Should Republicans Gain Control of the US Senate


Should Republicans take control of the United States Senate there will be many political pundits faulting Democrats for their inability to get black voters to go the polls. Why won’t black voters go to the polls in large numbers? Well, it’s a non-presidential election which typically leads to low voter turnout by the party in the White House.

However, this year there is another subplot—black voters are disappointed with President Obama because they have been overlooked during his first six years. Former Harvard University professor Cornell West continues to be an ardent critic and excoriates the President’s record on black issues in his new book.

Dr. West and others point to efforts made by President Obama on behalf of other voting blocs. They rail about what he’s done for gays and lesbians because of his support for gay marriage and the significant legal battles won in recent years. However, the President’s support for same sex marriage was rather tepid during his first term in office. Some say he’s done more for Latinos with his commitment to immigration reform and his executive actions on behalf of Dreamers.

Yet, he passed on any further executive action and the numbers of immigrant deportees remain significantly high. It’s difficult to make the case that President Obama has completely ignored the concerns of black Americans with the aggressive actions taken on their behalf by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department on the issues of voting rights and criminal justice reform. Did not the President recently launch “My Brother’s Keeper”, an initiative for boys and men of color?

In contemplating these “what have you done for me lately” propositions, it occurred to me that social workers might have some concerns as well. How are social workers feeling about the President? What should social workers expect from President Obama? It is well documented that African Americans and Latinos voted for President Obama in large numbers in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2012, he received 71 percent of the Latino vote and 93 percent of the African American vote.

I have not found any data on the percentage of social workers who voted for President Obama, but I would believe that most social workers are progressive and that he received the majority of our votes. But we are not a large constituency, so why would Democrats care? At about three quarters of a million strong, social workers are not a voting bloc to be feared. However, with our skills at organizing and persuasion, we could easily be a force to reckon with. But right now, that’s potential.

Gay and lesbian voters have a clear agenda—equal rights, freedom to marry, and freedom from discrimination. Latinos have an agenda that is less clear but generally focused on finding a path to documentation if not citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. They have more social and economic concerns, but providing some peace of minds for millions in this country illegally is a high priority.

Likewise, the are many social and economic problems plaguing African Americans, from high unemployment, to disproportionate criminal justice involvement, to low performing schools. However, it is unclear where the President should begin. What are the priorities? What are the policy prescriptions? Someone should have been working on these before President Obama was elected.

There are many social and economic challenges awaiting the next President who just might be Hillary Clinton. Now is the time to set priorities and identify potential policy remedies. What do social workers want from the President? Which issues are most important? But understand, while the President might be willing to support our initiatives, he or she will not do all the work for us.

We must be willing to provide policy ideas, the political strategy and be willing to take the lead on getting things done. That is what lobbyists do. Of course some lobbyists are able to reinforce their agendas by spreading around money, but nothing prevents social workers from helping to draft bills and nothing stops us from working to get more sponsors.

The Trouble with Mentors & Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

President Obama Announcing his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

On May 30, 2014, President Barack Obama met with the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to hear their 90-day report after launching the initiative. The report had all of the usual suspects as it outlined topics across the life-span from school readiness to elimination of structural barriers. Mentoring will figure as  an important part of the White House initiative, and t is my hope that we begin to get mentoring right. President Obama seems to have it about right when he stated,

 so that these young men, young boys, know somebody cares about them, somebody is thinking about them, and that they can succeed, and making America stronger as a consequence.

The President seems to recognize the need for a community of caring, but I hope the “somebody” mentioned in his quote is cumulative. For mentors, I hope it is somebody who cares and who is thinking about the mentee while figuring out how to help them succeed. Only through implementing a structure of multiple mentors can we model and sustain success through mentoring.

President Obama’s initiative for Black boys has renewed a discussion on the plight and structural barriers to success faced by minority males in the United States. Let me first clear up the only criticism that pundits have been able to advance to date: What about women and girls? The fact is The White House Council on Women and Girls was created March 11, 2009 through an executive order from the President in addition to host a White House Summit for Working Families later this month. Now, let’s get down to the work at hand.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Freshman at Tennessee State University giving a symposium on financial literacy. In all my presentations, I remind audiences that I know the best mentor alive: me. A student came up afterward and stated, “I have a mentor, but do you think I can get some help from you as well?” The question reminded me that many people still feel that having more than one person helping you out is the opposite of loyalty. The truth is successful people have many people who support them…in many and varied ways.

My experience is that when you come from a background where loyalty, privacy, and ability to defend against invaders from outside the household is prized, you tend toward a view that “only mom” or “only dad” has my best interests at heart. If the target of the White House initiative are Black boys that grew up like me, it will be important to structure a system that educates the young person on what few adults have put into practice. I present the outline of the education here in 3 points: training mentors and mentees, systems navigation, and the power of networks.

Training Mentors and Mentees

I have news for would-be mentors. Your motivation for participation as a mentor may be detrimental to the sustainability of the mentee and the mentor-mentee relationship. Often, the motivation to become a mentor is to give back to another. What is implicit in that motivation is a possessiveness. As well, there is an insidious quid-pro-quo: If I give of my time and mentoring, you will do what I say and praise me as the person who was there for you. This is a natural human need–to be rewarded or at least appreciated for the contribution you have made. The problem with this is that it is not consistent with the realities of the world. If mentors and mentees are not taught another way, mentors will burn out attempting to be everything to their mentees. Mentees will focus on a single mentor as a matter of loyalty missing the lesson of network development.

Instead of the simple pairing of mentor to mentee, a more sustainable process would be to build a network of mentors. Each with specific expertise and access. Sponsor open events that allow mentors to set up booths and pitch their expertise and networks to the mentees. Allow mentees to collect multiple business cards based on their interests. Have a life coach sit with the mentees later and map out a life plan listing each of the mentors and how they fit with the plan. The map would also identify areas that still need to a mentor assigned. This approach communicates to the mentee that mentoring is not about a one-person, focused sense of loyalty. It is about utilizing and honoring the multiple relationships needed for success.

Systems Navigation

Winning strategies for human development are centered in the idea of multiple mentors. The idea is that individual interaction with each system is enhanced when the individual is guided intentionally by another person. My hope is that the programs created or bolstered through the president’s initiative understand that the goal is to create communities of support, not just mentoring relationships. The goal is a community where we ALL have structural methods and opportunities to care for each young person. The goal is that no child feels that they have to succeed alone.

The idea of mentoring is best centered, not in the individual mentor, but in the community-mindedness and structural safety of the systems that touch a child each day. For example:

  • Family mentors: These are effective resources for food security, funders from which to borrow money, and sponsors for activities and trips.
  • High School/college mentors: These are system guides for successful progression, references recommending for internships and employment, and instructors on how-to do tasks.
  • Career Mentors: These offer system guides in employment, collaborators for product creation and brainstorming, and advocates for promotion or social redress.
  • Friends as Mentors: These offer sustainable ways to blow off steam, connections to new networks, and a varied pool of  ideas.

Power of Networks

I hope for a two-fold understanding of networks in the White House Initiative: technology as connector for mentoring AND recognition of the “who you know.” My brother’s keeper, like the Council on Women and Girls before it, is slated to have two key technological interventions. The first is an

Administration-wide ‘What Works’ online portal to disseminate successful programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.

The second is

comprehensive public website, to be maintained by the Department of Education, that will assess, on an ongoing basis, critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color in absolute and relative terms.

These two are critical to the success and sustainability of the initiative. I am happy to see Annie E. Casey as a major partner on this initiative. They have recently produced a major report on racial disparities among youth in the United States.

The second understanding of Networks will sustainably be implementation of my expanded view of the cliche, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” I state,

It’s not what you know or who you know. It’s who knows you and is willing to risk their reputation to develop yours. – Michael A. Wright

What I communicate here is mentors have the task of launching the careers of their mentees. Mentees have the task to discern the relationships that will support, propel, and sustain their success. The task of the larger community is to structure a world that makes these tasks not just possible, but probable. In order to accomplish this, we have to retrain some of our fundamental assumptions about how mentoring works. We must organize around a community of caring. This organization will show through even in the ways that we solicit and engage mentors.

You can also view the Presidents February 27th 2014 Fact Sheet by clicking here, and you can also sign up to be a mentor.

Will Kristie Holmes Survive the California Primary on June 3rd

On the eve of the June 3rd California primary, social work professor and congressional hopeful, Kristie Holmes, will walk away from her first electoral contest a winner regardless of the outcome. “I got in the race to win. I want to win so badly because I believe it would change things,” she says. “Five years out there’s going to be a shift in how our political system works. Even if we cannot get the money out of politics, people are tired of the status quo. There’s a reason Congress had a five percent approval rate. I feel people will become motivated to make changes.”

Kristie Holmes

If you have been following her quest to replace retiring Rep. Henry Waxman as the representative of California’s 33rd Congressional District, you know it’s been an uphill battle from the start. The 33rd CD is a silk stocking district containing affluent communities such as Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Marina Del Ray, and the resort city of Santa Monica. The median income for the district with a population of 701,000 is $92,111 and the median value for a house is $911,000. Among residents 25 years old and older, 96 percent has a high school diploma and 61 percent has a bachelor degree.

The 33rd CD is a Democratic stronghold with 43.6 percent of registered voters identifying as Democrats, 27.2 percent identifying as Republicans and 18.3 percent with no party preference. The remaining voters identify as members of the Green Party, Libertarian or other smaller parties. California has open primaries where Democrats, Republicans and other candidates vie for a chance to run in the general election. The top two vote getters will be on the ballot in the fall. In the 2012 elections, President Barack Obama received 60.6 percent of the vote. Waxman won the primary in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote. He is retiring after 40 years in the House of Representatives.

Money matters in the 33rd District primary. Kristie Holmes found that out early and it has been an issue that dominated the race throughout. “Money is a determining factor in the primary race,” Kristie acknowledged in our phone conversation last week. “The frontrunners and a few other candidates have spent a great deal of their time raising money. One candidate, David Kanuth, a lawyer raised almost a million dollars. I am anxious to compare our numbers. I want to see what a million dollars buys you.”

“Another candidate, James Graf, loaned himself a million dollars to enter the primary only to drop out of the race after spending $100,000 for polling that showed (frontrunners) Wendy Gruel and Ted Lieu equally sharing about 40 percent of the vote. He and his team decided no amount of money could make up the difference.” I checked his website and his statement says he could no longer in good faith raise money from others to compete in what he saw as a losing effort. Of the 25 candidates officially on the ballot, about 14 to 16 are left in the race leading up to Tuesday’s primary.

“Money is necessary but it should not be the end all, be all,” Kristie says. “The bottom line is getting people out to the polls to vote. I’d like to see more money devoted to nonpartisan efforts to get people to vote. Maybe we should adopt the Australian system that makes it a civic obligation to vote. They permit online registration in California. Maybe the next step is online voting.” It seems these days more efforts are being made to discourage Americans from voting in some states with the adoption of voter ID laws and restrictions on voting hours.

I asked Kristie if in hindsight she would do it over again and she says she would. “We need more women in Congress. We need more young people involved in politics. The few young people who show up to our events come flying up to me afterwards and tell me how much they loved what I said and that if more young people would vote, I’d win in a landslide. But too many are jaded. They believe the system is corrupt.”

She has learned that running for office is not for the faint of heart. “I am shocked by how often the media tries to sensationalize candidates’ position,” she says. “It disturbs me how candidates will dig up dirt on their opponents if they perceive them as a particular threat. On the other hand, one of the more rewarding aspects of my experience is getting to know the other candidates. They are really good people operating in the rough and tough world of politics.”

Kristie will not retreat back to the ivory halls of academia should she lose Tuesday’s vote. She will continue teaching and encouraging her students and others to be politically active. “I believe I can be a resource to other social workers running for office,” she says. “There is no other way to get the education I’ve gotten about politics other than being involved.” That is why CRISP is committed to expanding opportunities for social work students to fulfill their field placements in congressional offices. Our government may be dysfunctional in many ways, but it’s all we got and we can change it. Like Kristie Holmes—you gotta believe.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Desert Review

Getting Social Workers Out of the Closet

There has been much talk recently about who can legitimately call themselves social workers. What training is required? Which licenses are needed? And, there have been many discussions about the variations of social work licenses that exist in different states. License or no license, we know that many social workers are “hiding” in non-clinical environments where it doesn’t seem much social work is happening in places like Congress, the World Bank and federal agencies such as the departments of Labor, Housing, Education and Health and Human Services (HHS). In many of these settings, social workers operate under cover. They often do not identify themselves as social workers and they have little or no connection to professional social work organizations. Yet, they are trained social workers with a B.S.W, a M.S.W., or a Ph.D. from an accredited social work school, but you would never know.

The subject arose this week during my lunch with three very special social workers who are at the forefront of promoting greater emphasis on macro social work practice. Darlyne Bailey, dean of the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work and Terry Mizrahi, a professor at Hunter’s School of School of Social Work, are co-chairs of the Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice formed by the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA).

With us was Jenifer Norton, a doctoral student at Bryn Mawr who provides administrative support for the commission. The commission’s mandate is to examine the state of macro social work practice and offer recommendations on how to strengthen the macro dimension of social work. To date, 46 schools and departments of social work and two organizations have donated funds to support the commission’s work. In addition to 21 commissioners, there are about 50 allies who are participating in the effort by working with one of five workgroups.

The ACOSA group was in DC for a meeting with representatives from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to discuss the current state of macro social work practice. It is encouraging these major social work organizations are finally paying more attention to macro social work practice. This new found interest in macro social work practice was triggered by a 2011 report by Jack Rothman that concluded macro social work practice was being marginalized at many schools of social work. He and Mizrahi followed that report with a published article quantifying students who are pursuing macro practice.

While discussing the working group I have joined—Promotion and Public Support of Macro Leaders and Practitioners—Terry suggested that identifying social workers in macro settings is often difficult because many of them are hiding in the closet. Whether this is intentional or just a byproduct of being in a non-social work setting, we need to know who these social workers are, where they are plying their trade and how they are providing leadership. Many are operating at high levels and have very inspirational stories that need to be told. Why? Because many are in the closet because they feel their work might be devalued by colleagues who may not appreciate the value of social work.

My favorite example is Jared Bernstein who I have written about on several occasions. Bernstein is the former chief economist for Vice President Joseph Biden and a member of President Barack Obama’s economic team. Bernstein earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and chose to hone his economic skills and practice in that arena. He proudly self-identifies as a social worker but when he is introduced on television programs and in settings where he is discussing fiscal and monetary policies, he is introduced as an economist. Would listeners value his input if he were identified solely as a social worker? His commentary would have the same value, but I doubt that his audience would give it the same weight if they thought his ideas were those of a social worker and not an economist.

We need to identify more social workers like Bernstein. NASW has agreed to work on identifying social workers in these settings. That should help much. If you know of social workers in macro settings—working at the Supreme Court, leading corporations, working in the media and other arenas—please shoot me an email at

Obama launches his “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative


President Obama recently launched his initiative entitled, My Brothers Keeper, and it was created to address the under achievement  among young black and Hispanic males. POTUS is gathering businesses, foundations and community support for this commitment. This initiative has been set forth to increase employment opportunities and to encourage our young men of color to reach their highest potential before they  are subject to the criminal justice system.

As a young teen, The President mentions that he himself was headed down the wrong direction with getting high, under estimating himself and his uncontrolled anger from not having a father at home. Obama stated, The aim is to “start a different cycle. “If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren.”

According to American Progress,

  • One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime
  • Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated
  • Unemployment rate of African-Americans without a high school diploma was 26 percent in the second quarter of 2011, compared to 12 percent for whites without a high school diploma

And According to The National Council of LaRaza,

  • It can be estimated that on any given day, at least 18,000 Hispanic youth are incarcerated in the U.S. for mostly nonviolent offenses
  • The United States Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that from 2000 to 2008, the share of Latino youth under 18 years of age who are in adult prisons rose from 12% to 20 %

I must say that this is an awesome project, and I applaud POTUS for his efforts. President Obama is relatable because he has gone through real life experiences that we as young people and the world can connect with. I know that I can totally relate because I myself went through a tough period of time where I was not focused at all. I did not value my education or the opportunities afforded to me, and I made a few bad decisions. After self-realization and a great deal of support from my parents, I got back on track. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to do that. Some individuals do not have the benefit of having a support system around them to depend on for encouragement or motivation.

As an African-American woman, I am fully aware of the racial disparities that continue to perpetuate within our society. Having African-American male figures in my life such as my dad, brothers, uncles and cousins I also recognize first hand how unfair the system can be. The decks are stacked against them even more when it comes to our prison systems, employment opportunities and the chances of furthering their education . I am grateful that our President acknowledges these issues and is addressing them. I am sure our communities are thankful as well. I hope countless support groups stem from this initiative because they are necessary. It is time to break these generational curses.


Response to Social Worker Doesn’t Mean Liberal

How does conservatism factor into social work policy and practice? Justin Nutt, a conservative staff writer for Social Justice Solution, wrote an article entitled “Social Worker Doesn’t Mean Liberal”. When I started Social Work Helper a couple of years ago, I made a conscious decision that I would use this platform to challenge conservative and right-wing fallacies that often cause people living in the margins to vote against their own interest.

donkey-vs-elephantI was often told that it was inappropriate for a social worker to discuss politics or party affiliation in the scope of social work practice.  However, I was born, raised, and have lived my entire life in the Jim Crow South, and my almost 40 years of living on this earth tells me that our belief systems is the filter in which we process information and determines how we interact with the world.

Especially in the South, I believe it’s extremely naive to believe that a person’s belief systems does not influence their decision-making in practice. No social worker is immune from having prejudices, but it is when we lack the ability to acknowledge our deficiencies that those we serve suffer.

I have personally been affected by the racial animus of the Christian conservative right were their barbaric hatred allowed them to feel entitled to kill African-Americans at will.

My great-grandfather was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, and it happened approximately four miles from my parents’ current home where there is a street the locals refer to as Nigger Head Road. This is where they would hang black people who got out of line. My parents grew up in a segregated South, and America is not as far removed from the oppressive beliefs, policies, and politics that has perpetuated this stain on America’s history as many want to believe.

On social issues which consist of any public policy issue affecting individuals and/or society at large, I identify as a liberal. I made the decision long ago to advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations, and I believe democratic values happen to align more closely with those beliefs and principles.

When it comes to government spending, I would say my beliefs align as a fiscal conservative. If the government wants to eliminate loop holes to reduce fraud and abuse in governmental programs, I believe the other side of the equation should include elimination of tax loop holes to prevent tax avoidance by the 1 percent. I believe way to much is focused on the small percentage of federal dollars funding governmental assistance programs versus the lack of outrage for the tax-free status of the NFL while tax dollars are being used to build stadiums. 

But, when I hear Republicans talk, there is a familiar oppressive undertone that resonates which appears to be reflective of their value system. As social workers, our primary purpose is to serve the oppressed, vulnerable, addicted, and marginalized. However, It causes me great concern when helping professionals in positions of power to make policy, determinations of benefits, eligibility of services, prevention programs, and treatment hold the conservative values articulated in Mr. Nutt’s article.  

A relatively new social worker, named Amanda, wrote a response to Mr. Nutt’s article in the comments section that I wanted to share with you. She went point by point to address various statements within his article from her point of view, and here is her comment in full:

As a relatively new/young social worker who looks to experienced social workers as leaders in this profession, I must admit I am disheartened by this article.

My critique is not a slight to you personally, Mr. Nutt. I wholeheartedly support your right to form your own opinions. However, I am concerned that appearing within the context of this website frames these opinions as “social justice.” Furthermore, it suggests that stereotypical descriptions of “Liberal” and “Conservative” are evaluative social justice frameworks when in fact, they are not.

In my personal life, I am neither Liberal nor Conservative. In my professional life, I am a social worker. And as such, I use a strengths based approach to my clients’ needs, data from both research and practice, and social justice frameworks to collaborate with clients to create, assess, implement, and evaluate policy. Strictly adhering to traditional political silos because of my own personal partisan identification is not an intervention I have or will ever use.

Furthermore, as this is a social justice site, I am confused as to how the following conclusions were made through the lens of social work values or social justice evaluative frameworks:

“insurance is a personal responsibility”

Many of our clients do not have access to employment that provides insurance and cannot afford their own plan. Wouldn’t social workers acknowledge that the systems that set the price and accessibility to insurance are *also* responsible for making it something everyone *can* actually obtain? Why take a personal-deficit approach to being uninsured? Where is the macro-level assessment of this issue?

“if you are here illegally you should be deported and not giving services”

Many undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. fleeing political violence and hostility, risking death to do so. A growing number of these immigrants are very young, unaccompanied children. I was taught that social workers are to globalize their community identification with other human beings, meaning that national borders do not determine whether or not someone is entitled to life, freedom, and human rights–and the services necessary to secure those things. In other words: social justice.

“damn right you need an ID to vote,”

In the state where I reside, the voter ID law stood to disenfranchise an estimated half-million citizens in favor of eliminating “illegal voting”–something no one could even agree as to whether it even existed or was statistically significant. How is this research-informed policy making?

“just because something negative about Obama is said doesn’t mean the person is a racist. Actually saying it is a race issue creates racism,”

Social work values demand cultural competence which includes acknowledging personal racial biases. The idea that racial bias is either “present or not” or that racism can be “created” is concerning to me because The U.S. is NOT post-racial and racism permeates every corner of U.S. society. Many critiques made about Obama do in fact ooze with racist microaggressions.

“if you need a drug test to get a job then those receiving government assistance should be required to take them, too”

There is a difference between an at-will employee taking a drug test to maintain employment, and the government drug testing someone as a contingency to survival. What is the solution then if someone’s test comes back dirty? Do they and their children deserve to starve because they struggle with addiction? Will that make the addiction better? Is this “social justice?”

The state of Florida spends tens of thousands of dollars per month drug testing welfare recipients and 98% test clean. Not only is this a complete waste of money but it also perpetuates the stigma that lower income folks are presumed drug users. How is this strengths-based? How is this policy position research-informed? Furthermore, social work dictates that the community most affected by a policy help create the policy. Are welfare recipients OK with being drug tested and presumed as drug users?

“I also believe abortion is acceptable, but that the current way it is used is not always the best practice.”

I am not even sure I want to go here, especially if you’re implying that the “abortion is mostly used as birth control” stereotype has any place in policy making.

“If you want equality, it must be equal treatment across the board rather than one set of rules for the majority and a special set to keep the minority from feeling persecuted…..”

I am going to stop here, because I find this just incredibly disrespectful. I am a white, straight, cisgendered, coupled, married, educated, middle-class, able-bodied, free, family-supported, food/housing secure, Christian woman, and I am not about to sit here and cry big privileged tears that some (hardly enough) policies in this country give oppressed (“minority”) groups the opportunities that I automatically have as a person with unearned, unquestioned power and privilege.  ~Amanda Woolsten, BSW, MSW Candidate

I am interested to know what are your thoughts, and does our personal values matter or don’t matter in terms of how we practice social work? Do our personal belief systems affect how we develop and implement policy? I look forward to having this debate with you.

Also view: The great social work debate – conservative or liberal? written by Australian Social Work Professor Dr. Patricia Fronek.

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