Joseph S. Slavet, ABCD’s First Executive Director, Helped to Launch the Organization and the Community Action Movement

The passing of Joseph S. Slavet this month brought an exemplary life of 104 years to a close, and it is fitting to reflect on his contributions to social and racial justice and economic mobility, especially as we mark the 60th anniversary of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 – President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Joe led Action for Boston Community Development from its inception in 1962 to 1966, a pivotal period that included its launch as a pilot project and incorporation and federal designation as Boston’s antipoverty organization.

Working closely with civil rights leader and ABCD Co-founder Melnea Cass and a select few visionary activists, Joe was an architect of the organization’s mission and innovative programming, particularly in early childhood education, youth development, and community health.

Born in Boston’s West End and raised in Dorchester and Mattapan, Joe was a decorated World War II veteran who returned home determined to dedicate his life to public service and institutional change. His work at the Boston Municipal Research Bureau and as an adviser to Boston Mayor John Collins proved to be excellent preparation to lead ABCD, one of a handful of antipoverty demonstration projects funded by the Ford Foundation.

During his tenure, ABCD established the Area Planning Action Councils, the precursor to its neighborhood opportunity center network; created the Roxbury Multi-Service Center, and started the nation’s first community health center in partnership with Tufts University. That much-needed resource, the Columbia Point Community Health Center, still operates today as the Geiger Gibson Community Health Center.

In the 2002 book Changing Lives, Changing Communities: An Oral History of Action for Boston Community Development by Robert C. Hayden and Ann Withorn, Joe called ABCD’s growth and impact on underserved individuals, families, and communities in Greater Boston “a miracle.” The organization included compassionate people like Robert M. Coard, who would build ABCD and go on to lead it for more than 40 years.

An academic and public policy expert, Joe went on to purposeful work in other arenas, but as one of the successors in a long line of prestigious ABCD leaders that follow him, I am grateful for the role he played at ABCD’s inception. He and his team put in place an effective blueprint for community change and an organization that continues to create pathways out of poverty so that everyone can thrive. 

May he rest in peace, and may his memory be a blessing.

Sincerely, Sharon Scott-Chandler, Esq.
President and CEO