A photo of Samuel Bradley, Jr. in class in spring 2020

Assistant professor Samuel Bradley Jr. teaches a class in February 2020. Photo by Chris Soldt.

The Boston College School of Social Work has created a program to prepare master’s students to tackle some of the biggest problems facing Black communities, including racial disparities in health, wealth, and employment.

Fifteen first-year students will be selected to join the Black Leadership Initiative, which will launch in fall 2021. The deadline to apply to the program is March 15.

The BLI aligns with the school’s mission to promote equity, justice, and inclusion on campus, in the community, and around the world. It follows the creation of the Latinx Leadership Initiative, which prepares students to work with Latinx clients.

“The goal of the program is to prepare Black leaders to do good work for the Black community and worldwide,” says Samuel Bradley, Jr., an assistant professor who co-founded the BLI with assistant professor Tyrone M. Parchment. “I want to look up one day and see one of our graduates running for president of the United States.”

The program will begin a time when the nation is grappling with a troubling set of facts that highlight the deep inequalities that Black people face in the United States: Racism, studies show, may shorten the lives of Black Americans, Black people have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than other groups, and the economic divide between Black and white families is as wide as it was in 1968.

Bradley says he started to design the program more than a year ago, but the racial reckoning sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May compelled him to speed up the process. 

“It made us realize the importance of Black leadership,” says Bradley, who studies equity in the workplace. “Something real and visceral had shifted in the thinking of so many.”

Students in the program will do internships that support Black communities and take electives that focus on the history of the African diaspora.  Every month, they will meet to reflect on their experiences and hear from Black leaders. 

The program will focus on the cultural experiences and values that connect people of African descent. Ubuntu, an African philosophy based on the concept of shared humanity, will lie at the heart of the curriculum.

“An Afrocentric approach to social work is missing from many institutions,” says Bradley. “Having a handful of programs out there is not enough. We need to have more.”

I want to look up one day and see one of our graduates running for president of the United States.
Samuel Bradley Jr., cofounder of the Black Leadership Initiative

In the first year of the program, students will take three courses as a group. Bradley and Parchment will teach “Re-thinking Diversity,” which explores the causes and effects of oppression and privilege.

In the second year, students will do internships that benefit the Black community. They might work at a health clinic, providing therapy to Black clients, or for a government agency, drafting policies that support Black constituents. As part of the initiative, the school is working with more than 600 agencies across the country. 

“The idea is to think broadly,” says Bradley. “We want to take our track record of success at BC and create special resources to support the Black community.” 

The focus of meetings will shift from month to month, but Bradley says they will always prioritize both the body and the mind. In one meeting, students might practice yoga. In another meeting, they might hear from a social worker who studies ways to strengthen the bond between parents and children. 

“We want to create a space where students can share their knowledge, experiences, and values,” says Bradley. “We’re interested in Black healing, and we want students to be able to rely on each other.”

He hopes the program will extend beyond the classroom and the field, noting that he wants to host workshops, conferences, and continuing education seminars for Black social workers.

“We have the resources, the intelligence, and the innovation to make changes after we’ve gotten the ball rolling,” he says.