The Jon Gruden Case and Why the NFL Still Isn’t Serious About Social Justice

On October 11th, the National Football League (NFL) community was shocked when news surfaced that Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden announced his resignation just five weeks into the season. Gruden was one of the most high-profile figures in the NFL over the last 20 years, serving both as a Super Bowl-winning Head Coach and Monday Night Football Commentator. His resignation came after a slew of emails sent by him were made public that included a racial trope, antigay language, and a generally wide range of hurtful and insensitive rhetoric. The news was groundbreaking and hard to fathom for many who had beloved Gruden over the years, but there’s more to the story. The focus has rightfully been exclusively on Gruden and his fall-from-grace. Still, the lens of judgment has failed to focus on the multi-billion-dollar organization that has facilitated such behavior for far too long: the NFL. In the following, we’ll break down the necessary details of the Gruden case and why his resignation was essential. But we’ll also take a look into the NFL and what this case means for an organization that has a lousy track record of failing to support social justice issues, its players, and what’s morally right.

Details of the Case

As tends to be the norm in situations like this, there are many moving parts and details that are perhaps too complex to cover for this piece. With that being said, we must understand the chain of events here to better comprehend the whole picture.

From a public perspective, the Gruden ordeal began on October 8th, just a few days before his resignation. That Friday, The Wall Street Journal published a story revealing that the NFL was investigating Gruden for using a racial trope in a 2011 email to describe the NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith. Additionally, WSJ also reported that the NFL had been analyzing over 650,000 emails as part of their investigation that had begun back in June of 2021. The NFL’s investigation was spawned from a separate investigation on the Washington Football Team for workplace misconduct – a perhaps even more disturbing case if you’re unfamiliar.

In part of the NFL’s investigation, they came across the initial email in question, sent to then Washington Team President Bruce Allen. At this point, the NFL stated that the investigation had been launched under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s direction. Goodell had then received a summary of the inquiry earlier in the week the story was published. The NFL also stated that it was sharing emails related to Gruden to the Las Vegas Raiders, who then employed him as their Head Coach.

The WSJ story broke headlines and sent a shockwave throughout the league. Many instantly began calling for Gruden’s resignation and action from the NFL. However, the NFL simply stated at the time that it was reviewing Gruden’s status for potential discipline. Gruden went on to coach his team’s game that Sunday, and it seemed as if a suspension, at best, was looming in the near future for Gruden. But then Monday came around.

On October 11th, The New York Times reported that Gruden was cited using anti-transgender, antigay, and much more offensive language in additional email correspondence with Bruce Allen for several years. Once again, the story shook up the league, and it seemed inevitable that Gruden would not escape this one. By the end of the day, Gruden met with the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders and would shortly thereafter announce his resignation as Head Coach.

A Word on Gruden

Before we look at this issue in a broader scope, we must be clear on Jon Gruden and his fate. Without question, his fall-from-grace was well-deserved, and he certainly doesn’t belong on an NFL sideline, now or ever again, for that matter. Gruden was a beloved coach and personality for many years, but no resume or persona outweigh actions. If we’re serious about shifting societal norms and scales of what’s accepted and not, then individuals who engage in such behavior must be dealt with in such a fashion. But with that being said, there’s a bigger issue at play here that hasn’t gotten enough press, and that’s the continued incompetency and lack of authenticity from the NFL to take social justice issues and questions of morality seriously in favor of the bottom line.

The NFL’s Culpability

Let’s start with the case in question. For starters, it’s a bit questionable that an investigation of emails, especially once the initial one was found, took nearly five months. According to the NFL, it took from June to the second week of October for a summary of the investigation’s findings to be presented to the Commissioner, the same one who supposedly launched the investigation in the first place. Even if this is true, it shows a severe lack of legitimate and effective protocols in place at the NFL to take matters like this as seriously as possible. Five months is far too long for a multi-billion-dollar organization that claims these issues are among their top priorities.

Then there’s the inaction after the initial story. Gruden faced no discipline, not even an indefinite leave of absence when the initial racist email was made public. For a league that has recently launched a massive social justice campaign that allows players to wear decals such as “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” and more, it’s highly problematic that they let Gruden go on to coach a game just a few days later. Plus, they hadn’t even met with and briefed the team that employed Gruden as their Head Coach: the Las Vegas Raiders.

The way this whole case played out and the lack of action from the NFL is concerning, to say the least. It begs the question, what happens if the second story never came out? Better yet, what about the first? It makes one seriously wonder if this issue would’ve ever seen the light of day. When it comes to racism or any form of hate for that matter, we all know by now that it takes more than just being opposed to the actions; you have to be anti-racist, anti-hate, and do more than just launch a multi-million-dollar PR campaign. I said before, and I’ll say it again, nothing outweighs actions here. And once again, the actions, or lack thereof, show that the NFL is still miles behind in taking social justice issues seriously.

Closing Remarks

It may seem as if the criticism of the NFL is perhaps too harsh for just this one incident, but the point is, it’s not just one incident. The way the NFL handled the Colin Kaepernick situation and players kneeling during the national anthem is a perfect example of a league that has failed to evolve and support its players above all. This is the same league that has banned multiple players for over a year for Marijuana usage, yet they hesitated with Jon Gruden. This is also the same league that has repeatedly shown that they don’t take domestic violence or sexual misconduct actions seriously either. The NFL has a bad track record when it comes to how they handle social justice issues, and if this case proves anything, it’s that they haven’t seemed to learn much of a lesson. A PR campaign might inspire some change, and we can all support that, but when your actions don’t reflect your words, then words mean nothing.

Recognizing Ableism’s Link to Racism

These days, many social workers are pretty clear that anti-racism is something they need to consistently work on in their practice, but when it comes to ableism, well, that’s something else altogether. Let’s start with a quick definition of ableism to build our disability competence a bit. Disability activists Talila Lewis and Dustin Gibson frame ableism as “a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, excellence, and productivity.” But seriously, ableism, you may say…what has that got to do with racism? Why are we even talking about this?

It turns out, ableism and racism are related, and quite strongly. In fact, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi himself, host of the podcast Be antiracist and author of the book How to be an antiracist, says “It is pretty apparent to me that one cannot be anti-racist while still being ableist…I think for many people who are indeed striving to be anti-racist they may not realize the ways in which they’re still being prevented from moving along on this journey due to their unacknowledged or unrecognized ableism, or the ways in which they’re in denial.”

Social Work, Race, & Disability

As we begin to break this down, as a disabled woman, I’d like for our profession to own that social work often forgets to realize the disability community in diversity considerations. And with this, is a failure to see ableism, despite the fact that we, the disability community, comprise 26 percent of the U.S. population – that’s 1 in 4 Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control. And if you consider the racial and ethnic diversity within the disability community (and vice versa if we are being intersectional) then we need to be considering how ableism and racism interact and intersect.

Let’s just start with the basic demographics. A recent study on disability, race and ethnicity tells us that 1 in 4 members of the Black and African American communities have a disability, while 1 in 6 members of the Hispanic/Latinx communities do. In the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities, it is 3 in 10, and among Asian and Pacific Islander communities, it is 1 in 10 and 1 in 6, respectively.

When we start to look at social issues connected to these types of data points, we find out bits of information such as the fact that people of color with disabilities have higher rates of unemployment than do their White counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then there are the realities that many school social workers have seen in classrooms nationwide for decades, with disproportionate numbers of students of color being sent into special education. And in the post George Floyd era, we are also more aware of the connection between racism and ableism due to the fact that 50 percent of people killed during encounters with police in a two year period were people of color with disabilities, as the Ruderman Family Foundation documented in their landmark report.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Then we have the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color. We know that initial research suggests that about one third of people who had the virus will develop what is called “long COVID” which will now be classified as a disability. According to disability justice activist Rebecca Cokely, that means that we will be adding an estimated ten million people to the disability community who will be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This law provides workplace and other protections for disabled people – although the implementation and enforcement of this law is far from perfect, and thus the cycle of ableism and racism starts again given the overrepresentation of people of color in this population.

These are just a few current-day snippets that tell us we need to be paying attention to both ableism, racism and the ways in which these two forms of oppression are related to one another. Ableism and racism exist in a symbiotic relationship, with each acting as the tool of the other. Being aware of the intersection between racism and ableism is part of how social workers can begin to disrupt this reality in their practice and in their larger communities. So, what can you do to be more aware of racism and ableism in your social work practice? You can start by paying attention to the disability side of the equation that often gets forgotten! Here are some activities for you to consider as you engage in this vital social justice work:

  1. Start by exploring your able-bodied privilege. Read the following prompts on able-bodied privilege from the Autistic Hoya blog, written by Autistic disability justice activist and lawyer Lydia X. Z. Brown. Which items were most salient to you? You may consider the list items from a personal and/or a professional perspective, focusing on how you may or may not experience these issues yourself or how you may have encountered these issues as a social worker. How do race and ethnicity factor into able-bodied privilege?
  2. Continue by building your personal disability awareness. What values and/or ideas do you hold that may unconsciously perpetuate ableism? Where did you pick up these values? How does this play out with your disabled clients of color? Take time to think these questions out, and be mindful of them as you move forward.
  3. Just as it is super important to acknowledge our potential for racism as people raised in a racist society, so too is it important to acknowledge the ways we may have engaged in the use of ableist language or expression of ableist attitudes. How have you or your agency/organization/company unconsciously or consciously used ableist language, or expressed ableist attitudes? How do race and ethnicity factor in here? How can you change things moving forward?

This article has demonstrated the connections between disability and race, but social work has often failed to see disability. How can you look at the causes you are already involved in through a disability framework that is also attentive to race and ethnicity? How can you lift up the disability perspective and promote disability empowerment while being anti-racist?

Social Work and the Reproductive Justice Framework

Policies and debates about contraception, abortion access and the ability of individuals to make their own reproductive decisions have consistently been central for many reproductive rights and justice scholars and activists. These topics have also mobilized individuals to take political action. Social workers have often been at the forefront of mobilizing for social justice issues, however their involvement in the reproductive justice movement has in many ways been limited. In a review of the reproductive justice literature in social work journals conducted in 2018, only 3 articles substantially included a discussion of reproductive justice in their work.

This gap is particularly concerning considering the politically-crafted crisis in reproductive health care exacerbated by recent abortion restrictions, which particularly undermine the reproductive and sexual health concerns of women, individuals with uteruses and non-binary individuals impacted by these laws. Social workers who are conversant in, and practice from, a reproductive justice framework are part of a necessary antidote to this crisis. Abortion bans, limited access to contraception, the criminalization of miscarriage and the undermining of Medicaid expansion and access to health insurance all require the increased mobilization of social workers to deal with the impact these policies will have on communities and clients. 

Reproductive Justice 

Reproductive Justice as a political movement and analytical framework emerged out of critiques that reproductive rights discussions were often centered on the concerns of white, straight, and formally educated women, ignoring the issues that were key to individuals outside of these groups. As scholars and activists Loretta Ross and Kimala Price have noted, reproductive justice was developed as a unifying framework that went beyond the legal right to abortion and contraception access issues central to the reproductive rights movement and included the reproductive health concerns of poor women and women of color. 

Ross (2006) and Price (2010) have defined “Reproductive Justice,” as “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social and economic well-being of women and girls…” and as being realized when “…women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for ourselves, our families, and our communities…”.

Reproductive choice is defined broadly and holistically in this framework. It includes personal freedom related to governmental regulation and polices, but just as importantly, centers the importance of choice related to additional constraints, such as environmental contaminants, or a lack of access to childcare. Price describes Reproductive Justice as centering on the three core values of “the right to have an abortion, the right to have children, and the right to parent those children”.

These core values provide a way to conceptualize the linkage between larger social justice movements with reproductive health. Reproductive Justice is strongly rooted in intersectional and feminist theory and critiques the exclusion of women of color in the reproductive rights movement. Though originally theorized primarily in relation to movement building for political action, disciplines such as law and sociology are increasingly using the reproductive justice framework in academic and scholarly work, though social work has not yet integrated this framework into the research and practice of the profession. 

Social Work and the Reproductive Justice Framework

Reproductive Rights and Justice frameworks are highly congruent with the ethical and theoretical foundations of the social work profession in addition to the profession’s goal of promoting and advocating for social justice. However, despite Social Work’s focus on incorporating and applying social justice theories to practice and research, reproductive rights and justice are not frequently focused on in social work publications. The social work profession is unique in being one of the few that specifically mandates this requirement to promote social justice.

As highlighted in the preamble of the Social Work Code of Ethics: “the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being…with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty…social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients…[and] strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice”. The emphasis on advocacy and performing work which promotes justice is one of the distinctive qualities of the occupation.

The importance of utilizing the reproductive justice framework in this call to more broadly promote social justice is highlighted by the fact that social workers increasingly provide a large number of reproductive and sexual healthcare resources and services and frequently act as gatekeepers for those seeking medical care. 

In 2018 I conducted a literature review of the top 50 social work journals. The search term “reproductive justice” was used to identify 10 articles published between 1994 and 2018. Though 55 articles were found with the search term “reproductive rights”, only 3 articles were found that substantially included a discussion of the reproductive justice framework. A content analysis of the articles was done to explore the study population, location, purpose and topic, year published, journal, key findings, and social work implications.

An upsurge in reproductive justice research was called for by all 10 articles. Though it is encouraging that the social work profession was highlighted as being congruent with the reproductive justice framework, this research shows that there is a lack of articles on reproductive justice and that the framework has yet to be integrated into research on sexual and reproductive health within the profession. 

What Now?

As my work and other scholars have noted, there is an existing gap in social work research and practice which the reproductive justice framework can begin to address. This framework is required because of the limitations in how the language of “choice” has been used to categorize the sexual and reproductive decisions of marginalized groups of people as “poor choices” while ignoring broader structural barriers. This rhetoric continues to direct and influence debates around reproductive and sexual health and further marginalizes vulnerable groups of people. Social workers have historically and continue to often be in positions of facilitating or restricting access to social services, making the need to incorporate a reproductive justice framework in this work essential.

The use of a reproductive justice framework offers social workers the chance to facilitate a holistic model of healthcare for their clients and to preform research on healthcare access and systems that centers social justice. Although social work has yet to meaningfully incorporate a reproductive justice framework into its research or practice, there are many opportunities for the reproductive justice framework to be applied. Recent government restrictions and legal battles highlight the immense urgency of this work, as social workers will no doubt continue to be at the forefront of advocating for reproductive and social justice.

Read more in Jessica Liddell (2018), “Reproductive Justice and the Social Work Profession: Common Grounds and Current Trends” (Affilia).

How Reflecting on My Choice to do Prenatal Tests Made Me a Better Social Worker

My professor asked me to reflect on the ways in which I have engaged in ableism as a social work student. While I could not think of a professional instance, I was able to reflect back on my personal life about a time that I did engage in ableism. Recently, I gave birth to my son, my first child, back in January of this year.

Toward the beginning of my pregnancy, I believe around week 12, the obstetrician sat me down and started to discuss optional screenings that they could do that would determine whether the baby had any disabilities, such as Down Syndrome. As soon as she started explaining all the different tests, I knew I was going to choose to have at least one done. In the end, I chose one of the least invasive but more accurate tests.

Whenever someone asked why I was getting the test (as I wasn’t high risk, and am on the younger side), I would tell them I just wanted to be able to be prepared. I told them that I wanted to be able to prepare my house or to get necessary equipment or other things that might be needed by my child.

However, leading up to the test I began to have dreams about getting ‘bad news’ from the doctor. I also had dreams in which my doctor told me that there was ‘something wrong’ with my baby. I started to realize that it wasn’t my house that I would have to prepare, it would have to be myself!

Slowly, I came to the understanding that if I got the news that my child had a disability, I would need some time to process and accept that news. I think that I struggled with the belief that my child would have a ‘lesser life’ if they were born with a disability. In addition, I think that a part of my process would have been going through the grieving process as I would have been grieving the ‘perfect child’ that I imagine many pregnant women imagine when they first find out they are pregnant.

In my readings for my course on social work practice with people with disabilities, I learned how genetic testing connects to the medical model of disability. As my textbook discussed, the testing and the possible results were only presented to me by my medical team through a medical model lens, versus a social model of disability lens.

My medical team informed me of the genetic reasoning behind any of the possible disabilities that could be discovered but did not include any information regarding what my child’s life would be like if the test was positive. It would have been beneficial to hear about the lives of people living with some of the disabilities.

This could have possibly calmed my nerves as well as avoided my ableist thinking. My hope is that for patients who do have a positive test, their medical team can learn to sit down with them and go into further detail about what a child’s life will and can look like. I think this could help a parent-to-be process that news in a not-so-negative way. I believe that a discussion like this could help patients understand that the only options are not abortion or a child with a ‘lesser life.’

As a social work professional, it is important to always reflect on and examine our own ableism. In our society, we have been witness to countless ableist thoughts and beliefs throughout our lives. These beliefs become the standard way of thinking and affect our interactions with people with disabilities.

Therefore, it is essential for a social worker to reflect on their own ableist thoughts and practices in order to be able to change their way of thinking – and practicing! Once the social worker is able to do this work, their practice with people with disabilities has the potential to be so much more valuable.

Let People Who are Non-Verbal Communicate in their Own Way: A Social Work Challenge

While working at a disability group home agency, I came to know“ Jane,” a person with Rett Syndrome. Jane was non-verbal and was unable to walk independently. She used a specialized walker to move around. In addition, she developed her own sign language in order to communicate. During the day, Jane would attend a day program which gave all nonverbal clients computers that had the “Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)” system on it.

Jane was required to use it at the day program and was also encouraged to continue using it at the group home. Yet, when Jane would take home the computer, she would leave it in her bedroom. Jane did this because she didn’t like it and was comfortable with her own form of communication. The day program became insistent on Jane using the computer at home, so the director insisted Jane use the form of communication provided to her. Jane refused to use the computer and threw it across the room because she was so upset about being asked to do so. The day program still required Jane to use the computer while at the day program, however, once she was in her home she didn’t use it and the staff did not force her to do so.

As a social worker, I would first ask whether Jane wanted to use the PECS system. When disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare was discussing the social model of disability which infers society is disabling versus the person who is disabled. He argued the idea of this practice is to make society adapt to people with disabilities which would include allowing for people’s own communication choice to be honored or it could include providing accommodations like the PECS system for non-verbal clients. One of the barriers of the social model of disability is trying to make accommodations for people with disabilities without choice.

The PECS system might work well for one client who is non-verbal, but it did not suit Jane and she did not want to use it. Shakespeare described limitations with the social model-informed practice as assuming there could be a “utopia” for people with disabilities as there would be no barriers. People with disabilities do not all function or adapt the same way so it is unrealistic to be able to accommodate everyone and it is insulting to force accommodations on people with disabilities if they do not want to utilize that specific accommodation.

If Jane was given the option to use or not use the PECS system, it would be realizing the social model-informed practice because society is making the change and not expecting her to change. By forcing the PECS system on Jane, it is reverting back to the medical model practice because the program is making Jane adjust instead of learning Jane’s sign language.

Jane also used a specialized walker. I would engage in medical model-informed practice (where the focus is on the impairment that leads to disability) by acknowledging it was Jane’s body part that was impaired, and therefore disabled her. This is another limitation of the social model-informed practice.

As social model-informed practice is so focused on society being the barrier that it does not always acknowledge that a person’s body can also be the barrier. The medical model-informed practice is what helped Jane receive the specialized walker because Jane’s body was the barrier and she wanted to walk as independently as she could. The social model-informed practice can also be used by ensuring there are ramps for Jane so she can have easy accessibility.

From the macro level of social work, I believe we are on the right track with the social-model informed practice. However, this model is not complex enough to include everyone. Intersectionality does not seem to be taken into consideration with this model, which is a complicating and limiting factor.

A strong model needs to be developed to acknowledge the complexities of people and their disabilities. A person’s environment, gender, race and other social identities need to be considered when developing models which was not the case since the group of activists who rallied for this model were white heterosexual men.

The first step to be taken by every social worker should be to ask the person with the disability “what can be done to support you?” or “what do you believe needs to be changed so you do not continue to feel oppressed or feel like your voice is not being heard?”

How Wearing High Heels During my Commute Helped Me to Be a Better Social Worker

Ableism is the idea that people with disabilities are not typical and are, therefore, inferior. Upon reflection, I have engaged in ableism against people with physical disabilities while on public transportation. Typically, I take public transportation during the peak hours of commuting to work between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and leaving work between 4p.m. and 6p.m.

There are signs on the bus indicating that when a person with a disability enters the bus they are to be given seats in the front, and people with wheelchairs or motorized chairs, walkers, canes and women with baby strollers occupy those seats. However when the bus is crowded during those peak times there is somewhat of an ‘all bets are off approach’ to seating and people tend to disregard those signs.

My example of demonstrating ableism involves a woman with a motorized chair who entered the bus one day. When she boarded the bus, everyone sitting in the front had to move towards the back to make space for her to enter and turn her chair towards the front. On this particular day, I’d had a very bad interaction with a client at work. Mentally, I was not in a good state of mind as a result.

I also had on heels which made my feet hurt from standing. Seats on either the left or the right could be used for a person with a disability, however, the woman entered the bus and immediately looked towards the right where I was sitting. I knew this meant that I, along with another woman, should stand up and make room for her. The bus was very crowded and therefore moving towards the back felt like a nearly impossible task in order to make space for the woman in the motorized chair.

Without realizing it at the time, I was perpetuating a system of oppression onto the woman with a disability. Disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare states that society is a disabling factor in the current social model of disability. He argues that it promotes the social oppression and exclusion of people with impairments – as opposed to a focus on the impairment itself as the problem. Looking back, I recall that I was upset that the woman with the motorized chair had turned to my side of the bus and I had had to get up. This response perpetuates a cycle of oppression because I used her disability as a source of rationalizing why she should be excluded from the bus.

Although I did not say anything verbally to the woman in the motorized chair, my face and body language gave a very descriptive picture of how angry I was that I had to move. The other women that were sitting next to me were verbal with their anger and made comments such as “she should have waited for the next bus, as there’s no space” and “why do we have to move for her?” In the moment I agreed with those women and their outbursts. I was upset, tired, and in pain because of my heels. My only thoughts were selfish thoughts about wanting to get home so that I could get comfortable.

In retrospect, our attitudes were ableist because we ostracized the woman with a disability and trying to exclude her from riding the bus as everyone else was doing. I likened these feelings to feelings of the ‘survival of the fittest’; mentality that was prevalent during Darwin’s lifetime. As a recent PBS documentary discusses, people with disabilities were viewed as ‘undesirable’ and every effort was made to treat them as outsiders in society rather than practice inclusivity.

At that time, people with disabilities were not viewed as fit to be amongst abled-bodied people. As it relates back to the bus, the signs clearly acknowledged the seats were for persons with disabilities or the elderly. However, due to our own selfish reasoning and justification, we did not feel it was enough to warrant giving a seat to the woman in the motorized chair.

It is important for people to recognize their ableist nature so when situations similar to the one discussed arise they can approach it with respect and empathy rather than disdain for the person with a disability.

This essay was written by an anonymous M.S.W. Candidate at Salem State University’s School of Social Work in Salem, Massachusetts.  The author may be reached on Twitter at @disabilitysw or via email at disabilitysocialwork@gmail.com.  This author’s blog posts are published at www.disabilitysocialwork.blog.

Moving Beyond “Fixing” People: Social Work Practice with People with Disabilities

Working on a boarding high-school campus, I have the opportunity to be exposed to different students. During my first year, one student, in particular, stood out. J.M. was a breakout basketball star and had dreams of going to the N.B.A.

Unfortunately, in his junior year, he was in a terrible car accident and as a result was paralyzed from the waist down. Everyone on campus was affected by his accident because J.M. was such a bright presence on campus and when he came back, he was a different person. He was less interactive on campus and lost his love for basketball.

The adults who were working with him every day were so fixated on the medical model, they wanted to “fix” him as much as they could so he could be ‘normal’ again. They suggested to his mom to take him to the best doctors who specialize helping people who are paraplegic learn to walk through virtual reality. They were not focused on his direct needs because they did not ask him, and that was detrimental to his recovery.

In using the social-model informed practice, the adults working with J.M. should have discussed with him how he saw his recovery going. By placing the focus on him rather than his disability, J.M.’s confidence in recovering could have been more positive than negative. Indeed, disability studies scholar Tom Shakespeare discusses the importance of focusing on the individual and not the impairment in order to create a confident space.

One of the limits in the social model approach, Shakespeare says, is the idea that individuals with disabilities should disregard their impairments. More specifically, the social model disavows both individual and medical approaches so much that it actually risks the suggestion that impairments are not the problem!

The medical model is helpful when we are utilizing action practices that are suggested by the person with the disability and not the people around them who are looking at it like a problem that needs to be corrected. As social workers, it will only benefit the clients we are working with if we are their advocates and find a balance between the medical model and the social model.

This essay was originally prepared for Dr. Elspeth Slayter’s social work practice with people with disabilities course at Salem State University’s School of Social Work  Graduate students were asked to reflect on the ways in which they approach their work with clients with disabilities. Specifically, they were asked to reflect on what aspects of their practice were “under” the medical model of disability and which were “under” the social model of disability.

Students were first introduced to the medical model of disability, in which the person’s impairment was the focus. Then, students were introduced to the social model of disability, in which society is seen as the disabling factor as opposed to the part of the person with the impairment. In order to begin to re-visualize what social work practice with a client with a disability would look like, students were asked to answer the following question:

“How can social workers approach the needs of people with disabilities without perpetuating the negative impacts associated with the medical model of disability? Provide a case example and then describe how you could/do/would engage in medical model-informed practice and social model-informed practice with that client.”

I Don’t Think I Am Racist

Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign

I can’t be a racist.

Some of my best friends are African American. I work with African Americans every day. As a social worker, I fight for social justice, and that includes racial justice, so I’m not a racist.

I certainly don’t want you to think I’m a racist. My family never owned slaves—they were coal miners, which was practically slavery. I believe in diversity, inclusivity, cultural humility, and cultural proficiency and whatever PC term-of-the-week we use for this stuff.

I want to prove to you I’m not a racist. I attend rallies and carry signs.  I was there when they voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. I don’t vote for racist candidates and express my horror at racist comments, especially from our leaders.

I thought I wasn’t a racist. The truth is, I view the world through blue eyes. The world interacts with me as a person with very pale skin. I may not want to be privileged (maybe I do) but damned if I’m not. I’m often treated differently than people of color. If police pull me over, I don’t fear for my life, I fear for points on my license. If I walk down the street in a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, people say good morning and comment on the cold weather. They don’t look at me like I’m about to rob them.

When I see rage on the faces of African Americans, I sometimes think—quietly, of course—they may be overreacting. After all, we need to love each other and put the past behind us. We are a rich tapestry of different people and that’s what makes our nation great. This is 2017—time to move forward!

And then Charlottesville happened.

And then I heard the President defend the Nazis and racist, alt-right rally participants.

And then I saw this video and watched white supremacists spew hatred against blacks and Jews while someone was doing CPR on a victim hit by the car.

And I saw this man:

And I saw how his pain, his rage, his desperation reached depths that I have never experienced. He is emotionally bleeding for us all to see, because he has tried EVERYTHING and he is standing in the middle of a frickin’ race war. (I don’t want to say frickin’).

And I heard that right after Charlottesville, a FAMILY MEMBER who teaches about the Holocaust, had received a death threat from someone because they thought he was Jewish.

And then my writing sister who is black, said of her white colleagues, “don’t come to me with your fake tears and your prayers and your hugs. I can’t do it this week. This sh*t is not new. Charlottesville … is all of us. It’s killing us.”

She’s right. She’s right, and we don’t want to see it.

I remember feeling so proud when the Confederate flag came down, and one of my social work mentors (African-American) said, “I don’t care where they flag that ole rag. Taking it down don’t change nothing.”

Yeah, maybe I’m starting to get that now.

After the slaughter of the Emmanuel nine in Charleston, I participated in a workshop about combatting hate. I hoped it would help some of us heal. But when a HBCU professor projected a photograph of a Klan rally, it offended me. “We’re not all like that,” I wanted to scream, but that wasn’t her message. We’re not all like that, but the specter of those white pointed hats is there, is always there, and, like my wise friend said, it’s killing us.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, America has 276 armed militia groups, extremists like the gun-wielding pretend-soldiers in Charlottesville. 276. Let that number sink in.

I don’t want to be a racist, but I can never truly understand the black experience, no matter how hard I try to be an ally. And if I don’t want to be a part of the problem—via action or inaction—then I must confront and accept the ways I have been complicit in this mess. I don’t get to close my eyes to the ugliness that is around me.  I can vote for different leaders, march in rallies, carry signs, write blogs, and be a great social worker but none of that puts a dent in the crap storm we keep denying.

I’d love to end this with some hopeful message, something that makes you feel good about our potential (and about me).

But I got naddah.

So I’ll end with this. My eyes are open. I will fight to keep them open, even if what I see disturbs the hell out of me. And if you see me closing them, get in my face a remind me.

This is ALL OF US.

And we have to fix it.

Study Finds Trump Supporters Believe U.S. Society Is Fair

Voters who supported Donald Trump are more likely than other Americans—even other conservatives—to oppose social justice efforts, a new University of Michigan study shows.

Specifically, this segment thinks the nation spends too much money promoting equality for the poor, women and minorities; agrees that disadvantaged groups have received more than they deserve economically; and believes that disadvantaged individuals’ claims of discrimination are invalid.

Erin Cech, U-M assistant professor of sociology, described Trump supporters as “rugged meritocratists” because they believe society is already meritocratic—already fair and just.

It is this belief—not Trump supporters’ greater likelihood of expressing social bias—that helps explain their resistance to social justice issues, she says.

Cech conducted an online survey of 1,151 people three weeks after the 2016 presidential election. The sample is proportionally representative of U.S. adults. They answered questions about bias and beliefs about inequality, and were asked about the candidates they voted for.

Trump supporters, the study indicates, do express more bias: they have more negative assessments of the competence (e.g., intelligence, motivation) and warmth (e.g., humble, happy) of the poor, African Americans, Hispanics and women compared with the views of nonsupporters.

Trump supporters are also more likely to agree that too much money has been spent on welfare, homeless shelters and improving conditions for disadvantaged groups. About 60 percent of Trump supporters believe the poor, racial/ethnic minorities and women have been too demanding in their push for equal rights, Cech says.

“Resistance to social justice efforts appears to be based less in overt social bias than in a particular framing of the social world, one that denies structural inequality and blames victims of that inequality for their own circumstances,” she said.

This has consequences for social justice advocates: rugged meritocratists, regardless of their political affiliation, will likely resist social justice efforts because such efforts do not match how they see society, she says. If equality advocates are to foster support for social justice efforts, they must first convince rugged meritocratists that inequality exists in the first place.

Walking The Walk is The New Activism

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

In times of change, challenge, and disillusionment, you might be feeling like you want to stand up, speak up, and protest. If you are a helping professional that urge might be so strong and very deeply rooted in the foundations of your vocational role.

You want to take people by the shoulders and knock some sense into them. Are you the only one who can see what is wrong with this picture? Someone has to do something.

When things happen in our society that we don’t understand or don’t agree with, the Internal Activist comes to the forefront. We must help educate people! We must stand up for what is right! We must speak out against the wrongness of the situation.

Protests and demonstrations have taken place throughout history and are occurring in our world right now. Many protests have resulted in more violence, more problems to solve and a greater degree of separation. Sometimes, it changes things and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, things get better and sometimes they get worse.

Embody A New Way

If we want to create change, open minds, or change the world, it is time to embody a new way.

When someone is doing something we find offensive, perhaps, they are acting out of ignorance or maybe, they just don’t care. One of the first things we try to do is make them understand. We are convinced if they just had all the facts and could see how this situation affects so many people in adverse ways, they would stop and would be on board with our mission and it would all be fine. And sometimes, this is all it takes.

I recall a conversation with a young man I worked with many years ago. He had sustained a traumatic brain injury and he was convinced that other people needed to understand how challenging life was for him. He just knew that if they understood brain injury and all that comes with it, they would behave differently, they would choose differently, and life would be easier for him.

Any of us who have a cause in life often feel this way. Other people need to understand ______ fill in the blank. The cold hard truth of the matter is that they don’t need to understand. They really don’t. Quite often, we are not motivated to understand the plight of others unless we are somehow personally impacted by it.

Well, unless you are someone who is guided to be of service.

Don’t judge the judger. If we meet someone else’s offensive remarks or lack of empathy with our own judgement and inability to understand, we are just adding more of the same energy to the situation. Nothing changes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Ramming our beliefs and knowledge down other people’s throats does not open the doors to understanding ~ it creates defensiveness and shuts down communication.

Guidelines for A New Activism

So, stand up. Speak up. And consider the following suggestions:

  1. As Mother Teresa suggested, “Be for something instead of Against something.” Stay focused on what you wish to create instead of what you oppose. Put your energy into being the embodiment of whatever it is. If you want peace, be peaceful in your communication. Bring a peaceful presence. If you don’t bring what you wish to see, that energy may not be there at all. Result ~ Things stay the same and you remain frustrated.
  1. Be willing to be wrong. Things might look dismal now AND it is still possible that there is much in any situation that can be used for good ~ much that can happen to move towards a more positive outcome. You are being challenged to maintain the essence of Unconditional Positive Regard. Result ~ You feel powerful in your own actions by staying true to your personal values.
  1. Do not let someone else’s behaviour dictate your actions. Resist the urge to define them by it. No matter how challenging it can be, you are always responsible for what you choose to do ~ No. Matter. What. Separating the person from the behaviour is helpful in reaching a place of non-judgement and opens the door to understanding. Stay curious and maintain personal responsibility. Result ~ Your Freedom.
  1. In the face of fear and all the “what ifs”, remain hopeful. You can either add to the drama by hopping on the fear train to nowhere or you can stay centered in a place of hope inside of your heart. Expect a miracle. Hope for the best. Keep your eyes open so you can respond as you need to and keep yourself protected on all levels. If you have to think in terms of “what if” try following that statement with the outcome you wish to see. “What if this could all turn out well in the end?” What if? Result ~ Your peace.

Perhaps, this comes across as “pie-in-the-sky” to some, and I’m okay with that. Detaching from the outcome and the reactions of others is also a powerful practice. Remember, at the end of the day, you stand in front of your own mirror; you lie in bed with your own thoughts and feelings. This is where you have immense power to be the creator of your own experience.

As you step more fully into this place of power and commitment to your own sense of well being and peace, you demonstrate who you are in this world, and you walk the walk. It may be the most powerful statement you ever make.

What Can We Do to Help Support Refugee Resettlement in the United States?

With the recent change in administration, many questions remain in regard to the potential policy changes that may affect refugees being resettled in the United States, and have already started to affect refugees.

Most notable the executive orders that have been recently signed will have an impact on the number of refugees being received, the countries we will accept refugees from, as well as a proposed suspension of any refugee resettlement for 120 days.

This comes largely as a result of the negative rhetoric that came out of the campaign from various candidates, but most notably from the President elect. We have an obligation to educate the public on who refugees really are, to advocate for and defend policies to resettle refugees in the United States, and to support refugees that are arriving or are already here.

Refugees arriving in the United States are a diverse group, including those from Iraq, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Bhutan, and Burma. The commonality among these individuals is that they are all fleeing due to a, “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group” as defined by the United Nations.

They represent many different religious backgrounds, languages and cultures. Welcoming refugees is woven in the fabric of our history and culture, with the first refugee legislation enacted in 1948. Over three million refugees have been resettled since 1975 from 70 countries around the world.

The United States has welcomed refugees fleeing Europe as a result of World War II, refugees escaping the former Soviet Union, those who came as a result of the war in Vietnam, Cubans, those from the former Yugoslavia as well as the more recent arrivals previously mentioned.

While refugees are welcomed primarily for humanitarian reasons they also bring benefits to the community they are being resettled in. Firstly, refugees contribute to their local communities economically. They are eager to work, and have been shown to retain their jobs longer than native born individuals. Many refugees have an entrepreneurial spirit and are more likely to start their own businesses.

Aside from that, in some cities that have lost population or that have aging populations, refugees are viewed as not only adding population but also contributing to the economy and enriching the community by sharing their culture. This has been seen in cities like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Rutland, Vermont who is making a concerted effort to welcome refugees. Refugees should be viewed as resilient for having survived
unimaginable circumstances.

What can social workers or those interested in supporting refugees do to help? Firstly, let your opinions be known to your elected representatives. Policy action is the crucial to maintain the existing resettlement programs. Secondly, support resettlement agencies and refugees in your community. Make your city a ‘welcoming’ community for those who are newly arriving. This may mean training police, schools and social service agencies on who refugees are and being prepared to provide culturally appropriate services. Furthermore, donate to your local resettlement agency.

Many resettlement agencies may be in need of gently used furniture and clothing for newly arriving refugees. Resettlement agencies are also in need of volunteers to help set-up apartments, as well as helping refugees to learn life skills like taking the bus or tutoring them in English. If you are a business owner, hire a refugee. Employment is crucial for newly arriving refugees to integrate into their new communities.

Finally, educate others on who refugees are and why it is important to maintain this program. Refugees are not a traditional population that social work or social workers tend to focus on and this should change. Supporting refugees is an issue of social justice—refugee resettlement saves lives. In no other case is this more apparent than of those fleeing Syria, as the war continues to rage with no end in sight. Yet the United States has been slow to accept these refugees and is now proposing effectively ending resettlement of Syrians. In stark contrast to this are the Canadians who met their goal of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees last year.

We need to mobilize to defend the integrity of this program and affirm that this is a key social justice issue for social workers to focus their efforts on.

Environmental Justice for Indigenous Populations

Climate change has an inordinate effect on vulnerable populations.  The EPA has published multiple fact sheets outlining the effects of climate change on various vulnerable populations, all of which are populations that social workers encounter.

As just one example the health of indigenous peoples are affected by climate conditions because their culture relies on their local environment and natural resources for food, cultural practices, and income. Many live in isolated or low income communities such as rural areas with limited access to public services and healthcare, or they live in places most affected by climate change like communities along the coasts. The people of several Alaskan tribal villages are facing relocation due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

The EPA cites examples of food, water, air, land and infrastructure, and health risks to tribal populations. In the Upper Great Lakes Region, Ojibwe communities may be affected by the impacts of rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns on rice-growing conditions in lakes and rivers.

Indigenous people along the West and Gulf Coasts rely on fish and shellfish for food, livelihoods, and certain ceremonial or cultural practices. Higher sea surface temperatures increase the risk that certain fish and shellfish will become contaminated with mercury, harmful algal toxins, or naturally-occurring bacteria.

For Alaska Native communities, rising temperatures and permafrost thaw threaten traditional methods of safe food storage in ice houses, and increase risk of food contamination. Climate change may also affect the abundance and nutritional quality of local Alaskan berries that are an important source of traditional diets.

A prime example of environmental injustice is that American Indian/Alaska Native infants are more likely to be hospitalized with diarrhea than other infants in the U.S.  Many remote tribal households, primarily in western Alaska Native Villages and the Navajo Nation, do not have adequate drinking water or wastewater treatment infrastructure, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases like diarrhea.

Current revival of the Dakota Pipeline construction may pollute the water supply of several indigenous tribal communities. In addition, projected increases in large wildfires, as a result of changing weather patterns, threaten air quality for tribes in Alaska and the western United States.

Although the health and welfare of children, elders, indigenous peoples, and persons living in poverty are disproportionately affected by environmental negligence, we all will be struggling for survival if we don’t prioritize climate change and environmental collapse as the ultimate social justice issue.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) recently published five social justice priorities outlined in a new initiative for 2017 which are:

  • Voting rights
  • Criminal justice
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Immigration reform
  • Economic justice/Equality

Although each of the priorities are important, they mean nothing if environmental justice is not achieved.  Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy, if basic needs, in this case, air, water and sustainable resources, are not protected, other priorities become less exigent.

There is a small faction of our profession dedicated to ecologically conscious social work, but the profession has been slow to jump on the environmentalist band wagon, as exemplified by NASW’s social justice priorities.  It’s urgently time to reconsider. If you are interested in the nexus of social work and environmentalism, check out the Facebook page Ecologically Conscious Social Workers. Learn more about the effect of climate damage on the populations you serve.

The health impact of environmental crises varies with age, life stage and location. And consider the environment as one of the filters you use to assess the person or situation you are facing.  Yes, we know all about person-in-environment…but let’s also focus on the environment-in-person!

What is Green Social Work?

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The Urban Renaissance Center of Civic Park Neighborhood in Flint is a new field placement area for social work students this Fall.

Whenever something is called ‘green’ many of us tend toward skepticism. Let’s be real, when something touts itself as environmentally friendly, so often it’s just trying to hide a toxic underbelly.

So, green social work … is it just hype?

Hardly. It’s the real deal. It’s a reframing of how we talk about social issues, the planet, and the intersection between the two. It’s as green as they come.

In 2010 the Council on Social Work Education declared sustainability the number one social justice issue of the new century. Since then, the area of green social work has evolved and come into its own.

Green social work is a branch of social work that deals with the impact of the faltering environmental stability upon human populations. It is essentially a broadening of the definition of environment, sociologically speaking, from referring exclusively to someone’s immediate surroundings to referring to the planet that we all share.

After the CSWEs 2010 announcement, it became quite clear that social workers globally were eager to enter a realistic conversation about how climate change affects people, impoverished groups in particular, and that they were ready to take action.

There was no more denying that the extreme flooding, hurricane damage, or broken levees of the age impacted people beyond reason.

Annie Muldoon, MSW, of Carleton University has very poignant reasoning behind her belief in the need for green social work: “Attempts to improve social conditions may be lost,” she said, “if society itself lacks clear air, drinkable water, and adequate food.”

This newfound awareness in the social work field was met with an air of embarrassment. Experts began acknowledging that social work had always had an ambivalent understanding of its relationship to the natural world. And that while their work had always been based upon a “person-in-environment” principle, it had long neglected the “environment-in-person” aspect. There was a certain level of rose-tinted metaphor to the whole thing: the flaws of the field of social work were represented within the flaws of the human condition. In short, we all waited too long to see the inevitable truth about global warming and it was our collective responsibility to do something about it, fast. 

Soon the conversation shifted from revelation to action.

In the Aftermath

Arguably the most profound impact of the new green edge to the field of social work comes in the form of professionals on the ground in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They flood to the South after devastating hurricanes; they establish shelters for people who are forced to evacuate their homes; they provide aid plain and simple. Social workers fill the need for emergency management that focuses on people instead of their insurance policies.

According to Case Western Reserve University, another benefit of having social workers on the ground during the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster is that they are able to address poverty and other structural inequalities at the same time as they’re working to enhance the quality of life of the residents. A social worker stationed in a region prone to hurricanes, for example, will build relationships with local families and be better equipped to cater to their particular needs – like helping the parents of a child with disabilities prepare for the hurricane before it hits. The simple fact of the social workers’ proximity to affected peoples and issues makes them better advocates.

The best part is that all of this is just a matter of course. If social workers place themselves at the scene to help, their training just kicks in.

Environmental Justice

Another beneficial outcome of the advent of green social work is Environmental Justice.

It is defined by the EPA asthe fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Once social workers started examining the real-world participation and understanding of environmental programs in their communities, it became clear that many barriers still exist.

Dawn Philip and Michael Reisch outline some of these barriers in “Rethinking Social Work‘s Interpretation of ‘Environmental Justice’: From Local to Global.” The issues range from not having the resources to access vital health and environmental data to not being able to afford the technical supplies that help social leaders communicate environmental concerns to the community.

Before the introduction and focus of green social work, these issues would just get lumped into the broad category of general organizational dysfunction. It’s quite clear though that health concerns of this magnitude are something entirely different. Think Flint, Michigan.

Environmental Refugees

In this era of environmental catastrophes that knock out entire regions, entirely new social issues have become a reality. For example, the 1951 Geneva Convention defined “refugees” as people who are outside their home-state due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. But, as noted by Melahat Demirbiek in his paper “Environment, Environmental Refugees and Green Social Work,” high-level environmental degradation – aka sea level rise, flood, drought, desertification, and deforestation – has created another kind of refugee. The environmental refugee.

There is no proper technical classification to aid this sort of person.

While political refugees are entitled to food and shelter, environmental refugees are not yet recognized by international law. It is the job of green social work to shed light on this problem and support the people caught in its crosshairs.

All in all, green social work is a movement that has been a long time coming. And I hate to say it, but we were a little late to the game. It’s time to be of help however we can. Someone needs to empower the communities most affected by climate change – because these environmental disasters are happening whether we’re ready for them or not – and social workers are some of the best equipped to do so.

Want more? Read Lena Dominelli’s book Green Social Work: From Environmental Crises to Environmental Justice.

Have you seen green social work in action firsthand? Please, share it in the comments!

Flint Residents Can’t Catch A Break with New Trash Collection Dispute

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Long before the “Flint Water Crisis” brought national attention to the City of Flint generations of “Flintstones” at home and abroad worried about the path the city they love and call home has taken. Decades of governmental and societal neglect had already set in back in the 90’s, General Motors had long abandoned the city that helped make them a Fortune 500 company, and the state of Michigan seemed to have alternate plans for the second largest African American population in the state.

Lack of employment opportunities lead to a mass exodus from the city, according to the U.S. Census more than 20,000 citizens relocated between the years 2000-2010, causing two of the city’s Educational Institutions to shutter their doors Flint Northern and Flint Central.

As if the economic despair and toxic water were not enough for the citizenry to bare, City Council and the Mayor have decided to once again put their constituents in harms way with an act of civil negligence surrounding trash collection in the city.

Any reasonable person would believe, that the politicians who also live in the same environment would attempt to make sure the city would not have to suffer through any unnecessary hardships, but as usual, the elected officials are proving they do not hold the city in the same regard as those who put them in office.

According to MLive, the dispute stems from the city council’s decision to reject a new contract Mayor Karen Weaver hoped to sign with a company called Rizzo Environmental Services instead of the current trash collector, Republic Services. Members of the city council “questioned Rizzo’s ties to former Mayor Woodrow Stanley and potential ties the company may have in Canada,” as reported by MLive.

WJRT reports the City Council has issued a statement describing the decision to stop trash pickup as exclusively Weaver’s decision, but a legal battle is continuing over who will actually assume the contract.

Earlier, MLive reported City Council members requested more time to read through Rizzo’s $17.4 million contract offer, which undercuts Republic by $2 million. Read Full Article

In recent history, the only other American city that has been subjected to such bickering between Mayor and City Council was Gary, IN. In July of 2009 the Mayor and City Council of Gary, IN engaged in shenanigans, which created an 11-day halt in trash collection in the city. Similar to Flint, the issue that caused the stoppage was not financial despair because the city had the funds for trash collections, but the matter at hand was who would collect the trash.

The fact of the matter is I am sure that budgeting city services probably is not an easy task, however it seems that when these services become privatized contracts become somehow subjected to cronyism. Budgeting in general requires one major task which is to find quality services for the cheapest price, so the decision over who gets the contract should be cut and dry.

My Block, My Hood, My City Is Combining Social Justice with Service Learning

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Most youth have never traveled outside their own block or neighborhood. As a result, their worldviews are geographically bound and constricted by their neighborhoods. For youth who do not travel outside their neighborhood boundaries, their well-being, sense of self-efficacy, and educational and economic outcomes depend almost entirely on the neighborhood’s infrastructure, socio-economic, and resource characteristics. This truth poses limitations to opportunities for most.

If youth are to have a fair chance at having fulfilling and independent lives, that inequality must be revised. As a society how can we make the difference?  How can we open the door for the youth who seem to bound to their neighborhood?

My Block My Hood My City (M3) is an organization whose  mission is to educate, empower and engage youth from low-income and moderate income communities of Chicago to work together to advocate for social, economic and educational justice and become agents for positive change. The considerable limitations of being restricted to neighborhood boundaries cause countless missed opportunities for youth that live in the Chicago area. M3 began mentoring workshops and monthly community presentations as a way to expose youth to the city that existed beyond their neighborhoods.  The My Block, My Hood My City Explorers program, serves as the key vessel to empower young people and build appreciation for community diversity.

My Block My Hood My City’s purpose is to expose youth to their impact within their communities and communities beyond.  Because of this program youth have more information to make everyday decisions about who they are in society and what they can contribute to it. M3 inspires and prepares youth for their equitable role as active, engaged, and self-determined citizens. M3’s primary purpose is to broaden the often severely limited perspective and opportunities of teenagers living in underserved communities. M3 believes that exposing youth to experiences of economic opportunity, cultural diversity, community networks, and community-based services bolsters positive youth development.

M3 accelerates youth awareness of communities by providing insight into careers, jobs, lifestyles, cultures, and opportunities that they never have experienced. This is a vital door that not only removes them from what they’ve always known- poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunities- but it gives them a firsthand view of a world vastly different than their own and challenges them to rethink the impactful power they have in improving their community. By witnessing the positive activities and spaces in their own communities, as well as those they visit, the youth are armed with information to dispel the negative images and stereotypes that they are bombarded with daily. This helps develop a sense of pride and respect for what is valuable and the assets that exist in their neighborhoods.

To enhance their program My Block, My Hood, My City has now taken awareness and exposure to a new level by adding a service learning component. Experience has taught them that youth are seeking not only further exposure to networks and opportunities outside their community but also opportunities to make their community a better place to live.

M3 has recently adopted a service learning program component to the organization called Service Learning Exchange (SLE). Aligned with the Explorer program’s focus on connection and exploration, SLE utilizes video technology to connect youth to their peer network across the city, empowering and mobilizing youth to actively engage in discussions of community issues and their responsibility towards them. SLE provides months of online discussions and planning.  Afterwards the youth are then given the opportunity to travel to their peers’ communities to assist them in implementing service projects that positively impact those communities.

M3 is taking the proper steps to enrich the youth of Chicago by developing their culture through physical and vital connections. Community transformation efforts cannot be successful unless the members of those communities are involved in setting the agenda for change.  Social change cannot happen without youth engagement or awareness.

Youth expand their awareness of their geographical surroundings and opportunities by learning the history of their own and other communities, by understanding the current issues those communities face, and by participating in the experience outings,. As a result of their increased community engagement, youth feel more connected to their communities and city creating much needed social change.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6fnChNKwZ0

Black and Blue: Injustice Is Battering Us All

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It is starting to feel like a domestic war is brewing. People are taking sides, dividing up into camps. Facebook has become a platform for digital conflict. The tensions among Americans and worldwide, actually are palpable. I recently witnessed an exchange on social media about social justice and how it was a copout. Nuance is clearly a bridge too far for many engaged in a my side/your side battle and convincing the angry and scared that love is the answer is like convincing a starving person to not eat a poptart because of nutrition.

The frustration is causing violence which is being responded to with violence and preemptive violence. Cops are killing people and nowadays, this becomes quickly and broadly shared on social media. People have, thusly, become afraid of cops. Because people are afraid of cops, they respond to cops with fear, which makes them seem suspicious. Then, cops treat people like suspects. This is an understandable, if unfortunate cycle, but it is unacceptable and must be examined with honesty.

Unfortunately, efforts to bring attention to this cycle are being spun in various directions in order to rationalize this unacceptable behavior. What it ends up doing is creating hatred towards those who have been victimized. Additionally, people are trying to co-opt movements which is not helping the situation. For example, Black Lives Matter began as an attempt to show that black people were being killed by cops in high numbers with little consequence to their assailants, creating the perception that black lives don’t matter in the eyes of the law.

The movement was created to attract attention to this injustice so that it could be corrected. When the All Lives Matter was presented as a substitution for Black Lives Matter and subsequently so was Blue Lives Matter, it moved the conversation away from the overreaching injustice that has reached critical mass. People began creating memes and movements to support the new narratives. The problem with that is that it maintains the tone deaf reality that black people get killed with impunity.

People are deliberately changing the subject from the fact that we are moving towards a police state with militarized police. By doing this, we legitimize the institutional use of force, even unnecessary force to control people. Ironically, it is often those who ostensibly fear tyranny who feel comfortable legitimizing the advancement of an impending Martial Law.

The University of Cincinnati found that minorities are more likely to be pulled over. Some of the data indicates that racial profiling and economic factors put minorities at higher risk of becoming suspects. Additionally, once pulled over, they have a higher risk of search. Critics of these statistics say it wasn’t racially motivated searches, but concerns over drug trafficking, which pretty much proves the point. They are stereotypes that lead to increased risk of being a citizen.

A real issue with changing the narrative away from Black Lives Matter to all lives or Blue Lives Matter is that it not only washes over the tragedies that we have seen with unjustified homicides that go unadjudicated, but we give license for police oppression and tyranny. When the narratives of government overreach become accepted, through rationalizations like Blue Lives Matter, then they are propped up on a platform that accepts their overreaches. Unchecked authority and wanton aggression by law enforcement is what tyranny looks like and making excuses for brutality is a starting point.

So it’s really disheartening to see the escalated levels of justified violence against citizens. Especially because the dividing up into teams has been creating blind spots. In these blind spots we often ignore issues if those issues tend to be ‘other’ people’s issues. We must understand, though, that any of us could become a target and if we push to allow unchecked aggression without consequence, we will regret it when we are in the cross hairs. These blind spots are exactly why we must all demand equal treatment under the law even if we are privileged. When we rationalize exceptions we pave the way for abuse.

As this conversation unfolds I do hope it opens up the larger discussion of how economic inequality leads to injustice and social unrest. So far it appears that the discussion centers around a distrust for the police or blacks. Both sides have understandable positions when considering their roles.

But the police must understand that they are trained and responsible for keeping the peace in a community, not the opposite. And they must not simply operate as tools of the elite and therefore soldiers of the social divide. If they function in this manner, it is no wonder there is civil unrest. The citizens of the community are treated as subjugates instead of valuable members.

Ultimately, until we all adopt the mindset that violence is unacceptable, it will continue. But we must try and root out the underlying causes of the tensions, fear and hatred. Until everyone feels safe in their communities, it will be difficult to expect peace.

Call The Midwife and Social Justice

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For those who follow my writing, you know I am a devoted fan of Call the Midwife.  My husband and I just finished watching the conclusion to season five and wow! While the story is quite different from the show, I fell in love with it during seasons one through three — where they were drawing from Jennifer Worth’s memoirs and based on her experiences working in London’s East End in the late 1950s — season five proved to be an amazing journey.

The season fully explores topics of social justice — issues of power, race, and misogyny. In fact, season five seems to be the point of reinvention. This is where the show decided to really take on themes that are sadly still relevant today such as queerness, the lesbian love story, poverty, how differently women have to navigate the world, and how difficult it can be for women to govern their own bodies.

From the start, season five addresses powerful topics and does not shy away from where and when people in the “helping profession” cause harm. Such is the case in episode two, which deals with breastfeeding or using formula. What is lovely is that our dear Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) is able to offer some repair work to a woman who was unable to breastfeed.

Episode three was very difficult to watch and deals with how we treat pregnant women who are not married and also takes on the issue of abortion. I strongly recommend this episode, as here in 2016 women still face so many of these same barriers. Of course, if we then look at intersecting identities, we look at how women of color and queer women may face even more barriers.

The show also takes on sex work, poverty, and the clandestine lesbian affair between Patsy and Delia. We also see the advent of the pill and how we look at women’s reproductive health and choice. I have to say that every episode is very intense and well done. I will continue to use many of the episodes in social work classes I teach, as they address what good social work can look like and what intersectionality is.

While I am exceedingly sad that our Pam Ferris has left the show, and I still miss Chummy (Miranda Hart), I am thrilled that Call The Midwife will return for a sixth season.  Rumor has it that our Chummy will return. I don’t know of another show that takes on social issues the way this show does, especially around the disparities in how we treat women. This ensemble cast continues to provide not only a narration of birth, they also give us a didactic story of health care, social work, feminism, and social justice. Each episode is like a gift — a remarkable story that is utterly compelling.

Sadly, season five is far too relevant to social issues I would have thought should have been resolved at least 40 years ago. Even more regrettable is the current discourse in the United States which is violently anti-woman, racist, anti-queer, and vilifying of people in poverty. Bloviating candidates shout epithets and invent their own reality, stirring the passions of an angry subset of the electorate. This trend is so baked into one party’s discourse that it will take a resounding electoral failure to still the voices of hate.

As an antidote, Call The Midwife gives me hope that we can find a way to reach out to our shared humanity. If you have not had a chance to watch this amazing series, I encourage you to watch at least one episode, for I know you will become addicted to this very sweet and sad story of humanity from birth to death. Well Done! Stay tuned for Season Six.

Know Her Truths: Why Black Women and Girls Matter

Know-Her-TruthRecently, I had an amazing opportunity to attend the Know Her Truths: Advancing Justice for Women and Girls Conference hosted by the Anna Julia Coopr Center (AJC) at Wake Forest University.  The AJC, as it’s commonly referred to, is directed by Melissa Harris-Perry, and named for scholar, educator, and author Anna Julia Cooper, a Black Woman whose pioneering scholarship and activism laid the foundation for black American feminism and insisted on the importance of Southern voices in American politics.

The Anna Julia Cooper Center is an interdisciplinary center at Wake Forest University with a mission of advancing justice through intersectional scholarship. The conference was held April 29-30, 2016 and is part of an initiative to develop a meaningful research agenda on women and girls of color.

Scholars, students, community organizations, researchers, policy makers, foundations, and activists were brought together for an intensive series of discussions about the circumstances, challenges, and opportunities facing women and girls of color and the ways that we can identify, access, shape, and utilize research to address existing gaps and increase our collective knowledge.

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Some of the featured panels included: School Discipline Disparities and Educational Equity, Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline, Using Participatory Action Research to Investigate Interpersonal Violence Against Women of Color, Picture This: Using Photography to Tell a Black, Girl’s Truth, Translating research to policy, and Engaging Latino Men to End Violence Against Women: Te Invito Primary Prevention Initiative.  Organizations from all over the country were represented at Know Her Truths including The National Black Women’s Justice Institute, Girls for Gender Equity, SisterSong-The National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Advocates for Youth, and the Center for American Progress.

I also co-presented on the Reproductive Justice & Unplanned Pregnancy panel with some of my reproductive justice comrades from National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, All* Above All, Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The panel discussed how women and girls are criminalized in birthing and parenting, how the lack of comprehensive sex education and access to reproductive healthcare further perpetuates poverty and exposure to reproductive oppression, and the need for ongoing research particularly in the South in the areas of maternal mental health and infant mortality.

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As a Licensed Psychotherapist, fellow academic, and Reproductive Justice advocate, I appreciated the abundance of research, evidenced-informed practice, and the intentional focus on race, culture, history, and geography.  Black women and girls, especially in the South, disproportionately experience discrimination, disparity, criminalization, and reproductive oppression compared to non people of color.

Research has confirmed that Black girls are disciplined and suspended or expelled more than their white counterparts; that Black girls are pushed out and criminalized in essence for being Black, and that people of color are less likely to access mental healthcare due to complex and intersectional oppressions.  Black and brown people, particularly Queer and Trans* with excessive and consistent exposure to violence and poverty, are less likely to break these harmful cycles due to systemic oppression permeating through every social system in all levels of society.

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Melissa Harris-Perry and Reia Chapman

Melissa Harris-Perry also took special note to address House Bill 2 (HB2), the harmful legislation passed in NC making it legal to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community.  “HB2 is scary, dangerous, and violent.  When the Wake Forest campus heard what was happening the campus came out very strongly against HB2 and even worked to create some ‘All Gender’ bathrooms.”

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama even made a special appearance via video message to discuss the White House Council on Women and Girls and the investment the Administration has made to address research gaps and existing cultural challenges.

We understand the risk and adversity for women and girls of color as well as the strengths and protective factors needed to improve outcomes. Research gaps identified include: there is currently no reliable national prevalence for sexual violence or trauma experienced by girls of color including due to exposure to police violence.

Know Her Truths was and is so important to the discourse and praxis concerning women and girls of color.  As MHP stated, “this conference is not the ending point.  It is a contributing part of a ton of work already happening to advance research with and by women and girls of color.” In case you missed it, you can review the conversation on Twitter using #knowhertruths.

Include Youth’s Commitment to Northern Ireland Care Leavers

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Located in Northern Ireland, Include Youth supports vulnerable and disadvantage youth by helping them to improve their educational and employment training outcomes, and their main objectives are to increase employment opportunities for disadvantage youth in addition to boosting their self-esteem and life skills.

According to a commissioned review by Include Youth, criminal justice reform and policing were acknowledged as two major areas of concern impacting disadvantage youth with early intervention/family support and diversion programs listed as interventions to reduce risks and increase protective factors for this vulnerable group.

Sharon Whittaker from Include Youth courteously agreed to facilitate a Q&A with us to highlight the amazing work of Include Youth.

SWH: Could you tell us about the mission and vision for Include Youth?

SW: Include Youth is an independent rights-based charity which promotes the rights of and best practice with disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people in Northern Ireland.  In particular Include Youth supports those involved with the criminal justice system and those who need education, employment and training.

Inspired by the experiences of young people Include Youth works to ensure that their rights are being realised. Young people’s views guide us in our advocacy work to achieve social justice, change and promote a greater understanding of their lives in government and across statutory organisations and the community and voluntary sectors.

We provide direct services to support young people to develop their employability and life skills, which are based on working at the young person’s pace and understanding their needs.

SWH: What are the main barriers affecting young people in Northern Ireland?

SW: Overall youth unemployment remains consistently high at 17.5 per cent in Northern Ireland, this is three times that of the adult population.  There are high levels of suicide and self-harm among young people generally, as well as other recognised mental health issues, including severe depression and anxiety.  Almost half of children in care or placed in custody at the Juvenile Justice Centre have serious mental health concerns.

We work specifically with 16-24 year olds from socially disadvantaged areas, have had poor educational experiences, have committed or are at risk of committing crime, misuse drugs and/or alcohol, engage in unsafe or harmful sexual behaviour or at risk of being harmed themselves.   All of the young people we work with are not in education, employment or training and many will have experience of the care system.

Education and employment is a huge barrier for young people in care.  Almost 3,000 children are in the care of the state here and only a quarter will go on to achieve five GCSE’s (grade A*-C) compared with more than 80 per cent of the general school population.  More than 350 young people aged 16 to 21 in care here are not in education, employment or training at any one time.  The unemployment rate for care leavers is double that of young people who grew up in the community.

SWH: What types of challenges have you run into?

SW: How children and young people are perceived in their community is a real challenge for Include Youth. A simple thing like how a young person might be portrayed in the media can impact on social policy is made and on how services to children and young people are delivered.

The young people we work are often most in need or at risk, yet do not have their voices heard and acted upon by organisational representatives and decision-makers.  This means the most vulnerable young people in society are more likely to suffer the consequences of inadequate policies and poor services.

Piecemeal and short-term funding is a challenge for our organisation, as to address the long-term needs of children in care a more sustained and cohesive approach is needed.  There is funding available for short-term projects, which will only ever help long-term goals to an extent.

SWH: Do you think enough is being done to help children in care?

SW: Too many young people from a care background are being detained in the Juvenile Justice Centre under PACE because suitable accommodation cannot be found.  Custody should only be used as a last resort, so not enough is being done to redress the overrepresentation of looked after children within the justice system.

In figures supplied to us by the Youth Justice Agency looked after children represented 40% of individual young people admitted under PACE, between October 2014-September 2015.  Up to 50% of these young people did not receive a custodial sentence, evidence that custody is not being used as a last resort.

We also continually look to Scotland to see what is happening there, as they tend to have more positive policies and practices around their responsibility to children and young people in care.  However some progress has been made to increase labour market opportunities for young people in care.  Business in the Community and Include Youth run targeted initiatives and the Employability Services run by all five health and social care trusts.  Each health and social care trust has employability and guidance schemes in place to help prepare young people for employment and have developed a range of service models, for example, ring-fenced posts and social clause provision in partnership with a number of companies.

SWH: What other vulnerable groups of young people does Include Youth support?

SW: We work in partnership with community-based organisations to deliver cross-community or employability programmes to young people aged 16-24.  Most of these young people won’t have experience of care, therefore their needs vary from young parents, to carers, substance abuse issues to early school leavers.

We also lobby on behalf of children and young people in our formal youth justice system.  Currently 10 year olds living in Northern Ireland can be arrested, prosecuted, get a criminal record and even be locked up however we’re seeking legislative change so that 10 and 11 year olds who commit crime are dealt with in a much more effective way.

SWH: Is there any way people can support Include Youth?

SW: There are a number of different ways people can support our work.  If you’re an employer, public, private or charity sector you may be able to provide a workplace tour or experience for the young people on our programmes or you may wish to join our Board of Directors.  We’re also always on the lookout for volunteer mentors who can support a young person in their area on a one to one basis.  Finally, you can get involved in our Raise the Age campaign and help us raise the age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland.

SWH: What is next for Include Youth?

SW: To continually improve our services for the young people we work with.

You can keep up-to-date with Include Youth on Facebook, Twitter and their website on the latest services they offer young people in Northern Ireland.

Empowering Youth Leaders for Activism and Action

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For those of you who may not know, February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). When we think of intimate partner violence, we tend to look at it as a common issue for adults. However, intimate partner violence affects the lives of our youth far more often than we think. According to LoveIsRespect.org, “one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults.”

It is imperative for social workers and service providers to work collaboratively in providing support and resources to our youth in an effort to help them become empowered adults. As this month comes to an end, the National Resource Center for Domestic Violence has orchestrated a global discussion on “Empowered Youth in the Margins: Activism to Action”.

If you are interested in learning more about teen dating violence, you can join the live twitter chat happening tonight on twitter using the hashtag #youthleaders. For more information on the organizations participating in the chat and how to engage in a live twitter chat, view the information below:

Host Organization

This chat will highlight  youth-led social justice efforts at the intersections of oppression and violence. Youth leaders from statewide and community-based social justice  initiatives will share their experiences and perspectives. Join us to learn  and share how empowered youth on the margins are advancing our movement!

Participating Organizations

Break the Cycle inspires and supports young people to build healthy relationships and create a culture without abuse. Our dynamic and diverse team believes that all young people deserve to live in a world where they can thrive. Our values and work centers young people and their lived realities, leadership, vision, and hopes for the future.

GLASS is a safe space for youth 13-25 where YOU can chill, meet other LGBTQQ youth and access some of our many services.

Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network aims to mobilize Latinas and Latino communities to end domestic violence.

The Family & Youth Services Bureau supports organizations & communities that work to , & .

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works to create a society free of discrimination based on gender identity, HIV status & sexual orientation.

Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Working to prevent and eliminate domestic violence, until the violence ends.

National Youth Violence Prevention Week is April 4-8. Start planning your activities now!

The Network/La Red is a survivor-led, social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in LGBQ/T, BDSM and polyamorous communities.

Social Work Helper is a progressive online news magazine dedicated to elevating news, information, and sometimes entertainment relating to social work, social issues, and social good.

How to Participate in Tonight’s Twitter Chat

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