Honoring Robert Little, A Spartan, Social Work Leader and Pioneer

February 21, 2022

Robert Little

Robert Little was an inspirational social work professor whose stories about leadership and life challenged social work students to address and challenge racism. The brother of Malcolm X, Robert Little, reflected his family’s commitment to social justice and advancing the well-being of the African American community and family. His leadership positions and family story provided powerful lessons for his students and the MSU School of Social Work.

Mr. Little recalled that as a young man in the late 1950's, witnessing the civil rights struggle, he considered dropping out of school and joining Malcolm and his five older brothers. It was Malcolm who convinced him to continue his education. Little noted, "One of the things I will always appreciate is his impressing upon me the importance of school and preparing oneself for the future," Mr. Little added, "He had a way of talking to you, looking at you, being with you in a way that made sense."

Professor Little recalled that Malcolm X “explained to me that the struggle is not what organization you belong to, but whether you prepare yourself for the future battles you’re going to fight. And after those conversations, I went back to school with a vengeance. It dawned on me that in order to improve the quality of life for Black folks, you’re going to need more than preachers and teachers. You’re going to need social workers and psychologists and engineers and all types of things.” Robert Little earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and social work and gained an MSW from MSU’s School of Social Work in 1963.

Former MSU School of Social Work Director and current Professor, Gary Anderson said of his former colleague, “Bob was a remarkable man. He led child welfare organizations through challenging times when modern child welfare was being defined. He was an early and strong champion for kinship care—as he recognized the importance of the extended family and had experienced this support in the African American community in Lansing. A strong advocate for children and families, he was committed to an effective system to support children, families, and communities, He brought his vast experience and lessons learned to the MSU classroom. He launched MSU’s kinship care work. Because of his authenticity, experience, knowledge and passion he inspired students. His leadership lives on through the MSU Kinship Care Resource Center and the Robert Little Memorial Endowed Scholarship.”

After a lengthy and successful career taking Mr. Little from Wayne County to Washington DC, he joined the faculty at the MSU School of Social Work. There, he focused his attention on child welfare and, with funding from the State of Michigan, began the Kinship Care Project. This formed the foundation for the Kinship Care Resource Center at the MSU School of Social Work, now more than 20 years old. Today, the KCRC has six dedicated staff members serving kinship families across the state of Michigan. They assist kinship caregivers in learning about, finding and using programs and services to meet the needs of the children they are raising as well as their own needs.

Detroit Free Press, February 3, 1991.
New York Times, November 18, 1990.