Social Justice Spotlight

3 min read

Kip Tiernan BI ’89, founder of Rosie’s Place and the Greater Boston Food Bank and co-founder of Community Works and the Poor People’s United Fund, gave her papers to the Schlesinger Library in 2006 so that scholars and citizens can learn more about how and why she pursued her passion for social justice. That was just one part of a special connection forged between the social justice pioneer and the Radcliffe Institute library.

When she died in 2011, at 85, it was important that her commitment to the downtrodden and disenfranchised live on. One way her legacy continues at Harvard is through the event that took place yesterday hosted by the Schlesinger Library and Community Works, a cooperative of 34 local grassroots organizations devoted to social and economic justice.

The executive director of Community Works, Fran Froelich, worked with Tiernan for years to pursue community-based solutions to entrenched challenges, including homelessness, hunger, and violence. She spoke about Tiernan at the event, saying “She told the truth—held it up—and invited us to join her in searching for solutions.”

To honor Tiernan’s pursuit of truth and her commitment to improving the quality of life for all people, Froelich presented the organization’s Striving for Justice Award to David Hemenway AB ’66, PhD ’74, professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health. The award was given in recognition of his efforts to understand and prevent injury and violence as director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center and as the author of many books, including While We Were Sleeping: Success Stories in Injury and Violence Prevention (University of California Press, 2009).

Hemenway, who was honored to accept the award, shared some insights into his work collecting data about homicide and suicides, and how he and his colleagues are learning more about violence and its causes as they analyze the information. His remarks—which included insights into soda drinking, accidental poisonings, and gun ownership—illustrated what Froelich said in her introduction: “David’s field of public health has deep moral connections to broader questions of social justice, poverty, and systematic disadvantage.”

His remarks were followed by a discussion with young people searching for solutions to youth violence and active in Alternatives for Community and Environment and the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center, two organizations that are part of Community Works.

The combination of statistics and the stories was a fitting testament to Kip Tiernan’s commitment to highlighting the power of experts and community groups to raise awareness, tackle difficult issues, make a meaningful difference, and inspire others. The event was also an opportunity to remind people about the mission of Community Works, its participation in the Harvard Community Gifts campaign, and access to Tiernan’s papers at the Schlesinger Library.