White Coats for Black Lives Launch National Organization on MLK Day

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Upon matriculating in medical school, students recite the Hippocratic Oath, declaring their commitment to promoting the health and well-being of their communities. On December 10, 2014, students from over 80 medical schools across the United States acted in the spirit of that oath as we participated in a “die in” to protest racism and police brutality. In our action, we called attention to grim facts about the public health consequences of racism, acknowledged the complicity of the medical profession in sustaining racial inequality, and challenged a system of medical care that denies necessary treatment to patients unable to pay for it, disproportionately patients of color.

In celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we announce the founding of a national medical student organization, White Coats for Black Lives. This organization brings together medical students from across the country to pursue three primary goals:

  1. To eliminate racism as a public health hazard.
    Racism has a devastating impact on the health and well-being of people of color. Tremendous disparities in housing, education, and job opportunities cut short the average Black life by four years. Physicians, physician organizations, and medical institutions must therefore publicly recognize and fight against the significant adverse effects of racism on public health. We additionally advocate for increased funding and promotion of research on the health effects of racism.
  2. To end racial discrimination in medical care.
    We recognize that insurance status serves in our healthcare system as a “colorblind” means of racial discrimination. While it is illegal to turn patients away from a hospital or practice because of their race, patients across the country are frequently denied care because they have public insurance or lack health insurance. We support the creation of a single payer national health insurance system that would give all Americans equal access to the healthcare they need. Such a system would create a payment structure that reflects the fact that “Black lives matter.” Moreover, ample evidence suggests that patients of color receive inferior care even when they are able to see a doctor or nurse; we therefore advocate for the allocation of funding for research on unconscious bias and racism in the delivery of medical care.
  3. To create a physician workforce engaged with the struggle for racial justice.
    Adequately addressing the health effects of racism within and outside of medicine requires a physician workforce that fully reflects our nation’s diversity. Black people currently comprise only 4% of the physician workforce, despite making up 13% of the national (and patient) population; Latino and Native American students are similarly underrepresented. We call on medical schools to improve the recruitment and support of Black, Latino, and Native American medical students and faculty, and to bring their representation in medical schools in line with national demographics. We further call for the creation of national medical school curricular standards that include information about the history of racism in medicine, unconscious racial bias in medical decision making, and strategies for dismantling structural racism.

In founding White Coats for Black Lives, we hope to add our voices to the growing national movement demanding accountability, justice, and an end to racism, and we seek to honor our profession’s pledge to counter those forces that might unduly or unjustly cut short the lives of our fellow human beings.

Media Contact

White Coats for Black Lives National Steering Committee |  whitecoats4blacklives@gmail.com

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Quest for Social Justice

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President Ronald Reagan signing law establishing a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as his widow Coretta Scott King looks on.

Those of us who have been around for a few decades can remember when having this day to reflect on the transformative life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. appeared to be another dream just beyond our grasp. But thanks to many Americans, most notably Congressman John Conyers, the late former Senator Edward Brooke, and composer-musician Stevie Wonder, we have this day to remember a man who was the personification of social justice. His assassination on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39 years shocked a nation that was still trying to heal from the death of another iconic figure President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated on November 22, 1963, less than five years before Dr. King was killed. Fifteen years later, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 98-144 designating the third Monday of January as a national holiday honoring Dr. King.

More than any profession, social work embodies Dr. King’s commitment to social justice. Today is a fitting time to focus attention on a particular section of the National Association of Social Work’s Code of Ethics: “Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision-making for all people.”

From the time Rep. Conyers introduced a bill to establish a holiday in Dr. King’s honor four days after his assassination until the signing of the legislation, countless debates took place, heated arguments flooded the airways, and many protests were held on both sides of the issue. One turning point in the effort to establish a day in Dr. King’s honor was the release of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” in 1980 that became the rallying cry for millions who believed Dr. King deserved a holiday—not just because he was a great man—but that the nation needed a day to reflect on why his life’s work was needed and some time to consider the progress that has been made. Stevie’s musical tribute and six million signatures on a petition to Congress paved the way for passage of the legislation. There has been some progress made in advancing social justice since his Dr. King’s death, but we still have much more to do.

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As we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this holiday, let us renew our commitment to his dream of social justice. Let us take pride in the work social workers are doing at all levels of services. Social workers empower individuals and families. Social workers manage agencies and organizations. Social workers build communities. Social workers craft policy and legislation. Be proud to be a social worker on the frontlines of the fight for social justice.This is a new year and I will be changing the name of my blog. Beyond Advocacy speaks to the need for social work to flex its policymaking muscles in order to address some of the most vexing problems confronting our society—many negatively impacting low- and middle-income individuals and families.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how—in my humble opinion—the Democratic Party seems to be lacking a compelling message of hope that would draw people to the polls to support progressive candidates. Since social workers regard ourselves as purveyors of hope, we need to have a stronger voice in the policymaking process. It is critical that our researchers provide meaningful justification for policies that will reduce economic inequality, protect workers’ rights, limit the amount of money flowing through the political system, and decrease the number of Americans being locked behind bars. These are just a few of the issues that we face in the coming years.

NASW is Failing LGBT Americans

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The year 2014 was filled with significant momentum towards a more equal nation for individuals identifying as LGBT. After dozens of federal court rulings striking down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional, marriage equality became the law in 19 additional states. In a matter of months, more states ushered in marriage equality than in the entire history of the nation. By the end of 2014, a total of 35 states and the District of Columbia were all allowing same-sex individuals to marry the partner they love.

The momentum for change was welcomed by President Obama and the Administration, who changed policies and enacted protections to ensure that married same-sex couples could file taxes jointly, receive Social Security and Veteran’s Administration benefits from their spouse, and take advantage of the nearly 1,200 federal protections and benefits of marriage. The President also issued an Executive Order protecting all 14 million federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With this new law, the President advanced the most significant protections for LGBT individuals in the history of our nation. To help craft these protections, the President worked hand-in-hand with major civil rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others. Groups advocating on behalf of LGBT Americans were offered an unprecedented seat at the table, helping to shape significant civil rights protections for millions of Americans. Noticeably absent from these efforts was the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

The NASW is the national organization that represents the profession of social work, a profession founded on the core mission of advancing social justice and ending discrimination. Embedded throughout the NASW’s Code of Ethics is a clearly outlined ethical responsibility for all social workers to actively engage in social change efforts. In fact, the first two guiding ethical principles of the profession are to “help people in need and to address social problems” and to “challenge social injustice.” But is the NASW practicing what they preach? Have they been on the forefront by fighting for rights of LGBT individuals? Have they led the public discourse on the matter? Have they rallied social workers together to fight for advancement of LGBT rights?

Not in the least. In my opinion, they’ve done something much worse: they’ve remained silent. With all of the advancements in the rights of LGBT individuals last year, there were no statements released by NASW commending any of them. I combed every Facebook post made by NASW in 2014, not a single one of them pertained to LGBT Americans. When I asked the Florida chapter to release a statement on the state becoming the latest to allow same-sex marriages, I was directed to this statement by NASW released 11 years ago. An 11 year old statement is what we call advocacy? Is this how our profession fights for the rights of all people? While the President was passing the first and only anti-discrimination law in our nation’s history, the NASW called out of work. While countless federal courts struck down discriminatory bans on gay rights, NASW was taking a vacation. When asked to release a statement, NASW was on lunch break.

My point in writing this article is simple: it’s time for NASW to get back to work. Social injustices continue to be common place for individuals identifying as LGBT. Opponents continue to fight for laws aimed at disenfranchising and discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The rights of individuals and the advancement of our society depend on the hard work and relentless voices of strong advocates. There is no reason NASW couldn’t be the strongest social advocacy organization in the nation, if it so chose.

Equal rights for LGBT Americans can and will be achieved in my lifetime. As a social worker, I’ll continue to advocate for the rights of all individuals as part of my core commitment to the profession. The question is: will NASW be joining me?

NASW Florida released the following statement on Facebook: “NASW-FL congratulates the couples getting married today as we celebrate Florida becoming the 36th state to achieve marriage equality!”

*Update:

Valarie Arendt, member of NASW-NC, posted a response on Facebook stating,

This is 100% not true. NASW has published 9 articles in 2014 alone on LGBTQ issues and the importance of social work support for this community. Just because NASW didn’t use Facebook to communicate their efforts doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The author of this article should have done his research before making such claims.

Valerie, thank you for your comment. I did review the website that you linked to in your comment prior to writing the article. The website lists 2 resources for the year 2014 (“Paying an Unfair Price ” and “A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming”). The first article was “sponsored by NASW” and the later is a document from SAMHSA that was “endorsed by NASW”. If you can send me a link with the 9 articles released in 2014 I will review them and edit my article if needed. I spent quite a bit of time on NASW’s website researching this issue.

The main take-away from my article is not that NASW has never broached LGBT issues, it’s their deafening silence and failure to rally social workers into action when the issue reached a critical turning point over the last year. That’s why I combed their Facebook posts and press releases for the last year. I was looking for statements of support for LGBT advancements, statements condoning discriminatory policies, or calls to action for the social work community. None of which happened.

Endorsing articles is great, but my article is saying that they aren’t doing enough to advocate and promote social change for the LGBT population. In contrast, the APA was constantly engaging their professional community and actively seeking opportunities to advance social justice for the LGBT population. They also don’t hide their many resources on an obscure part of their website. They embrace the work they’re doing with the LGBT populations. Social workers are agents of change.

Editor’s note: The National Association of Social Workers has a national office with chapters in each state as well as US Territories. There have been several amicus briefs (friend of the court filings) on behalf of same sex individuals in various states.

Why the Grand Jury Decision in Ferguson Will Continue to Lead to Violence

Everything I say below has been said before, but I want to make it clear that mine is yet another voice from outside of the United States added to the millions of others who are despairing about the events currently unfolding in America.

There is a recurring dream I have where someone I trust betrays me and the betrayal fills me with hurt and anger. The specifics of what that person has done changes from dream to dream but the feeling of intense pain is consistent.

when-you-areIn my dream, I pour my heart out to the person who has hurt me, explaining why their actions have caused so much damage. The offender responds by ignoring me and turning their back. The simple gesture of them turning their back on me almost hurts more than the original betrayal and the pain intensifies through sheer frustration as my suffering remains ignored.

Watching the protests, both in America and London, at the decision of the Grand Jury not to prosecute the Police Officer who shot Mike Brown, I was reminded of that dream. As I watched Mike Brown’s Mother receive the verdict, I saw a second wave of pain flow over her, almost as if she were receiving the news of her son’s death for the first time. Whilst most of us knew that the verdict would not have gone any other way, we all, deep-down held hope that for once- just for once- the outcome might be different.

But of course it wasn’t different, and now citizens across America, as well as those watching the events on television all around the world, are left with feelings of confusion, anger and frustration.

The verdict seems to have re-taught us a lesson which we hoped was out of date. The verdict taught us that some lives are not as valuable as others and that the law does not protect everyone equally. To know that your son, if he is a black male, can be shot and killed by a Police officer whilst he holds his hands up in surrender, and then know that the law will do nothing to prosecute his killer, is the ultimate sign that the law will not only hurt you, but it will ignore your pain.

When placed in the situation where your demands for justice are rejected through “legally accepted channels”, what options are you left with?

I, personally, would never advocate for violence. However in the face of such apparent powerlessness, as we see in Ferguson, I understand why people may resort to rioting.

The facts are this: Firstly, a young man was killed by the state. Secondly, history and personal experience tells us that the police, courts and politicians do lie, again and again. Thirdly, the statement given by Darren Wilson was flawed, and at the very least Mike Brown’s family should expect a thorough investigation and fair trial.

Without this, we cannot simply ask people to accept the verdict and move on. If we ask people to accept the verdict then we are asking them to accept that Mike Brown deserved to die. We would be asking them to accept the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. All of these deaths were unjust and collectively we know and feel that injustice deep-down. We know, as Andrew Boyd says, that our “destiny is bound with the destinies of others.”

Serious work must start now to create a law enforcement system that people can trust; that people know not to be racist and that does not kill an unarmed man. If these problems are not addressed then peaceful protest will no longer be an option for many for whom the injustice hurts too much.

Teaching for Change

Why are you a teacher, and what is the point of doing the job you do? Teachers really need to think about those questions and hopefully reflect beyond the surface answers of wanting to “inspire” students. I doubt any of us really got into teaching to “fill gaps in the labour market” or decided that their true passion in life was watching students fill out multiple choice tests.

For most of us, I would say that at some level we decided to be a teacher to affect change in the lives of students and the communities in which we serve. We felt a connection to a profession in which we could work with children and youth to promote qualities that may have been lacking in the world as we saw it.

change-4-1imepycHowever, for any of us that have been teaching for any length of time. you have probably seen how the inequalities of our world have impacted our students and their ability to learn. Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and homophobia, amongst many more forms of oppression, infiltrate the walls of our schools and shape the real world experiences of our students.

Regardless if our students come from a place of privilege or oppression, these issues impact our classrooms and challenge us to confront them to ensure that the students we care for can overcome these issues as well as not perpetuate them as they move from youth to adults.

For teachers, it means that we cannot be ignorant to how these issues impact education and the lives of our students. Teaching is an inherently political act as the decisions we make from choosing to ignore these issues or confronting them demonstrates to our students the attitude we should have towards the major issues of our times.

If we want our students to have a chance of following their passions in life and to take on the major social and environmental issues of our time, we need to demonstrate a sense of courageous teaching that is not afraid to speak out against the issues that impact education and our students. Teachers must act in a way that promotes the ideals we strive for that would create a more democratic and equitable world for all.

That is why it is necessary that teachers eliminate the ideas of objectivity and neutrality from their practice. As one of the greatest educators of the 20th century, Paulo Freire said, “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”. As we see governments take on more austerity measures against education systems and demonize teachers in the media, it is essential that we assert ourselves as a profession that has the power to change society.

It is my hope that if you are a teacher reading this, you will join me in embracing a radical vision of what your teaching practice and the education system you work in could be. Teachers, in partnership with their union and other ally organizations, must understand the power we can have if we understand the principles of social justice and democracy. When you signed up to be a teacher, you also signed up to advocate for your students. I hope you’ll join me, and many other teachers, advocating for a more just and equitable world free from oppression for all people.

Until that day happens, teachers must engage in the long-term struggle for justice both in and outside of their classrooms. Social justice must be a centerpiece for why we teach and we must advocate for social justice as a framework for understanding teaching and education to our elected officials, unions and all others concerned with making the world a better place.

Social Work, Social Media, and Dispelling Social Stigmas

When people think of working professionals on social media, often there is a negative connotation that comes to mind. Many have used social media to express their personal viewpoints or to portray an image that has negative implications on their credibility and career.

However, in the field of social work, maintaining an air of professionalism while exercising confidentiality and discretion is especially important. However, despite having to navigate around some professional landmines, social media can be a valuable outlet for social workers to enact social change and address controversial issues.

pr_socialmedia_twitterbird1Popular media today has a tremendous impact on the collective consumer consciousness while negative portrayals of social workers on television have had a profound negative impact on the perception of social workers.

One of the most widely publicized examples is the portrayal of a social worker in BBC’s story of east Enders, where a social worker takes away an infant from her teenage mother.

With the widespread audience that is privy to this type of negative exposure, it is important for social workers to collectively combat the misconceptions about their profession, and those they serve.

Social Media and blogging can be an extremely effective tool in this effort. With over 33 million people in our nation using the internet daily, social media provides tremendous access. There have been a couple of shining examples of social workers effectively utilizing these channels. One of the foremost examples that come to mind is Masked AMHP; a British blog that focuses on the moral dilemmas that social workers face, and the proper manner in which to address them.

In addition to efforts by bloggers to clear up misconceptions about social workers, other social media channels can be a tremendous value added to the social work community. Not only can colleagues use these networks to connect and collaborate with ease, but channels such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to dispel societal misconceptions about the various ailments treated by caseworkers.

f you’ve followed the recent Ebola scare, you are likely well-versed in how misconceptions can spread.  The real disease, oftentimes, is ignorance. We need leaders in the social work community to step up publicly and combat the rampant misinformation that others purvey online.

Like Ebola, there are also widespread misconceptions and mental ailments that social workers deal with on a daily basis.  These are Issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, and behavioral, emotional, and mental issues.  These issues go unseen by many people and untalked about by those who know the most about them. However, the use of social media is becoming more widely accepted in the industry.

Empowering workers with the information they need to utilize these channels properly has been a huge hurdle to overcome. Equipped with the knowledge of how to use these tools, and do so properly, the next generation of social workers will have the tools they need to promote social justice.

Top 4 Ways to Improve #SocialWork

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Recently, I wrote an article entitled, The Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing, which has become one of the most read and searched for articles on Social Work Helper since its inception. Whether you agree or disagree with my reasons, we all can agree that social work has some serious issues that must be addressed in order to improve outcomes for social workers as well as the perceptions of our profession with the public. Social work institutions are not providing adequate resources or responses to assist social work students and practitioners engaging or who want to engage in grassroots organizing, social justice advocacy, and public policy reforms.

Part of the job of a social worker is to assess and define the problem, but the other part of our job is to look for interventions to implement in order to limit the effects of the problem while adding protective factors to help increase outcomes. In an effort to be solution focused, I went on search to find actionable interventions that we could implement without needing an “Act of Congress” to get the ball moving. Social workers are the first responders to society’s social problems because we engage people from birth to death in all aspects of their life.

As a social worker, I have counseled an oil executive whose life was failing apart, an engineer after an all night drinking bender, a school teacher contemplating suicide, a man who has taken his family hostage at gun point, and a woman who was shot by her partner to name a few. Pain is universal, and it is not limited by socioeconomic boundaries which is why its imperative for social workers to be apart of the conversations developing public policy.

For Students 

As a future practitioner, you will not be able to work in a vacuum which means you will have to interact with other disciplines in order to be effective in practice. However, social work students rarely interact with disciplines outside of their programs or with social work students from other schools. By working in concert with other disciplines at the higher learning level, we are our best examples of how social work skills translate into other areas.

RICNDue to our isolative nature, what opportunities are we not taking advantage of that will serve us later in the workforce? It’s great to have social work clubs and organizations to increase collaborations within our profession, but it is also equally important to form partnerships and collaborations outside of the profession.

For students, I recommend seeking out the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network at your university, or starting a chapter if your university does not have one.

According the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Website,

Campus Network develops local laboratories of democracy and policy experimentation where young people can work with community members to innovate, scale, and replicate the best ideas and policy initiatives emerging from our generation.Students have changed policies around predatory lending; established a tax fund in New Haven capable of sending every high-school graduate to college tuition free; and even included an automatic healthcare enrollment policy in the Affordable Care Act. Read More

Don’t miss out on available workshops, fellowships, and connections with community partners because you are afraid to step outside of our social work bubble.

For Practitioners

In school, most of the time, you have access to a support system through your professors, peers, and other services. However, once you enter the profession, it feels like your professional support system diminishes. Many schools don’t dump a lot of resources into developing strong and thriving alumni networks in order to maintain connections to former students that will allow us to interact with each other. Many social workers, especially those on the lower end pay spectrum, may not be able to afford access to a professional association membership or costs for conferences to gain those connections.

alumnifyMany social workers have turned to social media in attempt to forge those connections, but most would prefer an option for these connections to be an extension of their university community. Social media constructs like Linkedin are not designed for you to connect with each other within a Linkedin Group. How do you find alumni in your area when you are looking for a mentor or trying to expand your network for possible employment opportunities?

For practitioners, I recommend to request that your School of Social Work add an Alumnify Network for its graduates.

According to the Alumnify Website:

Alumnify will give alumni the ability to sign in with LinkedIn and receive data on their professional career and interests. It will allow graduates to find each other in their immediate area, making it as easy as possible to grab coffee and network. Alumnify also provides interactive and modern data that helps universities reach your alumni and understand them like never before. Read More

Currently, Schools of Social Work are making important school policies based on a couple of  hundred surveys they can get people to answer. Alumni get tired of the robocalls and email requests only they want something, and we begin to tune them after the second year we leave school. Why wouldn’t they implement a mutually beneficial system which could be free to users or for a modest fee to offset cost?

For Schools of Social Work

If we are going to advance our profession, we need to be engaging in the national conversations and social issues of our day. Social Workers are attempting to find ways to do this on their own, but utilizing social media improperly can have the opposite intended effect. Earlier this month, I wrote another article on how to reduce risks to employment when using social media where I stated,

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As a profession, we can not begin the journey of leveraging online technology and social media to advance social work because we are stuck having conversations about account creation, security, and ethical use. These things should always be ongoing conversations, but we have got to start making advances in tech education and training.

Agencies, associations, and social work faculty can not adequately answer or provide solutions because most don’t use social media or they utilize outside firms to meet their social media needs. There is nothing wrong with contracting out to meet the needs of your organization, but we must also have mechanisms in place to address social workers’ technological IQ at the micro and mezzo levels. Read More

Social Workers should be engaging in national awareness campaigns which can provide many opportunities to showcase our areas of practice and engagement on social policy issues.  Schools of Social Work should be leading the charge, and when used properly, these could become valuable marketing tools for your university while engaging community stakeholders.

If anyone is interested, take a photo or do a vine using the hashtags #TurnOutForWhat and #SocialWork telling why you are turning out to vote on November 4th. Then, tweet to @swhelpercom, share on SWH Facebook Fan Page, or tag me on instagram. I will be happy to share and promote the issues that you care about.

Learn How to Use Twitter Effectively

When I first started blogging, twitter was the number one tool I used to connect with people. In turn, I credit Twitter as the number one factor in growing Social Work Helper’s readership. Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter does not place limits on who you can follow, who can follow you, or who you can tweet to.

If you decide to tweet a member of Congress or parliament, you may actually get a tweet back. Some of my twitter highlights include a tweet from the Oprah Winfrey Network and being retweeted by the US Department of Labor and Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union.

As an individual, you don’t have to wait until #socialwork get its act together and do a better job at promoting the profession. This is something that we can start doing today.

Is Politics Failing Social Work or is Social Work Failing at Politics?

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Current news events seem to be rife with stories relevant to social work while continuing to highlight our lack of presence in those conversations. Suicide, police shootings, more school shootings, corporal punishment, and domestic violence are issues that stick out on a very long list . Various articles on this website have challenged us to think about social worker’s role in these mainstream stories.

The ultimate gauntlet was thrown by Dr. Steven Perry and his speech on C-SPAN that we are “too silent” on issues of access and social justice.  We are in the trenches on the frontline, and we need to increase public awareness on the efforts of social workers in order to affect public policy making decisions.

Prior to listening to Dr. Perry’s speech, I honestly thought the answer to this question was that politics has been failing social workers, but Dr. Perry calls us out on how we can do more and should be doing a lot more. As social workers, we are interested in making a change, but it is how we go about it that is coming into question. What the above speech and article do (excellently) is get us to think about where and how we want to be involved. Social Workers need to be involved more in politics.

Where I struggle with politics is the much talked about notion of “Policy to Practice”. As people in the helping profession, we all have a notion of what helping others entails. We have the power to help heal individuals, families, schools, and communities yet our voice is not always heard by policy makers. Similar to Dr. Perry, I wondered why our expertise and knowledge continues to not inform policy. What gets in the way?

Social work is becoming more and more about the bottom line. We get messages to use programs that are “evidence based”, “increase productivity”, and “reduce cost”. Interventions that accomplishes all three of these things may get the funding or not. However, despite meeting this criterion, these programs don’t always appear to “make the cut.”  Here are some examples to illustrate this further.

First, lumping together both foster care and juvenile justice together to discuss prevention programs and increasing outcomes. There appears to be a lot of concern about the money we are spending on foster care, out of home placement, and juvenile justice centers. As someone who coordinates care with young people who are at risk for out of home placement, there is a lack of intensive preventive services. There are huge waiting lists for the small amount of slots available. We know prevention services work, however my observation is that these programs are actually getting cut. Are politicians aware of this?

Another example of failed policies and lack of evidence based interventions being funded can be seen in how homelessness is being addressed. According to a press release by The U.S. Housing and Urban development in 2010,

“When an individual or a family becomes homeless for the first time, the cost of providing them housing and services can vary widely, from $581 a month for an individual’s stay in an emergency shelter in Des Moines, Iowa to as much as $3,530 for a family’s monthly stay in emergency shelter in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today released three studies on the cost of ‘first-time’ homelessness; life after transitional housing for homeless families; and strategies for improving access to mainstream benefits programs”

Services to prevent homelessness seem few and far between. For a homeless family, $3,000 per month can go a long way to finding someone permanent, stable housing. Social Workers are on the frontline, and we see what works as well as what our clients need. We apparently need to demonstrate to policy makers that what we do has “return on investment.”  Investing $3,000 a month to teach families to be more self-sufficient, knock down barriers to unemployment, and access to substance abuse and/or mental health treatment will save more money so individuals and families don’t need to become homeless in order to get services.

Are we ensuring policy makers know that we are fighting for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed on a daily basis to help improve their quality of life and to reduce dependency on government services? This is the challenge that we need to take head on, and Dr. Perry reminds us of how powerful social workers can be at the policy making level. To truly serve our clients, we have to address and engage on a policy level because helping one client at a time is only temporary fix which may be impeded further without proper funding.

To truly serve our clients, we have to address and engage on a policy level because helping one client at a time is only a temporary fix which may be impeded further without proper funding. Social Work has power and let’s take up the challenge to find new ways to use it. Dr. Perry has called us out and please find your way to answer the call.

Five Social Justice Challenges to Teachers

As the new school year is underway, I just wanted to take a moment to urge teachers to think about how social justice issues impact their classrooms. I’ve listed 5 social justice challenges to teachers below to encourage us to think about how we interact, teach and organize our classrooms to promote equity and justice.

sjToo often, and especially at the beginning of a school year, I see teachers becoming concerned about having the “right” posters on the wall or trying to become an expert at the latest “technological innovation” in teaching. As great as technology can be in a classroom, teaching and learning is about human interaction. At the heart of that interaction can be a shared commitment to learning through a social justice framework.

Here are my five social justice challenges to teachers:

  1. Create a safe and equitable classroom for LGBTQ students. If we want to create an inclusive classroom where students care for each other, we must instill a culture that embraces all students in the classroom. Here is a resource to help  http://glsen.org/educate/resources/back-school-guide-educators
  2. Learn about how colonialism impacts teaching and education. If you’re a teacher in Canada then you must be aware that colonialism is not just a thing of the past, but a process that continues to this day. Many of us teachers are settlers on Indigenous lands and must understand that we have a role to play in the decolonization process. Check this out-http://blogs.ubc.ca/edst591/files/2012/03/Decolonizing_Pedagogies_Booklet.pdf

  3. Do not be afraid to talk about race with your students. Despite what many mainstream commentators are saying, we do not live in a “post-racial society”. Canada is not immune to racial inequality. I urge you to learn about Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women as well as how the issues in Ferguson, Missouri highlight racial inequality.

  4. Understand how poverty can impact your students lives. Often times, we blame individual students for their behaviours without looking at the context of the environments that they live in. Poverty has a an immense impact on a student’s ability to succeed in the classroom. As teachers, we see this first hand. When we signed up to become teachers, we also signed up to advocate for our students. Get involved in your community and ask how you can be a part of the solution to create the social change to eliminate poverty.

  5. Don’t hesitate to take on controversial issues in the classroom. A great example is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Students must use their classroom experiences to make sense of the world they live in. If we do not prepare them to engage in the task of understanding the world, then we do them a great disservice. Below is a short and good video to help kick off a discussion about Israel and Palestine.

I could add many more challenges to this list, but I think these are 5 good places to start. Obviously, you can tailor these challenges to the appropriate grade level and learning needs of your students. If you approach these challenges with authenticity and a willingness to learn, then you just may find that you’ve opened a door to new possibilities about the purpose of your role as a teacher. It definitely did for me, I hope it does for you.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y58njT2oXfE[/youtube]

After #Ferguson: Taking a Stand in Governance

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In the wake of #Ferguson, we can all agree that something needs to be done. I think we can all agree that we need to stand in a way we haven’t for many years. We need to take responsibility for what is going on in our communities. We need to do better and there are ideas as to how to do this.

According to a recent article in The Root, it argues that “Black America Needs Its Own President”, and I wholeheartedly disagree. For years, we had something akin to this in the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson but then we are still having the same conversations. We are still reactive and not largely proactive. We are still asking for the same things and making the same demands.

We don’t need our own president what we need is to take responsibilities for ourselves and form a coalition to directly address behaviour, policies and practices that are detrimental to the way we are viewed globally and treated locally. They need to be able to directly and assertively lobby for changes that obliterate racial disparities.

We need to develop a caucus that goes into our communities where there are issues and organize strategic action that doesn’t include violence or destroying our own communities. We are a people of immense and immeasureable talent and potential. We need representative voices that are not only saying something new but are about real action – strategic and targeted that would uplift and empower our communities.

Having one person we look to when things go wrong isn’t the answer. We are a diverse people living in diverse communities all over the country. If we had a caucus where individual leaders from Black communities could come together we can start having the conversations that lead to action plans. We need to address our economic needs and start to build community wealth so we are in a position to help each other instead of relying on others.

There is no reason our community shouldn’t be as prosperous as others. It isn’t about amassing wealth as much as it about being able to help our own through crisis. So many have been doing it for so long, meanwhile we are still waiting for our 40 acres. I can’t stand people who continue to perpetuate a myth. We are the only people who rely on our oppressors for progress. Are we serious? This is why we have made progress but have not become leaders and drivers of changes in our communities.

I agree that there needs to be a Black presence to represent our interests but it does not need to come in the form of one person who is on the media stage. It would be more empowering to go into communities and help develop local leaders who can then come to the table to represent their communities.

The problems individual communities face are problems our community faces on the whole. There are those who still see our problems as the problem of “Black Americans”, having amassed their own wealth through hard work and dedication and I believe this is what is needed. But we also need to realise that the resources to achieve this are not readily available to everyone and there are communities that are systematically disenfranchised and would benefit from assistance and motivation from their peers in order to see and experience success. We need to help each other out of the trenches and onto the the path of prosperity.

There is no reason for us to rely on others to take us out of the shadows; we have everything we need within. It is about having the conversations (new one because quite frankly, there have been apologies for slavery, we need to stop expecting our oppressors to help us progress – i.e. move away from the fairy tale of our 40 acres and a mule, and we need to wholly understand the impact of racism ourselves) that will lead to strategic plans to impact the world around us so it will change in favor of us.

A coalition of communities leaders could do this. Yes they will come with their own agendas and understandably, so they come from varied communities. However, it doesn’t change the fact that there are some issues that are pervasive and need to be addressed. We can balance the two, addressing issues of the Black community as a whole while helping individual communities develop.

To be more specific I think the remit of a caucus or a coalition could be:

  • making “community call outs” on any prominent figures – local, nationally, or internationally – who are doing or saying things that are counterproductive to change, prosperity and progression.
  • manage image of the Black community in the media
  • manage community issues before they become national statistics and fodder for stereotyping
  • sending consultants to communities to help in times of crisis (public relations, organizing, creating strategic actions plans for change led by local leaders)
  • sending consultants to communities where leaders appeal to the caucus for assistance
  • training of local community on change management, building community resources, and training local “champions” to manage local political processes
  • aiding in ensuring there is equal political representation and policing in communities where Black people dominate the population (to start)
  • re establishing town hall meetings as a means of addressing local issues and manage them independently
  • building of funds to fund community interventions
  • financial drives: possibly local drives to address their own issues
  • national drives: appeals to organizations and representation for national crisis fund

We have all the talent and ability to unite and do better. Having a national voice is part of it but listening to local voices is the bulk of it. Let’s build on what we have to increase what we have.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Milwaukee Community Journal

The Michael Brown Shooting: Why the Requirement for ‘Perfect’ Victims is About Race

By the time Norma L. McCorvey was 21, she had abused drugs and was on her third child. While carrying that third child, her scheme to falsely claim she was raped in order to obtain a legal abortion put her in the path of attorneys seeking to challenge U.S. abortion laws. Those attorneys who would make her (as “Jane Roe”) the lead plaintiff in a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that would make abortion within the first three months of pregnancy legal for all women in America and halt the deadly practice of amateur, underground abortions: Roe v. Wade. Subsequently, McCorvey, despite her background, became a national symbol of women’s rights and the fight against female oppression.

photo-2-for-ferguson-blog-post
via Twitter/PhillyPhill

Was McCorvey an angel? No. Was McCorvey free from teenage and young adulthood missteps? No. Was her right as a woman to make decisions about her own body worthy of justice and defense –regardless of her sketchy background story? Yes.

Enter Michael Brown, 18, of Ferguson, MO (2014).

An unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson. Community uproar and demand for accountability, justice and legal recourse for police brutality followed the shooting. Then on the day Ferguson police officials released Wilson’s name to the media, they also released a video allegedly showing Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store right before his shooting. Several days later, it was ‘leaked’ that an autopsy revealed Brown had marijuana in his system on the day he was killed.

The message being sent from the video and marijuana leak was clear: Brown wasn’t an angel. Therefore, because there were no wings found on his dead body, the legitimacy of the community and others fighting for his rights and seeking justice against police brutality should be questioned.

Those looking to understand why McCorvey’s backstory did not alter public and court perception about the need for justice in her case while the exact opposite plays out in the Brown case need only know this: McCorvey is white. Brown was African-American.

Sure, a situation in both the lives of McCorvey and Brown intersected with a long-standing discriminatory American policy/law, thus garnering demands for change. The difference is that in America, there is an expectation steeped in racism that African-American victims of injustice and/or those African-Americans fighting for justice should be beyond reproach, while white victims or justice fighters can be ‘flawed’ or ‘complex.’

Just look at the African-American symbols of injustice in some of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court cases and justice movements in history: James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi; Rosa Parks, who brought national attention to Jim Crow laws on public transportation; little pigtailed Ruby Bridges, 6, who stoically endured racists and violence while integrating a white Southern school; and Mildred Loving, the other half of the couple in Loving v. Virginia that struck down laws against interracial marriage. These people were so squeaky clean that if they were a floor, you could eat off of them.

Meanwhile, America is quite comfortable with its white heroes, leaders, and activists being flawed. What does it matter that Thomas Jefferson had essentially a second family with his slave Sally Hemings while President of the United States? Why should politician David Dukes let a little fact that he was a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan stop him from being voted in by the American people as a Louisiana State Representative? Who can forget the Oscar-winning performance by Julia Roberts of Real-life Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich. The film portrays Brockovich, as a struggling single mother, who was able to expose corporate environmental crime after being hired by a boss who, when first meeting her, was able to overlook her dressed with certain upper body parts hanging out to see her ‘passion’ and ‘potential.’

As the Brown case illustrates, even teenagers are not spared from this ridiculous double standard. For teenagers doing teenager stuff resonates quite differently when that teen is African-American. I can speak from past professional experience working in a treatment center serving white, rich kids, that marijuana use is not exclusive to African-American teenagers. Many of those kids had lied and stolen to support their drug habits. Some have been violent right before my eyes toward their parents seeking help for them. But with these teens – as with the infamous “affluenza” teen, Ethan Crouch, who killed four people while driving drunk and was sentenced to not-so-hard time in a treatment center – we are supposed to understand that not being fully mature, teenagers need our support, understanding, and second chances because they have – “potential.”

By contrast, the news that Brown may have had marijuana in his system, whether true or not, has been used to illustrate his being unworthy, a “thug” (aka, N-word), not deserving of empathy, but very deserving of being shot at least six times (twice in the head) by Wilson. One need only read Twitter feeds, listen to commentators on television news programs, or read the comment section of virtually any newspaper covering the story to see examples of this thinking.

Then the video of the alleged cigarillo ‘robbery’ was released, and the judgment was swift and decisive. “HP” wrote in the New York Times comment section that the video has convinced her “that incident is no longer between a Gentle Giant and rogue cop. It is between a felon and a cop.” And then in the same comment section, “David” of Chicago reminds us that Brown could reasonably have been expected to act aggressively toward Office Wilson because “as any psychologist will tell you, past behavior predicts future behavior.”

So, Brown, whom authorities have verified did not have a criminal record, is now labeled permanently in death as a “felon.” But, of course, that’s a fair assessment because, as “David” points out, what was done in your past is always what you will do in the future.

But, again, such reasoning only applies to African-American victims.

When then 20-year-old Caroline Giuliani, daughter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was arrested in 2010 for shoplifting at a Sephora in Manhattan, the worst she was called was “rebellious” (New York Post). The New York Daily News even went so far as to try to milk sympathy for her plight by calling her a “Poor Little Rich Girl,” while even interviewing a psychologist on what could motivate someone like her to steal. They even included a photo of her as a cute little girl to further drive home the point of her innate innocence to readers. Absent were the references to predictions of “future behavior” of the then Harvard student –– flawed, but worthy of a chance at a bright future. And unless my ears and eyes are failing me, I missed that psychological assessment in media accounts of Brown’s alleged cigarillo swipe.

The double-standard extends to those who are fighting against injustice, as well. Lest we forget, the Occupy Wall Street Movement took over – let me repeat – took over a park in downtown Manhattan for months, met police efforts to shut them down with righteous resistance. They disrupted as they raised awareness about economic inequality between the 99% and the One Percent. Yes, people were tear-gassed. Yes, people were arrested. Yes it was mayhem. Yes it was chaos. Yes it was an uprising watched worldwide. These people meant business. Now, there was some public and media resentment toward the movement, including Newt Gingrich famously telling the large hipster contingent of the movement to “go get a job right after you take a bath.” But unless my ears are failing me, I don’t recall these activists being referred to as “animals” deserving of being murdered by the police, despite whatever flaws critics thought Occupy protestors possessed.

But “animal” has actually been mild compared to other things said about African-American protestors in Ferguson. Some Americans have consistently questioned the protestors’ right to speak out about injustice toward the black community by whites because of “black on black crime,” looting,” and other irrelevant topics. In other words, how can a race of people, whose issues and actions are ‘complex’ and not perfect like their grandmother’s sweet potato pie, think they have the right to demand justice against police killing unarmed black men and women? That’s like saying white Americans should just sit back and accept the murders of loved ones at the hands of serial killers because the vast majority of serial killers are white males.

But, then again, one can’t really expect a logical assessment of Ferguson protestors from people who view them as racially inferior people whose lives are not worth much at all. “If looting and firebombing, destruction of property and violence is their reaction to everything, perhaps we haven’t shot enough?” asked “Kevin,” of Kansas, on a New York Times comment section, without any shame.

But not every white person in America is drinking that Kool-Aid. Some get the double standards in both word and deed. One poignant Ferguson protestor sign carried by a white male captured on Twitter read: “At 18 Yrs old in Festus, MO, I shot a cop with a BB Gun. Why am I still alive?”

People who are looking for perfection from fighters for justice are living in an alternate reality. For as history has shown, those who are willing to risk it all to right a wrong or correct injustice are not usually those who have the most to lose in the way of big and shiny things like cars, houses, boats, and the corner office. It is usually those with nothing left to lose, nowhere to go but up. And life at the bottom ain’t no crystal stair. Therefore, the people at the bottom will not be perfect. They may look the brother in the now famous Ferguson protest photo, who slings a fiery object back at police with one hand while holding a bag of potato chips in the other. But they will be courageous.

Author James Baldwin, himself a participant in the black Civil Rights’ Movement of the 60s, understood this formidable combination when he said: “the most dangerous creation in any society is the man who has nothing left to lose.”

But don’t’ be misled that this powerful fact is lost on those participating in the smear campaigns of Michael Brown, Eric Garner before him, Renisha McBride before him, Jordan Davis before her, and Trayvon Martin before him.

Their goal in focusing on the imperfections of victims and protestors is to silence minority concerns through de-legitimization. Their goal is to create a smoke screen to blind others to the obvious injustices. Their goal is to steer the discourse off-topic in hopes that it will remain there and never find its way back.

It’s an old tactic. It’s a pretty transparent tactic, but people still accept it in America.

The reason is as clear as black and white.

Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing

Airing live on CSPAN, Dr. Steve Perry gave a searing speech on the “The Role of A Social Worker” at the Clark Atlanta University Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and principal of a Connecticut school which only accepts first generation, low-income, and minority students.

Dr. Perry received his Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has since become a leading expert in education, a motivational speaker, accomplished author, and a reality tv host.

Dr. Perry was adamant that social workers are the key to solving societal problems because we are the first responders for social issues.

However, he also pointed out that social workers are not unionized, tend to be politically inactive, and do not engage in social conversations in the public sphere.

Dr. Perry asserts that our jobs are the first to be cut because we are silent, and taxpayer dollars are being diverted to education budgets for programs social workers should be implementing.

I have listened to Dr. Perry’s speech twice already, and there were many pearls of wisdom that he dropped on the ears of those in attendance and viewing the broadcast. For the most part, I agreed with 95 percent of what Dr. Perry said which is a very high percentage for me.

Now, I am going to share with you my top 5 reasons why I believe social work is failing:

1. Title Protection

First, it made me beam with joy when Dr. Perry referred to himself as a social worker despite his celebrity status. Most individuals with social work degrees who work in social work settings often refer to themselves as researchers, professors, therapists, or psychoanalysts. The people most vocal about title protection and licensure don’t actually call themselves social workers as if the title is relegated only to frontline staff.

I feel that over time title protection has been convoluted to mean licensed social worker and not a worker with a social work degree. I go in more detail on my thoughts regarding licensure in a prior article entitled, “Licensed Social Workers Don’t Mean More Qualified”. In my opinion, current policies and advocacy by professional associations and social work organizations have fractured the social work community into its current state.

We hail Jane Addams as the founder and pioneer of social work when in fact a story like Jane Addams’ would not be possible today. Jane Addams did not have a social work degree nor did she need a license to advocate, help people organize, or connect them with community resources. As a matter of fact, in today’s society Jane Addams would probably major in gender studies, political science, public policy, business or law.

Social work degree programs have begun dissociating themselves with “casework” connecting community members to resources, and they actually steer students away from these types of jobs. If we are going to pursue title protection, we also need to create second degree and accelerated programs to pull experienced professionals and other degree holders into the social work profession instead of excluding them.

2. Macro vs Micro

For the past couple of decades, social work has slowly moved towards and is now currently skewed toward being a clinical degree while marketing itself as a mental health profession. Over time, the profession has done a poor job in recruiting and connecting with individuals who are interested in working with the poor, politics, grassroots organizing, and other social justice issues.

Individuals who once flocked to social work to do community and social justice work are now seeking out other disciplines instead. Many social workers who want to be politically active and social justice focused are forced to do so under the banner of a women’s organization or other social justice nonprofit due to lack of our own. Students who decided to seek a macro social work degree often feel alienated and unsupported both in school and later with lack of employment opportunities.

3. Professionals Associations Represent Themselves and Not Us

Social Work organizations and associations have been pushing licensing for the past couple of decades which happens to also correlate with the same time frame they tripled the amount of unpaid internship hours required to complete your social work degree.

Recently, the Australian Association of Social Workers conducted a study which found university social work students were skipping meals and could not pay for basic necessities in order to pay for educational materials. American social work students who receive no stipends or any type of assistance are being forced to quit paying jobs in order to work unpaid internships, and they have no one fighting for them. In fact, most social work leaders argue that if you can’t shoulder the hardship this is not the profession for you. Many social workers struggle with supporting the fight for $15 dollars per hour for minimum wage jobs because they have master’s degrees making less than $15 dollars per hour.

You can’t talk to a social worker about anything without hearing the word “licensing”. From the time you start orientation, licensing is being forced feed to you as the solution that will solve all of social work’s problems. You are told licensing is going lead to better pay, better professionalism, better outcomes for clients, and better recognition to name a few. Minimum education and training standards are important, but requiring a medical model for all areas of practice in social work is not the answer. Social Work Licensing advocates often compare social work licensing with that of nurses, doctor, or lawyers.

In my opinion, social work licensing gives social workers all the liability and responsibilities without any of the rights. In states where licensing is required, social work licensing advocates did not advocate for employers to assume the cost of the additional training. The cost of continuing education credits have been passed on to the employee who is already in a low paying job, and the employer may opt to pay for them if they choose.

Here are a few things that licensing actually does:

  • Who can pass the licensure exam without having to pay for test prep materials or a workshop in which your professional association happens to sell to you at a “discount” if you are a member.
  • People are taking the licensure exam sometimes at $500 each time for four to five times. Where is this money going?
  • Once you pass the licensure exam, you are going to need liability insurance in which they also happen to sell.
  • To keep your social work license, you will have to maintain a certain amount of continuing education unit (CEU) hours yearly. They just happen to own and provide the majority of these CEU online companies and workshops for you as well.
  • Then, you have to pay renewal fees yearly and fines to your state board of licensure which goes to sustain their jobs.

Licensing is currently in all 50 states and US territories, and it seems to benefit the people who created the policies more than it does the social worker and the communities we serve. Licensure makes money, and social justice issues just aren’t income generators. For social workers who are already struggling, how does all the above fees and costs affect their career mobility in one of the lowest paid professions with one of the highest student loan income/debt ratios? Without a union for social workers, who will advocate on our behalf and for our clients to get the resources we need to serve them?

4. Lack of Diversity in Social Work Leadership and Academia 

Through Social Work Helper, I have had the opportunity to be a part of conversations with various factions of social work leadership over the past couple of years. Often times, I was the only person a part of the conversation that didn’t have a doctorate or at least in the process of earning one.  Additionally, I noticed that very few were minority voices if any other than me who were a part of these conversations. At first, I was intimidated because they had more education and  higher positions than me.

However, the more I listened and paid attention, I realized they are not better than me rather they had access to more opportunities than me. The ignorance and insensitivity displayed towards communities of color and the plight of social workers who are struggling in this profession was unbelievable.

Diversity in leadership brings different perspectives and point of views to be added to the conversation. Why didn’t more social work organizations and schools of social work support last night’s speech by Dr. Perry hosted at a Historically Black College? How often is the topic of social work front and center in a televised public forum?

According Social Work Synergy,

“At times this will mean sharing power and leadership in deeper ways, and taking proactive steps to undo oppression and racism. The use of community organizing principles and skills are essential” (p.19) to this effort. Read Full Article

5. Lack of Support and Silence

Social work organizations and associations are forever holding conferences that the majority of social workers can’t afford to attend. Many social workers don’t have the luxury of having their university foot the bill for them to attend every social work conference each year. This very dynamic adds to the failures listed in 1 thru 4. In addition, it highlights another point made by Dr. Perry when he stated, “Social Workers will talk to each other, but they won’t engage in the public sphere”.

I have contacted both the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) asking them to waive certain expenses, so I can cover their conferences in order to engage social workers via social media who can’t afford to attend. I can get press access to a White House event, but not to a social work conference. It’s like a country club that you can’t be a part of unless you can afford it.

Watch for free on CSPAN: The Role of Social Workers

 

Letter to the Editor: A Social Worker’s Thoughts on the Killing of Michael Brown

This is a Letter to the Editor that I received from a member of the social work community. Although I disagree with the opinion and facts of this reader, I believe this Letter to the Editor provides a perfect example of how conservatives and non-minorities conduct their analysis of the events in #Ferguson. I will be writing a response in order to open a dialogue on the competing viewpoints. You may also want to view “Social Work Appears Absent from Ferguson Global Conversation”~Deona Hooper, MSW

Here is the Letter to the Editor in full:

Hi I’m a licensed clinical social worker who has been working in the field since 2000. I read your latest article “Social workers Appears absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation”. I appreciate your opinion on Michael Brown’s shooting & I know there is a tremendous amount of pain in the communities of color because of years of experiencing prejudice & discrimination. At the same time, different opinions need to be discussed openly for the conversation on race relations & police brutality to progress.

I consider myself a very socially liberal person, but I strongly feel most of the media, far left wing activists, & some prominent members of the black community were quick to label the PO a murderer without hearing all the crucial evidence from both sides.

surveillance_mike_brown_1I know Brown’s friend (Dorian Johnson) was a key eye witness from the beginning, but since the shooting, it has become clear he has a history of lying to the police. For example, Johnson told the police & the media after the shooting that Brown & himself were not doinganything wrong when they were confronted by the PO.

The video from just minutes earlier proves that Johnson was with Brown while Brown was committing the robbery & nearly assaulting the shop keeper. From my understanding, if Brown was still alive, he might be charged with a felony. We also now know Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of the confrontation which might help us understand his mindset at the time.

It’s also really difficult to take Johnson’s testimony of the shooting seriously. It was widely reported that in the past, he was accused of stealing a backpack & I believe lying to the police regarding the incident.  The PO also experienced a swollen face with a possible broken eye socket from his confrontation with Brown.  This information flies in the face of Brown being called a gentle giant.

Of course, Brown did not deserve to be killed at only at eighteen years old & I feel very sorry for him & his grieving & traumatized family. At the same time, there is a strong possibility that the PO would most likely not get charged with homicide because of some of the contradictory evidence I described.

I think one of the most important things to remember right now is for people to continue protesting for justice in the case, but at the same time not be so quick to jump to conclusions about the PO being a murderer & a racist. I’m aware there are still very racist cops throughout the country, but it does not mean the PO was not within the law to protect himself if Brown used physical force against him.

No matter if the PO is found guilty or not, we must allow our criminal justice system to examine all the evidence & make a final verdict. I just wanted to express my opinion to you & I hope I was respectful because I did not mean to be insensitive to anyone. I’ve never written an email to a social work site, but I’ve been following the Brown killing very closely.

Giovanni Forcina, LCSW

Social Work Appears Absent in #Ferguson Global Conversation

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As Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, I recently published an article entitled A Grand Response from Social Work is Needed in Ferguson written by Dr. Charles Lewis who is the President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. Due to my coverage on the shooting of Mike Brown and the police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I have received lots of comments and responses from both social workers and non-social workers via email and various social media outlets.

As a result of comments I have received on Facebook, it makes me extremely fearful that some of these people are actually social workers, and I pray they are not working with minority communities. Maybe its a good thing the national media and reporters are not patrolling social worker forums and social media platforms to see what social workers think about national and global events. If they did, many would not be able to withstand the scrutiny placed on their statements.

As a strong warning, if you are going to proudly display yourself as a social worker in your cap and gown at your School of Social Work graduation, don’t make comments you would not want screen-capped and publicly reviewed. It has been my policy to hide these comments from public view, but this is only a cosmetic solution and does not address the racial divide and attitudes within our profession.

As one social worker and Facebook commenter provider her analysis of the events in Ferguson:

The police have nothing to do with voting, the police were shooting at a someone who wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a thief who was stealing from a store, then when stopped by the police, charged the police and was shot. This has nothing to do with voting. Look at the autopsy report, instead of hearsay and the media looking for the next big story. I love being a social worker, but it makes my blood boil when other social workers jump on bandwagon going nowhere. Know the facts before you post something like that. Rioting, stealing and destroying other people’s property is not going to help the situation.”

If this is the primary analysis social workers are developing after seeing the events in Ferguson, then I have to question how are we preparing students and professionals to engage and meet the needs of minority communities. The best explanation and analysis that I could find to help social workers understand why they should care about Ferguson is in a video by John Oliver host of HBO’s Last Week Today. Also, you can view an article at the Jewish Daily making a case for why Jews should care about Ferguson.

Not only has the shooting of Mike Brown sparked a national conversation, it has sparked a global conversation on all inhabited continents according to the LA Times. Palestinians in Gaza are tweeting advice to American citizens on how to treat tear gas exposure, Tibetan monks arrived in Ferguson to show solidarity with protesters,  #dontshoot protests are happening around the world as a show of solidarity with Ferguson, Amnesty International sends first delegation ever to investigate on American soil, and the United Nations has been holding hearings on the civil rights violations against African-Americans in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the New Republic,

In a 2005 study from Florida State University researchers, a mostly white, mostly male group of officers in Florida were statistically more likely to let armed white suspects slip while shooting unarmed black suspects instead.Police in that study shot fewer unarmed suspects than the undergraduates did, a difference attributable to professional training.  Read Full Article

As part of my research for this article, I did a Google news search using the strings “social workers” and Ferguson, then I used the string teachers and Ferguson. Please, click on the links to view the results.  I found two results one of which was the article published by Social Work Helper, and the other was a small blurb in a local news reporting stating that Social Workers are going door to door to assist with crisis counseling.

There is no doubt that there are many social workers already in or headed to Ferguson at their own expense to donate their skills during this crisis. But, the question we should be asking is who is helping to support their efforts on the ground? If you wanted to connect with them, how would you do it? We have many Schools of Social Work and many dues paying social work associations, but has any of them stepped up to offer assistance, help with coordination, provide a point of contact for social workers who do care about Ferguson and want to contribute? If there is, please let me know, and I will help promote your activities. Are social work professors writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, or looking for ways to incorporate issues in Ferguson in their lesson plans? I found one professor at Columbia University who wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times via twitter.

In the past, I have often been frustrated when it seems social workers are always left out of the conversation when discussing federal protections, pay increases, and job loss which tend to focus on teachers, police, and first responders. Also, I have been equally frustrated when professors from other disciplines are becoming political analysts for media outlets for the purpose of explaining social safety net programs that social workers implement. Lately, I have begun looking at this dynamic with new eyes and a fresh perspective, and I am beginning to form another hypothesis. Is social work not apart of the conversation due to exclusion or is it because social work is not showing up?

Another social worker who I truly respect and admire made the comment, “I am reminded that my profession is ALWAYS active. We don’t have to REACT, because what we do everyday is the action that is part of the solution.” However, I respectfully disagree with this assessment because crisis and emergency situations do not fall into the scope of what we do everyday.

Even during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, social workers acting outside the scope of their employment were left to their own devices. Without a social work organization leading the effort, it increases the difficulty of volunteer social workers to provide information, get support, as well as help with coordination of resources in order to maximize their efforts.

Human services agencies, Schools of Social Work, and Professional Associations have not exhibited the skill sets to create virtual command centers to steer potential resources to on the ground efforts as well as relay the needs assessment made by ground forces. As a matter of fact, it does not seem that these types of efforts are even viewed as actions to fall within the scope of their responsibility.

Teachers are change agents everyday, but they are reacting to the events of Ferguson in the following ways:

Ferguson students have been out of school for the past two because their community has been a war zone. 68% of students in Ferguson schools qualify for reduce or free lunch. As many social workers know, many students in poverty-stricken communities rely on school lunches to survive.

To help bring some relief to the community, Julianna Mendelsohn, a 5th grade teacher in Bahama, N.C., launched a fundraising campaign to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank, with the hope that the organization can offer food assistance to needy students. Mendelsohn set an initial goal of $80,000, and crossed that line today. As of this post’s publishing, her initiative had raised just over $110,000, with two days still to go. Read Full Article

150 Ferguson teachers used their day off as an opportunity for a civics lesson to help clean broken bottles, trash, and tear gas canisters from the streets.

“We’re building up the community,” says Tiffany Anderson, the Jennings School District superintendent. She has organized the teachers helping with cleanup, is offering meal deliveries for students with special needs, and has mental health services at the ready. “Kids are facing challenges. This is unusual, but violence, when you have over 90 percent free and reduced lunch, is not unusual,” Anderson says. “Last week, I met with several high school students, some of whom who are out here helping clean up. And we talked a little bit about how you express and have a voice in positive ways.” Read Full Article

Without school being in session, many educators are concerned with the needs of children due to the high poverty rates.

Today through Friday, Ferguson-Florissant will provide sack lunches at five elementary schools for any student in the district. The schools are Airport, Duchesne, Griffith, Holman and Wedgwood. On Tuesday, Riverview Gardens provided lunch to 300 children. Jennings also opened up its school cafeterias. Read Full Article

Ferguson schools are doubling the amount of counselors in their schools. But, what about the parents and adults in this community? Who will help care for their needs and direct them to resources?

Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students’ anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community. Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it’s training school staff to identify “signs of distress,” said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district. Read Full Article

Most importantly, educators have created the hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus to help other educators turn the events in Ferguson into teachable moments. They have also developed a google doc with resources and teaching tools to create lesson plans on Ferguson which can be found here.

The bulk of this article focused primarily on service needs, but the macro and advocacy contributions needed in this community are even greater. SAMHSA has also issued a press release to help direct Ferguson residents to their disaster relief and crisis counseling hotline which can be found at http://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/advisories/1408110710.aspx

How can social work contribute and be apart of the solution, or is this somebody else’s responsibility? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Looking at Labeling and Diversity: Interview with Philip Patston

Recently, I had to the opportunity to catch up with Philip Patston who is a phenomenal speaker, advocate, and expert on diversity and labeling. Philip is also one of Social Work Helper’s expert columnists who offer readers a global perspective hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. Although he is located on the other side of the world, Philip helped me to realize through his writing and speaking the symmetry we all (human kind) share versus focusing on our differences.

Philip has traveled an interesting path and has seen the world from different lenses such as a counselor, comedian, and advocate to name a few. After viewing his Ted Talk with over 30,000 views, I wanted to learn more about Philip. We had an interesting conversation, and now I am going to share it with you.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background and what led you into the field of social work?
Philip Patston at Tedx Auckland
Philip Patston at Tedx Auckland

I began a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Psychology and Sociology aged 18, but hated the University environment, so I quit early in my second year. I then trained to be a phone counsellor and ended up counselling by phone for nine years. I had also been a member of a youth group since my mid-teens and had been “dropped” into leadership roles (e.g. turning up at youth work meetings and being told to get up and speak about the youth group). So I did a lot of youth development work in my late teens and early 20s as well.

Then in 1990, when I was 22, I was accepted onto a two-year Social Work programme which gave me a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work and a Diploma in Applied Social Studies. The programme was known to be quite radical. There were only 40 students per year, half of whom were Maori (the indigenous people of NZ or Tangata Whenua, literally “people of the land”), a quarter Pacific people, and a quarter “other” (known as Pakeha in the Maori language).

It was an immersive bi-cultural programme, deliberately making Maori culture dominant. There were huge conflicts, particularly among the Pakeha group, who felt aggrieved by many processes in which they were not the majority. Being gay and disabled, I was fairly used to not being in the majority, so I was quite comfortable and amused by some of my colleagues’ inability to step outside of the process and learn from the experience of the tables being turned.

During my first year, I did a placement in a government care and protection agency and realised it wasn’t my thing. My second year placement was doing social research on the needs of disabled people for the Auckland Health Board. That turned into a two or three year job. After that I worked for the Human Rights Commission for four years, after which I became self-employed, raising awareness of diversity and doing comedy professionally.

So, I never really got to actually be a social worker! But the Diploma programme gave me a great grounding in radical social theory and direct action. If anything, I was an activist. Running awareness workshops as well as doing comedy, which led me to have a very high profile in New Zealand through television in the 1990s and 2000s, were a great combination of vehicles to create change.

SWH: Would you identify your work as being macro and/or mezzo focused, and what advice would you give other social workers who would like to do the work you are doing?

People have likened me to Nietzsche over the years so, yes, I do work in the macro/mezzo realms, I guess! I think it’s a hard place to feel effective because like any leadership or social change activity, it’s a long game and hard to see any tangible evidence of success. My suggestions for others working in similar spaces? Find like minds and check in regularly. Drink wine. Celebrate any success however small and, every now and then, pretend you’ve had a huge success and celebrate that! Finally, read Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed — the best book on social entrepreneurship and social change ever written.

SWH: Who are some of your biggest influencers in how you filter, provide and give information/advice to others?

Some of my favourite thinkers in the work I do are the authors of Getting to Maybe, Sir Ken Robinson, Brene Brown, Peter Block, Kathryn Schulz, and Adam Kahane. I also love Onora O’Neill’s definition of trust. Another fave is Prof. Brian Cox – he’s a cute, English educational physicist and I’ve used his layperson explanations of entropy and physics to explain diversity and relationship dynamics to school students. Finally, Sue Davidoff and Allan Kaplan, from The Proteus Initiative in South Africa. I’ve worked with them on living social practice twice now and they’ve had a profound influence on the way I work with people about diversity.

SWH: Your Tedx Talk on Labeling was a huge success. What was that experience like and what has life been like after your Tedx Talk?

It was surprisingly intimidating and nerve-wracking. Being a regular viewer of TED Talks, it really felt like I was wheeling into a TED video! Those big red letters and the round red carpet are quite iconic. I had refused to rehearse because as a comedian I would only ever rehearse mentally, so the guys running it (who hadn’t seen me perform) were a bit nervous and told my PA, Wai, who was backstage. Wai said, “Nah. he’ll be fine,” and halfway through they apparently said, “He’s killing.” Wai: “Told you so!”

Probably the most significant thing though was being able to present what I would call my soul work to 2,000 people live, in a funny, entertaining way, and have it videoed and put online under the TED brand so that it’s had over 30,000 views. That’s a great privilege.

Life after TED? Well, I did a conference call with the Diversity Group of IBM in California, which was a bit of a fizzer, and I’ve had a few speaking and facilitation jobs as a result. Not life-changing on the big scale of things, but definitely a highlight

SWH: Are you further developing your work on labeling, and do you have any other projects you are working on or have recently finished?

I recently made a music video about labelling that I’ve used a lot in diversity workshops. Music is a powerful way to simplify topics that can be quite complex, in order to have a conversation about the complexity. I was really lucky to work with an extremely talented musician, Arli Liberman, who put my words to music; and then some friends who run a superb creative agency, Borderless Productions, came up with the concept and produced the video. I’ve also recently finished some work on diversity in the media and co-wrote and published a children’s book.

Right now, I’m in an interesting space of limbo. Apart from running a leadership programme, which I love and is in its fourth year, a lot of my projects have either come to an end or have lost funding (we’re in an election year in NZ so Government funders have become super risk averse, unfortunately). So I’m in a space of seeing where I will be taken next. I’d love to make some more music videos, but they’re quite expensive and hard to get funded, even via crowdsourcing. I funded the first one myself, which meant I had a complete creative license and no accountability — that was extremely liberating!

So what’s next on the bucket list…oh and I started writing a book earlier this year and I am stuck big time. I need to give myself a good talking to and hopefully, I’ll get back into that soon too!

My Journey as a Teacher and the Future of Education

I was never a good student. I didn’t get along with many of my teachers and didn’t take the majority of my education that seriously until I was in my early to mid-twenties when I decided to become a teacher. My experience as a youth who struggled academically is what motivated me to become a teacher and hopefully add to and push the profession into a place that would be more accommodating and inclusive of students needs.

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Dan Scratch-Alberta Canada School Teacher

It is the memory of resisting teachers and struggling in school that informs my perspective of how and why I teach. I come from a school of thought that believes that the purpose of public education is for social and political action. It’s the idea that we should equip students with the tools to participate in democratic life and be active citizens within their worlds.

This is the reason I teach. It’s what motivates me to work with youth to hopefully empower them to create a more democratic and just world for themselves.

As I began my career in teaching, I started my practicum at a school in my home town. I was extremely excited to finally learn the craft that I was so passionate about. Unfortunately, my mentor teacher had a different idea. She believed that it was her job to mold me into a teacher that was very undemocratic.

She made me line students up outside the classroom and demand their silence before they could enter the room. She taught me that it was unacceptable to allow students to challenge my ideas in the classroom and worst of all, she taught me that teaching was about how well you can control student behaviour.

I fundamentally disagreed with these practices and any time I didn’t follow her policy she would punish me. She told me I was a terrible teacher, she reported my “bad teaching” to my university and even publicly evaluated my teaching in the lunch room in front of other teachers.

This experience left me shattered and insecure about my future in education. I allowed her words to infiltrate my own purpose and drive for education. I loved teaching so much but did not want to be a bad teacher within the educational system. I had two choices. I felt I should either quit and find another profession, or fight for what I loved and work on my skills as a teacher.

I decided to fight and struggle. I spent the next two years unemployed looking for someone to take a chance on me. I know I didn’t come off as a traditional teacher and I’m sure my lack of confidence and insecurity came out in the few times I even had the chance at an interview. I was lost within a profession that I loved and felt that there wasn’t a place for me within it.

After getting my foot in the door with a few teaching experiences it wasn’t until 2011, with a chance move to Edmonton, that my first authentic opportunity finally came. I was hired at a school for at-risk youth in inner city Edmonton. When I entered the classroom, I saw a room full of students who felt as shattered and insecure as I did when I was a student and how I felt as a teacher at that time.

Together, my students and I worked to build our confidence as learners. As we worked on our skills, my students made me feel that I was actually helping them. My confidence began to grow and I started believing in my abilities as a teacher. Over the past three years I have had the utter privilege of learning alongside my extremely resilient and intelligent students. I just hope that I have been able to give them close to the experience that they have given me.

This brings me to the point of why I am telling my story.  If you’re a teacher reading this, I want to you think about why we teach. What is the purpose of us standing up in front of a group of youth each day? Is it to teach them how to get a job? Or, do we want them to learn the value of justice and citizenship? Whatever the reason was that we chose to become teachers, I would bet that at some point we chose this profession because we felt we could make a difference in young people’s lives.

When we dreamed of becoming teachers, I’m sure that almost every signal one of us did not imagine ourselves teaching the values, skills, and ethics that were determined by corporations. I’m sure that we dreamed of a school that was a hub for the community where parents, teachers, students, and community members worked to give the best education possible to our youth.

Unfortunately, we are faced with a reality where corporate involvement in education is becoming more pervasive. Corporations are influencing our schools, curriculum, and even they way teachers teach. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think corporations have the same interests for our students as we do. We want our students to become intelligent and ethical people who care about the world they live in.

Corporations on the other hand are legally obligated to be focused on maximizing profit and ensuring there are workers for them. And as we know as educators,  education is not a business. Preparing students for the life of work is just one aspect of our role as teachers. More importantly, we work to ensure that students have the opportunity to pursue their passions and become the people that will create a better world.

In our past, teachers, parents, students and community members came together to ensure a strong public education that would work for all students. We still have a long way to go to fulfill that dream, but if we understand that ordinary people can have just as much power as the powerful, then we can ensure that education remains a public good.

And in order to do that, we have to continue our history of parents, teachers, students, and community members working together to create the best public education possible. It’s important to do this because if we don’t act, corporate involvement in our education system can drastically change the type of people our students will become. Our students are more than workers and consumers. They are intelligent, creative and resourceful youth who can be a force for good in the world.

If we don’t act to stop corporate influence in our education system, we will cease to engage our students in an actual education. Corporate education will reduce teaching and education to training students how to get jobs. The art of teaching will be lost as we become a cog in the wheel of transferring knowledge and skills from a textbook, computer, or ’21st Century” gadget to students.

So, right now, I’m asking you to join me in an effort to resist corporate involvement in public education in Alberta (and hopefully across Canada and the globe too). Let’s take a stand for our students to make sure they have the opportunity for a healthy, democratic, and equitable education. If you can, please take a few moments of your time and complete this form to join us.

Why Social Justice Education Matters

After reading about the Isla Vista killings,  it got me thinking about my role as a teacher and what we can do to combat  injustice and inequality within the schools, communities and even classrooms that we occupy. The role of a teacher is complex and multi-layered but we must ensure that teachers have the ability and curriculum to have serious discussions with students about the issues they will/have/are facing in their worlds.

social justiceSocial Justice Education is not only learning about specific topics, but it is a framework for interacting with students, establishing classroom culture, and inviting students to become active participants in their worlds to make it a better place.

If we don’t engage students in this type of learning, and only prepare them for the labour market, then we are failing to engage them with the task of making the world a more just and equitable place.

In short, social justice education matters because….

  1. It challenges and seeks to end dominant narratives/actions of patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny in and out of the classroom.
  2. It seeks to understand social and economic systems that create poverty and suffering for millions.

  3. It challenges students to understand their privilege and encourages them to become allies of those seeking justice.

  4. It seeks to deconstruct racism not just as an individual act but as an institutionalized mechanism of oppression.

  5. It actively fights against homophobia and advocates for the rights of LGBTQ people.

  6. It teaches students to learn and understand the “hard and difficult” issues of our society and that they cannot be ignored if we want to make progress.

  7. It demands that we advocate for the rights of those with disabilities to ensure they can benefit from all society has to offer.

  8. It challenges students roles as oppressor/oppressed and actively encourages them to self-reflect on their actions as citizens.

  9. It demands that we investigate colonialism and challenges us to decolonize for a more just world.

  10. It is essential if we want to end the misery of oppression in all of it’s forms throughout our classrooms, schools, communities and the larger world.

Too often, as parents and teachers, we offer simple solutions to complex issues so we don’t have to have these hard conversations with our youth. This is unacceptable if our goal is to create a safe, just, and equitable world for all people. It’s time we prepare ourselves, and the teaching profession, to take up the task of social justice education.

Ageism In The Workplace

If we are not welcome in the workplace and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially?

Can you imagine a workforce made up of 3 generations?  I am 68, my children are in their forties, and my oldest grandchild is 17. I am one of the fortunate aging boomers who is still part of the American workforce. I have no problem envisioning a workplace where my granddaughter, my son, and I will all be participating in the growth of our nation’s economy. Yet, there is one major obstacle to achieving this goal. It is the oldest, most entrenched form of discrimination in this country. Ageism!

agediscriminationintheworkplace02Nowhere is it easier to identify ageism than in the workplace. As older workers are staying longer and younger workers enter the field, more often than not they will find themselves part of a multigenerational workforce. By the middle of the next decade, the United States will be an aging society, with more Americans over age 60 than under age 15.

What this means for an evolving job market is that there will not be enough young workers to fill entry level jobs. We will then have two choices. We can import young workers from other countries, or we can prepare ahead by accommodating older workers and encouraging them to remain or re-enter the workplace. This would be a welcoming departure from the cold shoulder that older workers receive when applying for jobs today.

Our country’s leaders are always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to planning ahead. For years and years people have been writing about the “graying of the American workforce” and the “aging tsunami”. The boomers are not coming; we have arrived!

We are healthier than previous generations, and we are living longer–in many cases, as much as 20 years longer. Yet, when we leave our career jobs, whether by choice or not by choice, we step into a void. We discover that there is no role for us in society. We become invisible. The invisible man today is not a bandaged wrapped non-body. He is an invisible somebody.

Here’s the dilemma: If we are not welcome in the workplace, and we are expected to live well into our nineties and beyond, how can we ever hope to be able to sustain ourselves financially? We have the intelligence, skills and wisdom to become one of society’s greatest assets.  Yet, without the opportunity to earn our own way, we will certainly become society’s burden. Most salient is our position as repositories of historical and cultural history and our ability to solve long term problems that younger people do not have the time for.

One excuse I hear for not keeping or hiring older workers is the fear that it will be too expensive. “They will be sick too often and, therefore, be less productive.” Not true. Older workers come with an innate work ethic. We take less sick days than our younger co-workers. We also come with our own health insurance, namely, Medicare. And, older workers are often willing to work for lower salaries as a supplement to our Social Security.

Mainly, we want to be valued and be seen as contributors to a better society, not as a drain. I wonder if those who would shut older adults out of the workforce are ageists who drank the youth-obsessed Kool-Aide that the media hands out. They probably do not even recognize their own internalized ageism. Have they thought about why they do not want a workplace filled with grey haired people? Could it possibly be the threat of having a workforce who reflect the true life process of aging that they would rather deny?

Ageism does not only affect the old. It affects our entire society. It deprives one generation the opportunity to pass on knowledge to the next, while depriving the younger generation the opportunity to learn and build on that knowledge.  It deprives an older generation the opportunity to keep growing and learning new skills for which the young are our best teachers.

The stereotypes of older people that we all own do not match up with the reality of today.  They are out of date.  It’s time for an upgrade.

 

Who Will Fight for Social Justice

There is a push among social workers to return to the profession’s strong commitment to social justice. Two significant events occurred last week. On Wednesday, a group of supporters gathered to mark the first year of existence of the Congressional Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and the presentation of our 2014 Social Justice Champion awards to two social work stalwarts. Rep. Barbara Lee, the Democratic congresswoman from the 13th District in California, and Dr. Nancy A. Humphreys, the founder and director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work, were on hand to receive well-deserved accolades for exemplifying the best of the profession who agitates for social justice. It was an uplifting anniversary celebration with the gregarious former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns acting as host and emcee. CRISP executive director Dr. Angela Henderson was on hand to greet our guests and ensure everyone had a good time.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Board members Dr. Darla Coffey, president of the Council on Social Work Education, and James Craigen, Sr., an associate professor at Howard University’s School of social work were joined by NASW social work pioneers Dr. Bernice Harper and Howard University School of Social Work dean emeritus Dr. Douglas Glasgow, along with Dr. Jo Nol, psychotherapist and spouse to Nancy Humphreys, and Dr. Mary McKay, director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and assistant director Dan Ferris. Several of my former students attended and my Clark Atlanta University classmate Alie Redd flew up from Atlanta to help celebrate.

Wednesday’s event was significant because despite the odds, CRISP has survived to begin another year. Our institute was born out of the need to complement the mission of the Congressional Social Work Caucus which I had the honor of helping to create with former Congressman Ed Towns in September 2010. The birth of the Social Work Caucus happened as a result of my personal pursuit of social justice.

I became a social worker because I wanted to do something about the many men of color who were being scarred as a result of the mass incarceration that began in the 1970s. Along the way towards earning my M.S.W. degree in clinical counseling I learned the importance of policy in creating a more just society and completed my Ph.D. in policy analysis. After a stint in academia, I landed on the Hill and found my opportunity with the Social Work Caucus which was created to provide an official platform in Congress for social workers to engage our nation’s representatives. CRISP was launched a year ago with the theme: Unleashing the Power of Social Work on the Hill.

Nancy Humphreys

On Friday, the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) held its second annual Macro Conference featuring Dr. Nancy Humphreys and Dr. Jack Rothman whose models of community organizing continues to have a significant impact on how social workers organize communities in pursuit of social justice.

The focus of the conference workshops and activities was on evaluating the current state of social justice in social work. Rothman’s report on the marginalization of macro social work on many campuses has renewed interest in rebalancing the profession’s work in direct service practice and its commitment to social change. The Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) has organized a Special Commission to Advance Macro Social Work Practice that will release its recommendations later in the year.

One of its commissioners, Dr. Linda Plitt Donaldson, an associate professor at the National Catholic School of Social Services, and Dr. Michael Reisch, the Daniel Thursz Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at the University of Maryland, led discussions about the future of social work, the challenges of licensing, and strategies to advance macro social work practice.

The conference was organized by NASW Maryland chapter executive director Dr. Daphne McClellan, and Dr. Ashley McSwain, chair of its Macro Social Work Committee. Proponents of expanding macro social practice do not see this effort as a zero sum game—increasing macro social workers at the expense of direct practitioners. We see this as an opportunity to attract a different breed of social worker with an eye on changing society.

Fueling the Political Machine: Kristie Holmes on Campaign Finance Reforms

There is something very special about a social worker in public office. As social workers, we are bound to an ethical code to uphold social justice, provide service to others, bolster the dignity and self-worth of all people, understand human relationships and communities, and act with competence and integrity in all our endeavors. When considering how these core values shape social workers’ singular objective to make the world a better place for everyone, I think most people can agree that these are the kinds of people we want representing us in government. That is exactly what Kristie Holmes is planning to do in her campaign for Congress representing California’s 33rd district.

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Kristie Holmes (right) at United Nations

Kristie Holmes is a breath of fresh air for Los Angeles County. Unlike her top opponents, Holmes has not been a participant in the troubled public administration in her region. Rather, Kristie has been fighting at the front lines as a case worker, community organizer, and social policy scholar. As a social work professor at the University of Southern California and small business owner in Los Angeles, Holmes is in touch with the people in her community and is raising quite a following among younger voters, who are sick of establishment politicians and nepotism.

So what’s the problem? Why isn’t her name up in lights with the best of them?

Sadly, along with her virtuous political agenda and clean slate comes a major shortcoming: Money or as she refers to it in her blog, “Trial by Fundraising!” And while we all know campaigns always require money, Kristie Holmes has been exposing political financial requirements to that will make your stomach ache. According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, the average congressional campaign costs over $1 million per candidate and the average senate campaign costs $4.3 million (while many go as high as $10 million and 15 million).

This leads many concerned citizens to ask, who has that kind of money? Certainly not the families and citizens politicians are supposedly “representing.”  These unprecedented financial requirements not only distract elected officials from their primary role as lawmakers, but paves a clear path for encouraging special interests in politics. As Kristie explains:

“When it is all over, what do we have to show for it?  How much have we collectively spent- on what exactly?  It certainly doesn’t go to those who need it.  In fact, it goes to funding things that voters clearly despise.”

As a determined, trail-blazing social worker, Kristie Holmes is standing up to the political establishment. She is running her campaign on policy, not politics and financial deal-making. With her hard earned, modest budget, Holmes is inspiring awe as she unwavering fights for a seat at the table. As fellow social workers, we are very proud. In her campaign blog, title “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West” Holmes documents the process of running an honest campaign amidst a corrupt landscape of Super-PACs and sneaky political loopholes:

Money & PoliticsTo begin the process, there is a $1,740 non-refundable fee to get your name on the ballot. Okay, steep but do-able.  But wait, it doesn’t stop there. In order the get your name and 250-word blurb printed in the voting guide (the sample ballot given to all voters before they cast their vote) candidates must pay an additional $8,600.

If you want this available in Spanish (which is spoken by about half of L.A. residents) it costs another $17,200! Further fees are required for each additional language. Just the fact that there is a language fee at all, from a social justice perspective, is ethically questionable considering the US Census reports 56.8% of L.A. residents do not speak English at home. So, all in all, it actually costs a whopping $18,940 just to have a meager presence at the ballot box.

Now, comes the campaign. There is the usual stuff: yard signs, door-hangers, TV commercials, etc. These are the kind of cost most people expect from campaigns and millions of dollars can also go into funding these. Luckily, there are low-costs alternatives to raising political awareness such as relying heavily of social media and people power in the community- the tactics Kristie Holmes is well versed in as a macro social worker.There are countless, nearly insurmountable hidden costs all along the way. Just last week, for example, Kristie was denied invitation to a candidate debate forum because the organizers required candidates to have raised over $100,000 in order to attend. 

Seriously? Television commercials are one thing; denying candidates a right to speak at political debates- that is another. Requirements such as these are normal; they are a part of a regime to perpetuate the political status quo, stifle real social progress, and represent the interests of the few over the many. According to the LA Times, the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club created the requirement (which was possibly as high as $200,000) to allow only “viable” candidates to participate, as not to “dilute the session… by including candidates with little or no chance of winning.” Yet, isn’t is also true that barring these candidates from the debate is directly contributing to their poor chances of winning?

Kristie also points out that candidates for California’s 33rd congressional district only found out about the current congressman’s retirement in late January. Established candidates with an existing FEC number had less than three months to acquire their current campaign funds. However, the time frame was much shorter for new candidates who needed to apply for a FEC number before fundraising could begin. As Holmes speculates, “Perhaps a candidate has a long line of wealthy, waiting funders ready to go when they announce (due to fame or personal fortune).” Whatever the funding sources or tactics are, one this is clear: our current political system is designed to pander to wealth and power.

When a real candidate “of the people, for the people” emerges, the powers that be quickly shut them down. In such a climate, it is not a surprise that our congress looks like a Hampton country club full of white men shaking hands. As social workers and citizens, we cannot sit quietly as the political machine attempts to push aside highly qualified candidates like Kristie Holmes. The system will not fix itself. It is up to us, as voters and social change leaders, to demand better and to put people in office with integrity. We must support Kristie Holmes and raise awareness for her campaign.

As a congresswoman, Kristie pledges to fight for open government and to put an end to fraud and corruption in her district. She will fight for gender equality, equal access to education, improved care for veterans, and to put an end to the war on drug through the decriminalization of marijuana. As a social worker, she will fight for all socioeconomic groups but most importantly, those who are most in need.

Why can’t we have a Congresswoman like Kristie Holmes? I believe we can.

Learn more about Kristie Holmes and how you can support her campaign. Follow Kristie’s blog, “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West

Follow Kristie on Twitter @DrKristie

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