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avatar for William Cerf

William Cerf

Workers Development
Brooklyn, New York
Cohort 12

Brooklyn, NY USA

I started the program in January 2012 with Cohort 12 and go ¾ time taking 3 classes per semester. That feels like a good but not overwhelming load for me to truly engage, though I often get overwhelmed with the amount of work. I am in the Ethical & Creative Leadership Concentration and the MLK Specialization. My plan is to take comps during the summer of 2015. I am legally retired at the ripe old age of 66, but I’m a kid compared to some of our older cohorts. My Masters is in Business Communication and spent my working career as an administrative paralegal working for small businesses and law firms. When I turned 55 years old I started having great difficulty finding work, had serious financial problems and my anxiety and depression got worse. I ended up turning to social service agencies for help and found that they were not at all helpful. After several years of struggle I finally went on Social Security Disability and worked only sporadically. During this time I was introduced to the Poverty Initiative and began really looking at how the system makes people poor. It took time, but I stopped blaming myself for the predicament and came to realize that the powers of order set it up that way. After regaining my mental health, I started the pursuit of my Masters degree online through Jones International University in Centennial, CO, which I completed in November 2011. In January 2012 I started my Ph.D. at Union. I have set an intention to collaborate with poor people to reignite the Poor People’s Campaign for the purpose of ending slavery, indentured servitude and poverty in the United States. I have for years been aware of the power of stories in bringing people together not only across differences but between those who are similarly situated in poverty or near poverty, thus my research interest center around ethnography and autoethnography. I intend to begin seeking academic partners for the purpose of doing a collaborative dissertation.

The North Star for my doctoral pursuit comes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both white and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize…against the injustice, “not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures” (italics mine) through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Trumpet of Conscience.”