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Civil rights leader speaks at School of Social Work

View photo gallery of Dr. Chavis’ visit to the School 

In a room full of future social workers, civil rights activist Dr. Benjamin Franklin Chavis Jr. on Tuesday urged the audience to become freedom fighters and change the world around them.

“I believe that the ultimate power of a social worker is to become a freedom-fighting social worker,” he said. “By definition, social workers work to improve the quality of life for others.”

Chavis’ call to action was the resonating message of the second annual Bobby Boyd Leadership Lecture hosted by the University of North Carolina School of Social Work. The 90-minute lecture was part of UNC-Chapel Hill’s celebration of Black History Month.

The annual lecture series, named after an alumnus and member of the school’s board of advisors, provides a forum for leaders from various fields to discuss their experiences and strategies to promote social change interventions.

For several decades, Chavis has been a leader in social change. He began to make his mark as a 12-year-old when he successfully desegregated the white-only libraries of his hometown of Oxford, N.C., and he became the first African-American in the town to be issued a library card. Chavis also served as a youth coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Chavis has held many leadership roles including vice president of the National Council of Churches, executive director of the NAACP, national director of the Million Man March, founder of the National African American Leadership Summit and co-founder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. He is currently the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Associations.

“He is a North Carolina treasure,” said Louise Coggins, chair of the School of Social Work’s board of advisors. “We are so honored to have Dr. Benjamin Franklin Chavis Jr. here with us. … I know I speak for all of us in this room when I say that I’m so excited that he is here tonight to share his vast experience and knowledge with us.”

During his speech, Chavis discussed his experiences as a leader in the civil rights movement and encouraged the audience to actively use what they learn in the classroom to help make positive change.

“We have to arm ourselves with truth, with intellect and with research,” he said. “Whether you’re in an applied science or social science, we use the knowledge that we obtain not just for ourselves.

We use the knowledge that we obtain to help make the quality of life better for all people. …. You’re given this information to make a difference — a real difference in the world we live.”

By Brandon Bieltz, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

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