Couple’s planned gift supports social justice leadership

Photo of John (gray vest) and Beclee (peach sweater) sitting across the table from one another holding hands and smiling at the camera.

John and Beclee Newcomer Wilson made a generous gift to support social justice learning at Berkeley Social Welfare.

John Wilson and Beclee Newcomer Wilson M.S.W. ’90, longtime supporters of the School of Social Welfare and members of the Dean’s Alumni Advisory Board, have committed one of the largest planned gifts in the school’s history to promote social justice within the school and at UC Berkeley.

In sharing her gratitude, Chancellor Carol Christ said, “These initiatives will make it possible for the School of Social Welfare to elevate their public visibility and draw awareness to dynamic scholarship and discourse around these issues on a national level.… Your commitments are important not just to Berkeley’s future, but also to the future of our nation. Thank you for lighting the way toward racial reckoning and social justice.”

“Indeed, ‘a change is gonna come,’ and with the Wilsons’ gift, our school will continue to be able to contribute to that change.” — Dean Linda Burton

Both John and Beclee have fought for social and racial justice throughout their long careers and deep involvement at UC Berkeley.

John earned a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan and then joined the faculty at Yale University, where he established the Urban Economics Institute and the Urban Fellows Program. He became an early participant in the War on Poverty in the Johnson Administration and assistant directed the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Nixon Administration, working closely with Senator Ted Kennedy in that role. He also chaired the White House Task Force on Welfare Reform and directed the Welfare Reform Planning Commission. His mandate was to design a new national Agency for Social Welfare. But when social welfare reform failed to pass Congress by a narrow margin, John resigned from public office.

John and Beclee moved to California after Aaron Wildavsky, founding dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy, recruited John to join the faculty. He developed the Bank of America’s worldwide economics-finance team, a job he held for 25 years until retiring as executive vice president and chief economist.

In the 1980s, John was deeply involved in the Northern California Interfaith Council on Economic Justice and chaired the Bay Area Task Force on Ethics and Social Justice sponsored by the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) and other Bay Area universities.

More recently, John taught a graduate seminar on “Economics and Social Justice” with the Institute of International Studies and was invited by then-Dean Jeffrey Edleson to teach a seminar on “Idea of America and Social Justice” in the School of Social Welfare. John has continued to help build the school’s social justice platform under the leadership of Dean Linda Burton.

Beclee has long been involved in women’s rights. She served 11 years as a national vice president for Church Women United, was a member of a special women’s delegation to Eastern Europe, was sent to the Netherlands for the United Nations Year of Women to teach women communications and leadership skills, and has served on the board of the Center for Women and Religion at GTU.

Beclee’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Minnesota explored the founding of the War on Poverty. She subsequently earned an M.S.W. in public policy and aging at Berkeley Social Welfare while simultaneously pursuing postdoctoral training. She worked for the Area Agency on Aging in Contra Costa County and then the American Society on Aging.

The Wilsons made a $50,000 pledge to provide the first five years of funding for the Idea of America and Social Justice Forum, envisioned as an annual event for scholars, researchers, policymakers, social justice advocates, and students. The first forum is planned for fall 2021 and will focus on themes pertinent to Latinx communities and democracy.

The Wilsons have also included Berkeley Social Welfare in their estate plan. Of their $3 million bequest, 80 percent will be used to provide fellowship support for postdoctoral researchers, with a preference for those who research social justice and social welfare advocacy. The remaining 20 percent will be used to create an endowed fund to provide ongoing support for a lecture that addresses social justice issues.

Dean Linda Burton said of the Wilsons’ gift: “Now more than ever the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley needs to expand its reach in praxis, teaching, research, and shaping public policy around social justice. John and Beclee’s generosity has fast-tracked our ability to do so, and we are forever grateful for their gift. Indeed, ‘a change is gonna come,’ and with the Wilsons’ gift, our school will continue to be able to contribute to that change.”

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