As he nears his 80th birthday, professor emeritus Jim Kelch reflects on the abiding value of social work in an ever-changing society and his wife’s legacy, the Beverly Gail Barnes-Kelch Memorial Lecture Series.
Jim Kelch was born to teach. As a founding faculty member of Temple University’s School of Social Work, he taught from 1969 until he retired in 2000. Then, he says, “after I retired, I taught a class each semester. I was glad to be able to see all the changes and development at Temple.”
The School of Social Work was founded on the mantra of social change, he recalls, and it’s retained its client-centered attitude and focus on advocacy even as the curriculum has become more clinical and practical. “There is that socially driven aspect to it—we believe we can mentor people who will use their professional practice to change society,” Kelch says.
In his classes Kelch took care to emphasize the role of the individual—both client and practitioner—in steering the forces at work in society. “The work that social workers do impacts every facet of life. My emphasis was always on the societal impacts of ideas and forces, and how things could be made better for the ordinary person.”
In 1997 the passing of Kelch’s wife, Beverly Gail Barnes-Kelch, inspired a new chapter in the couple’s mutual devotion to social justice and education. Beverly was a playwright, director, actor, teacher, and social justice advocate, as well as a Temple alumna. So in her honor, her family established the Beverly Gail Barnes-Kelch Memorial Lecture Series. Each year it brings together students and faculty from across the School of Social Work, but it’s open to the wider community as well.
Jim says that a speaker series felt like the perfect way to honor his wife, combining her passion for the arts, his interest in social work, and their mutual belief that individuals can impact society in myriad ways. “I thought the lecture format was best because it could encompass all the arts as well as the societal progress and changes that are taking place,” Kelch says.
The series is sponsored by the Beverly Gail Barnes-Kelch Fund, the School of Social Work, the school’s Alumni Association and the College of Public Health. It hosts a wide range of speakers, from award-winning author, playwright and director Antwone Fisher to Dr. Robert D. Bullard, a leading environmental thinker known as “the father of environmental justice.” In October 2016 the series hosted Vashti DuBois, founder of the Colored Girls Museum in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, and other local experts on African American arts and social action.
The lectures attempt to be a marriage of arts and society—and ultimately, says, Kelch, his hope is that they help social workers grow in their careers. “Social workers have to be multifaceted,” he says. “The lecture series addresses many different areas of life, all of which touch on our field. I hope it broadens our outlook, so that when we come across a new situation, we’re able to say, ‘Ah, that lecture I heard – it might have some bearing on what’s going on here.’ To the extent that you are exposed to those different facets of life, you’re better prepared to deal with them.”