Dr. Charles E. Lewis Jr., a Leading Advocate for Social Workers in Politics, to Serve as 2018 Graduation Speaker

July 18, 2018 @ 10:19 pm

The Columbia School of Social Work has announced that Dr. Charles E. Lewis Jr. will deliver the keynote address at its 2018 graduation ceremony. A former staffer on Capitol Hill and a doctoral alumnus of the School, Dr. Lewis is a leading advocate for social workers to become involved in policy and politics at the federal level. He currently serves as president of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work & Policy (CRISP).

“We are truly fortunate to welcome Charles Lewis back to campus as our graduation speaker,” said Interim Dean Irwin Garfinkel. “An impactful advocate and educator, Charles has elevated the place of social workers within the halls of power, and in doing so has helped connect politicians and policy makers to the needs of their constituents.”

Dr. Lewis began his career on Capitol Hill as the deputy chief of staff and communications director for Congressman Ed Towns, a social worker who represented congressional districts in Brooklyn for 30 years, until his retirement in 2013. Dr. Lewis assisted Congressman Towns in establishing the first-ever Congressional Social Work Caucus, serving as its first staff coordinator. The Caucus provides a platform on Capitol Hill to represent the interests of the over 600,000 social workers in the United States and to advocate for their involvement in finding policy solutions to social welfare issues such as child poverty, income and wealth inequality, over use of incarceration, and inadequate resources for mental health services.

To support the activities of this congressional membership organization, Dr. Lewis founded CRISP, a nonprofit that hosts informational forums and other events for social workers to interact with Congress. It also supports practicum placements for social work students in congressional offices. Under his leadership, CRISP now hosts two major events in March, to coincide with Social Work Month:

  • Social Work Day on the Hill, bringing together social workers from all walks of life to celebrate the accomplishments of social workers in Congress, at a forum held at the National Press Club in Washington.
  • Student Advocacy Day on the Hill, bringing hundreds of social work and public health students to Capitol Hill for a day of lobbying and engaging congressional members and staff.

And last summer CRISP launched its first Political Boot Camp—a new annual initiative to provide intensive training for social workers seeking to run for political office or become public spokespersons.

Dr. Lewis is a product of the African American church. The son of a Baptist minister, he became a licensed minister and from 1989 to 1995 served as the Men’s Ministry Coordinator at Saint Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY, under the legendary pastor Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood. During that period, he encountered many African American males involved in the criminal justice system. The experience compelled him to return to school to complete his formal education in 1992, at the age of 42.

After earning a BA in psychology from the College of New Rochelle and an MSW in clinical counseling at Clark Atlanta University, Dr. Lewis was awarded a PhD in social policy analysis from the Columbia School of Social Work. His dissertation, titled “The Negative Effects of Incarceration on Fathers in Fragile Families,” documented employment and earnings penalties incurred by unwed fathers who had been incarcerated.

Dr. Lewis published an article in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare from his dissertation and has written several book chapters on African American males and incarceration. With former Philadelphia mayor Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, Sr. and Dr. Harold Dean Trulear of the Howard School of Divinity, he is co-editor of Ministry with Prisoners and Families: The Way Forward. By showing how some ministries have addressed incarceration, prisoner reentry, and the care of their families, the book suggests strategies for building a political advocacy ministry around issues of criminal justice.

In addition to his work for CRISP, Dr. Lewis is the president of the board of directors for the Mental Health Association of the District of Columbia, where he advocates for early mental health treatment as a means to reduce the over-representation of African Americans and Latinos in the criminal justice system, and a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. He teaches courses on advanced policy analysis as an adjunct at several social work schools.

Dr. Lewis will deliver his remarks at the historic Beacon Theatre, Broadway and 72nd Street, on Wednesday, May 16. Beginning at 2:00 p.m., the school’s graduation follows Columbia University’s commencement ceremony, which takes place the morning of that same day, in front of Low Library.