Talks on community empowerment locally and in Middle East

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of James .


KALAMAZOO--An internationally known expert on community organizing and empowerment is coming to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 25-26, to participate in three events.

The events feature Dr. James Torczyner, professor of social work at Montreal's McGill University and founder as well as director of the McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2 to 4 p.m.--Torczyner will be the keynote speaker for a forum and panel discussion with residents of Kalamazoo's Edison Neighborhood in the Hispanic American Council building, 930 Lake St. The "Edison United" event is being organized by Kalamazoo City Commissioner Don Cooney, a WMU professor of social work, and sponsored by the Hispanic American Council, WMU School of Social Work, and WMU Center for the Humanities.
  • Thursday, Jan. 26, noon to 1:30 p.m.--Torczyner will speak on "Building a New Middle East From the Ground Up: Empowering Marginalized People in Israel, Jordan and Palestine to Have a Voice in Civil Society" in the President's Dining Room of WMU's Bernhard Center. The talk will be presented to the Globalization Brown Bag group sponsored by the University's Haenicke Institute for Global Education.
  • Thursday, Jan. 26, 4 p.m.--Torczyner will present a keynote talk titled "Fifteen Years Creating Engaged Citizenry in the Middle East: Building Strong Communities in Jordan, Israel and Palestine through Rights Advocacy" in Room 2008 of WMU's Richmond Center. His free presentation will focus on the McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building and its emphasis on the empowerment of children, youth and women in processes that affect their lives. He also will discuss the unlikely path to empowerment that the program has taken, and the power of partnership and solidarity in the struggle for social change.

    The McGill Middle East program is based on the belief that social justice is the most reliable foundation for strong, healthy societies. The program, founded in 1997, helps communities unite around common concerns, rather than focus on the issues that divide them.

    It is rooted in Torczyner's innovative rights-based community practice model, which teaches people about their rights and empowers them to access those rights. The model was adapted to the Middle Eastern context after having been developed and tested in Montreal and applied there for more than 30 years. Program officials have worked with partners in Palestine, Jordan and Israel to establish 11 rights-based community practice centers in some of the most disadvantaged areas of each of those societies.

Torczyner, who heads a four-country study evaluating the Middle Eastern impact of the rights-based community practice approach, has been directly involved for more than 35 years in social work, human rights education and the development of social movements. He has served on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council as well as the editorial board of the International Journal of Social Welfare. Among the many honors he has received are the Canadian Bureau of International Education Award for extraordinary contributions to the field of international education and the Gold Medal of the Jordan Red Crescent.

WMU's Center for the Humanities is the principal organizer and sponsor of Torczyner's visit, which is being co-sponsored by the University's College of Health and Human Services, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Foreign Languages, and Haenicke Institute for Global Education.

Visit or call (269) 387-1811 to learn more about the WMU Center for the Humanities and its Convergence of Cultures lecture series. Questions about James Torczyner's visit should be directed to Jodi Hope Michaels, director of communications for the McGill Middle East Program, at or (269) 350-6355.