A conversation with Alan Siskind

Last week I chatted with Alan Siskind.  Alan has a doctorate in social work, and although he retired about 5 years ago from an executive position in human services (and by retired I mean now he only works part-time in private clinical practice…only, haha), he has never retired from his work to end institutional racism.

Alan spent a good portion of his career working as the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, where he had the opportunity to work alongside Mary Pender Greene, LCSW-R, who was the Assistant Executive Director for the same organization.  Along with the JBFCS current CEO Paul Levine and many other dedicated JBFCS staff members, Mary and Alan worked hard to diversify their professional staff.   And although they had a great amount of success in this endeavor, they felt strongly that the disease of racism went far deeper into their work in human services; it is, in fact, a systemic, structural issue.

[To read more about the work being done at JBFCS on racism: What is COR (Confronting Organizational Racism)? ]

In response to this, Mary and Alan began a comprehensive approach to ending institutionalized racism in social services.  It is clear to Mary, Alan and their comrades that racism not only adversely effects the lives and livelihoods of people (both whites and people of color) working within their agencies, but also and perhaps more dramatically, racism is creating unbelievable tragedy and oppression for their clients.

Mary and Alan continue to work together in the Antiracist Discussion for Human Service Educators, Practitioners, Executives and Managers community alongside some other fantastic professionals.  Alan agreed completely with Mary’s previous sentiment: the truly profound accomplishment of this group is their commitment to keep coming back to meet with each other, and in going out into their communities and doing this work everyday.  Alan also adds that he has been moved by the ability of the group to provide meaningful support to each other.  He shared that the the group is a wonderful mixture of social workers and agency directors, people of color and whites; a really diverse group of collaborators.  A support group for those in the fight to end institutional racism, and a space for all people to come and talk about their experiences with racism, to add new perspectives and approaches to the work.  Alan said he is excited to gain new views and knowledge every time he attends, no matter how many years he participates.

[For more information on this group, or to attend one of their meetings, please go to the ARA meetings calendar: Monthly Meetings]

Alan also had some exciting information to share in regard to a collaboration between Dr. Alma Carten, Mary and himself on editing an in-progress book from the field…but I am going to wait to speak to this until I have a conversation with Alma (Professor Alma Carten), another impressive Social Worker and lead editor for the project.

For now, I just want to reverberate Alan’s message: if you are in the field of human services, and you are looking for a way to get connected and have support in your anti-racist work, please come and participate in their meetings.  They meet every 1st Monday of the month from noon until 2pm at JBFCS (135 West 50th Street, Between 5th and 6th, 6th floor), and you can (and should for entry purposes) rsvp by letting Mary or Alan know.  Mary can be reached at mlpenderg@gmail.com /212-245-2510, Alan at asiskind2@gmail.com.

“Racism is like alcoholism. It takes over our minds and ultimately effects our physical and mental health. While, like alcoholism, racism isn’t really cured in any of us, and the best we can do is be in recovery, we can by confronting our own participation in racist structures, begin a healing process for communities of color and ourselves.”

Thanks for your work Alan, and for using your career and now free time to invest in our communal recovery.

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