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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.

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George Brooke

Shoemaker Junior High School

Overbrook High School

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

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

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District of Columbia

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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

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<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>