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Mayor Michael Nutter speaks at the Fifth Anniversay Gala for the Penn School of Social Work.

As gatherings of social workers go, last night's at Huntsman Hall was pretty unusual.

Black Men at Penn, a group for black male students and alumni of the Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice, held its fifth-anniversary gala last night. The event, entitled "Without Struggle, There Is No Progress," was one of the first events in a larger symposium celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, as well as a part of SP2's 100th anniversary celebration.

The gala celebrated the contributions of black males in the social work profession. In addition, seven "Outstanding Community Service Awards" were given out. Among the recipients were city councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, music mogul Kenny Gamble and Penn Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter gave the keynote address, highlighting civic engagement as a cure to many of the city's ills.

"Think of what kind of city we would have," he said. "Think of the leadership and mentorship that many of our young people would get."

The event was a fundraiser to support BMAP's various initiatives - specifically, its Saturday mentoring program for area youth and book scholarship program for students in SP2. The organization is financially independent from the University, so fundraisers like this are important, said BMAP co-founder and President Chad Lassiter, a 2001 alumnus.

BMAP also gives anti-violence and anti-racism presentations to local schools and prisons and speaks with youth about the importance of education.

"They're making some changes with the way that people relate to each other," said Gamble.

Ever since SP2 was founded in 1908, social work has been "thought of as a female profession, even though the clients are not primarily female," explained SP2 Dean Richard Gellis.

Jack Lewis, co-founder of BMAP and SP2 1981 alumnus, is the first to agree. "Traditionally, social work has not attracted a lot of African-American men," he said, noting that of the about 150 students in his graduating class, only five were black. Lewis was the only male.

With eight original members, BMAP was founded in 2003 with the goal of creating "a safe space for black men to come together and talk about the challenges that they're faced with," said Lassiter.

Since then, membership has grown to about 40.

Five members of BMAP, including Lewis and Lassiter, teach SP2's American Racism two-course sequence, which is required for all first-years in the Masters of Social Work program and makes students "more culturally competent and culturally sensitive," according to Gellis.

"They've certainly raised a consciousness about the importance of gender, as well as ethnic diversity," he continued. "Nobody [talked] about how to get more men to come."

"We're like brothers," Lassiter said. "We love each other, and we love what we do, and we get passion out of serving."

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