How Today's Community Healers Are Reviving Our Streets and Neighborhoods
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 Inspiring subject matter, disappointing book. Founder and president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and a MacArthur awardee, Woodson argues that the leadership and energy required to remedy the ills of poor neighborhoods must come from within. Especially in impoverished black communities, self-identification as victims and failed government policies must give way to self-help inspired by indigenous role models. The latter he calls ``Josephs,'' referring to the biblical figure who rises from slavery and prison to advise the pharoah--an analogy that doesn't really fit Woodson's concept of individuals who would work at a grass-roots level to help recover the lives of drug addicts and ex-cons. No matter. Those concerned about improving the condition of the poor will applaud such efforts, and Woodson's conservative supporters will applaud the supposed policy implications. Unfortunately, description of actual Josephs is relegated to a surprisingly minor role in this slim volume. The primary focus here is not providing evidence that Josephs can spearhead successful antipoverty efforts, but rather providing a testament to Woodson's belief that they can do so, packaged in a largely incommensurate and potentially inconsistent political agenda. Criticism of government policy and established social service networks may be well deserved, but as Woodson notes, Josephs work independently of policies and institutions and will succeed or fail regardless of public policy, so why the overbearing emphasis on a political critique? If Woodson's policy recommendations calling for money and authority to be channeled through Josephs into poor communities and building ``institutional supports around the grass-roots leaders'' were enacted, however, they would become central political figures--and the prized independence that made them Josephs would be forfeited. There is no doubt that Woodson is genuinely concerned with looking for new, more effective ways to alleviate the scourge of poverty--and that his efforts are accompanied by considerable political naãvetÇ.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-82742-5
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997