Samuel Cotton ('95; presently a PhD candidate at CUSSW),
Executive Director of the Coalition Against Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan
The poet Yeats, in his work, "The Second Coming," made an interesting and disturbing observation. That particular observation being, "the righteous lack all conviction, while the evil are full of passionate intensity." One has to ask oneself, since one would probably say in a most assured way that you are those who would be considered the righteous, those who are interested in doing what is good for others, "So how shall you reach this conviction?" This conviction has the ability to change the world and to affect the lives of others. You will need, I would believe, an education, something that will provide you the tools and the skills that lead to such a conviction. One must have the courage to enter the international or the domestic arena. To battle against those forces that consume human beings, you'll need tools, tools and knowledge. Not knowledge to begin a pedantic dance in front of others, but knowledge that manifests itself on the physical plane and actually moves the world, and changes the world, that a person eats again, is allowed to sleep, is no longer raped, believes that they are a human being. That's when knowledge has moved not only from an intellectual perspective but it is moved to the physical plane.
My particular odyssey toward this conviction would begin as I studied psychology at Lehman College, and was perplexed because the psychological perspective to me only told me about how the person themselves had the problem. Sociology, and it's particular perspective, helped me to appreciate dynamic forces outside the individual. I learned that one would have to engage in battle if one is to alleviate the things that are happening. Sociology, in my perspective, kept a person in an ivory tower of academia and didn't allow them to engage the enemy where he was consuming others. Social work would provide me that ability, to translate knowledge, information and skills into something, a tool, a foil by which one could battle against these forces. I was able to see this by the type of applications that W.E.B. Dubois would make in his applications of knowledge as he studied those individuals moving from the south. And so I came to Social Work and encountered a school of social work that has a curriculum that allowed me to pursue the research tract that I did. A curriculum that has faculty, without any hyperbole, who are fully supportive of your efforts. This is not a stodgy, stuffy faculty, this is a faculty that encourages and understands and has an affinity with innovation. So social work allowed me to exist at ground zero. I was able to begin to work with prisoners, to study concepts of research, to be immersed in both quantitative and qualitative analysis, to be pushed intellectually by excellent professors. My mind opened up and I said to myself at that particular point, "well, let me make a contribution since I have these skills." I called the newspapers in New York City, the black newspaper, The City Sun said, "yes you can write for us," and I said, "yes, I want to write," because I'd been trained to present both psychological and sociological perspectives. As a social worker, working with individuals on ground zero brings to you and your newspaper a unique perspective about what's happening in mycommunity and other communities. And so I would write for those newspapers, write for the Post, write for the New York City City Sun, and other magazines such as Vibe, and bring that perspective.
At that particular point, I was exposed to the question of slavery in Africa. I was asked to research that. I wrote the first critical articles that caused an explosion in the black community. I had to engage the Nation of Islam on these particular issues. I consulted with Dateline NBC. We began a movement in this country that is now battling on two fronts, both the Sudan front, drawing blood from Talisman energy, on a divestment campaign, the second divestment campaign that is to be taking place in this country, after the battle for South African freedom. I needed to work undercover in Africa on the issue of slavery in Mauritania. The question is, when one takes a look at those types of activities, what laid the basis for those activities? Again I must come back and say to you, confidence was generated by the education, by the curriculum, by the professors that I encountered that would open my mind, and would say to me, 'learn this and learn that.' Once I understood that, I'd say to myself, I can write an article for the New York Times, I understand how to do that. So I began to write my book, which was just published a year ago. I published that book! Why? Because I understood how to do the research. Because I understood what scholarship was. And that was learned at this particular school.
On the international front, work is being done for the elimination of slavery on both the eastern front, which is Sudan, and on the western front, which is Mauritania. Currently I am working as the Assistant Director for the NYC Link Program, which is cutting edge in terms of diversion and discharge planning for the mentally ill criminal. This particular program is extremely important. When one understands a person who is psychotic, and suffering from a mental illness within the cesspool of prison, there is a need to divert that person, a need for discharge planning so when they get out they don't return to that insanity. The work to accomplish the book was supplemented by a film, which was produced and is now a part of The New York Public Library, called African Slavery in 1996.
Again, what is the point? Social work, in the past, present and in the future, makes and does and will contribute intellectual property to this country. That the social work concept, that the concept of the world, a stigmatized concept, that the social worker suffers from intellectual paucity is certainly refuted by those on this panel and the lives of those who graduate from this particular institution. So let history record, and let your experiences absorb the individuals on this panel, and the type of education that comes from this school to understand that if you enter the School of Social Work, you will be exposed to the tools that you need to change the life and to change the world. This is not hyperbole, this is not exaggeration, but part of the record. Therefore, when one thinks about Yeats, and he makes the statement, "the righteous lack all conviction while the evil are full of passionate intensity," I believe, examining the lives of social workers, and certainly those who teach and graduate from the School of Social Work, we must hurl a challenge to Yeats. We certainly would have him say, if he could, "I've made such a statement, it is in my experience, but let me say I cannot include those in the profession of social work."