SUNO educator and administrator honored nationally for five decades of social commitment
15th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Michael Radcliff
One of the SUNO School of Social Work’s legendary educators and administrators was nationally recognized Sunday for his many contributions to the field of social work over the course of five decades.
Born in Watts, California, in 1945, Ira Arthell Neighbors was the ninth of 10 children. His mother was a domestic worker and his father peddled fish and other goods during the week and preached on Sundays.
“All of my early education was in a de facto segregated environment – I went to an all-Black, elementary, junior high, and high school – my first choice in colleges was Howard University… but I ended up going to Morehouse instead, Dr. Ira Arthell Neighbors explained. Both of his maternal grandparents were college-educated teachers.
Neighbors excelled in high school, serving as student body president and also the founding president of several other political organizations.
“When I graduated from high school in 1960, it was at the beginning of integration and the Civil Rights Movement and one of my teachers was pushing for me to attend Stanford University, but at that time I was radical and already politically connected,” Neighbors told The Louisiana Weekly. “My vision coming out of a segregated world was to go down South and assist the cause of Black freedom, so I went to Morehouse College instead. First, I witnessed the demonstrations, marches and sit-ins in Atlanta, then I soon found myself a SNCC volunteer, participating in these acts of civil disobedience against segregation and its poster child – Lester Maddox.”
He eventually decided to transfer to UCLA where he fought for Black Studies, supported the Black Panther Party and founded the first Black Student Union at UCLA.
Neighbors soon landed a job as a psychiatric social worker’s aide in a state prison during the summer of 1965. While still in school, he began teaching an adult literacy course in prison, beginning his journey to become a forensic social worker and teacher.
He earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1971 which qualified him in California to become a social work associate.
He worked for seven years as a social work associate at a state-run hospital before earning a Master’s degree in 1983.
“During that time, in the early 1980’s, social workers were overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly female,” he explained. That reality later led to him form SUNO’s Men of Social Work to address the needs of young Black men to be treated by Black male social workers.
Realizing that his “true calling was to teach,” Neighbors enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Howard University, working as a research assistant on a study of Black males to pay his bills.
“The study indirectly addressed issues of self-perception, self-respect and self-esteem from a Black man’s point of view,” Neighbors said.
After graduating from Howard in 1994, Neighbors was asked by the administration of Cal State San Bernardino to develop and teach a forensic social work course. While holding that post for four years, he became a member, then president, treasurer and counselor of the National Association of Forensic Social Workers. in 1999, after having been recruited by then Dean Mille Charles, he arrived at SUNO to teach as a visiting professor, which he did for two years. At the end of his second year, he returned to California to become the program director for the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, SPECTRUM Psychiatry division working with an HIV/AIDS population.
In 2002 he was invited by Dean Charles to return to SUNO, first as the School of Social Work’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, then Assistant Dean, and finally in 2010, Director of Graduate Studies, before retiring in 2012.
He is credited with stepping in to fill Dr. Millie Charles’ shoes while she was recovering from illness after Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Neighbors drove for two days straight from California to Louisiana and did whatever was necessary to keep SUNO’s School of Social Work thriving after the devastating flood of 2005.
In addition to his work as an administrator and educator, he is a well-published author who has written extensively in journals and magazines.
He currently holds membership with the National Association of Social Work, the National Association of Black Social Workers and the Council on Social Work Education for whom he serves as a site inspector recommending accreditation or not, to social work education programs across the nation.
On Sunday, April, 14, 2013, at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel, 515 Madison Street, Seattle, Washington, Dr. Ira A. Neighbors was presented with the Sol Gothard Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Organization of Forensic Social Workers. The award recognizes his scholarship, dedication, service and commitment to educating, guiding and mentoring two generations of social workers who share his vision of using social work to make the world a better, more just place to live.
This article originally published in the April 15, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.