I am excited to serve as your next NASW-WI Board President! Over the years, I have served within different capacities for NASW-WI’s board; but to be selected as your new President is quite an honor. As your NASW-WI President it is my goal to support you and uphold the principles and values of our social work profession. I want to acknowledge and recognize our former NASW-WI Board President, Kristi Wood, for her leadership. Thank you for all that you have done for NASW-WI and all that you continue to do for it.
As I reflect on the year 2020, I think about the impact this year has had on our lives and history. The experiences we have endured during this year will be recorded in history books for future generations to learn about. The world has experienced pain and hurt due to two pandemics, COVID 19 and Racism. In 2020, we, as a people, collectively witnessed the pain; loss; grief; death and racial disparities in society resulting from COVID 19 and Social Injustice. COVID 19 is new as a pandemic; but the pandemic of racism, a social injustice, is about 400 years old to be exact. Racism is woven into the thread of the country’s existence. It is one of the building blocks for America’s foundation. Since the arrival of COVID 19, we have experienced an increase in anxiety and depression; issues with adjustment and uncertainty in our country. Our routines and normalcy in life have been altered. Our “new” routine and normalcy now include feelings of isolation due to social/physical distancing; increased levels of anxiety about the virus and future; loss of employment (for some); furloughs; working remotely from home; and for some, home schooling children. We are impacted physically and mentally.
We continue to witness the impact of social injustice and systemic racism in our country. Racism targets a certain race or group of people; but it is a public health crisis that impacts all of us. I think about Ahmaud Arbery; Breonna Taylor; George Floyd, Jr.; Rashaad Brooks; Jose Acevado and Jacob Blake, Jr. just to name a few and I ask myself, “When will this end”? When will Black and Brown communities not have to fear or distrust the treatment they receive from systems (health care; law enforcement; education; etc.) designed to help and protect them? August 28, 2020 marked 57 years since the Great Walk on Washington in1963. Civil Right Activists marched to demand equal justice for all people and to end discrimination. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous speech “I Have A Dream”. I reflect on that time in history and think about “How much progress has our country really accomplished in addressing social injustice since 1963”? Personally, I have spent a great amount of time dealing with racial trauma; frustrations; anger and sadness this year and I am not “OK”. In all transparency, I am tired of being tired. It is important as social workers that we know what racial trauma is; acknowledge it; know how to talk about it with our clients and colleagues; and understand it’s impact on a person. “Racial trauma is a form of sociocultural trauma and a type of trauma that results from racism. It may occur from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism” (Bryant-Davis, & Ocampo, 2006; Comas-Díaz, 2016). A person who experiences racial trauma may experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability. Many of the symptoms are similar to PTSD symptoms. Racial trauma is a cumulative experience, where every personal or vicarious encounter with racism contributes to a more insidious, chronic stress (Carter, 2007). Racism can destroy self‐confidence and identity, lead to internalization of discriminatory messages, prevent achievement of potential, and affect mental health due to the barriers in accessing and receiving mental health care (Anderson, 2013; Evans, Hemmings, Burkhalter, & Lacy, 2015; D. R. Williams et al., 2012; D. R. Williams & Williams‐Morris, 2000). How many people, including our clients, are experiencing racial trauma; but not receiving the help they need; because we aren’t having the conversation about it? As social workers, we have the skills to help change this scenario.
As social workers, we have skills and specialized training in working with people which are needed during this disturbing time to help people and communities heal. Our NASW National President, Milded C. “Mit” Joyner, DPS, MSW, LCSW eloquently stated “Social workers, the time is now for us to use our collective knowledge, skill and values to lead the transformative change this nation so desperately needs.” We, as social workers, are “essential” workers. The trauma, which includes racial trauma, experienced by people this year due to COVID 19 and social injustice is stressful, overwhelming, and troubling. In thinking about our home state of Wisconsin, I can’t help thinking about how trauma, including racial trauma, has impacted Jacob Blake Jr.; his children (who witnessed their father being shot 7 times in the back by police while in the back seat of their car); and his family. I think about the trauma experienced by the Kenosha police officers and the community. Healing is needed.
My question to you my fellow social workers is “How do we as social workers use our collective knowledge, skills and values to help transform our nation and help people to heal?” We can advocate for change in policies that will help vulnerable and underserved populations and we need to vote for people who will uphold our mission and values of our great profession when they are in office. This includes issues pertaining to access to quality services for health care and mental health services and treatment of marginalized and oppressed groups. We can use our voices to stand for that which is right. The Honorable Congressman, John Lewis, stated “ If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it”. As social workers we must not turn our heads and be silent to what is occurring in today’s world. As we look at social injustice, we are obligated through our profession to fight against social injustice. NASW provided some steps in Institutional Racism and the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action (NASW 2007) on how to do this.
We are to:
- Address the impact of racism, other forms of oppression, social injustice, and other human rights violations through social work education and practice
- Continuously acknowledge, recognize, confront, and address pervasive racism within social work practice at the individual, agency, and institutional level
- Promote culturally competent social work interventions and research methodologies in the areas of social justice, well-being, and cost-benefit outcomes
NASW-WI family, I ask you to stand with NASW and me to help make change in our society. Your skills and expertise as social workers are important for the work that has to be done. You are “essential”. Together, we will work deliberately and intentionally towards transformation and change in our society.
We will be that voice!
Stay well and stay safe!
Dawn Shelton-Williams, MSW, LCSW
NASW-WI Board President