Despite a downturn in the economy and skyrocketing unemployment rates, engineers of social change are in high demand. These engineers seek to create transformation in their communities through the exercise of leadership. Engineers of social change recognize that leadership is about leveraging one’s influence to remedy injustices and eradicate systems of marginalization. Needed now more than ever are social engineers within the African American community, who will seek to address emerging racial justice issues like mass incarceration and disparities in the educational system.
Who is the social engineer?
Social engineering was developed in response to racial inequities in the justice system. Civil rights pioneer, the late Charles Hamilton Houston, developed this theory due to his lifelong commitment to burying the remnants of racism. Houston characterized a social engineer as the “mouthpiece of the weak and a sentinel guarding against wrong.” As a civil rights pioneer, he exercised leadership as a tool for promoting the common good and creating access to justice. Houston’s personal commitment to becoming a social engineer was influenced by his life experience in his adulthood, in particular serving in the military. Houston’s experience of racism and discrimination in the military left a lasting impact. Following his military service, he later vowed to gain power by speaking the fluency of the language of the law (i.e. the language of power). Houston’s commitment to wage a relentless battle against injustice was manifested in these words:
[I vowed] that I would never get caught again without knowing something about my rights; that if luck was with me, and I got through this war, I would study law and use my time fighting for men who could not strike back.
Houston fulfilled his commitment and pursued a law degree with great vigor at Harvard Law School. Over the course of his lifetime, he inspired generations of social engineers which include his protégé Justice Thurgood Marshall and a cohort of civil rights lawyers (Spottswood Robinson, Oliver Hill, to name a few).
What are the job qualifications for social engineers?
Leadership skills and a passion for social justice are the only prerequisites. You will receive on the job training. In addition, you will develop a number of invaluable skills that will be indispensable on your leadership journey. These skills include:
1. Creative problem solving. Social engineers see new possibilities. For instance, with over 2 million people incarcerated in the United States and people of color accounting for 60% of those imprisoned (despite making up only roughly 30% of the total population), social engineers must begin to ask themselves: how can the pipeline to prison be dismantled? Social engineer, Michelle Alexander created a blueprint for analyzing and addressing the impact of mass incarceration in her acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander warns: “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.” She exemplifies the qualities of a social engineer by challenging the status quo and seeking to promote social justice.
2. Grassroots organizing. Traditionally, leaders have played an integral role in shaping public policy and effecting systemic changes. Engineers of social change can use their leadership skills to empower communities as they advocate for the protection of civil rights and equal access to justice. They use their leadership skills to help people carry out their ideas and create a strategic plan of action to achieve their goals.
3. Leadership development. Engineers of social change create transformation through the utilization of core leadership skills:
• Vision (foresight, creativity)
• Values (integrity, honesty, an ethic of service)
• Personal skills (self-awareness, self-control)
• Interpersonal skills (emotional intelligence, empathy, persuasion)
• Technical competence (knowledge, preparation, sound judgment)
Additionally, engineers of social change lead community members by supporting the development of each individual’s leadership skills and realization of the full potential of their collective power.
4. Bridge building. Engineers of social change are integral to community-building by acting as a liaison between community members, policy makers, and key stakeholders. For instance, a social engineer could serve as a bridge builder by addressing the racial disparities in school disciplinary practices. Nationally, African American students are three times more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for the same kind of conduct at school. A person committed to social engineering would tackle this issue by bringing together students, parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members to deliberate on how to address this inequity and ensure fairness in disciplinary practices. This is an example of how engineering is critical to leading social change.
Are you ready to get started? Openings are available in both your local community and the global community, whether serving on a nonprofit board or volunteering for a local civil rights organization. All you need to do is simply apply today. Opportunities abound.
Dr. Artika Tyner (University of St. Thomas School of Law, Member of the Minnesota African American Museum Emancipation Proclamation Committee) and Beatriz Espinoza (University of St. Thomas School of Law)