Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, PhD, MSW, MPH has lived the American Black experience in every way, shape and form. Family members going to the military for discipline. Some falling victim to the streets; the glue that holds the family together passing away. The other missing piece of the Black experience: being the first in his family to go to college.
“All of that had a really intense impact on me in a sense of just wondering why, you know, why is it hard for some people to stay on a path and not be consumed by, you know, things around them?” said Lindsey. “And then why was this happening to our community? The legislative response to all of this was more punitive as opposed to undergirding the community with the resources that it needed to to sustain itself.”
Dr. Lindsey was recently named dean of the NYU Silver School of Social Work, the first Black person to hold the position. He currently serves as the executive director of the NYU Silver School’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.
Lindsey, who was raised in southeast Washington, D.C. in a working-class environment, saw the pitfalls of what was happening around him. He grew up in the eye of the crack epidemic. He saw the fear adults had with letting their kids play outside or go to parties out of fear of violence. He saw neighbors fall victim to addictions.
He also wanted to extend his reach and look out for marginalized people of all kinds.
He found it at Morehouse College. There, he learned about leaders throughout Black history, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which inspired him to dive face first into his mission to help others.
“As I learned more about luminaries like King and other great men of Morehouse who graduated and had gone out into the world to make a difference, I think it was somewhat of a requirement of us as students at Morehouse—more apt to go out into the world to change it to do something. If you see an issue, do something about it.”
Lindsey’s journey took him back home to Howard University for his master’s degree in social work, focusing on mental health, and then the University of Pittsburgh for his master’s in public health and a doctor of philosophy degree in social work.
Lindsey wasn’t done academically. He became a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.
But reminders of the old neighborhood were never that far behind.
“I remember sitting in a substance abuse group with one of my clinical supervisors, and then came one of my childhood best friend’s moms. She was in the group,” he said. “And she had been addicted to crack and I just almost wanted to cry because she was a neighbor. I hadn’t seen her in about maybe 10 years or so, maybe longer than that. And I had not known that her life turned in that direction. That made me want to learn more about addictions, counseling and doing that work, because I saw one of my childhood friend’s mom come in the group and I’ve just almost lost it at that moment.”
Currently residing in the West Village not too far from NYU’s campus, Lindsey considers himself a foodie and loves shopping.
“Social work is really about dignity. It’s about helping someone reclaim or to claim a sense of dignity in their lives,” said Lindsey. “And I feel incredibly honored to be a part of that process. I realize that it’s bigger than me. It’s bigger. There are larger, very looming implications. And I feel honored and a sense of responsibility.”
Dr. Lindsey turned tragedy to triumph.