By SUSAN JONES
Students, staff, faculty, alums and members of the community gathered last week to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Community Organizing program in Pitt’s School of Social Work and to give out its first “Master Community Organizers” awards.
Pitt was the first university to create a professional curriculum in community organizing, and it was part of the reason Betsy Farmer, dean of the School of Social Work, was happy to make the move to the University last year.
The impact of the Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA) concentration can be seen in the work by current students “who brought together their resources to respond to the Rosfeld ruling (on March 22),” Farmer said.
But it was the work of five community organizers who all have ties to COSA that was being recognized on March 25, along with the work of the late Morton “Moe” Coleman, who was a student in the inaugural community organizing cohort and later interim dean of the school and community organizing professor and chair. Coleman died in January.
Tracy Soska, outgoing chair of COSA who is retiring this year, introduced the honorees and reiterated the programs core message: “We realize that it's only through the strengths and assets of the community and its people, organizations and associations that you truly build community.”
Master Community Organizers
Terri Baltimore, director of neighborhood engagement for the Hill House Association, where she has worked for 25 years: Baltimore told the gathering that she had worked for three others being honored and that “organizing changed my life.” She had planned to study journalism but got involved and organizing and never looked back. She told the students in the room that they need to be “fearless” to be community organizers.
Michael Eichler (MSW, ’86), helped found the Mon Valley Initiative and founder of the Consensus Organizing Center at San Diego State University: Eichler credited Moe Coleman with helping him find his first job after graduating from Pitt. But it was another legendary organizer who turned him toward the field. While he was a junior at Buffalo State College in the early 1970s, Eichler volunteer with Saul Alinsky, who was doing organizing work at a local parish. Alinsky offered him a job in Chicago, but Eichler said he wanted to go to grad school. Alinsky told him the grad school would “ruin him” and he’d end up in an “ivory tower” and never do anything. But when Eichler said he was coming to Pitt, Alinksy said, “Oh, that’s different. Pitt is the only school that would be worth your time.”
David Feehan (MSW ’81), president of Civitas Consulting and an expert in downtown revitalization: Feehan said he also started out as a journalist, but when the Vietnam War came along, he joined VISTA and was assigned to McKeesport. He and another young man were arrested while just walking down the street. “This is where community organizing starts — being in jail,” he said. While he was working on an East Liberty Development project, he was encouraged by two others to come to Pitt for his MSW.
Terry Miller (BASW ’90, MSW ’92), retired longtime director of the Pitt Institute of Politics and founder of the Elsie Hillman Civic Forum: Miller worked closely with Moe Coleman for 30 years and he encouraged her to make sure students were involved in civic policy and politics. “He taught me by example how to work in this world as a community organizer.”
Carl Redwood Jr. (MSW ’87), community-labor organizer and adjunct faculty member in the School of Social Work who has worked for Hill House and Kingsley Association and chaired the Hill District Consensus Group: Redwood stressed that social work is different that psychology and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Social workers, he said, have to take the believe in fighting for justice and social change and “turn it into action.” Right now, he said, we “lack vision of the new society we want to create,” but we need to fight for people who are less fortunate. And “on this campus, we need to fight for more black students.”
He said the School of Social Work hopes to continue to honor community organizers on every five-year anniversary. For more details on those honored this year, click here.
Susan Jones is the editor of University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org of 412-648-4294.