NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Velma Banks (1937 - )
Pioneering Contributions: Throughout forty years of service Velma Banks has been deeply committed to empowering the Black community with programs intended to raise people up by deepening knowledge of their cultural history and fostering their capacity for self-improvement. Her first endeavor of this nature was the program Children of the Light, developed to prepare Black youths as they head off to college for their first experiences in a predominantly white environment. Children of the Light aims to enrich children and their families with greater knowledge about the contributions made by Africans and African Americans to the world of culture thereby strengthening their self concept and coping capacity. Dr. John Henrick Clark, noted historian, supported her work, given the findings of his own pioneering research. In fact he sent his own daughter to the program when it began. Banks also created the cultural enrichment program History Makers which encourages community members to embrace their cultural heritage by celebrating the influential work of people of African descent.
For twenty-seven years Banks focused on raising awareness for the work and contributions of Whitney M. Young Jr., a prominent Black social worker instrumental in the formation of the Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW), a past president of the National Association of Social Workers and a member of the “big six” leadership of the civil rights movement. Banks believes that bringing recognition to the teachings and works of Whitney M. Young Jr. will help the field of social work become more sensitive to the unique needs and challenges of the Black community. Her efforts came to fruition in 1992 when she organized a group committed to promoting the legacy of Whitney M. Young Jr.: The World Community of Social Workers.
Career Highlights: Early in her career as a social worker in foster care Velma Banks became aware of a "missing link" in the helping process, namely the impact and role of cultural heritage. Long before cultural competence became the focus and emphasis it has currently, Banks realized that more knowledge of Black culture was essential for social workers working in the Black community and for the Black community itself. Before long, at a time when positive images of Black people were far fewer than today, she delivered what may well have been the first "diversity" seminar in child welfare in the New York City area. The seminar held at Edwin Gould Services for Children in 1980 invited the participation of staff from several other foster care/adoption agencies operating in the Black community. It quickly evolved into a series of seminars with increasing participation. William Cross, a prominent Black scholar and author of "The Negro to Black Conversion" was an invited speaker in one of the seminars.
In addition to her role as a community leader, professional social worker, lecturer, and organizer, Banks has worked as an educator. From 1995-2005 Banks was an Instructor and Academic Advisor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, NY. She also is the founder and owner of Banks Enterprise , an event planning, life coaching, and community development organization devoted to “improved human behavior through personal healing, cultural awareness and spiritual consciousness”.
The lectures, tributes, and meetings focused on contemporary social work problems made possible by Banks’ leadership of The World Community of Social Workers have drawn support and sponsorship from Columbia University and Fordham University Schools of Social Work; Columbia University School of International Affairs; the National Urban League; the New York Times; numerous faith and culturally based organizations, and many prominent social workers. Banks has not only brought her vision and enthusiasm to community programming, she has also brought her knowledge of the role of cultural competency to the field of social work in her publication Are You Ready?
Biographical Data: Velma Banks received her Bachelor’s of Arts in 1956 from Wiley College, Marshall, TX, and her Master’s of Social Work in 1958 from the Whitney Young, Jr. School of Social Work (Formerly Atlanta University School of Social Work).
Awards: Banks has been recognized by many prominent organizations for her contributions to the field of Social Work as well as her commitment to community empowerment. Some of her most notable honors include: The Distinguished Service Award, Manhattan borough President, David Dinkins, 1990; Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Award, Clark Atlanta University, October 7, 1995; Equal Justice for Children Award, World Community of Social Workers, March 11, 2003;
Standing on their Shoulders: A Celebration of the Wisdom of Women, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, March 8, 2008; Outstanding and Dedicated Service, Social Workers of African Descent Task Forces, NYC Chapter, NASW, June 2008; Recognition Award, National Black Theatre Institute of Action Arts, June 18, 2009.
Publication: Banks, V. (1973) Are You Ready? Cambridge, Mass: Massachusetts Institute of technology, pp. 1-15.