Robert Woodson retires after 40 years of empowering communities

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MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – When Paul Ryan and Robert Woodson arrived here almost 10 years ago, Republican congressman from Janesville and the civil rights icon had something in common. They both believed that poverty and generational crime in black communities was best addressed not by large government programs, the money of which usually goes more to staff than to those in need, but rather by members of the community. the community themselves.

For years, Woodson has taken Ryan incognito to neighborhoods in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, each plagued by drug epidemics that have lasted for generations, street violence and a lack of prosperity and upward mobility. They visited faith-based organizations, often headed by ministers whose own lives had included periods under drugs or in prison. These community leaders, reborn in their own lives, were able to join their peers. They wanted to be part of the solution rather than continuing the legacy of apathy and addiction.

The former president of the house said in an interview with the Washington Examiner that what Woodson showed him was life changing. “One of the best things I’ve done in my career was asking Bob Woodson to teach me about poverty,” he said.

Ryan said he spent about four or five years visiting areas affected by poverty each month, connecting with people who can make a difference. “I did it without media or anything like that, just to learn, and it transformed me,” he said. “And it’s useful for what I’m doing now.”

Last month, the civil rights leader and president of the Woodson Center announced his retirement after four decades of fighting for the good fight, helping communities across the country improve their lives – often doing so outside of the orthodoxy of the more traditional black institutions that rely heavily on government support.

Woodson’s approach was based on experience, he said. He understood that just because people lived in a borderline community, it didn’t mean that they didn’t look around for examples of integrity, dignity and honor. “My approach was to be that vehicle to provide these examples,” he said.

Woodson said he started his career at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in Philadelphia. “After years of involvement in the movement, I realized that anti-poverty programs aimed at improving the lives of the poor only improved the lives of those who ran these places,” he said. declared. “And that the movement was moving away from improving civilian rights and into an industry of racial grievances.”

“I looked around and decided I was in the wrong fight,” said Woodson. Finally, in 1981, he founded the center to guide residents of lower-income neighborhoods so that they could solve the problems of their communities on their own.

“Man has created a mold to use fundamental principles to attack the problem of poverty at its root cause and to empower individuals to take control of their lives and their neighborhoods,” Ryan said. “And he never lost sight of his principles. He never lost sight of his purpose. And he always, every time, thought about how we can transform people’s lives for the better.”

Ryan said Woodson has moved the needle to poverty where it’s much more effective. “And he did it in a way by applying these timeless principles that we conservatives believe in,” he said. “There’s just no one else who has done something like that. And he’s just a man who sees the truth as he sees it. And he speaks passionately about his sense of the truth. is always looking to learn.

Then-Speaker Paul Ryan kisses Robert Woodson after delivering a farewell speech in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress on December 19, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

This is because Woodson doesn’t teach classes, and in his career he’s never presented himself as someone who thinks he’s better or knows more than the people he works with.

Ryan said Woodson has made a huge difference in tackling poverty at the root so that these efforts can be scaled up and replicated and can really make a difference. He has devoted much of his post-convention career to taking Woodson’s legacy and developing it.

“I’m trying to get more people to embrace the Woodson model and replicate it so that we can make a huge difference,” he explained. He’s also trying to get young conservative policymakers to focus on poverty and do the same.

Woodson said his retirement doesn’t mean the public won’t hear from him. “Well, you retire from a job, but you expire from a call,” he said. “I’m never going to completely disengage.”

Woodson, 84, said he handed the operations of the Woodson Center to younger leaders so they could have another 40 years of success. “I’m really walking away, but I’ll always be president emeritus. I’m still going to fundraise for the center. I will always write, I will always teach. But I’m just going to turn the general operations over to a younger person, to a younger management, so that the center can continue to thrive.

“Goodbye isn’t always gone,” said the former head of the National Urban League’s Criminal Justice Department, a long-time resident at the American Enterprise Foundation for Public Policy Research.

But for now, he said, “I owe my wife a few vacation.”

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Key words: Civil Rights, Paul Ryan, Poverty, Conservatives, Retirement, Pennsylvania, Racism

Original author: Salena zito

Original location: Robert Woodson retires after 40 years of empowering communities


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