Posted February 19, 2007

A think tank for African-American policy with plans for the future

The Center for African American Research and Public Policy hopes to affect the lives of Philadelphia’s African-American community through research and solutions

Throughout its existence in this country, the African-American community has been the subject of various studies, many of them done by organizations with very little interest in creating policies that act on their conclusions.

A new center created by the Department of African American Studies will produce studies on the community, as all think tanks do, but also will back those studies up with policy and possibly will create this community’s next generation of political leaders.

The Center for African American Research and Public Policy, located in Gladfelter Hall, will take an inter-disciplinary approach, studying the impact of such things as economics, education, health and family life, and criminal justice on the black community, said Dr. Nathaniel Norment, co-director of the center and chair of the African American Studies Department in the College of Liberal Arts.

In addition to using resources within Temple University, the center also will work with the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Philadelphia Alliance of Black Social Workers and the Delaware Valley Association of Black Psychologists.

It’s an idea that had been germinating for a long time, said Thaddeus Mathis, a professor of social work in the School of Social Administration and co-director of the center.

“Over the past couple of years, [Norment, Mathis and others] had been discussing it,” Mathis said. “It took a year or two after all parties came to an agreement to work though the process. Many of us involved in getting the center created wanted to use the research to help solve problems in the community.”

But to do something that ambitious requires money, and the African-American Studies Department’s budget wouldn’t allow for creating a center. To do this, they’d need an angel with very deep pockets.

Enter Rep. Dwight Evans, Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee and candidate for mayor of Philadelphia.

Evans, who had taught a course on “Blacks in Public Policy” for the African American Studies Department, liked the idea of the center enough to give those involved a $100,000 grant to get it started.

What he liked most about the idea, Evans said, was how it might be able to ensure a place at the public policy table for African Americans.

“I supported it because one of the things that I think is lacking, particularly in the African-American community, is a pipeline around public policy; sort of like a training ground,” Evans said. “I saw [the center] as a training ground.”

Among the things planned by the researchers and staffers at the center is a Map of Black Philadelphia, which would detail how the city’s black community is distributed, and an annual report, the State of Black Philadelphia, which would be disseminated to local policy-makers.