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      Studying to Make a Difference

      Social Work Student Darin Toliver is Using His Doctoral Dissertation to Inform His Work on Philadelphia's Commission on African American Males

      Darin Toliver

      Darin Toliver, a PhD candidate in the Center for Social Work Education, has been appointed to a second term on Philadelphia’s Commission on African American Males.

      As a medical social worker at St. Christopher's Hospital in Philadelphia, social work PhD candidate Darin Toliver has gained a unique perspective on the social and health issues that particularly impact the African American community. He says that he often sees young African American males ignore mental health issues. "They won't talk about it, and so instead of seeking assistance, they turn to illegal drugs. There is often a domino effect. The drugs lead to violence and then imprisonment," Toliver said.

      Positioned to Make a Difference

      Toliver is working to change the stigma around mental health and help African American males focus on overall health and wellness as an appointed member of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's Commission on African American Males. Toliver was recently reappointed to the commission by Kenney to serve a second four-year term. He was initially appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter, who while in office reintroduced the commission first started by Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr.

      The commission is charged with advising and recommending to the Philadelphia mayor actions on policy issues to improve outcomes for African American boys and men in Philadelphia. "The goal is to change the perspective, change the narrative of what we are, who we are and what we do," said Toliver, an African American male who grew up in upper West Philadelphia.

      Motivated By Experience

      He said that he grew up poor and saw firsthand what living below the poverty line does to people. "A lack of education, a lack of employment does not lead to much good. In a nutshell, it causes social chaos, which potentially leads to violence-related outcomes." Toliver said that he has always had a friend serving time. "Some are serving life sentences, a few were just released (from prison) and some are six feet under."

      Through education, Toliver has liberated himself from the confines of poverty and reached a place where he can now use his knowledge and passion for activism to help his peers. As a member of the commission, he works to create short and long-term solutions for the issues impacting African American men and boys in Philadelphia. The commission's current focus is on the areas of criminal justice, economic development, education and health.

      Given his role at St. Christopher's, Toliver has taken a natural interest in one of the commission's initiatives to help African American males uncover opportunities presented by Philadelphia's education and healthcare institutions. "Because revitalization projects throughout the city are supported financially by the economic engines of 'Eds and Meds,' the commission's goal is to ensure that black and brown men are included not just in the discussions, but as major participants regarding economic, educational and social inclusion. Having access is the key. As such, healthcare entities, colleges and university centers should serve as vital 'Opportunity Gateways' for those who live in the city."

      Engaged in Research to Guide Future Goals

      Toliver is also using his doctoral dissertation for Widener's PhD program in social work to develop a deeper understanding of what drives young African American males to violence. For the dissertation, tentatively titled "I Got a Story to Tell: A qualitative study on African American males' perceptions on committing a homicide during adolescence," Toliver's goal is to interview a number of offenders in hope of developing a systematic theory as to what motivates adolescent African American males to commit murder.

      "The benefits of this study include empowerment of offenders in sharing their experiences and imparting their voices in constructing a theoretical paradigm of their homicidal mindset in hope of identifying patterns and stabling preventative measures," he explained. "Finally, the information could also help African American parents, community stakeholders and elected officials in terms of encouraging healthy African American male engagement with society."


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