended up being hospitalized, you know, that kind of stuff that you have to pick up, you know, immediately. But the interesting part: he was hospitalized for a while. I don’t know how long, but they used to have a clinical, a psychiatric hospital for adolescents. Were you aware of that? Well, you haven’t been here long enough to know, but they used to have that, and they kept him there for a while and then ____ he left. Well, to make a long story short, the last analysis, I’d heard he gone out to Utah—what’s that school out there? The Mormons now?
I: Brigham Young?
MD: _____ and had become a minister. I said, Oh! (laughs)
I: Wow, that’s quite a transformation.
MD: I said, oh no! But you know, I have the stories, I have the stories. (laughs)
I: That’s remarkable.
MD: But you can learn so much from drawings and writings. And I had to do a lot of grief counseling with the students because they were losing friends and relatives, and I would make them write about the feelings and things like that. And I kept a lot of stuff. I know I probably will never get around to publishing it, but I do have a lot of it.
I: That’s great.
MD: Mmm. So is that it?
I: Well, this is great. Is there anything I’m missing? I mean—
MD: No.
I: I always feel when I’m interviewing someone who has so much more experience than I do that I actually don’t even know what questions to ask.
MD: Well, you’ve had a lot of experience yourself. You’re young.
I: (laughs)
MD: What are you, twenty-five?
I: I wish. I’m thirty.
MD: Well, you’re still young. You are still young.
I: And I started in student teaching when I was an undergraduate in Chicago and that was a good eye opener for me for thinking about these kinds of issues and questions.
MD: When I was teaching my students at Ball State, I made two trips from Muncie to Chicago. We went to Chatham Green Housing Project.
I: Oh sure.
MD: We went to Chinatown. We stayed at the University of Chicago twice. And I said I cannot teach social work to anybody who doesn’t know anything about a ghetto (laughs). And especially Indiana is not a state with a whole lot of Black people. Five percent. It may be more now, I don’t know, but five percent. We made two trips to Chicago and the students had so much fun, they felt guilty and they started reading the Bible. They read the Bible for two hours all the way back to Muncie. (laughs) We had so much fun.
I: That’s amazing.
MD: This was out of their realm of expectation. So anyway, if you have any other questions, you know.
I: Yeah, well, let me think if there are any right now, but if not, I’ll certainly be in touch. (pause) This is all really helpful. Let me glance through this very quickly. (pause) I guess one of the reasons I’m interested in these para programs is just having seen, having been in some public schools here, I did after school education for two years here in New York, and just seeing all of the kinds of things that paras, that parents, that people who, you know, in the schools that really succeed with their outreach and after school programs, there’s all this labor that sort of doesn’t always get recognized but seems so—
MD: They don’t get recognized?
I: Yeah. But it seems so important.
MD: They don’t get recognized?
I: Sometimes they do. I think in the schools that are successful, every now and then they do a good job of reaching out. But I saw a lot of people putting in a lot of hours and effort and then you wouldn’t hear about this in the ed reform world or, you know, you wouldn’t hear Michael Bloomberg talk about it, but you could see it in these schools that you had really involved parents, really involved paras. Teachers too. I mean, I don’t mean to—and administrators.
MD: Well, the thing that bothers me right now is they have these parent coordinators. I said, what do they do? Have you seen them do anything?
I: Well, they seem to have—my understanding of what happened was that, so when Klein and Bloomberg came in, a lot of the paras who had been hired, and there’s sort of several generations back, but as part of these programs as they developed in the Sixties, and these jobs have been going away for a long time. But Klein really wanted to get rid of those. But one of the things people said was, “No, we need—paras are part of this idea of a bridge between the school and the community,” and you said the same thing. And he said, “Well, we’ll create this position of parent coordinator,” but it’s kind of on an island and it’s very much controlled by the principal.
MD: (overlapping) You know, you see (pause) you see what I did as a parent coordinator, right?
I: Mmm.
MD: Now even through the Harlem Council of Elders, I don’t even know who the parent coordinators are in the schools that we work in. I don’t know who we are. And I understand Bill Perkins was having a breakfast for them, and I said, a breakfast? (laughs) You know, I’m sort of like, you know, too quick sometimes. I said, what do they do, you know? I still don’t know what they do, as we’re speaking here today. I think that’s sort of like a political appointment.
I: I’m sure.
MD: Maybe I shouldn’t say that.
I: No, well.
MD: Huh?
I: (laughs)
MD: But that’s what it seems to be.
I: Well, that was one of the things, you know, so when paras first started getting hired, I think it very much comes out of the kind of work that you were doing _____ doing this idea of bridging between schools and communities and bringing people out into communities to help address all of these foundational things. But in many ways I think by about the Eighties and afterwards, as these positions become sort of part of the personal kind of fiefdoms of principals or of administrators, then that kind of politics very much enters into it, into appointments and into who has access to these kinds of jobs and things. (pause)
MD: Well, if you think of anything else.
I: I surely will. Well, thank you so, so much for sitting here with me for so long.
MD: I hope I didn’t talk too much.
I: Oh no, not at all.
MD: Well.
I: And I learned a lot and I’m—
MD: You learned a lot?
I: I did. Well, and I know that every time I do one of these interviews, I know I’ll walk out of the room and think, I should have asked that! But here, let me stop here.
(END OF INTERVIEW)

Title

Mary Dowery Oral History

Description

The reminiscences of Mary Dowery, social worker and organizer in Harlem with many different organizations, and creator of paraprofessional programs for parents with Mobilization for Youth on the Lower East Side.

Creator

Dowery, Mary

Date

2014-01-30

Contributor

Juravich, Nick

Format

.mp3

Language

English

Type

Oral History

Interviewer

Juravich, Nick

Interviewee

Dowery, Mary

Location

The Herbert H. Lehman Center at Columbia University

Transcription

I: (comments on recording) To begin, today is Thursday, January thirtieth, 2014. This is Nick Juravich interviewing Mary Dowery as part of my dissertation project as well as for the Harlem Digital Research Collaborative, the larger program at Teachers College that I’m participating in. Thank you very much for being here.
MD: Well, thanks for inviting me.
I: And before we begin, we’d also like to say for the record on the tape what’s in the release, which is that at any time you’d like to stop the tape, go off the record, be done with the interview, skip a question, anything at all, just say the word and it will be done.
MD: Okay.
I: This is entirely up to you. And also before any of this is used for academic or journalistic or any kind of public publication, you’ll have a chance to review the transcript of this conversation and at that point decide what, if any of it, you would like to keep, make public.
MD: Delete, et cetera.
I: Exactly. So this is the preliminary raw data but there’s a process before it becomes archived. So again, thank you so much and thank you for meeting with me last week as well. So I guess the first question in a history like this is sort of where do we begin? I wanted to start by asking how you came to the work that I’ve been studying, which is the work in public education with paraprofessionals. But also first, just to hear a little bit about where you come from and who you are.
MD: Well, I come from Kentucky, a state that’s known for education. I think in Newsweek or 2013 or ’12, there’s a high school in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that reasonable one in terms of high school education, and it’s because of the technology and the structure of the whole educational program. And I thought it was pretty good considering the whole country. Kentucky basically is a rural state, with Louisville being the largest city and they keep expanding, expanding. Now it’s well over a million people. But I was born twenty-eight miles from Louisville, and now they have annexed it, so eventually where I was born will be a part of Louisville before long, that’s how they expand. But thinking about my background, I come from a family of educators. Thirty, forty educators in my family. My mother, my father, cousins, and you know, male, female. We’re all about education because that was a way out of poverty. So it wasn’t whether or not you were born because you were gonna go. It was where and how much would it cost, and that kind of thing. So I’ve always been a part of education. And I was home-schooled by my mother from age four, and then at the age of six, when she took me to the school in the town where I was born, which is Shelbyville, Kentucky, she asked that I be placed in second grade because she had taught first grade, blah blah. And they said no, ‘cause I’m February, my birthday’s February, so you know, you don’t start in September, you start like in January, et cetera. But anyway, to make a long story short, my mother said, “Well, look, she’s ready for second grade. I’ll just keep her home and continue to teach her.” And so the authorities said, “Well, if you do that, we’ll bring charges. You will be forced to bring her to public school.” So I don’t know how it happened, but I heard my parents “discussing” that we were gonna leave Shelbyville and move to Frankfort, which is the capital of Kentucky, and only nineteen miles away. And there was a state university there and a laboratory school for teachers to train. So the decision was made that we’d move there and we would go to the laboratory school, so that’s what happened. So I was sort of like a guinea pig in terms of learning and education and experiences most of my life, you know. And it seems like we went to school year round and we were ungraded. And we went to school year round because in Kentucky, there were a lot of towns that didn’t have high schools. They had grade schools but they didn’t have enough capital to warrant (pause) funding high schools, so they had a high school that was a boarding school which was really Lincoln Institute, run by Whitney Young’s father.
I: Oh wow.
MD: And it came into being after Jim Crow was established in Kentucky. Part of that, Berea College had a high school and a college and Blacks and Whites were integrating. But after the Civil War, then they divided Blacks and Whites in Kentucky. And it was always a lot of mixing and mixed folks, you know, you couldn’t tell. Even though they might live in a Black community, they could pass for whatever. Kentucky is also classified as the gateway to the South. So going back to Frankfurt where I attended Rosenwald Elementary School, which was the laboratory school, it was established by Julius Rosenwald from Chicago. The Foundation exists today.
I: Of course.
MD: He funded a lot of educational schools, not just in Kentucky but around the country, and they still have a foundation, I don’t know, but they’re still based in Chicago. So that was my education until eighth grade. So we were exposed to everything in the college, all the college major Black speakers, noted, outstanding Black people that came to the college for the students. As children, we were in the front row taking it all in.
I: That’s wonderful information.
MD: So Du Bois, Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, both singers, we just heard everybody. And then beyond that, my parents made sure that wherever we lived, we sold newspapers. I had an older brother and we were newspaper children. And the way we got these newspapers, black Pullman porters have always been the source of information for Black community and many of them had been college educated. Until they could get a better job, some of them were Pullman porters. In fact, my father was before he got his degree and started teaching. So we sold papers, in fact four: The Louisville Defender, The Louisville Leader, Chicago Defender, and The Pittsburgh Courier, wherever we lived. So we always had access to lots of information. So I’m jumping around but I’m just trying to tell you, that’s my educational foundation.
I: Yeah. No, that’s great.
MD: And so after I left Frankfort, my father became a principal in a school in another part of the State of Kentucky and that’s the first time I attended a school where my father was the principal, so that was very difficult.
I: I’m sure (laughs).
MD: Here, I’m coming as an outsider, not from the neighborhood, and it was very hard for your father to be in charge and you from somewhere else.
I: Right.
MD: So I had a lot, more information than some of the people, but my father had high standards for everybody, and so he made sure that as students, we competed nationally on the various tests for college funding.
I: That’s great.
MD: So when I graduated from high school, I was part of the National Honor Society. And so were some of the other people in my classes. It was small classes but he had a high standard. And I (pause) we could get scholarships to go to college, but I—since my father was the principal, I opened up the situation so the people from the town could take the scholarship because I would go to college anyway.
I: Sure. What town was this?
MD: Pardon?
I: Which town was this in Kentucky?
MD: Franklin, Kentucky. That’s where I finished high school. So I went on to college, but the parents always put a lot of responsibility on me to handle things, and they said, “Well, if you’re going to college, you have to get your application in.” I’m sort of like a last-minute person. I had had twelve years of piano and played very well, and my music teacher was the person who taught all the White people in that town, and she said I was the first Black student she’d ever had, that I was very talented.
I: That’s great.
MD: And that I should major in piano. So when I went to college, I went as a major in piano. And freshman year, I played Bach with another young person on the baby grand, two piano, and I was so nervous I felt that you’re not supposed to get nervous, so maybe I don’t have the talent to be majoring in piano ‘cause my legs were shaking. But I played it well, but I was very nervous. But I majored in piano for two years, and then I said, well, why am I majoring in piano? I don’t plan to teach piano. So I decided I would change my major to Sociology, which I did, but I continued to study music and I also sang in the college choir and in the chorus. Later, I learned to sing popular music, jazz, and stuff. But my family said they didn’t want any jazz singing people in the family, that it was low life. (laughs) So then my first marriage, my first husband didn’t want me to sing jazz. He didn’t want a jazz singer wife because, you know, it was attracting too much attention from other people, so that was my music career. I just never pursued it. But I could have, but I didn’t. I went into social work.
I: Where were you at college?
MD: Knoxville College, a Presbyterian College in Knoxville, Tennessee.
I: And that was when you switched from music to sociology.
MD: Sociology. The thing that was good about Knoxville College, it was Presbyterian. The faculty was made up of Russian Jews who had migrated to the United States/Most of them had their—already had their Ph.D.s, but they were in Germany, wherever they came from, and they were all very scholarly people. So the man that taught me sociology taught at that college for twenty-five years. He was dedicated to teaching us about social issues and even then, he said Black people do not have a social problem, they have an economic problem. That was in 1940s, ‘50s. It’s an economic, it’s not a social problem. We have become a social problem in later years. But we didn’t initially have.Because we build this country, you understand? So anyway, I know I’m jumping around. Maybe you can ask me questions ‘cause there’s so much. (laughs)
I: No, this is great. And so when you finished at Knoxville, then did you go on to a social work graduate degree then?
MD: Yes. Knoxville was a Presbyterian college, we had a lot of support for the students to complete, and so we had ways of working during the summer.
I: That’s great.
MD: And it so happened that there were other colleges, White colleges, who had access to summer jobs, and one of the summer jobs were at a place called Pilgrim State in Brentwood, Long Island. This was at that time the largest mental health institution in New York State, I guess in the whole country. It had a capacity for twenty-five mental health patients. And so one of my school mates said, “Well, Mary, we worked at this place last summer and you can always work, and if you just show up, they will hire you the same day. You live on the grounds and you work twenty days and then you have five days off.” So I told my father that I had a summer job, and back then, if you tell your parents, then it better be true ‘cause your word was your bond, yeah. So my father gave me the money to take this job, and sure enough, I arrived at Pilgrim State Hospital and we were hired immediately. But it was a training place for doctors, for psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and all the profession. So we worked on admissions, on every level of mental illness from admitting people who came in in all kinds of conditions, up until the sixth floor where people had to be restrained. So we learned everything about mental health before I went to social work. (laughs) We could sit in on lectures with the medical students, the psychiatrists, and we could watch lobotomy operations.
I: Oh my gosh.
MD: We took people for shock treatment, then they were doing shock treatment. We sat in on every interview that a psychiatrist had—we were there to protect the psychiatrist from the patients. (laughs) That’s when psychiatrists were afraid of patients, you know.
I: Oh well, sure.
MD: You know, so ahead of whatever. That wouldn’t be permitted now.
I: Right.
MD: We were there to keep the patients from harming them, but they didn’t care about what we heard. So that was before I went to social work. And so (pause) I realized that I didn’t want to be a psychiatric nurse and that I might want to explore social work, but I said, what is it that makes people go crazy? I couldn’t understand why people would lose their mind! (laughs) Being a country girl from a place of four thousand people. Why do people go crazy? So when I got back—well, after my freshman year at college, I go back to school and I meet a young man who was from St. Louis, Missouri, and his father was an A.M.E. Bishop. And he had been to so many schools, and he got put out because he was a jazz musician and he was on drugs.
I: Oh wow.
MD: So he confided in me about his issues and that even sparked up my curiosity about social work. And he could play any kind of jazz and I would sing in the dining room at dinner time ‘cause I knew all the jazz songs. And he stayed I think one year, and then the next thing I knew, he was leaving ‘cause he just couldn’t make it. He left. But he gave me a Bible and I never heard from him anymore. And then after I finished not only college, but graduate school in social work, I’m in Harlem, Lenox Avenue, and I see this person coming in. “I know you!” Mmm. And it was this guy after all these years. He was still a musician and still on drugs. So that’s one aspect of my, you know, experience in social work and studying the different aspects, ‘cause in Atlanta, we studied all aspects of social work: community organization, psychiatric information, medical information, community organization, and group work. And we had two years of that kind of training. We had a two year Master’s. So we were prepared to use ourselves in a lot of different ways back then. It’s very different now. And the people who taught us, we were taught medical information by a medical doctor. We were taught psychiatric information by a psychiatrist. Group work by a group work specialist. One of the people who taught us case work ended up teaching up at Boston University, case work for a lot of years.
I: Who was that?
MD: Huh?
I: Who was that?
MD: Her name was Hortense Cochran. She was my case work teacher at Atlanta University, and she was—they were all Master’s in their fields. (pause) So I just felt that we got the best training available at the time, and I had to go to—I didn’t have to go to Atlanta. The time I went to Atlanta to get my Master’s, I could have gone to University of Louisville and the School of Social Work ‘cause by then, you know, integration had occurred. But I decided I wanted to go where there were more middle-class Black people and I didn’t want to be in an all-White school. I wanted to learn more about middle-class Black people.
I: Sure.
MD: So that’s why I stayed in Atlanta. (laughs) And ‘cause actually in Kentucky, my parents were always, you know, the leaders and in charge. I just wanted to meet other folks that were in charge, so I did. Am I making sense?
I: Absolutely. This is wonderful.
MD: But you know, the story is so vast and so much and it’s, you know, it’s hard. But maybe ask me questions. That might help me.
I: Sure. Well, so after—was it during your time in Atlanta or afterward that you’d already been up to New York City, but what led you to New York? I think you said you came in the Fifties and were working in Brownsville and then later with adolescents.
MD: Oh, after I graduated. I did my field work here in New York.
I: Oh, okay, so that was—
MD: Salvation Army. That’s how my—
I: Oh, you did mention that.
MD: Yeah. Let me see. (pause) In the South, there was—Black students could not do field work in White agencies. So our dean, we have block placement all over the country, different agencies, and we would spend six months in these agencies doing our field work.
I: Oh wow.
MD: (pause) The first year, we did our field work locally in some Black situations. In second year, we would come (pause) go to different agencies in the country. So mine was Salvation Army. And while I was there, the Salvation Army recognized Josephine Baker. They honored her because she’d done all this work with adopting all these children and stuff, and (pause) and my assignment was Harlem, so I worked with the elderly, I developed youth programs, and what else did I do? (pause) I guess elderly and youth, and that was it.
I: And so that was the Salvation Army’s office? They had a branch office in Harlem?
MD: At that time, there was a Black agency in Harlem run by Black professionals around the corner from the Theresa Hotel, and as you know, Blacks—at that time, Blacks weren’t able to stay downtown. They had to stay at Theresa, so the Theresa Hotel was a capital jewel(?) for Black activity in New York City, so people would stay there and we lived around the corner. So we got free room and board, that was our pay for our work, and we got a little stipend. So the stipend we used to enjoy Harlem. We would go to all the jazz clubs on the weekend, whenever we could go. We could go to the Savoy every Sunday because that was the capital for social clubs having dances in the afternoon. They had two shifts: afternoon and evening, and all the big bands played there. So we danced and had a ball at the Savoy! And at the jazz clubs. At Birdland, I heard every major jazz player during that era.
I: It’s amazing.
MD: I can’t think of one that I didn’t hear during that time. Because of my interest in music.
I: Makes sense.
MD: Mmm.
I: Must have been wonderful to be—
MD: Oh, it was wonderful. I mean, really, really wonderful. So let’s see, where else? Ask me some more!
I: I will, I will! (laughs) So in Harlem, you said you were working with the elderly and with youth. Was the young programming, was it based out of schools? Was it after school, was it summer programming? What kind of work at that time were you doing with youth?
MD: Well, the Salvation Army had facilities where, you know, you would meet with the elderly in groups and meet with the youth in groups at that building, ‘cause it was (pause) a big structure.
I: This was downtown or this was in Harlem?
MD: No, it was a Hundred and Twenty-fourth Street in Harlem. (laughs) That’s where it was at the time.
I: Right around the corner from the—
MD: Now there’s new buildings there. Right around the corner from Theresa Hotel.
I: That’s right, that’s right. (pause)
MD: And (pause) there were other students there that went about—there were five of us that were students living there.
I: So you came as a small group.
MD: Yeah, five from Atlanta, and then one person was working on his Ph.D. in Psychology at NYU. He stayed there. And so we were like family, it was good.
I: That’s great.
MD: Yeah, very good.
I: And so I was curious, then, with the youth was it, was it sort of psychological group work that you were doing with them or was it—
MD: No, no, it was, what do you call it? Socialization, prevention. You don’t hear that word anymore. (laughs) Not that much, right?
I: No. I’m actually not even sure soc—
MD: When I came along, we were focusing on prevention. (pause) You know, keeping children out of trouble, not bringing them together after they were in trouble. So it was more like socialization, appropriate social skills, and how to develop interest in activities and things like that.
I: How old were the students? How older were the children, sort of—
MD: Well, we worked with children who were school age primarily at that time [8-14 years].
I: And so they would come after school?
MD: Mmm, after school ‘cause they were in school during the day.
I: Right, makes sense. That’s really interesting. So then after you finished at Atlanta, were you—did that experience incline you to come back to New York?
MD: Yeah, after I finished from Atlanta, (pause) you know, with a two-year Master’s, which is equivalent to a Ph.D., right? It was hard for me to even get a job.
I: Oh wow.
MD: It was very difficult. Over-qualified. (laughs)
I: So I was thinking it was segregation.
MD: Hmm?
I: I was thinking it was segregation.
MD: Yeah, segregation. So anyway, I started my career after I graduated (pause) in what they call community education, which was prevention, an after school program with the Board of Education, and we developed programs in the schools after school. My first job was in Brownsville, New York, and I arrived, I found fifty students—I think I mentioned this the other day—waiting for me to develop programs for them to do, get some in-service training [community service for credits] from five different colleges. And I programmed them all.
I: Wow.
MD: Fifty students. And with different assignments in place. And it worked.
I: That’s great. What did you do?
MD: What did I do?
I: What kinds of programs?
MD: Well, small groups. They would work with parents. All kinds of different things that would help students learn about community, family, and home visits, things like that.
I: And so these were students mostly in social work?
MD: No, no, these were just college students who needed community experience for credits.
I: Okay.
MD: They still have that. They needed community experience, so they would go into these, it was called the Brownsville Community Center, and we would have assignments for them.
I: Wow.
MD: We would develop assignments for them.
I: And that was, and so you were employed by the Board of Education and so the community center was kind of a command center.
MD: We were funded at that time by (pause) New York City Youth Board. (pause) They had grants, I don’t know where the funds, maybe the city or whatever, but we were not on any city lines as such, the way people are today that was part of all these unions and all this stuff. They didn’t have all that then. (laughs)
I: How did—I’m curious what Brownsville was like when you arrived. I know that community was in rapid transition in those years.
MD: (overlapping) When I arrived, Brownsville Community Center was still primarily Jewish. There were a few Black families, but the families that were there were more middle-class, working, both parents working. There was not a lot of wealthy and stuff like you have today. They were working and upwardly mobile people. And the Jewish people were moving out and then Blacks were moving in at that time.
I: And did the students you worked with from the school, so that was a mixed group as well.
MD: In the housing projects Black families were moving in as Jewish families moved out at that time.
I: Not as much.
MD: No, it wasn’t that mixed. (pause) I’m trying to think. Back then, I think the Jewish people had their own private education, you know? Schools. And then there was a Brownsville Community Center primarily for Jewish youth that was privately run nearby. It was not run by the city, but we developed a cooperative relationship and we did programming together to bring the groups together even then. And the thing that—Kentucky being a borderline state, I remember (pause) before I went to college, church groups in Kentucky would meet at Kentucky State College, Blacks and Whites, and pray about race relations even before I went to college, and my mother would always expose me to this integrated activity to make race relations better. So I’ve never had any problem in race relations with people because this is part of my history and value. (laughs) You know? So working in Brownsville was very enjoyable, and we had an integrated staff. We had Irish, we had Japanese, we had (pause) West Indian, we had Southern Black, we had Northern Black, and did I leave—Jewish. The staff where we worked.
I: That’s quite a mix, yeah.
MD: And so because we worked till nine o’clock at night, we would (pause) go to different kind of restaurants and dinner on the break, and then from time to time, we’d take turns cooking and sharing food and things like that.
I: And what was—I’m curious what the response of the Brownsville community was. So did you get good feedback from parents, from the students, as those relationships developed?
MD: Well, yeah, we did a good job. We worked closely with the parents and (pause) oh, we would bring speakers in to the community centers to speak to the students.
I: Oh cool.
MD: I remember one time I planned a drug education (pause) speaker from the police department for my youth. And I think I might have had a hundred of them present. So this representative came with all his demonstration of different drugs and blah blah blah, and the officer said, he said, “Miss,” he said, “you didn’t need me. They coulda educated me!” (laughs) They knew more about drugs than— (laughs) Oh boy! That was just one example. But I really enjoyed my work.
I: That’s great.
MD: Yeah.
I: And so how did you find yourself then moving from Brownsville to the Lower East Side, to Mobilization for Youth? Or was there something in between?
MD: Well, it wasn’t direct. Let me see. (pause) From Brownsville, let me see, what did I do? (pause) Then after Brownsville, I’m trying to think what I did. (pause) Hmm. (pause) Brownsville. That was in the Fifties. (pause) What came in between? (pause) Um (long pause) Hmm. (pause) I lived—oh, I went to California. (laughs) I got married, moved to California, worked for a private agency called Community Charity Agency, called Special Services for Groups. And our role there was prevention also. And I worked with primarily Mexican Americans. They considered it prevention and group development. I worked with a group of Mexican American girls for two years. One group. It was like group therapy, and the whole job was prevention. You had to have a car, you had to pick up your group from their homes because it called for you to pick up ten group members before you could have a meeting. Then you would go to a recreational center to hold your group meeting. And then you would have to take everybody home.
I: Oh wow.
MD: And you were considered a sponsor for each one of those members. So it was ten to fifteen members. That was considered socialization.
I: Where in California was this?
MD: Hmm?
I: Where in California?
MD: Los Angeles. It was Watts. And (pause) it was sort of like group therapy. I worked with this group for two years. We went camping, Yosemite National Park.
I: Wow.
MD: And it was camping in the rough, and we had male leaders for males and female leaders for girls, and we drove to Yosemite National Park with a bus. We had enough supplies to last a week. We were supposed to be camping in the rough and cook our own food. (pause) And you know how active Mexican people are, you know? Well, we couldn’t stay a week because you couldn’t sleep. (laughs) You had fifteen or twenty teenagers up in Yosemite National Park and you think you can sleep? So we had to bury our food at night to keep the bears from eating it up. And then we had to watch to keep the kids from sniffing the white gas that we cooked with. And after about four days, I decided, look, we’re breaking camp. I have to get some rest. (laughs) So we broke camp and drove back to Los Angeles, which is quite a ways from where, you know. So that was my experience with that group. After I worked with them two years, I told them—I was married at the time. I said, “Look, I have to take some time off,” because it was a lot of hard work. I said, “I’m going to spend some time just being married.” And we had the relationship like I was their sponsor and we were like “Mary,” you know, a first name basis, and they said, “You know? You have been just perfect. Not too hard and not too soft.” (laughs) And they didn’t want to see me leave, but I did two years of intensive work. It was really kind of a group therapy.
I: Yeah, it sounds—
MD: Up close.
I: Sounds intense, yeah.
MD: And I did that for two years. And then I took the tests in senior social worker. I went to work for the California Youth Authority in an all-male union.
I: Oh wow.
MD: And one year I interviewed four hundred and fifteen youth males from age eight and a half to eighteen.
I: Wow. More than one a day.
MD: (overlapping) And prepared case summaries.
I: More than one a day.
MD: I had to prepare five briefs a week for the board to decide what to do with these—it was the reception center, so I would make an analysis and go before the board and make recommendations as to what should happen to them. Now what I learned in living in California, in California, they had no youth programs compared with what they had in New York. They were bored and kids would be arrested for throwing rocks at passing cars. They needed activities. But in New York, it was gangs and, you know, the problem was, you know, severe. So after interviewing four hundred and fifteen males at age eight to eighteen and making these summaries, I decided, first of all, I didn’t like working for the California Youth Authority because they would come in with folders this thick with all the bad stuff, and I would never read any folder until I interviewed the person. I said, “What’s left?” (laughs) With all of this documentation, I can’t read it. And I would interview the person, see what there was to work with, and then I’d make my recommendation. And half of the time, it was the lack of activity in Los Angeles because they just didn’t have the programs that New York had. That’s what I found. So after I did that a year, I came back to New York.
I: And that was when you came to the Lower East Side?
MD: Um, I came back in fifty-nine, let me see. (pause) It must have been—no it wasn’t. I’m trying to remember. So much has happened! (laughs)
I: It’s quite all right.
MD: I came back from California—no, no, no. ’60 (pause), it was after that I went to the Lower East Side. But before that, I was the first clinical director for an organization called Girl Service League in Gramercy Park. That was a residential treatment (pause) that was run by the Junior Leaguers.
I: I don’t know, I don’t know them.
MD: It’s, you know, it was very wealthy White women. A quarter of a million dollars for a treatment center for twenty adolescent girls [the population was racially mixed]. And (pause) so I was the first residential director ‘cause they had, they had a lot of psychiatric case workers, they had a psychiatrist, but they didn’t have any trained director of the facility. So when they gave me the job, I said, “Well, look, I don’t even know what this is.” (laughs) “What I’m dealing with.” So I decided I would move in and assess what’s going on twenty-four hours. That’s the only way I could know. And I learned that they had a night watchman that couldn’t tell—at night, he couldn’t tell whether you were Black or White ‘cause he couldn’t see. (laughs) And the girls were slipping out and in and—
I: Oh man.
MD: bringing guys up the windows and oh! That was another kind of education. And they had all kinds of money. They could go to private schools, they could have any kind of private lesson ‘cause there was all this money, and good food and blah blah. So oh, they had a few girls who were (pause) had been classified as mental health, but most of them were just adolescents acting out. So what I did, I began to assess what needed to be done. I said, first of all, you don’t need to have a residential treatment facility with house mothers that have no life. Get these women out of here. On their days off, if they don’t have any place to go, get outta here. They have their independent quarters, not the lives of these girls. So I made those kind of recommendations. And in the final analysis, I recommended that they close down the residential part and make it outpatient. And they did.
I: Oh wow.
MD: They did.
I: That’s great. That’s fascinating. And so that was, so it was a center for then, the girls were there also from wealthy backgrounds.
MD: Yeah, it accommodated twenty adolescent girls. And then they had I think four house mothers or something like that. But there was too much wealth and not enough expectations. They could (pause) have all kinds of lessons, they could go to private schools, they could do whatever, and they did. But that was—I think I did, I completed that project in about a year and a half, my evaluation as to what should happen.
I: That’s great, that’s great. And so I think at one point you mentioned to me too, did you—were you at the University at Michigan?
MD: I used to go up there in summer time and study when I was teaching at Ball State.
I: Oh, so that was, I’m jumping way ahead.
MD: All this is after, right.
I: Yeah, that’s right.
MD: I went up, I studied architecture and housing for the elderly and I was part of the first Afro American National Survey on Mental Health [James Jackson was the director of the project].
I: Cool, that’s great.
MD: They did that in ’79 to I think ’81, something like that. I was an investigator.
I: Wow. That was nationally.
MD: Yes.
I: That was nationally that was—
MD: Yeah. That was just part-time. I did that on my own [while teaching at Ball State University].
I: I guess I’m jumping ahead now because I suppose then it was (pause) I should ask you about Mobilization for Youth because that’s in the early, I guess mid-Sixties.
MD: Yes.
I: I should you ask you about Mobilization for Youth.
MD: You were trying to get me back to Mobilization.
I: If we’re going chronologically, I suppose.
MD: I went to Mobilization for Youth after (pause) the Girls Service League and also, I was also, I’ve always—one thing about the kind of social work I’ve trained, we’ve always been involved in the different housing, health, senior citizens, it’s always like been a component, part of the whole, meeting people’s needs.
I: Right.
MD: And that’s the foundation of how we were trained at Atlanta. We’re not just all clinical. We’re more than just clinical.
I: Right. And it sounds like Mobilization for Youth was on that model too, in a way.
MD: Right. Right. More of a systems approach.
I: So I’d love—I know you told me a bit about the experience last time, but I’d love to hear it again for the, for the recording, but also just to ask you more about it.
MD: What’s that?
I: About your experience there.
MD: At Mobilization?
I: Yeah.
MD: (pause) Okay. A friend of mine got me involved in the job. His name was Kenny Marshall. He was a part of Kenneth Clark’s staff. You’ve heard of Kenneth Clark?
I: Yes, yes.
MD: They were sort of like co-workers and he said, “Well, Mary, I have a project for you at Mobilization.” And it was this program. Kenneth, Kenny Marshall was his name. And I’m thinking, did he teach (pause) at Columbia? Oh, he came out of New York City Youth Board. You heard of them?
I: Mmm.
MD: I think he came out of that, but I can’t remember whether he had his Ph.D., but he was brilliant. He got me involved with Mobilization for Youth.
I: And he was working with Kenneth Clark as a team?
MD: Yeah, they were all part of that [prevention movement].
I: That’s great. And so what was, what was it, what was the project like? I mean, it was—this was the project of hiring or recruiting these parent educators, parent educational—
MD: Well, the thing is the way we would train, we had no problem in confronting projects and going to the community and exploring and organizing and, you know, getting down with the nitty-gritty, you know, doing the project. It was part of our foundation. So all I had was the outline and I had to develop a program. And that’s it.
I: And this was it.
MD: Mmm. [Parent education].
I: And so in, in developing the parent education program, what were the sort of steps you went through? What kind of—how did you, how did you develop it, I guess? For somebody who doesn’t know how one would go about developing a program like that.
MD: Well, you know, I guess (pause) coming from the kind of parents I had, my father and mother were always moving, going into new places and developing—my father was always trying to upgrade schools in Kentucky, making sure that they had qualified teachers. So it was always some place else and you get to know who’s who and who you can deal with and who you couldn’t.. You know, that was not new to me. It was part of my experience and the whole organizing. And you can’t do it by yourself and you become one of the whole to get the project done. You can’t do it by yourself, you know?
I: Yeah.
MD: So I can’t tell you how I selected, you know, these people. But I selected all of them.
I: That’s great.
MD: You know?
I: And you mentioned, I think you mentioned last time that you had put out—there were radio ads for the programs with—
MD: Oh yeah. (pause) I told you there was a man named Marone(?), Lero—Ma—what was his name?
I: Was it Ramon Valez?
MD: Valez. Ramon. Oh, wow. Valez, Ramon, Ramon Valez was his name. Who had a radio show. And he knew everybody in the Spanish community, [everybody] listened to it. And so I spoke to him about advertising the people, you know, for the job.
I: And you got a few people that way?
MD: Yes.
I: That’s great. And so the Lower East Side at that time was, you know, it’s in here in this document, The Parent Educator, but it was quite a mix, sort of melting pot place or many different people from many—
MD: It was quite what?
I: Quite mixed. Many different people from many different backgrounds.
MD: Yes, it’s still mixed.
I: Yeah. And was that, was that one of the challenges, then, of building the kind of programs, sort of finding ways to reach different groups and different (pause) [sources for jobs].
MD: Well, the one thing (laughs) I find and I learned it when I had the first ________ one of the things that corporate America used to, what they look for now, but they looked for people who have music in their background.
I: Interesting.
MD: Because music and how you blend chords and notes together, it’s a mix of many dimensions, you know, Black, White. And actually the piano to me is the key to everything. You can augment [or diminish] with a black or white key, and to me that’s my model, the piano, in life. (laughs)
I: That’s great!
MD: Huh?
I: That’s really interesting. And so you recruited, it was about twelve people then, into the—
MD: Yeah, because I showed you the other ladies around the table. There was about four or five others. So I don’t think I brought that picture today, but—
I: That’s okay.
MD: It was about fifteen more people. Mmm.
I: And so then you worked together to develop the program but also these folks went out into, into homes, into community, into their communities to speak with parents and work with parents.
MD: Oh yeah, I trained them to go into homes and we did role playing. You know, the picture I showed you of Frank Riessman and that was teaching these people how to do role playing. That’s what that session was about. With the, with the families, you know, how to confront authorities, authority figures. Don’t be afraid, don’t be intimidated. Be respectful and courteous but don’t take any crap! (laughs)
I: And that was—and this is particularly geared towards then the schools and—
MD: Hmm?
I: This was particularly geared towards—as authorities, you’re thinking, I’m thinking of I guess for the schools.
MD: Right, mmm.
I: On the Lower East Side. And what was—I mean, I knew you didn’t, you weren’t an aide yourself, because you were a coordinator(?), but what was their experience like? Did they get into it? Did they have a good time?
MD: We were like family. We had a good time.
I: That’s great.
MD: I was just thinking, I said I wonder what happened to, you know, everybody. You know? I don’t know what happened to everybody because, you know, people move on in their lives, you know.
I: Sure.
MD: And I’ve moved around a lot, you know, I have all of my life. Before I went to college, I had lived in five different places in Kentucky, and that’s a lot.
I: It is, yeah.
MD: Mmm.
I: Especially when you’re a kid and you move from place to place.
MD: A kid, right.
I: I was also curious, so what—I’m curious about the folks you worked with at Mobilization. You know, Frame Riessman comes up so much in my research, but I don’t know much about him as a person. What was he like?
MD: Frank was very serious and he was always about his research. (laughs) He was that kind of person. He knew (pause) he was bent on new careers and how to get that going, and that was his focus. Mmm.
I: And then, and he worked, I mean he would have been working here also with Lloyd Olin and Cloward and other folks who were _____.
MD: [Social researchers].
I: Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward were involved too in Mobilization for Youth at that time or a little later?
MD: Yeah, I didn’t work that closely with Fran and Cloward with this group. We were friends and we were all part of a whole, a larger group. (pause) I’m trying to think. They were about putting people on welfare. As I said, I was not for that. (laughs) [They wrote a book together, Regulating the Poor].
I: Right.
MD: Definitely not for that. I was about helping people find jobs. But we remained friends till the end, you know.
I: One thing I also wanted to ask about that you mentioned last time. I noticed most of these aides were women, and I was curious what the kind of gender dynamics then were of recruiting women to work outside the home. You’d mentioned talking to some husbands.
MD: Yeah. Culturally, the whole Spanish culture is very different from the Black culture, and I only had one—this was the only Black woman that I could recruit for that job at the time. This lady was more like a supervising type person, but she ended up with a big position with Planned Parenthood.
I: Oh, that’s great.
MD: A supervisory position.
I: That’s fantastic.
MD: Now I don’t think any of those others reached that level.
I: That was one of the more—
MD: And she may have retired from Planned Parenthood. But she had had some, a different kind of educational exposure to the Hispanic women because she had had, you know, more community exposure than the Hispanic women.
I: And those women, I think you mentioned last time, some of their husbands were somewhat re6sistant to them taking on this kind of a role.
MD: They had to get permission from the husbands to take a job.
I: And did you have to speak with some of them?
MD: Oh, I had to. Yeah, I did. (laughs)
I: What did you say?
MD: I can’t remember what I said. You know, having sold newspapers from a child, I know how to sell. (laughs) You know, you know how to sell.
I: Sure, sure. And then so through these, through the parent education piece, did it feel as though you were able to reach a pretty large group of folks, then, sort of on the Lower East Side through these folks so that each of them kind of worked with different groups and different people? Was there a sort of—I’m trying to think how to best say this.
MD: Of what?
I: I’m trying to think how to say it correctly. Was there a kind of (pause) did it seem to sort of involve more parents, parents who weren’t aides but who interacted with these aides? Did it seem to involve more of them than in, in education?
MD: Well, you can see that we involved more parents at the community meetings.
I: Yeah, they’re remarkable.
MD: (laughs) So anybody could come and ask for assistance from us, you know. It wasn’t just a few parents.
I: Right, right.
MD: Oh, and I—the thing that I didn’t mention (pause), the person that worked closely with me on this project was a man, Harry Speck(?). Harry Speck was the community organization specialist at the time and he was very much interested in our project and he left Mobilization for Youth and went on to become the Dean of the School of Social Work at Berkeley. [The University of California at Berkeley].
I: Oh wow.
MD: California. And he wrote a book, I forget what his book was about, but you might want to check to see what he wrote about, but he was very aggressively in community organization. Harry Speck. He’s deceased now. But I have to mention him because he was in this audience. I had a lot more pictures, but I might have had a picture of him somewhere.
I: Yeah. Well, I wanted to ask too about some of the philosophy behind these kinds of programs. You have this great piece in here, “Can Education Make Man Free?” And so how, you know, in sort of working with this program, how did, how did you articulate that, realize that, work towards it?
MD: Well, information (pause) gives a person a different level of freedom. Information. (laughs) Basic information. And more information you have, the freer you are. Very simple. Not ______. Huh?
I: Fair enough. What I was curious too, this is at a time when they were, you know, they come up in this, in this volume, there were massive protests in New York around integration of education, around sort of the quality of education in places like the Lower East Side. I mean, how did those—did those movements have an influence on sort of the work you were doing? Was there a relationship at all?
MD: Well, there was a resistance, first of all, because there was more influx of Hispanics and not all of them were fluent in English. So there were those kind of tensions that we experienced then. And some of the Hispanic parents said they were not recognized when they went to the schools. They couldn’t communicate with the teachers and things like that. So we were sort of like a bridge.
I: Yeah, makes sense. And did some of the aides then work—there’s some great images here in the classroom, you know, sort of as translators, sort of informally, or just—
MD: Yeah, this woman was working with a guidance counselor and she’s there discussing some issue that one of her families had, so she’s intervening on behalf of the parent with the guidance counselor at the school.
I: That’s great. And I mean the language issue in particular seems like such a, in a way, a difficult hurdle at first, right? If you could, if you would go to your school but you couldn’t fully understand what a teacher or administrator was saying, that would leave you feeling pretty powerless.
MD: Mmm.
I: So it seemed having people who spoke the language to help you seems like it would have been a really—
MD: Well, as you know, in the Hispanic culture, a lot of them take their children along to interpret for them.
I: Oh sure.
MD: That’s, you know, that still exists.
I: Definitely.
MD: But it helps to have paras that also speak the language.
I: Absolutely.
MD: To clarify any misconception in that.
I: Definitely. Yeah. (pause) Now this, all what you were saying about there being all these connective issues really comes through in this. You know, you’ve got mention of how to get access to school clothing and gradation grants, and there’s also information about the parent association, about the need for social action. There’s all of this information about everything.
MD: Resources, mmm.
I: Yeah, resources. And this bit about public hearings and sort of going and being heard, and then it ends here with a bit about voting. So it seems like you’ve got a really, it’s a really amazing amount of—well—
MD: Well, they’re all community issues. (laughs)
I: Absolutely, yeah.
MD: It reached the community organization, you know? And it’s, it’s in essence everything I learned at Atlanta U. (laughs)
I: That’s great, that’s really great.
MD: All in a nutshell.
I: And I was curious just to ask you about the idea of a paraprofessional or someone in the new careers position, because you went on to do some of that work as well at Lincoln Hospital then. And was that, you know, at this time was that something that really felt like it was offering opportunities to people who might not otherwise have had them?
MD: Well, I got invited to go to Lincoln Hospital and work with them just because of this program.
I: Sure.
MD: And they invited me up there to train mental health aides. That’s how I got the job. But I did it very differently because I was also training the psychologists and psychiatrists, because I trained (pause) I think it was fifteen people in a one-way, you know, you have these one-way mirrors.
I: Oh wow, yeah.
MD: With these psychiatrists and psychologists observing as to how to do it. Now that wasn’t easy. (laughs)
I: I’m sure.
MD: Huh? I trained the staff. First of all, I selected the staff through interview. I had a man who’d been a carpenter, he was seventy-two years old. I selected him to be a counselor. I selected a woman who had eleven children and they were all grown. I selected twenty-two year olds, I selected a whole range of people.
I: Wow.
MD: To give service in the area of mental health. That’s what I did.
I: And that was both with the hospital, but then you mentioned also that there was a storefront clinic that you started with these folks.
MD: But that was after I trained them. I had to train them first and then I set up the clinic.
I: Wow.
MD: And we even renovated the clinic physically for them to give the service. So it was a whole process.
I: That’s remarkable. I realize I should have asked this about the aides in Mobilization for Youth too. But I have some sense, but I’m curious. What was the range of things that they did once they were trained?
MD: These, among these people?
I: Yeah, I should ask about these and then I should ask about the Lincoln Hospital folks.
MD: They did whatever the families needed. If they had to go to the doctor, they went with them. If they had to go to the school, if they had to go to court, if they had to go to welfare. We even brought welfare people to these kind of meetings.
I: I had this—there’s an image of that.
MD: The Commissioner of welfare, we even had meetings—right—with the welfare department to educate them about what’s available.
I: That’s great.
MD: Mmm, we did all that.
I: That’s remarkable. And then at Lincoln Hospital, a different set of activities for the—a different set of responsibilities for the aides probably.
MD: Well, Lincoln Hospital, it was—the mental health was primarily services for people to get the mental health services they need. That was a different, you know, focus.
I: And was Frank Riessman involved with the Lincoln Hospital as well?
MD: Not as much.
I: I know he had done some research there at some point.
MD: Yeah. He wasn’t as involved in the Lincoln Hospital as he was in this project. Mmm. ‘Cause there was another psychologist, Mel Roman, that felt that you can accomplish as much working with a group than one on one. He didn’t believe in seeing people individually.
I: Interesting.
MD: He felt that the group process was more effective, you know, more sustaining than the long-term one on one. And so I worked with both of them. They’re both deceased now, but you might want to read up on Mel Roman and his theory. Didn’t believe in one on one.
I: (pause) Sorry about the cord, it tangled. And one thing that comes to mind, at least for me, and it’s a connection other people have drawn when I’ve asked them about paraprofessionals, is the question of community control which starts to be a big issue by the mid to late 1960s. And specifically, of course, in New York of education, the idea of community control of education and having a much larger role for community members in education. But it does come up in, I think in health too. And so I was curious if that was a connection that you made, if there were people who were interested in paraprofessionals and aides and that context. It’s sort of an open-ended question, I realize.
MD: Well, you know, I guess I—at the time I was involved, the community control issue came up because the super—oh, when the paraprofession—when the aides felt that the superintendent [of schools] saw them as an invisible people. And they wanted the superintendent fired. That got us into a lot of trouble. (laughs)
I: I’m sure! To go up against the Board of Ed. What was that like?
MD: Huh?
I: What was that like?
MD: I’m telling you, that’s what ended the program.
I: Oh gees. Really?
MD: Yeah, it ended the program because they said s/he talked to them like they were dirt and stuff like that.
I: Oh man.
MD: So it ended the program.
I: Oh gees.
MD: Mmm.
I: But it sounded like, I mean in many ways it would have been a pioneer, and I think a lot of what happened at Mobilization for Youth was a kind of inspiration and just some of the larger programs that got developed with War on Poverty funding later on, and certainly paraprofessionals.
MD: Well, they were the forerunners, there’s no way about it and no way you can get around it. They demonstrated the need and they also reinforced the whole attendance problem, you know, like you have attendance teachers were making home visits and so forth. Well, these people were also making home visits and sometimes they would, you know, the whole profess—paraprofessional thing evolved out of paraprofessionals going into homes, finding out why students—not attendance teachers, but paraprofessionals, finding out why the students weren’t coming. It just sort of piggy-backed on what we started [at Mobilization for Youth. Paras were not unionized at that time].
I: Yeah.
MD: That’s what happened.
I: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And the attendance teachers then must have been glad for the help or at least it was certainly—
MD: Attendance teachers were primarily teachers who maybe didn’t want to be in a classroom and liked the freedom.
I: Right.
MD: But they were college educated, when these peop—many of these people were not.
I: Yeah. But those attendance teachers probably didn’t have nearly as much of a sense of the community as the paras did.
MD: Well, as I said, they had come not from the community but from all over, and these were jobs that they had taken tests for.
I: Right.
MD: (laughs) There were no test jobs in this case. No tests that you had to take.
I: And did you have any involvement—I know so the Board of Ed starts to hire paras formally within the system I think in 1967, and then the positions expand quite rapidly so that there’s about I think something like twenty thousand paras employed.
MD: Paras now?
I: Even more now I think.
MD: Really? I don’t know anything about it. (laughs)
I: Fair enough.
MD: I’ve been so removed from it. You know, it’s been a long time.
I: Sure, sure. Well, I was just curious in sort of in the late Sixties and early Seventies when they were starting to hire these folks, if people came and asked about these kinds of programs.
MD: They used them a lot in working with special ed families, I know.
I: Yes, definitely. And Alan Gartner, I know, has written a lot on that, worked on that [he also worked with Frank Riessman].
MD: Special ed?
I: Yeah.
MD: And paras?
I: Yeah.
MD: Okay.
I: That’s something he’s—
MD: Well, see, I didn’t know anything about special education. I never worked in it until I came back here in, from the Midwest in the Eighties. And I was surprised. I’m not sure that I fully believe in it, you know? I think a lot of teachers saw it as a way to make extra money.
I: Oh, interesting.
MD: Hmm? I shouldn’t say that. But special ed teachers make more money than regular teachers. You knew that, right?
I: This is—
MD: Huh?
I: I didn’t know that, no.
MD: Mmm. You work, you make more money in special ed than you do as a regular teacher with fewer students. And so it became a big thing.
I: Interesting.
MD: And when I found out that people were sitting in there with six children (pause). Some of the brightest kids I found were in special ed that didn’t necessarily need to be (laughs) in special ed, you know? They put a lot of in—there was an influx of drugs in the Black community in the Seventies, and that’s when this whole special ed thing boomed.
I: That’s interesting.
MD: Okay? The parents were on drugs, the children were placed in different [learning classes] and that’s what gave rise to special ed, and people retired at much higher salaries with less work. Take that out. (laughs)
I: We certainly can edit that out.
MD: Mmm.
I: In the final transcript. I also wanted to ask, I was curious, there are other folks we mentioned last time who were working on some similar issues, and I was just curious how you interacted with them. Audrey Cohen, you mentioned she had spoken with you as she was getting the women’s ____
MD: (overlapping) She wanted me to come and help her start a school.
I: Yeah.
MD: And I knew it would be a lot of work. I don’t think at that time I just wanted (pause) to start another project.
I: Sure.
MD: At that particular time, because she liked what I had done, you know, here. That’s why she asked for me to come.
I: Makes sense.
MD: And she did a fabulous job with the college, she really did.
I: So you kind of kept and—
MD: Mmmm.
I: followed along with her?
MD: Yeah.
I: And I think you mentioned also a woman named Laura Pires. Did she—she had worked with you and then went to work with—
MD: No, no, no. Laura Pires joined Audrey after I told her I wasn’t coming.
I: But she hadn’t worked for Mobilization for Youth.
MD: Hmm?
I: Laura Pires hadn’t worked for Mobilization for Youth.
MD: No.
I: That makes sense. And another person I know who was very involved in the idea of parent participation and education here in Harlem was Preston Wilcox, who was also a social worker.
MD: I told you Preston and I were colleagues, you know. We all had been involved with Columbia School of Social Work, community organization. Then I belonged to the Harlem Council with Al Wilson and Preston was part of that. So we shared a lot of (pause) common interests in things like that.
I: And when he was developing some of his program through Afram, were you ever—did you have conversations about those?
MD: Well, a lot of the things he did, a lot of the things he did locally and some nationally. I don’t know about all of that.
I: Fair enough.
MD: You know, I used to go up to his office and he was involved in conferences and things all over the place, but I wasn’t involved in that.
I: Sure enough. I know that we haven’t even gotten to your work at Boys and Girls and I should ask you about that. But lingering on the Sixties a little bit, I guess, because I’m interested in some of these people and institutions. (pause) I had been curious when the school boycotts happened.
MD: Hmm?
I: When the school boycotts happened in Nineteen—I think it’s 1964, were there, were some of these folks in the community—I think the Lower East Side had a very high turnout for that. The boycott that Milton Galamison [a Brooklyn minister] led around integration in New York.
MD: I remember all of that, but I wasn’t involved. In ’64, ____ what I was doing in ’64. (pause) 1964, I was up at Einstein [Medical College, training community mental health aides]. Mmm.
I: Makes sense.
MD: ‘Cause right after that, I opened [an employment agency, placing minorities in private industry]. Oh, I had promised. When I lived in California, somebody introduced me to the Commissioner of Personnel in the State of California, in L.A., a friend of mine, and he asked me to troubleshoot the corporations in L.A. Now he knew I had credentials to do whatever, I’ve always—and he asked me to go to different corporations and see if they would hire me. And I did that as a part-time project just for the Commissioner of Personnel in L.A. And he said, “It’s not that you don’t have good credentials, you’re just the wrong color.”
I: Sure.
MD: So after we finished our survey, I went to—I applied for different levels of positions and I couldn’t get hired. So he made me promise him that I would open up an employment agency. (laughs) That’s how I ended—it took me ten years! But I did open it up. That’s how I did that.
I: That’s right.
MD: ‘Cause it was needed. He said, “You know, it’s not that you—you know—the color thing is the problem.”
I: Right. And then after that, that was when you went to Ball State as a professor, is that right?
MD: Not then. I didn’t go to Ball after the employment agency.
I: Right.
MD: But before I went to Ball State, I had worked up in Harlem at the Architectural Renewal Committee. ARCH. (pause) Somebody asked me to come in and help him out because they were having problems with the director, and he said, “You won’t have to leave your employment agency. Just come and help as a consultant.” When I got up there, there were so many issues, I never got back to my employment agency. (laughs) I couldn’t get back! Couldn’t go back. [I didn’t have staff to help me with the agency. I was also endorsed by the National Urban League. Whitney Young, Jr. was also my mentor for this project].
I: So what kind of work was ARCH doing at that time?
MD: ARCH was a community development center that worked with community groups. Local groups had ideas for projects, they had architects and planners to help them with the plans, the drawings, and help them implement whatever it is they wanted to do.
I: Oh wow.
MD: So we had architects, planners, engineers, and people to help the local people do that.
I: That’s remarkable.
MD: Mmm.
I: There’s a woman as part of this Educating Harlem project who’s writing a paper about a Harlem-based, a female architect who I think might have also been involved in ARCH. And I wish I could remember her name, but I can’t at the moment.
MD: Who is she connected with?
I: She’s—the woman who’s writing the paper is connected with City College, but I don’t know if she was. (pause) It’s completely escaping my mind but I’ll have to look that up because I’m sure she would be interested to hear more about that work. (pause) I should say thanks so much. This is great. I know we’ve been talking for a while.
MD: There’s so much. I’m telling you. I said, whew!
I: But it’s really wonderful. So you said you went to Ball State in the Seventies, then.
MD: Mmm. ’76.
I: And taught Social Work.
MD: Mmm.
I: But as you mentioned, eventually then you found yourself coming back to New York to work at Boys and Girls, right?
MD: Yeah, mmm. I gave up my tenure. People don’t give up tenure, right?
I: Not anymore.
MD: You can’t even get it anymore.
I: Well, you’re talking to a grad student (pause) tenure is--
MD: But I thought, you know, having been around the college arena, university arena, I said tenure’s not everything. Some people ____ “Tenure!” And I said no. I told them I want it, I worked to get it, and I did. But I said for me to sit out here and be tenured and every time I’m looking, I’m trying to head to New York, it doesn’t make sense. (laughs) So you gotta give it up. You can’t hold on to everything.
I: Sure.
MD: You can’t. But I do miss academia. I like the college environment. I like the stimulation, the challenges. You can’t beat it.
I: Yeah.
MD: You really can’t.
I: That’s great.
MD: And now I feel that (pause) you never get too old to learn and to grow. Like I’m just appalled at some of the stuff I’m exposed to now in terms of ____ (laughs) I can’t believe it’s true, but it is true, you know? (pause) But people don’t have the kind of people to fill in the gaps that some of us have, and you need people to fill in the gaps, you know, for you.
I: Yeah, that’s right. (pause) Well, I also wanted to ask you then, since I’m thinking about education in New York, about your experience in Boys and Girls when you came back. And you talked to me a little bit about that last time, but you were the counselor there, is that right?
MD: I was the senior clinical social work consultant for the school of four thousand students.
I: (overlapping) You were a social worker. That’s right. Four thousand and some students, is that right?
MD: I was school based.
I: Wow.
MD: And I also worked with the school based support team. But Mr. Mickens [the principal], depended on me, but people—I got, they gave me a hard time. I mean, I got put in a corner in a Xerox room (laughs).
I: Oh my gosh!
MD: I got treated like dirt, believe me.
I: Oh gees.
MD: By other women. But luckily, you know, because of my foundation (pause) I stayed there thirteen years. Ended up with my own office and everybody coming to me for help, even the principal. (laughs) That was the fun part. But Mickens was a tough character, but he respected me. I had no idea he was as young as he was. Sixty-seven years old. You would have thought he was at least seventy something, but he was a young man. But he loved those students, he really did.
I: And what kind of, what kind of work and programming were you developing? I mean, mostly working with individual students or did you have—you mentioned a school based support team, so is that including paras?
MD: Well, I worked with the—at one point, I worked with the clinical team that did these updates [for special ed students] and all that kind of stuff, and then I got to the point that I didn’t do any of that. I just worked with the whole school. I did teacher training, HIV training. What else did I do? Health fairs for parents. I set up a resource room for the students where they could come and talk about whatever. We did group therapy. Those kinds of things.
I: That’s great. And did you have folks you worked with sort of as part of that team, sort of paras or guidance counselors?
MD: Well, I worked with—first of all, Boys and Girls had a high Caribbean population.
I: Makes sense.
MD: So a process (pause) all the students who were from out of the country, we made sure that they had their immunization. We’d set up group visits to the clinic. Everybody would be immunized at the same—that kind of stuff, to get it done, you know. If it hasn’t been done, we’ll get it done.
I: I saw similar things actually in this, they were doing the same thing.
MD: Oh, I was?
I: Yeah, for the Puerto Rican women and—
MD: Really?
I: Yeah, it was, it comes up in here.
MD: Immunization?
I: Yeah, for students if they haven’t—
MD: And that was—
I: been admitted to kindergarten yet. (laughs)
MD: A lot of years before, right?
I: Mmm.
MD: Hasn’t changed. (laughs) It’s all basic. Just survival.
I: That’s fascinating. I’m going to look at my notes from last time about (pause) Boys and Girls. Yeah, I mean four thousand students is a very big number.
MD: Where I was born [the town population] was four thousand people and I said here I am, working in a school with four thousand students and almost three hundred teachers. And we did teacher training.
I: Wow.
MD: We did, you know? I really loved that job. I had been—and I learned a lot. You know, you can’t do much without growing yourself. So I grew a lot and I’m proud of that.
I: That’s great. It’s amazing. (pause) Forgive me for looking at my notes.
MD: Okay.
I: Just thinking. (long pause) Well, in so much, like you were saying, so much of this work seems about ____ like you said, the basic, laying the under sort of, laying the foundation maybe would be a way of saying it for students to learn, right? So making sure that they have access to these kinds of basic things, health care, and the mental health care and being able to understand, having their parents be able to understand and move through bureaucracies and things. And that seems to be a thread through a lot of these different programs and projects.
MD: Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve taken a little piece from whatever and transferred it into it. I’m going to share this with you. When I was at the Counseling Youth Authority, one of the things that I used with my students when I interviewed them, I always used essays and drawings. And sometimes I’d have them draw self-image or whomever or whatever, and you learn a lot from that, and that was how ____ I would begin my interview, analyzing their drawings. And I remember one time at Boys and Girls, a mother came to me. She was talking about her son. All he was doing was watching these—he was obsessed with these movies, sexual movies. So I said, “Draw me a picture.” And he drew this picture. I kept it a long time. It was so bizarre. (laughs) I said, “Look, you’ve got to get him immediately to a hospital.” All kinds of weird stuff, and he ended up being hospitalized, you know, that kind of stuff that you have to pick up, you know, immediately. But the interesting part: he was hospitalized for a while. I don’t know how long, but they used to have a clinical, a psychiatric hospital for adolescents. Were you aware of that? Well, you haven’t been here long enough to know, but they used to have that, and they kept him there for a while and then ____ he left. Well, to make a long story short, the last analysis, I’d heard he gone out to Utah—what’s that school out there? The Mormons now?
I: Brigham Young?
MD: _____ and had become a minister. I said, Oh! (laughs)
I: Wow, that’s quite a transformation.
MD: I said, oh no! But you know, I have the stories, I have the stories. (laughs)
I: That’s remarkable.
MD: But you can learn so much from drawings and writings. And I had to do a lot of grief counseling with the students because they were losing friends and relatives, and I would make them write about the feelings and things like that. And I kept a lot of stuff. I know I probably will never get around to publishing it, but I do have a lot of it.
I: That’s great.
MD: Mmm. So is that it?
I: Well, this is great. Is there anything I’m missing? I mean—
MD: No.
I: I always feel when I’m interviewing someone who has so much more experience than I do that I actually don’t even know what questions to ask.
MD: Well, you’ve had a lot of experience yourself. You’re young.
I: (laughs)
MD: What are you, twenty-five?
I: I wish. I’m thirty.
MD: Well, you’re still young. You are still young.
I: And I started in student teaching when I was an undergraduate in Chicago and that was a good eye opener for me for thinking about these kinds of issues and questions.
MD: When I was teaching my students at Ball State, I made two trips from Muncie to Chicago. We went to Chatham Green Housing Project.
I: Oh sure.
MD: We went to Chinatown. We stayed at the University of Chicago twice. And I said I cannot teach social work to anybody who doesn’t know anything about a ghetto (laughs). And especially Indiana is not a state with a whole lot of Black people. Five percent. It may be more now, I don’t know, but five percent. We made two trips to Chicago and the students had so much fun, they felt guilty and they started reading the Bible. They read the Bible for two hours all the way back to Muncie. (laughs) We had so much fun.
I: That’s amazing.
MD: This was out of their realm of expectation. So anyway, if you have any other questions, you know.
I: Yeah, well, let me think if there are any right now, but if not, I’ll certainly be in touch. (pause) This is all really helpful. Let me glance through this very quickly. (pause) I guess one of the reasons I’m interested in these para programs is just having seen, having been in some public schools here, I did after school education for two years here in New York, and just seeing all of the kinds of things that paras, that parents, that people who, you know, in the schools that really succeed with their outreach and after school programs, there’s all this labor that sort of doesn’t always get recognized but seems so—
MD: They don’t get recognized?
I: Yeah. But it seems so important.
MD: They don’t get recognized?
I: Sometimes they do. I think in the schools that are successful, every now and then they do a good job of reaching out. But I saw a lot of people putting in a lot of hours and effort and then you wouldn’t hear about this in the ed reform world or, you know, you wouldn’t hear Michael Bloomberg talk about it, but you could see it in these schools that you had really involved parents, really involved paras. Teachers too. I mean, I don’t mean to—and administrators.
MD: Well, the thing that bothers me right now is they have these parent coordinators. I said, what do they do? Have you seen them do anything?
I: Well, they seem to have—my understanding of what happened was that, so when Klein and Bloomberg came in, a lot of the paras who had been hired, and there’s sort of several generations back, but as part of these programs as they developed in the Sixties, and these jobs have been going away for a long time. But Klein really wanted to get rid of those. But one of the things people said was, “No, we need—paras are part of this idea of a bridge between the school and the community,” and you said the same thing. And he said, “Well, we’ll create this position of parent coordinator,” but it’s kind of on an island and it’s very much controlled by the principal.
MD: (overlapping) You know, you see (pause) you see what I did as a parent coordinator, right?
I: Mmm.
MD: Now even through the Harlem Council of Elders, I don’t even know who the parent coordinators are in the schools that we work in. I don’t know who we are. And I understand Bill Perkins was having a breakfast for them, and I said, a breakfast? (laughs) You know, I’m sort of like, you know, too quick sometimes. I said, what do they do, you know? I still don’t know what they do, as we’re speaking here today. I think that’s sort of like a political appointment.
I: I’m sure.
MD: Maybe I shouldn’t say that.
I: No, well.
MD: Huh?
I: (laughs)
MD: But that’s what it seems to be.
I: Well, that was one of the things, you know, so when paras first started getting hired, I think it very much comes out of the kind of work that you were doing _____ doing this idea of bridging between schools and communities and bringing people out into communities to help address all of these foundational things. But in many ways I think by about the Eighties and afterwards, as these positions become sort of part of the personal kind of fiefdoms of principals or of administrators, then that kind of politics very much enters into it, into appointments and into who has access to these kinds of jobs and things. (pause)
MD: Well, if you think of anything else.
I: I surely will. Well, thank you so, so much for sitting here with me for so long.
MD: I hope I didn’t talk too much.
I: Oh no, not at all.
MD: Well.
I: And I learned a lot and I’m—
MD: You learned a lot?
I: I did. Well, and I know that every time I do one of these interviews, I know I’ll walk out of the room and think, I should have asked that! But here, let me stop here.
(END OF INTERVIEW)

Original Format

Digital audio recording

Added by

Juravich, Nick

Date added

2016-04-12