Robert Woodson to Receive 2018 Wilberforce Award
Today it is my privilege to announce the winner of the 2018 William Wilberforce Award—and to invite you to meet him next month. Recently, Robert Woodson, an African-American sociologist, visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. A display there, he later wrote, “stopped me in my tracks.” The 1980s were, according to the exhibit, “years of paradox.” While many blacks pursued advanced degrees and entered the professions, others existed in poor neighborhoods filled with drugs and violence. Who or what was to blame? The museum’s answer: Ronald Reagan, a president who cut many social programs. Woodson doesn’t buy it. “Is it truly institutional racism and heartless policies that have resulted in conditions today?” he asks. “If the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws are responsible for the decline in marriage and the rise in poverty and out-of-wedlock births in the black community,” he writes, “then why, during the Great Depression, did blacks have the highest marriage rate?” And why, during the decades when blacks “had little political power and faced legalized discrimination, did they still make significant economic progress?” Prior to the 1960s, Woodson writes, African Americans “tapped their internal capacity . . . Hard work, cooperation, academic performance and moral excellence were elements of a strategy to achieve.” He points to the history of black churches and civic institutions as models of what African Americans could achieve. When denied access to banks, they built their own. When insurance companies turned them away, black churches created “burial societies” and mutual-aid societies to assist the poor. Tragically, Woodson says, that “rich history of self-determination” was “abandoned” in the 1960s. What black America needs today, he concludes, is “a return to a culture based on self-determination, personal responsibility, and strong moral values.” Which is why Woodson founded the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (now known as the Woodson Center), to help the poor become self-sufficient. This is best achieved, Woodson believes, by placing control of community development, not in the hands of faraway bureaucrats, but in the hands of community leaders. Woodson Center programs have spread all over the country, including the Violence-Free Zone, which sends young adult advisors into schools to mentor youth. When VFZ volunteers began work at one Richmond, Virginia, high school, arrests of students dropped 38 percent. In Dallas, Woodson would report at a congressional hearing, one high school recorded 133 gang incidents before bringing in VFZ and zero the following year. Woodson Center programs have also transformed the lives of former drug addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless. Why does Woodson succeed where so many others have failed? His answer is simple but sturdy: “Faith in God transforms the inside and that faith transforms the outside.” For his tremendous work helping the poor and downtrodden, the Colson Center is awarding Robert Woodson the 2018 William Wilberforce Award, which recognizes those who exemplify the qualities of the British abolitionist and statesman, William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, more than any other single person, brought an end to the British slave trade and the reformation of morals in British society. I’d like to invite you to meet Mr. Woodson at the annual Wilberforce Weekend on May 18 through 20 in Washington, DC. You’ll also hear speakers like Joni Eareckson Tada, Cheryl Bachelder, John Stonestreet, Andrew Peterson, J. Warner Wallace, and many others, including yours truly. We expect the event to sell out, so I urge you to register soon at WilberforceWeekend.org.