by Pamela Young, Published June 06, 2013
YPSILANTI - Betty Brown-Chappell was born into poverty. She experienced racism and as a woman, sexism. Those challenges, though, didn't stop her from accomplishing her dreams for an education. She and her seven siblings graduated from college because, in her close-knit family, failure was not an option.
Brown-Chappell became a social worker and activist, pledging that she would advocate for poor and oppressed people, especially the children, the elderly and the disabled.
Brown-Chappell's history and life's work take center stage June 9, 3-6 p.m., at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren Ave. in Detroit, when the museum celebrates the new Brown-Chappell historical collection. The event is free and open to the public.
The collection is an archival history that documents Brown-Chappell's four generations of family members; her early life history; career as a black social worker and activist in Michigan; the mission of the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers since the 1970s, and more.
As part of the celebration, Brown-Chappell will be a panelist for "Black Women of Power in Social Work: A Roundtable Discussion," that will feature professional women who are policy advocates or administrators in social work.
Panelists will include Carol Goss, CEO of the Skillman Foundation; Phyllis Vroom, deputy president and former dean of the School of Social Work at Wayne State University; and Crystal Mills, professor emeritus in social work and director of research at Eastern Michigan University.
Brown-Chappell's affiliation with the Wright museum began nearly 23 years ago. One day, she came across an article that asked families to share their heritage with the museum. Thus began a great relationship.
"The information I donated ranges from the 1800s to the present and includes information about four generations - my paternal and maternal family members; my siblings; my husband Michael and our children," Brown-Chappell said. "I've also donated the majority of materials from my 17 years at Eastern Michigan University."
Her collection is the first donation of a private citizen to be formally opened to the public at the museum.
"The donation is important, " said Brown-Chappell. "First, I've taken charge of telling my own story. Second I've put my collection in an institution where it will be preserved in perpetuity. Finally, I'm sharing the archives with others so they may learn and gain inspiration from my experiences."
Brown-Chappell will also sign copies of her book, "Open Secrets - A Poor Person's Journey in Higher Education."
"I wrote the book to help first generation college students with modest means to navigate the educational system," she said. "It was inspired by Eastern Michigan students and what I learned along the way."
Brown-Chappell is a strong advocate for various issues. She has testified before Congress on welfare reform; served as a People to People Ambassador to Eastern Europe; and met with Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the United Nations. She also testified before the Michigan legislature on social work licensing.
As president of the 8,500-member National Association of Social Workers - Michigan Chapter, she oversaw advocacy efforts that pushed for state licensure for social workers.
Her research interests include trends in aging and how race affects leadership. She teaches courses on social welfare policy and gerontology at Eastern Michigan.