As a social worker, Terry A. Solomon, MS, MPH, could see that people needed jobs, housing, and quality education if they were going to provide for their families. Working in traditional social service programs, she was able to help individuals, but her MPH gave her the credentials she needed to focus on both health issues and social well-being.
"The courses in public health provided me with an understanding of the health care delivery system and have allowed me to network with human service providers and other public health professionals," Solomon says.
Solomon was raised in Chicago. She received her BA from Chicago State University in 1974, her MSW from the University of Illinois Jane Addams School of Social Work in 1977, and her MPH in 1983. Nurtured by parents who believed in hard work and the strength of family, Solomon grew up determined to make a difference in the African-American community.
"From my father I learned the importance of standing up for my beliefs and the beliefs of others," Solomon says. "That translated into my vocation as a social worker and a public health activist. My mother reinforced the idea that working hard can make a difference and that perseverance and a strong belief in God will enable one to meet challenges. My early work experiences in day camps and day care programs helped me to understand the relationship between social institutions and the quality of life for families in the African-American community."
Solomon began her social work career in 1977 at Mile Square Comprehensive Community Health Center, Inc., in Chicago. Her roles included psychiatric social worker, program coordinator, project coordinator, and clinic manager. During her years at Mile Square, she worked on and received her MPH.
"I was a focused student. I had worked and knew what areas I needed to build on to help me become more marketable," Solomon says. "I needed administrative skills, and I needed to focus specifically on the health care delivery system. That's why I went for the MPH."
In 1990, Solomon became project director for Austin Infant Mortality Network, part of Habilitative Systems, Inc., in Chicago. Her responsibilities included managing community-based medical and social service programs, developing and implementing maternal and child case management services, and organizing a community advisory board to coordinate social services to reduce infant mortality.
Wherever her career has taken her, Solomon has helped families stay together. She has helped people with mental health issues receive job training, and worked with families to get them services that kept their children out of the child welfare system. She has also worked hard to bring the problem of child abuse and neglect into the public limelight. "More people are talking about it today," she says. "There's a heightened awareness of it as a public health problem. But there's also a myth that says African-American families do not take care of their children, that they don't value them. People who believe that myth have no understanding of African-American culture. As a result, misguided public health policies and programs are created that are inconsistent with the experiences, traditions, and values of the African-American community."
Solomon has a different perspective. As an African-American, she feels connected to the community and recognizes that the well-being and positive health outcomes of its members affect her well-being, too. This understanding has led Solomon to want more for African-Americans.
In 1992, Solomon and a group of concerned social workers began meeting to discuss problems facing African-American families. They focused on a variety of topics, including the number of children in the child welfare system and the need to sustain economic opportunity for their families. They held a series of meetings throughout Illinois seeking input from human services consumers and providers. Consumers voiced their feelings about the system, and providers discussed what they needed to continue helping the families they served.
In May 1994, Solomon's group issued a report and made a presentation to the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. The group called for an African-American commission to work with the government to deliver programs and develop policies and services on behalf of African-Americans. In October 1994, Governor Edgar issued an executive order creating the African-American Family Commission specifically to work with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and to advise the department and his office on issues affecting African-American families. Solomon was appointed executive director of the commission.
Among its various efforts, the commission has developed an educational program called Child Watch. Its twofold purpose is to inform the African-American community about what it can do to prevent child abuse and maltreatment and to identify resources for families that will help them before a crisis occurs and children are neglected or abused.
Success has not caused Solomon to rest on her laurels. Currently, she's a doctoral student at the School of Public Health, focusing on maternal and child health. "It's a challenge attending school and working. However, there are a lot of studies being done in the child welfare arena regarding African-American families. Pursuing my PhD will give me the understanding I need to analyze the findings and to assist in developing public policy to strengthen and preserve African-American families."
Contributed by Janice Rosenberg
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