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OUR NEWS

The Tragedy of Professionalizing Social Change: We Are the System We Seek to Change

By: David Chavis, PhD, President/CEO

There is little doubt that this country and this world are seeing monumental challenges that we have not seen in decades, if ever. Racism and other forms of hate have become legitimized in many more places than we have seen in a while. There is a rise of authoritarian rule, “bullyism,” and violence against women and minorities. In this country, the basic social contract of a caring state and a common community (e pluribus unum - or “out of many, one”) is being threatened on nearly an hourly basis. The good news is that there has been a large-scale outcry from all corners of our society over many of the abuses and abusiveness. People are organizing across race and class to try to turn these trends around, and to promote equality and inclusion in this great country. For me, it raises the challenge of what do I do as a citizen as well as a professional. I go to conferences that focus on eliminating poverty, fighting racism, transforming society, empowering marginalized groups, conducting equitable or empowering evaluations, etc. But I also see movements like Black Lives Matter, Dreamers, and MoveOn, as well as community organizing groups like the PICO National Network. They are getting attention; they are making a difference.

Like so many of my colleagues, I came into my work as a consultant and evaluator in order to address social injustice. After years of attending these conferences and meetings, I see nothing coming from them. I have come to the conclusion that in the process of making progressive social change as a profession, we have taken ourselves out of the movement for social justice. We have been given the privilege to research, evaluate, train, and consult on social justice issues, but not to directly participate. As businesses or professionals who seek contracts or employment by government, foundations and other large institutions, we cannot evoke much change from the “hands that feed us.”

Early this year, our friend and colleague Rodney Hopson came to speak to our staff on culturally competent evaluation, as part of our internal professional development series. Rodney ended his workshop by reading a poem based on the lyrics to a song by the great jazz artist Gil Scot-Heron entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised as part of a 2011 tribute to evaluation thought leader Michael Scriven. We have dedicated this issue of The Change Agent to Rodney’s message. That message is a wake-up call to all of us “professionals” that if we want to see change, it is not going to come in a contract, grant, or billable hour. It’s going to come only by rejoining the social justice movement, not as an expert, but as a participant.

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