On March 1st, 2017, celebrity and grammy award-winning singer, Rihanna received the 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award from Harvard University. According to the Washington Post, “She has used her wealth, influence and global reach to advocate for access to health care and education and speak for women and girls.”
As I decompressed (with bourbon) in the hours that followed my chaotic and draining workday, I found myself curious about Rihanna’s humanitarian contributions. Each article I read said pretty much the same thing—Rihanna was chosen for this celebrated award because of her involvement with and financial contributions to “a number” of charitable causes. I wondered if some of these charities simply called Rihanna to demand “bitch better have my money”, which is a Rihanna song for the uninitiated.
Rihanna’s benevolent aid includes the development of a Barbados based oncology and nuclear medicine center to treat breast cancer. Rihanna provides monetary support to charities that give children in developing countries access to education. Rihanna also created a scholarship for students from the Caribbean who attend college in the United States.
Certainly Rihanna’s contributions are nothing to sneeze on. Yet the more I read, the more I could not help but feel a bit resentful that our society seems to completely and utterly discount the consistent humanitarian efforts of social workers. I do not mean to disregard Rihanna’s charitable efforts nor do I know the extent of her philanthropic involvement or her motivations for such. Still, it is time that we acknowledge the challenging, tiresome, stressful, important, impactful and authentic work of social work for its humanitarian influence.
Each and every single day, more than half a million of us social workers (and people who function in the professional capacity of a social worker even if their titles differ) diligently go about the cause of promoting human welfare. They do it in schools and hospitals, in homeless shelters and in correctional institutions. They do it in private practice and in child welfare. They do it in refugee camps and during natural disasters. They do it in mental health clinics and community based agencies.
They do it quietly, humbly, and without expectation of acknowledgement. They do it in the early morning hours and long after many others have already gone home to their eager pets, their hungry children, their loving partners. They do it even when their day is done because it never leaves their hearts.
They do it in the face of adversity. They do it when others make it nearly impossible. They do it in situations that threaten their safety and challenge their values. They do it for little compensation and tons of bullshit.
They do it because they are passionate and sympathetic. They do it because they never want to stop learning, growing and practicing. They do it because they believe that at the core of the human condition is a resilient spirit. They do it because they believe people, no matter how old, how sick, how demoralized, can and do get better, get stronger, and find stability.
They freely give their limited supply of sympathy and empathy to hungry mouths, tired souls, needy hearts. They sit uncomfortably in the pain of others. They drown themselves in sorrows that are not theirs. They swim in seas of suffering not meant for them.
They protect. They serve. They stand and walk beside the most vulnerable, oppressed and broken citizens of our world. They speak for those with voices too meek.
They do not do it because they have unlimited resources from which to give. Social workers instead go about the cause of promoting human welfare because they are the world’s most genuine and unsung humanitarians.
What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach us About Empowering the Disability Community
Are you a fan of “Bachelor in Paradise?” Whether you realize it or not, this season of the “Bachelor” franchise spinoff took on the topic of disability empowerment. Which is not exactly an expected topic for mainstream television. For years, the “Bachelor” series has been criticized for featuring primarily White contestants, and has worked to diversify the races and ethnicities of the people they draw on the show. But what about people from the disability community or people who identify as Deaf or hard-of-hearing?
Being disabled or Deaf or hard of hearing are also social identities in American culture – identities that should not be overlooked in the show’s representation. These communities represent what some refer to as the largest minority community in the United States at 26 percent of the U.S. population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the following, we’ll discuss more about why this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” was so significant and what that may mean for social workers.
A few years ago, we did have Sarah Herron on the show, a woman with a physical disability, although her presence was short-lived. But this season, the very first person down the stairs to the Mexican beachfront hacienda was Abigail Heringer, a 26 year-old woman who identifies as Deaf due to congenital hearing loss from birth. She received cochlear implants at the age of two but does consider herself disabled due to her hearing impairment and loss. Abigail was a central figure in this summer’s Bachelor in Paradise due to her romance with Noah Erb.
It was refreshing to see a disabled person in a romantic relationship given the history our culture has of thinking that disabled folks are asexual, incapable of having sex or in need of being protected from any kind of sexual contact. Abigail and Noah’s relationship has played out on television screens across Bachelor Nation – from their devastating breakup at the show’s conclusion to their rekindled romance announced subtly on social media later. This demonstrates that members of the disability community have relationships too, and that this is 100% normative behavior, with breakups, glitches, awkwardness, kissing and all!
The Dignity of Risk
So how does this relate to social work practice? One of the central tenets of good disability social work is how we need to honor the concept of the dignity of risk. This is the idea that everyone can learn from everyday risks. Central to honoring the dignity of risk is respecting an individual’s autonomy and self-determination to make choices. Also important, is the right for our clients to make choices even if social workers or other professionals in the person’s life feel that they could endanger the decision-maker in question. In order to respect a person’s dignity of risk, one should provide intermittent support even if others do not approve of the choice.
As there is inherent dignity in the experience of everyday risk, this concept suggests that limiting a disabled person’s ability to make even a risky choice, or limiting their access to the learning that comes along with a potentially emotionally painful risk, such as dating, does not foster overall wellness in the long run. Abigail, from this year’s “Bachelor in Paradise” is a wonderful example of the kind of empowerment needed, rather than sheltering one from risks in life.
Robert Perske famously wrote:
“Overprotection may appear on the surface to be kind, but it can be really evil. An oversupply can smother people emotionally, squeeze the life out of their hopes and expectations, and strip them of their dignity. Overprotection can keep people from becoming all they could become…”
Arguably, the dignity of risk may be among the most challenging tenets for social workers to embrace in their practice, but it is vital to accept given its intersection with self-determination. The dignity of risk also involves learning about the part of life that involves sexual and romantic relationships. Social workers need to remember to talk to their clients about sexuality in a developmentally appropriate manner. It is important not to cut off conversations about this topic, or to skirt the subject when it comes up. We must also support our clients in exploring how to engage in healthy relationships when they have the opportunities to be in them.
It’s wonderful that Abigail Heringer can be a model in reminding us of this important lesson for empowerment-oriented disability social work. One that embraces the dignity of risk for those who wish to date! With that being said, here’s to Noah and Abigail’s relationship!
Participant Launches Partnership Campaign to Support Domestic Workers Amid Covid-19 Crisis
Participant, the leading media company dedicated to entertainment that inspires audiences to engage in positive social change, launched the Care For The People Who Care For You campaign in partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) to galvanize support for domestic workers amid the novel coronavirus crisis. The digital initiative centers around a video, produced by Participant’s digital content studio, SoulPancake, to highlight the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on domestic workers, of whom 7 out of 10 have lost 100% of their income because of the crisis, and seeks to educate employers on how to best support them.
The video depicts the acute challenges that the pandemic has placed on domestic workers, who typically do not receive benefits like sick leave and thus far have been excluded from much of the government assistance packages. Told from the perspective of a domestic worker navigating health and financial concerns, the goal of the video is to educate and encourage employers to support those employees who care for them every day.
Over the course of the Care For The People Who Care For You campaign, Participant will direct employers to the NDWA’s Employer Resource Hub, which outlines a range of steps one can take to offer both emotional and financial support, from calling and checking in to paying for cancelled services. Additionally, viewers can donate to NDWA’s Coronavirus Care Fund, a fund that will offer immediate emergency assistance for domestic workers facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Proceeds from the fund will be administered through ALIA, NDWA’s online benefits platform which allows employers to offer domestic workers a range of benefits they otherwise would not have access to, such as paid time off and sick leave.
“We’re delighted to partner once again with Participant to bring attention to domestic workers in this time of crisis,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “Nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers across the country are facing tremendous challenges during this pandemic, from risking their health while working jobs on the frontline to losing income they need to support their own families. We urge employers to show care for those who have cared for them and their families.”
“During this uncertain time, it is critical to highlight the needs of and support the communities who are most impacted,” said David Linde, CEO of Participant. “We’re proud to continue our partnership with Ai-jen Poo and the entire team at the National Domestic Workers Alliance to bring awareness and for those who care for us and our families.”
The new initiative is a continuation of Participant’s Roma social impact campaign, which launched alongside the Academy Award®-winning film ROMA, to increase the visibility and value of domestic workers in popular culture and accelerate solutions to support their economic security. The new video is a reimagination of the initial spot SoulPancake created for NDWA, which promoted their online platform, ALIA, as a solution for providing domestic workers with benefits. The video, which received over 1.7 million views, generated a 98 percent increase in page views and a 905 percent increase in users on myalia.org.
For more information on how to support this campaign, please visit here to learn more.
Founded by Chairman Jeff Skoll and under the leadership of CEO David Linde, Participant combines the power of a good story well told with real world impact and awareness around today’s most vital issues. Through its worldwide network of traditional and digital distribution, aligned with partnerships with key non-profit and NGO organizations, Participant speaks directly to the rise of today’s “conscious consumer,” representing well over 2 billion consumers compelled to make meaningful content a priority focus.
As an industry content leader, Participant annually produces up to six narrative feature films, five documentary films, three episodic television series, and more than 30 hours of digital short form programming, through its digital subsidiary SoulPancake. Participant’s more than 100 films have collectively earned 74 Academy Award® nominations and 19 wins, including Best Picture for Spotlight and Green Book and Best Foreign Language Film for Roma and A Fantastic Woman. Participant’s digital division, SoulPancake, is an award-winning provider of thought-provoking, joyful, and uplifting content that reaches an audience of more than 9 million fans.
About National Domestic Workers Alliance
National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is the leading voice for dignity and fairness for millions of domestic workers in the United States. Founded in 2007, NDWA works for respect, recognition and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. NDWA is powered by 70 local affiliate organizations and chapters and by a growing membership of nannies, house cleaners and care workers across the nation. NDWA is home to Alia, an online platform to help domestic workers access benefits, and in 2019, launched a campaign to pass the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, federal legislation sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.
New Release – ReMoved 3: Love is Never Wasted
Kevi’s story, though fictional, allowed me to paint for you a visual picture of how much it hurts to have a mother leave you all alone. It invites you to yearn with him—to share his longing to capture a woman that you know you probably never will. It shows how wildly untameably beautiful such an enigma is to her son, with her hair dancing in the wind and the scent of her teasing in and out of his existence.
Mostly, it helps you understand that there’s more to the story than just her. For kids like me, who were raised by many parents, it’s not just about our bio moms, you see. Sometimes, it isn’t even mostly about that mom. It’s also about this foster mamma who feels warm and soft and safe. It’s about how you never want to live without those feelings or her arms around you again.
Maybe it’s about that foster daddy that you just aren’t sure about. He might hurt you like all the other daddies you’ve ever known. But, maybe he won’t…
Through the Author’s Pen & Own Experience of Foster Care
My mother’s purse was her survival kit. She never forgot it.
She often forgot us. But she never forgot it.
Inside that purse, she carried an envelope. The envelope held all the things one would normally file away in the safety of their home. Instead, she carried those things—the few markers of our meager existence—in a manila in her handbag.
I suppose this was the only way for her to hold onto anything in a life where change usually happened in a moment’s notice. It wasn’t uncommon for us to ditch all of our possessions when the police discovered us living in a condemned or abandoned building. Also, as a battered woman, Mamma always had to be prepared to run on the days it seemed Daddy might actually kill her.
The purse and the envelope may have been an insignificant thing to anyone else, but for a kid like me, it proved that everything outside of it could be taken in an instant. It signified my mother, how she’d come to be, and the struggles of her life.
That’s why I made the biological mother’s purse a significant part of the story in ReMoved 3. As I wrote “Love Is Never Wasted,” I tried to infuse it with those things that would make it feel real to others who had walked a similar journey. I sought to put in specific feelings and moments that kids in foster care would really connect to.
As a foster kid, you often find yourself torn between families because each one holds a piece of what you need. You long to understand your biological parents and to know what it was like when you were budding in your mother’s womb. You have to know because, on some level, your body still remembers. The body can’t forget the place it was first fed.
Let’s not overlook, though, that you need more than roots to grow. Our bodies instinctually know this as well. We must also feel that we are safe, that nourishment is always available, and that the sun can shine most every day.
Ideally, our kiddos would get all these needs met from the same person. Sadly, that is not always the case. For the 400,000 plus kids in the U.S. foster care system a solitary caretaker will not be found to meet all their needs. Our best hope for these kids is that love can be absorbed from multiple sources. We hope that, collectively, they get enough of what they need from the world around them to grow healthy and strong.
Like Kevi’s story, my own life was changed by having multiple temporary parent figures. Though not ideal, this piecemeal parenting experience is what taught me how to love.
There were the moments that my birth mom snuggled me in bed. In the submission of sleep, she would occasionally relax and offer some warmth. These memories of cuddling my mom inspired the scenes of Kevi snuggling his birth mom in the film. Even the direst situations usually have some moments of bonding.
When my mother didn’t have any affection to give, my big brother stood in the gap. He frequently acted as a caretaker, comforting me, protecting me, and feeding me on the days everyone else forgot to. Because of my big brother, when my new little brother entered the world and cried out for protection, I knew how to answer that call.
Unfortunately, I could only answer it slightly better than our mom did. You see, I was only six. Then seven. By eight, I felt like I was dying. My enchantment with my mother began to wither, along with my body and soul. I called out to the universe for something to take me from the daily pain that she and my father put me in.
Foster care was the answer I received.
Sadly, foster care brought more pain. It’s difficult to describe the feelings that come from being ripped from one’s life source, especially when that life source is also robbing you of life. Regardless of her failures, though, she was still the first person who had held me. Now, I found myself miles from her familiarity. I frequently asked myself if anyone could love me in this strange new place, where nobody looked or acted like me and Mamma.
Some of them couldn’t love me, it seems.
Yet, some of them could and did. Some of them even did without any expectation of return. Most of them who loved me were only able to hold me for a moment in time. No matter how fleeting my time with them was or how heartbroken I was upon leaving, these people became the beautiful springtime of my memory. From each moment I got with them, I would continue to flourish and grow; although, I wouldn’t necessarily see that at the time.
Thousands of uncertain days would pass under the gloomy cloud that we call foster care. Though I acted it out differently than our character Kevi, I was a mess during most of those days.
But a new day would eventually come!
I would grow up. Slowly, I would discover that my life had been changing. As an adult, I would finally find that it was all my own. With my newfound sense of freedom and control, I would choose to become the wife to a husband who loved me selflessly.
Of all the guys I could have chosen, including the kind who may have felt more familiar, how did I know to settle on one like him? The faces of several good foster fathers smiled distantly behind the man I had chosen to spend my life with.
After years of being loved in a way I’d never felt loved before (by my husband Doug), I would become a mother. Despite the years of worry that I’d be a parent like him or her, I found that I was actually more like her and her and him. Tortured childhood and all, I was brimming with love to give, thanks to those who had poured love into me.
This forced me to ask an important question: How could a girl, who had been miserably failed by the people who gave her life, find herself building a completely different world than the one she grew up in?
The answer was clear. I had gotten to this place because an alternate reality had blown into my childhood. It had changed me. Its name was foster care. For me, foster care wound up carrying the faces of seven different homes over seven years. When I was 15, its name became adoption.
Ironically, this system of child protection that had starved me is also the very thing that helped me thrive. Foster care brought so much internal destitution, but it also brought moments of witnessing healthy, selfless, loving, human interactions.
I hope “Love is Never Wasted” reveals that even small moments with a child can show him he has a choice in how he lives his life. Because of my time in care, I now knew that there was not just one possible way to be. Throughout my foster care experiences, I had, here and there, tasted the essence of something sweeter and more fulfilling than my past life. I became hungry for more of it.
I now exist as living proof (hidden behind my stories) that love always offers nourishment and that a little bit of it can go a very long way.
A lot of it can make miracles.
A little bit of love carried me out of my tortured childhood. A lot of it led me to the place I am today and a little boy named Kevi.
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