NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Louis Levitt was a pioneering community organizer and educator in New York City. Levitt helped organize Social Workers for Peace in the 1960’s. At the height of its work, the group organized a demonstration at the United Nations in which thousands of social workers participated. Levitt and his colleague, Aaron Beckerman, founded Rekindling Reform, a nexus for most of the health-reform groups in the greater New York area dedicated to comprehensive health care coverage in the United States. The organization’s efforts were a factor that ultimately helped achieve the Affordable Care Act of the Obama Administration. He frequently challenged the status quo to ensure that minority communities and children received the care they deserved, and while on the faculty of Wurzweiler School of Social Work expanded the doctoral program to allow working professionals to attend classes on nights and weekends.
Levitt’s community organizing work began when he was a student, with a field placement at the Educational Alliance. He helped motivate an older adult discussion club from talking to taking action about the rapid increase in the cost of living in New York. This led to a rally at the Jewish Community Center/settlement house, with 500 attendees and public officials who spoke to the crowd. A petition circulated to the group garnered 5,000 signatures and was presented to President Truman by Congressman Arthur Klein.
After a stint at Jewish Community Center as a staff member, he helped to inaugurate the Jewish Community Council of the Lower East side, helping several organizations collaborate in community change. He then became a director at Wel-Met camps, an agency that was created to provide camping, health and growth opportunities to the children of New York.
Levitt joined the faculty of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, remaining a full-time faculty member for 27 years. He became Professor Emeritus in 1999.
One of his more interesting ideas was actually a failure: while working briefly for Mobilization for Youth in the 1960’s, Levitt coordinated an innovative drug-treatment program for minority youth who were friends. They moved through a detoxification program at Beth Israel Hospital, followed by drug rehabilitation and a stay at a former summer camp that was used for job-training purposes. Levitt helped the youth find jobs at a city agency but, due to the lack of integrated housing, the young people only had at-risk areas open to them. The program eventually failed. Levitt wrote an article on the reasons for the Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
Louis Levitt earned his D.P.A. at Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University, New York, NY. He received his M.S.S.W. from Columbia University in New York.
Significant Achievements and Awards
1972-74: President, NASW New York City chapter
Levitt’s photography has been exhibited at galleries in Port Washington, New York and Washington, DC. His photographs of German concentration camps are part of the permanent archives at Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem.
Levitt, L., Beckerman, A.H., & Johnson, P. (1999). Defending social and health services under threat: Questions and strategies. Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community, 13(1), 59-67. doi: 10.1080/026505399103511
Levitt, L. (1980). Social work and social welfare: A conceptual matrix. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare ,7, 636.
Levitt, L. (1968). Rehabilitation of narcotics addicts among lower-class teenagers. Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 38(1), 56-62.
Mushlin, M.B., Levitt, L., & Anderson, L. (1968). Court-ordered foster family care reform: A case study. Child Welfare: Journal of Policy, Practice, and Program, 65(2), 141-154.