Remembering Walter Stafford: A Celebration of Service, Scholarship and Activism

Date: 10/12/2008
Time: 3:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: Schomburg Ctr. for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd. (at 135th St.), NY, NY 10037

Walter Stafford, Professor of Public Policy and Planning at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University, passed away peacefully on September 13th.

Professor Stafford's life-work centered on securing greater social, economic and political equality for people-of-color and for women. He began this work as an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee with Donald Hall, Frank Smith and others. Later, he moved to government as an assistant to United States Senator Richard Schweiker (R-Pennsylvania), and then to the National Urban League and at the Community Service Society. Fusing scholarship with activism was a hallmark of Stafford's work.

At NYU, Stafford has been a noted scholar and ardent advocate on race relations, race and planning, labor markets, gender issues and economic development. His publications include Race, Gender and Welfare Reform: The Need for Targeted Support (State of Black America 2003), Women of Color in New York City: Still Invisible in Policy. He wrote over 100 papers in these areas and founded the Women of Color Policy Network to advocate with government for women and to create new generations of women policy advocates. He was also a member of numerous organizations where he advocated for populations he believed were underserved, including the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Board of Education's Task Force on Students of African Descent and the Urban Issues Group. While Professor Stafford focused on these issues locally, he applied methods developed in other areas. In a recent study, he adapted the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index, a measurement that incorporates variables for longevity, knowledge and income, to capture social and economic disparities in New York City. The study aims to help policy planners understand, in his words, the "multi-dimensional poverty that is typically ignored". Also, at the time of his death, Stafford was using biographical approaches to study the intersection of race and politics in the life and work of Robert C. Weaver, the first person who was appointed as Secretary of the newly created Housing and Urban Development, and the first African-American to hold a position in a President's cabinet.

In making his stinging critiques of existing race and gender relations and the policies and structures that supported them, Stafford would deployed a knowing and disbelieving sense of humor. At a conference in 2000 examining an expected glowing future for New York City, Professor Stafford was typically first to raise the problems faced by men and women of color, saying with a laugh that when he served on New York's Economic Development Corporation, "Every time I raised my hand, other members would know what I was about to say."

Stafford was born in Atlanta, Georgia, was raised in Tuskegee, Alabama and Lafayette, Louisiana and took his Ph.D. in Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to his work, He was an accomplished jazz pianist, and an avid collector of art.

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