Title: Pracademics and Community Change, A True Story of Nonprofit Development and Social Entrepreneurship during Welfare Reform [Lyceum Books; www.lyceumbooks.com]
Author : Rev. Odell Cleveland and Prof. Robert Wineburg
Reviewed by Christopher J. Corbett, MA
This book was an unexpected discovery. While attending the Annual Conference of ARNOVA (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) this month (November, 2010), I was browsing a Publisher’s table and a book title caught my eye. Any author with the courage to adopt the title: Pracademics and Community Change has, in my mind, set him or herself up for very high expectations indeed.
Successfully implementing enduring community change is one thing—accomplishing it through a true partnership of one from the halls of academia and another from the streets of practice is an endeavor tried by many, accomplished by few. The authors admit this challenge with various references to Professor Wineburg, (or, “Wine”, as called by the street savvy Rev. Odell Cleveland), needing to, or having to, come down from his “ivory tower”. From the book it is apparent he repeatedly did, and as subsequently discussed, most fortunate for both and the communities they serve, for he brought with him an extensive and critical, array of skills.
The book demanded attention. If the title truly represented the content of the book, there was no way around. I would have to read it to figure out how they pulled it off. Alternatively, as I hoped, if I could dismiss the so titled book as the product of an overly imaginative book agent, I would be spared the purchase--and lost time reading it. Five minutes with the book precluded the latter, and I was forced to conclude I had to purchase it and read the entire book.
The book is a case history of the first faith-based community action agency in the country. It is the Welfare Reform Liaison Project (WRLP) which evolved into a nonprofit organization, referred to as a 501(c)(3). The book details, from inception to maturity, the evolution of this successful agency over a 13 year period. The authors, a black Christian minister and a white Jewish academic join together in this joint venture steeped in politics, public policy and difficult race relations to help individuals and families rise above poverty in the “from welfare to work” Clinton era. That is, this effort is in the aftermath of “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation act of 1996” which ended welfare as a guaranteed benefit, making it contingent upon a state’s definition of acceptable behavior (Appendix C, p. 151).
After reviewing the book, various implications relevant to the field of community psychology emerged. Professor Wineburg brought with him, from the “ivory tower”, various skills and competencies that were obviously not merely critical, but essential, to the success of their joint venture. This brought to mind various recent U.S. and international efforts to identify and propagate certain core competencies proposed as relevant to the field of community psychology and future training needed to promote its practice, such as identified by Scott (2007a, 2007b).
Professor Wineburg’s competencies and skills clearly included many identified by Scott such as advocacy and public policy; diversity (race politics and relations); intervention skills, collaboration and consultation skills; communication and group process skills to name a few. While not a professor of community psychology, although I have advocated for core competency training through continuing education workshops and offered such workshops myself (Corbett, 2009), from my practitioner perspective, there appears to be various training implications with potential to advance the state of the field.
The book articulates many nuances about the exercise of all these core competencies and it could readily be incorporated as a companion text in the teaching of many. This includes introductory undergraduate and graduate community psychology courses. Moreover, this book is brief and readily understandable by both prospective and matriculated students of community psychology. The book is only 130 pages (excluding appendices) and this practically oriented case history would readily complement, and help illustrate much theory of community psychology such as included in various introductory texts including Heller et al. ( 1984); Duffy & Wong (1996) and Dalton et al. (2001). Professor Wineburg demonstrates many consultation skills and this book would readily complement courses and texts on consultation such as Parsons & Meyers (1984). The Professor is well accomplished at grant writing and evaluation (Chapter 8 entitled “Playing the Grant Game”; Chapter 9). Regarding public policy, as noted by Howe (2010), policy needs to play a far more important role and we should expect policy training will have profound effects on graduate training (p. 20). This book provides a wealth of insight into public policy developments (p. 18) of the era from President Clinton to President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative (p. 71, 121), illustrating the critical importance of public policy understanding and awareness. Without keen public policy understanding, the WRLP could never have succeeded.
Another training opportunity presented by this book is its ability to demonstrate the power of a nonprofit or voluntary organization which helps to illustrate the potential of the sector metaphor. That is, a metaphor that captures the roles and relationships between nonprofits, for profits and governmental organizations (Corbett, 2001). This is particularly relevant as the sector metaphor has cross-cultural and cross-national applicability, as illustrated by research produced by members of ARNOVA and ISTR (International Society for Third Sector Research). Also, the sector metaphor captures the role of government which necessarily includes public policy. This book has international relevance as well.
The book was also designed to serve students and faculty; it could easily be incorporated into community psychology training across various courses. The Epilogue (p. 129) is devoted especially to students. It identifies many questions for students ranging from public policy, grant making and funding, the need to educate funders, race relations and conflict, diversification of funding sources, accounting and accountability issues to name a few (p. 129-131).
The authors’ actions speak louder than their words. In service of both students and faculty, the authors each provide their personal e-mail addresses (p. 131). The authors offer anyone with a question to contact either. As a practical matter, this looks very close to an offer of consultation (Parsons & Meyers) by e-mail for students and institutions, merely for the cost of a book.
In sum, this brief book has significant value to students, practitioners, researchers and academics of the field of community psychology. Students with knowledge of the content of this book will be provided great insight into the skills necessary for successful community intervention, as well skills they must seek out and acquire from their graduate programs. Faculty who are reviewing the curricula and content of their courses to assess and refine their own training content and methods could find this book highly useful in helping identify the many competencies and skills evidenced by Rev. Cleveland and Professor Wineburg. To some, or perhaps many, both authors appear worthwhile role models for students, practitioners, researchers and faculty alike. From the perspective of this master’s level community psychologist, this book is highly recommended for everyone interested in understanding what it takes to successfully help communities and advance the state of our field.
Corbett, C. J. (2001, June). Engaging government and building constituencies to advance Community Psychology. Innovative Session Paper presented at the Eighth Biennial Conference on Community Research and Action, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Corbett, C. J. (2009). Inching along the continuum of progress: Expanding practitioner training through CP conference workshops. Special Section, D. S. Jackson (Associate Editor). The Community Psychologist, 42(4), 5-9.
Dalton, J. H., Elias, M. J., & Wandersman, A. (2001). Community Psychology: Linking
individuals and communities. Stamford, Ct. USA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Duffy, K. G. & Wong, F. Y. (1996). Community Psychology. Needham Heights, Massachusetts, USA: Allyn and Bacon.
Heller, K., Price, R.H., Reinharz, S., Riger, S. & Wandersman, A. (Eds.) (1984). Psychology and community change, Challenges of the future (2nd. ed.). Homewood, Ill., USA: Dorsey.
Howe, S. (2010). Integrating policy into graduate education. N. Porter (Ed.). The Community Psychologist, 43(1), 20-22.
Parsons, R. D. & Meyers, R. (1984). Developing consultation skills. San Francisco, California, USA: Jossey Bass.
Scott, R. L. (2007a). Establishing core competencies for students in community psychology training. The Community Psychologist, 40(1), 38-40.
Scott, R. L. (2007b). On being accountable: Toward the development of criterion-based
competencies in community psychology graduate training [Draft dated June 5, 2007]. Paper distributed at the 11th Biennial Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action held in Pasadena, California on June 7-10, 2007.
Christopher J. Corbett, MA
Christopher J. Corbett is a master’s level community psychologist and member of SCRA (Society for Community Research and Action), ARNOVA and ISTR since 1994. He reports no conflict of interest or relationship with the publisher or authors.