We Are Men: UIC Program Champions Racial Justice.

Social work is a labor of love for families and communities. Working in this field requires specific skills from the heart. While women dominate the area, The University of Illinois Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work is on the path to changing this narrative with the We Are Men (WAM) initiative, which started in 2019. In an interview with WAM, Marvin Lindsey, co-chair of UIC‘s Jane Addams College Dean’s Advisory Committee, Marybel Flores, visiting assistant dean for admissions and financial aid, and David Banks, WAM program president, discussed its importance.

When did the program, WAM,  initially begin? 

Marybel: We are Men started in 2019 as a result of the college’s data analysis for enrollment in our Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program.  This analysis showed a decline in enrollment for Black males. The We Are Men program addresses this decline and has enjoyed two successful years, with a promising third year on the horizon.

Specifically, what is the WAM program? 

Marybel: WAM provides integrated support, such as advising, mentoring, relationship building, and financial assistance, to help with academic and career success for Black male students in the MSW program.

Why the name We Are Men? 

Marvin: The initiative’s name, We Are Men, is adopted from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike by African American sanitation workers. They rallied with “I Am a Man” picket signs.  It’s a meaningful slogan as a call for civil rights and equality.

Why do you think Black men aren’t dominant in the field of social work? 

David: Historically, Social Work has been a woman-dominated profession because it’s a “helping profession.”   The history of social work stems from unpaid charitable and service work performed by women, and women such as Jane Addams pioneered the field of social work. Men are underrepresented in the field, so We Are Men is addressing this and the underrepresentation of Black men in leadership positions.

Why is it important for young Black men to explore careers in social work? 

David: Organizations and communities need Black male social workers to be leaders and advocates.  They have lived the experience so many other Black males experience, especially in dealing with racism and negative stereotypes.  Through the We Are Men program, Black men can use that experience to provide meaningful leadership in their communities.

What specific stereotypes are you seeking to break down about Black men? 

David: Historically and to the present day, Black men have been stereotyped in a negative light. They are stereotyped as being uneducated, unemployed, violent, drug-addicted, destructive, and criminal.  Our goal is to break these stereotypes and portray black men realistically and positively.

What traumas do you believe Black men suffer from the most in urban communities, and how can this program help resolve this issue? 

Marvin: Black men directly experience trauma, witness, or learn of traumatic experiences. Much of this trauma pertains to family members or friends, such as homicides, substance use, addiction, domestic, physical, sexual, emotional abuse. Trauma survivors are less likely to utilize mental health services.  The WAM program educates Black men to work with people in urban communities, particularly other Black men, to help them utilize, and benefit from such services.

What do you want the readers to know about We Are Men?

Marybel: The Jane Addams College of Social Work is dedicated to putting the words of our mission into action: advancing social, racial, and economic justice.  The WAM initiative is a perfect example of how providing a supportive environment where students can learn and grow changes not only their lives but the lives of their families, communities, and society as a whole.

For more information on the We Are Men program, you can contact Marybel Flores at mflore6@uic.edu.


Liz Lampkin is a Lifestyle, Love, and Relationships writer. Follow her on social media @Liz_Lampkin.


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