05.14.14

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.

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.

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.

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