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Sokoni Karanja

Founding director of Chicago’s Center for New Horizons, Sokoni Tacuma Karanja was born Lathan Johnson on January 7, 1940, in Topeka, Kansas. He was raised in the Tennessee Town section of Topeka by his father, Hubert, a worker on the Santa Fe Railroad, and his mother, Florence, a nurse. McKinley Johnson, president of the Topeka NAACP and catalyst of Brown v. the Board of Education, also mentored Karanja. Karanja attended Buchanan Elementary School, Boswell Junior High School and graduated from Topeka High School in 1958. He attended Ft. Scott Junior College, where he starred in track, and he earned his B.A. degree from Topeka’s Washburn University in 1961. He received a masters degree in psychology from the University of Denver, another in social work from Atlanta University, and another in community planning from the University of Cincinnati. He received his Ph.D. degree in urban policy from Brandeis University, where he was assistant dean of students, in 1971.

Studying for his Ph.D. in Tanzania, East Africa, Karanja was influenced by Tanzanian president Dr. Julius K. Nyrere’s value-driven educational and developmental programs. There he received his name, which means “person from the sea who is willing to share knowledge.” As an Adlai Stevenson fellow at the University of Chicago in 1971, Karanja received funding for The Center for New Horizons. The center, which has twenty-two sites and serves over 2000 families, offers many services, including early childhood education, childcare, senior care, employment programs and leadership training.

A national leader on child development issues, Karanja is a task force member of the Council for Accreditation; executive committee co-chair of the Policy Council of the African American Family Commission; and an executive committee member of the Child Welfare League of America. He also serves on the Illinois Governor’s Task Force on Human Services and the boards of Leadership for Quality Education and Voices of Illinois Children. He chairs the Woodstock Institute and is co-chair of the Grand Boulevard Federation. In 1993, Karanja received a MacArthur Fellowship. Karanja is married to professor Ayanna Karanja and is the father of five children.

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Interview Date


Last Name


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Buchanan Elementary School

Boswell Junior High School

Topeka High School

Washburn University

University of Denver

Clark Atlanta University

University of Cincinnati

Brandeis University

First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season

Spring, Summer



Favorite Vacation Destination

Mombasa, Kenya

Favorite Quote

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.? - Nelson Mandela

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Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food

Turkey, Pie (Pecan)

Short Description

Community development chief executive Sokoni Karanja (1940 - ) was the founder of Centers for New Horizons, Inc., a value-driven Afrocentric community center. The center, which has twenty-two sites and serves over 2000 families, offers many services, including early childhood education, childcare, senior care, employment programs and leadership training. Karanja received the MacArthur "genius" Fellowship in 1993.


Brandeis University

Centers for New Horizons

Favorite Color

Red, Yellow

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Sokoni Karanja explains his name</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of Sokoni Karanja interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sokoni Karanja's favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sokoni Karanja describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sokoni Karanja describes his father's background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sokoni Karanja remembers meeting McKinley Burnett from his early church participation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sokoni Karanja continues to discuss the contributions of McKinley Burnett</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sokoni Karanja discusses J. A. Rogers's published works</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sokoni Karanja shares an early memory of his brother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sokoni Karanja shares memories from his youth</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sokoni Karanja recalls his school life in Kansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sokoni Karanja remembers the plaintiffs of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sokoni Karanja recalls his early life in Topeka, Kansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sokoni Karanja recalls his high school experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sokoni Karanja recalls his undergraduate years</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sokoni Karanja discusses his various advanced degrees</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sokoni Karanja remembers activism in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sokoni Karanja reflects on the influence of the Nation of Islam in the 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sokoni Karanja recalls his 1966 arrest in Cincinnati, Ohio</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sokoni Karanja explains his graduate-level pursuits</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sokoni Karanja recalls his tenure as Assistant Dean of Students, Brandeis University, 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sokoni Karanja discusses his organizing skills</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sokoni Karanja details time in Tanzania researching President Julius Nyerere</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sokoni Karanja remembers the National Memorial African Bookstore and the Black Power Conferences of the late 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sokoni Karanja discusses cultural activist Maulana Karenga</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sokoni Karanja discusses the founding and success of Centers for New Horizons in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sokoni Karanja discusses his MacArthur Foundation Fellowship</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sokoni Karanja details his experiences with police harassment</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sokoni Karanja details his future plans for Centers for New Horizons</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sokoni Karanja calls for self-sufficient black communities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sokoni Karanja reflects on his career as an organizer</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sokoni Karanja discusses his family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sokoni Karanja considers his legacy</a>







Sokoni Karanja discusses his organizing skills
Sokoni Karanja remembers the National Memorial African Bookstore and the Black Power Conferences of the late 1960s
You were describing, you're talking organizer talk. You're talking about one on ones with people and--.$$Right. Right.$$And so did you have an organizer's training somewhere along the way?$$Yes. I, I--when I did my stint at AU [Atlanta University, now Clark-Atlanta University], I was, I read a lot of the [Saul] Alinsky stuff and I also got my master's degree and specialized in community organization so I knew how to organize and had done a lot of organizing there in Atlanta with young people and getting them involved in rite of passage programs and that kind of thing. And I knew, and, and so I knew what to do but I didn't want to do it because I didn't think it was my role there in that building [Ford Hall at Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts]. But because they had taken over the building and you know I, I'd watched them do it. I was, you know I had an office there in the building. I saw them when they took over the switchboard and all that you know and I didn't try to stop them. But I didn't want to lead it, I--you know but I realized that if I didn't they would hurt themselves in ways you know cause there were some--a lot of those guys are big time lawyers in, in Boston you know and have you know very prominent positions and lawyers, doctors, what have you, you know, they, they've done very well for themselves yeah.$$It was like a moment when you had to kind of make a decision based on conscience--.$$Right.$$--in terms of what you ought to do.$$Yeah, and logic, you know.$January or February of 1971, I remember getting off the plane in New York City without a coat and, you know, I'd come from this very warm environment into the area I was coming back to, New York and it was February you know so it was cold, you know. So, and the first thing I did, I had to go buy a coat you know so, and I bought a, a coat there at, in, in New York there. So went Micheaux's bookstore [National Memorial African Bookstore, New York, New York] , yeah.$$Okay. Yeah Micheaux's bookstore now that's a landmark stop.$$Yeah. It's not there anymore but it's totally--I loved, I loved that bookstore. It was, it was more than just a bookstore it was a whole story about our culture and this, this guy who ran it was--first of all he, he, he's one--I think either he or his father actually had been the one that developed a lot of the early black movements you know. So, so he had a lot of those there in the store and he would share those.$$Now Oscar Micheaux was a movie so they were related--Oscar was?$$I, I, I assume so.$$Lewis ran the book, Lewis Micheaux ran the bookstore and I also heard that there's a Bishop Lightfoot Micheaux in New York that was related too that John Jackson used to talk about.$$Okay.$$I'm not sure what all the relationships are.$$I don't know what the relationships were but they had everything in that bookstore, everything you can imagine about the culture, all the J. A. Rogers books, every black book that ever been published was there. I, I tried to buy them, everything I could you know while I was there and I went back to New York many, many times. That was, in those days we were having the black power conferences and all that kind of stuff so you know every time I got a chance I would go to those places and gather them. And Maulana Karenga was holding forth you know--.$$Did you attend the Black Power Conference I mean any?$$All of them. I attended all of them that I knew about yeah, yeah visited all of them. There were like two or three that I recall happening yeah.$$That must have been some experience because, especially because Maulana Karenga taking the leadership of some of those or co-convening them with others.$$Right. Right and then there was--.$$And all the Kiswahili involved in those too with you just coming back from Tanzania.$$Right, right, yeah. But Maulana and Jake [Jacob] Carruthers and what's his name, LeRoi Jones--.$$[Amiri] Baraka.$$Baraka, all-there seemed to be conflict, constant conflict between all of those, Jake, Baraka and, and Maulana. They--Maulana did some things that they really questioned and they felt like he was being paid by the U.S. government. Maulana, I first met Maulana at Brandeis University [Waltham, Massachusetts] because he used to come there cause they were doing some kind of--Segal or Spiegel or somebody was doing some kind of violent student there at Brandeis and so Maulana used to come there.

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.

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Archival Photo 1
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George Brooke

Shoemaker Junior High School

Overbrook High School

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

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Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

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

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Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food


Short Description

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


National Urban League (NUL)

American Enterprise Institute

National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

Favorite Color



<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Woodson interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson traces his family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson explains the lack of information about his family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson describes his parents' fortitude</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson lists his siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson recalls his childhood neighborhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson shares childhood memories</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Woodson relates why his family changed neighborhoods</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Woodson describes the culture of his new neighborhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert Woodson remembers people he knew in high school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson describes Wilt Chamberlain</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson shares his grade school experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson recalls his academic underperformance in high school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson explains why he joined the Air Force</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson recalls his induction into the Air Force</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson details his first experiences with racism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson remembers his work at the missile base in Florida</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson recounts the racial atmosphere on the Air Force base</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert Woodson recalls his decision to attend college</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson describes Cheyney State University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson explains why he's happy not to have had affirmative action</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson discusses how universities misuse black students through affirmative action programs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson reflects on the change in attitude towards racism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson shares his thoughts on reparations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson expresses the need for self-determination for black people</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson criticizes African American leadership</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson recounts experiences that changed his worldview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson recalls his work in a juvenile prison</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson details his split with the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson examines the growing gap between wealthy and poor blacks</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson discusses the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson critiques the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson recounts his shift to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson recalls his work with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert Woodson details his experiences with the National Urban League</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert Woodson explains his move to the American Enterprise Institute</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert Woodson expresses his political viewpoint</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert Woodson details differences between liberal and conservative organizations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert Woodson illustrates the way to help troubled neighborhoods</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert Woodson describes his efforts to reduce violence</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Robert Woodson reflects on his most successful project</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Robert Woodson reflects on the importance of religion to his work</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Robert Woodson relates his concerns for the black community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Robert Woodson considers his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert Woodson considers how he wants to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Photo - Robert Woodson and others, Atlanta, Georgia. ca. 1999</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Navajo leaders, New Mexico, ca. 1983</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Sister Isolina Ferre, ca. 1973</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Photo - Robert Woodson with George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., ca. 2001</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Kimi Gray</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Marion Barry and Jack Kemp</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Marion Barry, H. R. Crawford, and Ronald Reagan, Washington, D.C., ca. 1980s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Photo - Robert Woodson and Jack Kemp pass the baton to resident leaders</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Barbara Bush</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Bill Gray</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Photo - Robert Woodson with reformed gang members</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Photo - Robert Woodson with children and reformed gang members</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 14 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Wayne Lee</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 15 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Susan Kidd and members of the 640 Honeys, Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 16 - Photo - Robert Woodson with Henry Hyde and ex-gang members, Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 17 - Photo - Robert Woodson with grassroots leaders, Park City, Utah, July 2003</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 18 - Photo - Robert Woodson with at-risk youth</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 19 - Photo - Dr. Peter Berger with ex-gang members, 1980</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 20 - Photo - Robert Woodson with George W. Bush and former welfare recipients, Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 21 - Photo - Robert Woodson with President George H. W. Bush and black scholars, 1989</a>