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    Art as a Form of Community and Youth Empowerment

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    Broderick

    Broderick Flanigan – Artist and Designer

    On February 20, 2016, in a small predominantly black and impoverished community in Athens, Georgia, a mural was unveiled dedicated to civil rights leaders, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The mural project was organized and designed by Broderick Flanigan, of Flanigan’s Portrait Studio, as a mechanism to stimulate community empowerment through the creative medium of public art.

    Cotton fields and plantations once stood on the ground of this small East Athens community where the mural resides. Flanigan described this small community within Athens as vibrant and full of promise despite the poverty, violence, and under-employment obstacles facing youth and other residents.

    This mural project was then organized to help the community acknowledge its worth by emphasizing the struggles and strengths of African Americans. The motto of this mural project was “Show us a better tomorrow”. Flanigan involved a variety of community stakeholders throughout Athens to ensure the fruition of this project. Youth ages 10-17 living in East Athens helped design and paint the mural although the images were chosen by Flanigan.

    Additionally, members of the University of Georgia’s (UGA) student chapter of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) participated in the painting of the mural. Also, Dr. Llewellyn J. Cornelius, social work professor at the University of Georgia and director of its Center for Social Justice, Human, and Civil Rights, assisted in the creation of the mural and spoke at its dedication. A variety of sponsors donated to the project such as Athens Land Trust, Habitat for Humanity, Athens Housing Authority, School of Social Work Center for Social Justice, Chess and Community, and Ebenezer Baptist Church West.

    Although a variety of stakeholders engaged in the mural project, Athens remains a town divided by race and socioeconomic class. Harry Sims, commissioner of East Athens, declared “We don’t have one Athens, but we are going to get there and we are going to do it together”. Dr. Cornelius also echoed this sentiment and stated “all people must work together to ensure social justice”.

    Absent from the dedication ceremony was the polarized nature of the Athens community at-large. However, the vibrancy Flanigan envisioned was present with wish cards that swayed delicately from the trees sharing messages of hope. People of all races shook hands, and music reverberated from Bob Marley “Get up stand up for your right” and Mos Def “Shine your light on the world, shine your light for the world to see”. Mothers, fathers, youth, students, community leaders, and residents from all over Athens took part in the dedication ceremony.

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    One young female who participated in the painting of the mural said to me, “I had a really fun experience and I hope whoever walks by get inspired and it puts a smile on their face”. Another female youth shared her hopes that “people walking by can be inspired to know where they came from, so they can be guided on the right path”. A variety of youth, from all backgrounds engaged in the project and viewed it as a positive personal experience as well as viewing the mural as a means to help instill hope in the community.

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    I was able to speak with Broderick Flanigan about why he chose to organize the mural project. He simply stated, “This was a special project to commemorate MLK day of service by incorporating youth in the community through public art.” Flanigan reiterated that youth are our future leaders , and “we must cultivate their positive energy and show them how to be about community. Empower them and give them a sense of belonging.” He believes that public art is a forum for community and youth empowerment as it gives a visual representation of accomplishment, instills a sense of belonging, and teaches skills.

    Flanigan chose the mural images as they reflect the spirit of the community by displaying past Civil Rights leaders to remind people of the struggle in order to “keep the Civil Rights Movement relevant and make it a living thing in the community so everyone is seen as equal”. He shared that he grew up in the community and can relate to the youth experiencing challenges associated with poverty, parental need to work multiple jobs, parental under-education, and high rates of unemployment present in East Athens. “These children already have their own opinions and voice, they just need a platform for its expression”. Youth in this community need more employment options; “they want to work, employment is just unavailable”.

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    Flanigan wanted to emphasize that this area of Athens is often viewed in a negative light although in reality its nature is brilliant, and he intends to continue engaging the community through art and other projects to reveal its true nature and uplift its members out of cyclical poverty. He stated, “this community is vibrant and has a lot of energy” in which he believes it can be fostered through art and a gathering of people.

    He sees the future of East Athens as a blossoming economic hub with the help of community empowerment and activism. Flanigan provides a free weekly art program to youth living in East Athens. Currently, he is also developing a project with another artist to create a community garden and a surrounding structure. In this way community members will be taught skills, such as carpentry and window-making, through the garden’s construction.

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    Flanigan wanted me to share his personal motto with all of you “Inspiring others through art” and also his tag line “#SpreadLove”. He communicated a need for more support to continue his efforts to blossom this misunderstood community. For those of you like me who want to see this community grow, feel free to reach out to Broderick Flanigan at his website www.fpsartsociety.com and offer support.

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    Jessica Nobile is a PhD candidate in the School of Social at the University of Georgia. She obtained her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh in 2009 and has been a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in Pennsylvania since 2012; she conjointly has her LCSW in the state of Georgia. Nobile has six years of post MSW experience as a therapist and psychiatric in-patient social worker. She is currently employed as a therapist working with at-risk youth in conjunction with her doctoral studies. She is also a social work instructor at the University of Georgia. Jessica is a fierce advocate for social justice, equal rights, and social equality. Her research interests include human rights, racism, discrimination, social integration, race relations, and social work education. She hopes to institute much-needed social change through writing and advocacy efforts.

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    How Social Workers Can Practice Trauma-Informed Care

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    Sponsored Article by Adelphi University

    Over the past few decades, there has been increasing recognition of the widespread and profound impact of trauma on individuals and communities. The results of an international mental health survey suggest that traumatic events have affected over 70 percent of the population, and can lead to prolonged physical and psychological harm.

    These findings have transformed the field of social work, shifting the focus of education and training onto practices that recognize, support, and empower survivors of trauma. Referred to as “trauma-informed care,” this framework is especially important for social work professionals who have a high likelihood of encountering people with a history of trauma in practice settings.

    Expanding the Definition of Trauma

    Trauma-informed care starts with an understanding of the intricacies of trauma, and how it impacts individuals and communities. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

    For most people, the concept of trauma conjures up images of soldiers who have survived violent combat. Others may think about people who have been exposed to physical abuse, sexual assault or natural disasters. While these are some of the most distressing experiences that an individual can endure, trauma isn’t defined by an extreme event—it’s what the event means to the individual.

    Trauma-informed social workers must take the time to understand a person’s unique perception and response to an event, taking into account the complex layers of identity, power, and oppression that contribute to trauma. Adopting this framework, researchers have expanded the definition of trauma to include the following categories:

    • Complex trauma: The result of being exposed to repeated, ongoing, or simultaneous traumatic events, such as chronic neglect from a caregiver or long-term exposure to war conflict.
    • Intergenerational trauma: This type of trauma is passed from those who directly experience trauma onto subsequent generations.
    • Historical trauma: A type of intergenerational trauma that is experienced by specific racial, ethnic or cultural groups that accumulates across generations. Some experiences most commonly associated with historical trauma include the colonization and forced migration of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans.
    • Institutional trauma: This is a type of trauma that occurs when institutions take actions that worsen the impact of traumatic experiences; for example, when a university covers up a sexual assault violation.
    • Secondary trauma: Many helping professionals experience this type of indirect trauma, through hearing or witnessing the aftermath of a traumatic event experienced by a survivor. In addition to expanding the definition of trauma, the social work field has begun to outline some essential components of trauma-informed care.

    Promoting a Sense of Safety

    Trauma-informed social workers recognize that clients may have a history of trauma and prioritize creating an environment that feels physically and psychologically safe. Physical safety can be ensured by keeping areas well lit, monitoring who is entering and exiting the building and providing clear access to exits. Psychological safety involves a client’s feelings of trust in their relationship with the social worker, and can be ensured by modeling respect, consistency, acceptance and transparency.

    Acknowledging and Reinforcing Patients’ Strengths

    Many social service and healthcare professionals focus on diagnoses and interventions, framing symptoms as problems or weaknesses. Trauma-informed social workers, on the other hand, recognize that these symptoms are coping strategies in response to trauma. These practitioners highlight resilience and acknowledge strengths, cultivating hope for recovery and change.

    Creating Opportunities for Choice

    Trauma survivors often feel a sense of powerlessness, resulting from a loss of control and predictability in their experience of trauma. Trauma-informed social workers attempt to return the client’s sense of control by offering them choices and actively involving them in goal-setting and decision-making. As clients practice making decisions in the social work setting, they develop coping strategies and self-advocacy skills that support their functioning in the outside world.

    Applying Your Knowledge

    To maximize your impact as a social work professional, you need an extensive understanding of the latest theoretical perspectives, including trauma-informed care. An online master of social work program can help you acquire the conceptual knowledge and hands-on field instruction that you can apply to improve clients’ lives and achieve your professional objectives.

    The Adelphi University Online Master of Social Work program brings decades of expertise and a legacy as a leading social work school to a flexible curriculum designed for working professionals. As a graduate student in the program, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with faculty members at the forefront of research on trauma-informed practices. Our graduates complete the program prepared to become Licensed Master Social Workers and fill the need for a skilled trauma workforce.

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    In A New World, Social Work Leads the Way

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    This is a sponsored article by California State University at Northridge

    How Cal State Northridge is doing its part.

    The pandemic, if nothing else, exacerbated the unequal distribution of resources in society. For millions of people, access to food, shelter, and health care is now more uncertain than ever.

    What’s emerging is a new, somewhat dire need for experienced social workers – professionals able to compassionately address a disparate and evolving set of issues. Not only here in Los Angeles, but all over the world.

    For much of the pandemic, the field has championed relief efforts, such as the rent moratorium. This provided a necessary, if temporary, reprieve from the daily fear of eviction. Outside of California, however, this moratorium is over. As are federal unemployment benefits.

    And the impact is tragically visible. In California alone, the homeless population is over 151,000, with 41,000 of that in Los Angeles. And that’s just according to official estimates. The true number, allege some experts, may be much higher.

    This is the sad, beautiful truth of social work. No matter where a client is, whether it’s in the classroom, at home, or on the streets, the field will be there.

    But the field itself is evolving, too.

    Following the death of George Floyd, social workers are increasingly involved in policing, augmenting first responders with a new option: one aiming to mitigate crisis and, as importantly, prevent the use of force.

    As cities and states consider policing alternatives, social workers can help to ensure each community’s voice is heard, especially communities of color. Gaining popularity, the idea is to offer a more compassionate approach to law enforcement. Rather than responding with aggression, an arriving unit could instead respond with care, assessing the situation from a mental health standpoint, not one of criminality.

    Likewise, opportunity youth – sometimes referred to as “at-risk” – now face many new challenges (among them, a skills gap from a year of remote learning). On top of food scarcity and uncertain housing, there’s also the real risk of contracting COVID. And for these youth, who often lack access to health care, this can be especially dangerous.

    In all these cases, a humane approach is needed. Many social work programs incorporate hands-on experience, giving students access to the communities they’ll serve. One such program is the Master of Social Work (MSW) at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

    Unlike many social work programs, CSUN’s MSW expands participants’ career possibilities by offering a generalist approach. This enables graduates to work at ALL levels of the field: individual/family (micro); group/community (mezzo); and societal/policy (macro).

    The program is offered fully online in two- and three-year formats. The two-year option is a full-time program with an intensive curriculum designed to help students complete their degrees and enter the field in as little time as possible. The three-year option, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for those who would prefer the same curriculum at a less intensive pace.

    The master’s degree, which is often ranked among the best in the country, promotes the well-being of urban communities. Through its curriculum, participants learn how to assess a community’s needs from the inside, in large part through active listening.

    As the field continues to evolve, those who comprise it must evolve too. That begins with knowledge of the new world, but ends, as it always has, with the people who need us most – the ones for whom we care.

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    Technology and Entrepreneurship in Social Work

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    After helplessly watching her sister try to navigate the international adoption process, Felicia Curcuru launched Binti in an effort to reinvent foster care and adoption. Since the launch of the company in 2017, Binti has expanded its network to over 190 agencies across 26 states in the U.S. The software Binti creates helps social workers and others who work in foster care to effectively approve 80% more families and decrease their administrative burden by up to 40%.

    Jimmy Chen, a Stanford graduate and the son of struggling immigrants from China, created Propel in 2014 after noticing that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients needed to call a 16-digit phone number to check their balance. In order to check their balances, some of the recipients would resort to strategies such as buying cheap items such as bananas. Currently, the Propel app helps 5 million households who are eligible for SNAP benefits to manage their finances!

    Besides using technology and entrepreneurship to transform human service systems, what do these companies have in common? They were not started by social workers.

    Technology and Entrepreneurship in Social Work

    Technology and entrepreneurship have and will continue to transform our profession. But social workers have stayed on the sidelines of this creative process for too long. If we are to be successful in effectively disseminating our incredible values and pushing forth the mission of social work, social workers must play a more direct role in embracing the movements of technology and entrepreneurship.

    This is not a new concept. Research articles on technology and entrepreneurship in social work have been published for years, and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has published reports on technology in social work. Furthermore, universities such as Columbia University in New York have embraced the movement, and have created a minor for social workers called “Emerging Technology, Media, and Society,” which trains social workers to understand the latest developments in the world of technology. Finally, thousands of social workers operate their own private practices and embrace the benefits of entrepreneurial practices.

    This slow, yet continuous shift towards technology and entrepreneurship is important, but it must be accelerated. The question still remains: how do we enable social workers to embrace the power behind technology and entrepreneurship? Here are some ideas:

    Enabling Social Workers to Embrace Technology and Entrepreneurship

    First and foremost, social work curricula must embrace technology and entrepreneurship. The curricula must incorporate mandatory courses on technology and entrepreneurship, and these courses should be taught by experts in these fields.

    Social work departments must enable field placements for social workers in technology or startup environments. By being a part of successful organizations in these spaces, social work students can be exposed to this type of thinking and be inspired by the possibilities!

    Social workers themselves must take time to explore and learn about these fields. Although it is difficult enough to maintain our mental health while managing our caseloads, we can utilize the time we spend on webinars or Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to take classes in technology and entrepreneurship.

    Social workers can become intrapreneurs, or employees that create new projects from within organizations and businesses. For example, during my time at a community mental health organization, I helped launch a social media channel for the organization’s therapists, which allowed us to feel more connected, share resources, and learn from one another.

    Moving Forward

    As social workers, we uphold an ethical code that enables us to represent the most marginalized members of our society. But we can only do this effectively by embracing the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and social work. Although there is no silver-bullet answer, we can help social workers gain entrepreneurial and technological skills by broadening the education available to social work students and ourselves so that we can all better understand the possibilities that are out there.

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