John Wallace to Hold Philip Hallen Chair In Community Health and Social Justice

Issue Date: 
October 26, 2009
John WallaceJohn Wallace

University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work faculty member John Wallace has been named the new holder of the Philip Hallen Chair in Community Health and Social Justice.

“The Philip Hallen Chair in Community Health and Social Justice honors the life’s work of Phil Hallen, who served as president of the Maurice Falk Medical Fund for 35 years,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Under his leadership, the fund developed a set of priorities that continue to guide the work of the Falk Foundation today. Those priorities include working to achieve a just and inclusive society, a goal that Pitt Professor John Wallace also embraces. His elevation to the Hallen Chair constitutes one of the highest honors this University can bestow upon a member of its faculty. It also recognizes his significant work in investigating and helping to ameliorate social problems that disproportionately impact economically disadvantaged children, families, and

Since returning to his hometown and joining Pitt’s faculty in 2004, Wallace has dedicated himself to improving the quality of life of inner-city youths. He serves as cochair of the Homewood Children’s Village steering committee, a collaborative that engages Homewood residents, local and state governments, faith- and community-based groups, public schools, and local and national funders in an effort to transform Homewood. Using as a model the successful Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, Wallace envisions a project that improves the education, health, and social and physical well-being of Homewood children. Part of that revitalization includes engaging Pitt social work students to serve as interns. The project also is expected to provide rich avenues for research.

“This appointment will help John with that work,” said Larry E. Davis, Donald M. Henderson Professor, dean of the School of Social Work, and director of Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP). “It will bring more attention to his efforts on behalf of the children of Homewood and the Pittsburgh community.”

Wallace’s research includes serving as principal investigator on a project that seeks to reduce youth violence in Pittsburgh. He is coinvestigator of Monitoring the Future—the University of Michigan’s ongoing national study of drug use among American youth. One of his studies, “The Impact of Crime on Clergy and Congregations,” found that violence adversely impacts church attendance as well as the services churches offer the community. Other studies have looked at gender and racial disparities in school discipline, racial and ethnic disparities in substance abuse, and smoking among young adolescent girls. His work is published in numerous books and professional journals, including Drug and Alcohol Dependence, American Journal of Public Health, and the Encyclopedia of Social Work.

Wallace sits on the boards of a number of organizations, including Operation Better Block. He also was appointed to the Youth Future’s Commission and Census 2010 committees by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Wallace is the pastor of Bible Center Church of God in Christ in Homewood, the Pentecostal church his grandfather founded in the 1950s. Later, as a 12-year-old, Wallace helped demolish dilapidated homes near the church. His grandfather paid him $20 a day to haul lumber, tear down walls, and cut copper pipes. Now, Wallace and other members of the church teach teenage boys and girls those same skills as they rehab homes in the neighborhood. The young people learn other life skills as well—how to change a tire, cook a meal, and tie a necktie.

Wallace earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Chicago and Master of Arts and PhD degrees at the University of Michigan, all in sociology. Prior to coming to Pitt, he was a tenured faculty member in the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

The Philip Hallen Chair in Community Health and Social Justice was founded in 1999. It is one of the first academic chairs ever named to honor the dedication and achievements of a foundation’s leader.