Our Time To Rise as Advocates: Social Workers Seeking Justice

Rogers Campbell. My grandfather’s name still haunts the people who loved him the most. Killed in 1987. Hog tied. Placed in a choke hold. Died. Then the system denied excessive force. No justice.

Fast forward to 33 years later. His granddaughter, a social work student who graduated from the University of Southern California, marches with her colleagues June 13, 2020 to Los Angeles City Hall joined by hundreds of people protesting police brutality and highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement.

social workers

Social work graduate student Talor Hawkins. Photo courtesy of Hawkins

The issues, police brutality against African American people and the general climate of racism in the country, have not changed. I am his granddaughter, a black woman, and a social worker.

Social workers cannot be silent in this tremendous moment in American history. We are not just child welfare workers. We are therapists and we are advocates. The National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics focuses on service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. Similarly, the Black Lives Matter statement is centered on both social justice and the dignity and worth of a person.

According to the NASW Code of Ethics, “social workers should understand cultures and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures.” It also states that “social workers should have some knowledge of their clients’ cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients’ cultures and the difference among people and cultural groups.”

To my white colleagues in social work, we need you now more than ever. It is time to help take a stand. We want you and to some degree need you as allies, requiring you to be open to evaluate yourself by becoming more sensitive and aware of your privilege but equally important, to recognize that there is a beauty in difference and learning how to accept and love the differences that make us unique.

Colored blindness, the sentiment of “I don’t see color,” does not help the cause. We must acknowledge our differences and celebrate them – that is the root of what America is supposed to be. We are a mixing pot of cultures. As many of our clients will be Black and brown people, seeking knowledge to help you understand not only white privilege, implicit bias, microaggression and how you may have contributed to the problem. It is not our responsibility to teach you, but rather your responsibility to seek out the knowledge that is all around you.

To my Black and brown therapists, remember to take care of yourself during this time. We have to create safe spaces for the discussion of such progressive and traumatic circumstances. Sit in silence, weep, journal or draw, create poetry, become more involved with your friends and family.

It is important to hold one another up during these times. Remember you are not only fighting the stigmas from the world, but you are fighting the stigmas that are alive in social work itself. We Black and brown therapists are holding the fort down for our clients, and our own traumas and triggers, while educating those around us of how important Black Lives Matter and mental health are during this time.

As a whole, we have to be careful on how the system continues to push inequality, injustice, and stigmas on our clients. Educate yourself even more and then ask questions. This goes for white, brown, and Black therapists. Now does that mean that your Black and brown colleagues will always want to have the conversation? No, absolutely not. Ask them if they are even in a place to talk about the racial climate right now? If they say no, do not take it personal.

This conversation and these times are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining. Self-care is self-preservation and therefore we must take this time seriously. Do not think that you are so strong that you can take on the world. None of us are. It takes all of us to get through times like these.

Most importantly, it is time to seek appropriate justice for those whose voices have been silenced. We need to be allied and, in this process, together. Now that the protests are slowing down and there is less talking, it’s an even better time to pick up the fight. Together we stand or together we fall, but social workers cannot be silent.

Talor Hawkins is a graduate student at the University of Southern California School of Social Work.

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