By: AIF Staff
In early September, one of former Speaker Paul Ryan’s mentors, Bob Woodson, announced his retirement after 40 years of leading the Woodson Center, an organization dedicated to changing lives and communities from the ground-up. Speaker Ryan paid tribute to Woodson’s impact and his legacy, stating in part:
“The positive impact Bob has made in countless people’s lives and in communities across the country is simply profound.
“Bob has been so effective because he believes in the inherent good of every person he meets. He has an unbending faith in people’s tenacity and determination to better themselves; he believes in the power of redemption; and he is an eternal optimist. There is a generation of community leaders who owe their success to Bob and who will undoubtedly continue evangelizing his belief in free markets and the principles of the Gospel.”
Woodson’s career and impact were recently detailed by the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, in a piece titled: Robert Woodson retires after 40 years of empowering communities. Among the notable excerpts from the piece:
When Paul Ryan and Robert Woodson first came here nearly 10 years ago, the Republican congressman from Janesville and the civil rights icon had something in common. They both believed that poverty and generational crime in black communities was best remedied not by big government programs, the monies of which typically go more to staff than those in need, but instead by the community members themselves…
The former speaker of the house said in an interview with the Washington Examiner that what Woodson showed him was life-changing. “One of the best things I did in my career was ask Bob Woodson to teach me about poverty,” he said.
Ryan said he spent about four or five years touring poverty-stricken areas on a monthly basis, making connections with people who can make a difference. “I did this with no media or anything like that, just to learn, and it was transformational to me,” he said. “And it’s helpful to what I do now….”
Woodson’s approach was based in experience, he said. He understood that just because people were living in a community on the edge, it didn’t mean they weren’t looking around it for examples of integrity, dignity, and honor. “My approach was to be that vehicle to provide those examples,” he said.
Woodson said he began his career at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in Philadelphia…. Eventually, in 1981, he founded the center to guide residents of low-income neighborhoods so that they could address the problems of their communities themselves.
“The man made a mold for using foundational principles to attack the problem of poverty at its root cause and to empower individual people to take control of their lives and their neighborhoods,” said Ryan. “And he never lost sight of his principles. He never lost sight of his goal. And he always, every time, thought about how we can make lives better for people in transformational ways.”
Ryan said Woodson moved the needle on poverty to where it is much more effective. “And he’s done it in a way by applying these timeless principles that we as conservatives believe in,” he said. “There’s just nobody else who has done anything like it. And he’s just a man who sees truth for how he sees it. And he speaks passionately about his sense of truth. And he’s always on a quest to learn….”
“I am trying to get more people to take the Woodson model and replicate it so that we can make a huge difference,” he explained. He is also trying to get young conservative policymakers to focus on poverty and do the same thing.
Woodson said his retirement doesn’t mean the public will not hear from him. “Well, you retire from a job, but you expire from a calling,” he said. “I’m never going to fully disengage.”
Learn more about Speaker Ryan and Bob Woodson’s efforts to empower communities and expand economic opportunities here.