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Robert Woodson

Community activist Robert L. "Bob" Woodson has devoted his career to helping low-income people transcend their impoverished conditions. Born in Philadelphia on April 8, 1937, Woodson has used his own rise from poverty to assist him as the founder and president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (NCNE).

Woodson spent his early years in South Philadelphia before his father relocated their family to West Philadelphia in 1946. Shortly thereafter, his father died and Woodson's mother was overwhelmed by the task of being a single parent. Woodson became estranged from his mother, lost his self-confidence and dropped out of high school. At age seventeen, he joined the Air Force and turned his life around. Woodson earned his G.E.D. while in the service, going on to study mathematics at Cheyney University. Woodson then took a job at a juvenile jail and, as he began to identify with the kids in the jail, dedicated himself to helping them. He decided to go into social work, attending the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an M.S.W.

Woodson, however, grew disenchanted with the bureaucratic restrictions and regulations of liberal anti-poverty programs. After working for the National Urban League, Woodson became a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he learned effective techniques for self-empowerment. Because AEI emphasized theory more than direct action, Woodson left in 1981 to create NCNE, a grassroots research and demonstration program emphasizing the importance of empowerment and self-management as effective approaches for ending poverty.

For his contributions, Woodson received a prestigious "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1990. He sits on the boards of the American Association of Enterprise Zones, the Commission on National and Community Service, and the Commonwealth Foundation. Woodson has also written extensively on issues of poverty and empowerment, including The Triumphs of Joseph: How Today's Community Healers are Reviving Our Streets and Neighborhoods. Woodson and his wife, Ellen, live in Silver Spring, Maryland. They have three children.

Selected Bibliography
Woodson, Robert L. The Triumphs of Joseph: How Today's Community Healers are Reviving Our Streets and Neighborhoods. The Free Press, 1998.

Accession Number

A2003.232

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

9/22/2003

Last Name

Woodson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

George Brooke

Shoemaker Junior High School

Overbrook High School

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

Archival Photo 2
First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

WOO02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Virginia

Favorite Quote

The people suffering the problem have to be involved in the solution.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

4/8/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Veal

Short Description

Community development chief executive and social activist Robert Woodson (1937 - ) created the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, to address issues of poverty.

Employment

National Urban League (NUL)

American Enterprise Institute

National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

Favorite Color

Blue

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Woodson interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson traces his family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson explains the lack of information about his family

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson describes his parents' fortitude

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson recalls his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson shares childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Woodson relates why his family changed neighborhoods

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Woodson describes the culture of his new neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert Woodson remembers people he knew in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson describes Wilt Chamberlain

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson shares his grade school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson recalls his academic underperformance in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson explains why he joined the Air Force

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson recalls his induction into the Air Force

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson details his first experiences with racism

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson remembers his work at the missile base in Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson recounts the racial atmosphere on the Air Force base

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert Woodson recalls his decision to attend college

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson describes Cheyney State University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson explains why he's happy not to have had affirmative action

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson discusses how universities misuse black students through affirmative action programs

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson reflects on the change in attitude towards racism

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson shares his thoughts on reparations

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson expresses the need for self-determination for black people

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson criticizes African American leadership

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson recounts experiences that changed his worldview

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson recalls his work in a juvenile prison

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson details his split with the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson examines the growing gap between wealthy and poor blacks

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson discusses the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson critiques the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson recounts his shift to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson recalls his work with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson details his experiences with the National Urban League

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson explains his move to the American Enterprise Institute

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson expresses his political viewpoint

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson details differences between liberal and conservative organizations

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson illustrates the way to help troubled neighborhoods

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson describes his efforts to reduce violence

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson reflects on his most successful project

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Robert Woodson reflects on the importance of religion to his work

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Robert Woodson relates his concerns for the black community

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Robert Woodson considers his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson considers how he wants to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Photo - Robert Woodson and others, Atlanta, Georgia. ca. 1999

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Navajo leaders, New Mexico, ca. 1983

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Sister Isolina Ferre, ca. 1973

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Photo - Robert Woodson with George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., ca. 2001

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Kimi Gray

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Marion Barry and Jack Kemp

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Marion Barry, H. R. Crawford, and Ronald Reagan, Washington, D.C., ca. 1980s

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Photo - Robert Woodson and Jack Kemp pass the baton to resident leaders

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Barbara Bush

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Bill Gray

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Photo - Robert Woodson with reformed gang members

Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Photo - Robert Woodson with children and reformed gang members

Tape: 6 Story: 14 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Wayne Lee

Tape: 6 Story: 15 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Susan Kidd and members of the 640 Honeys, Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 16 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Henry Hyde and ex-gang members, Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 17 - Photo - Robert Woodson with grassroots leaders, Park City, Utah, July 2003

Tape: 6 Story: 18 - Photo - Robert Woodson with at-risk youth

Tape: 6 Story: 19 - Photo - Dr. Peter Berger with ex-gang members, 1980

Tape: 6 Story: 20 - Photo - Robert Woodson with George W. Bush and former welfare recipients, Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 21 - Photo - Robert Woodson with President George H. W. Bush and black scholars, 1989