Queens Impact Awards: Mentor serves as a role model to Queens youngsters

By Rich Bockmann

When Rodney Pride retired a few years ago from his career as a social worker after more than three decades, it may have been a little too soon for the man who has a sense of service pumping through his veins.

“Folks asked me to come out of retirement a little earlier than I probably should have,” he said. “I feel reinvigorated.”

Pride, 59, worked as a child welfare expert in the city’s foster care system for 35 years, and though he has continued his mentoring efforts as the executive director of the United Black Men of Queens, there is something about giving a hand to the helpless stuck in the bureaucracy of the child welfare system that he just cannot shake.

“It’s a big giveback as much as it is a chance to earn a salary,” he said. “Not too many people in Queens know that’s where I disappear to.”

Pride moved from his childhood neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn in 1993 with his wife, Mary, to their home in the Addisleigh Park section of St. Albans, where he has remained active in his local civic and political clubs and the Greater Allen AME church.

A graduate of Queens College, he said his studies at Columbia University — where he earned a master’s degree in social work — had a profound impact.

“I could have gone to a [historically black college], but in a way Columbia was better,” he said. “It was a blessing — a chance to be exposed to something different.”

It is a message he has shared with the young men he mentors through the United Black Men foundation: that a world of opportunity exists for them.

Pride said he operates in two worlds. As a social worker he is an agent of the child welfare system who can discuss the theories of the influential developmental psychologist Pierre Piaget. As a mentor, he is able to make a more down-to-earth connection with those who may need a little tough love.

“My boys, when I see them I’m able to talk to them and say, ‘Come here, son. Shut up. I’m going to talk to you,’” he said. “Now none of that is said with disrespect. The important thing is to never give them a sign, never give them a sense you’ve given up on them.”

After all these years of laying down the hard truth for those who need to hear it, Pride says he still keeps his mind open when the people he looks up to for guidance are trying to give him advice.

“There are still three or four people who if they told me, ‘Sit down. Be quiet. Shut up and listen,’ I’d have to do that,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.