From the President
Debt of Gratitude Owed Pioneers
By Gary Bailey, MSW
would be remiss if I let February, which is African American History
Month, and March, which is Women's History Month, pass without
taking the time to remember — and express my heartfelt thanks
to — the social work pioneers, both women and people of color,
who first explored and defined the profession of social work.
African American social work pioneers were guided and influenced
by the traditions of their communities and by their shared experiences.
During the 1990s, the African saying "It takes a village
to raise a child" became a popular catchphrase. The knowledge
that no one is alone — that we are all part of a larger community,
that our actions influence and have an impact on the lives of
others — is a cornerstone of the African American helping tradition.
Social workers who emerged during the 20th century strongly believed
in this essential truth and used it to shape the profession of
social work, communities and the nation.
It is no secret that Whitney Young Jr., the first African American
to be elected president of NASW, has always been one of my heroes.
When I was elected president of NASW, it was he who came to my
mind as one whose shoes I felt challenged to fill, whose memory
buoys me during times of doubt and times of celebration. As one
of the social work profession's most recognized leaders, Whitney
Young fought for social justice, civil rights and an end to segregation.
A veteran of World War II and graduate of the University of Minnesota
School of Social Work (after having been denied admission to the
University of Kentucky because of his race), Young was appointed
dean of the School of Social Work at Atlanta University in 1954,
and in 1961 was named executive director of the National Urban
League. He is credited with being one of the key architects of
the War on Poverty. In 1969, Young was awarded the Medal of Freedom,
the highest civilian award in the country, by President Lyndon
Mark Battle, NASW's first African American executive director,
was, like Young, a veteran of World War II. In 1948, he helped
organize the nation's first-ever interracial camp for children.
Battle's accomplishments cannot be adequately described in just
a paragraph or two, but following are a few highlights that emphasize
the inspiring work of this tireless advocate.
Battle was a consultant to the U.S. Department of Labor on youth
employment and led a successful effort to implement social work
as a legitimate profession in the department's work force. For
two years, he served as principal investigator of a project to
help the state of Maryland develop and implement its HIV prevention
program — the first plan approved and funded by the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. Mark Battle has worked tirelessly
on behalf of the social work profession, both in the U.S. and
internationally, resulting in the profession's increased power.
Women, particularly women of color, have often been the unsung
heroes of the social work profession. The women's club movement,
as an example, played a major role in helping create service networks
throughout communities nationwide. And beyond the service aspects
of social work, women have always been highly active in political
advocacy as well.
Dorothy Irene Height received the Congressional Gold Medal in
2003 from the U.S. House of Representatives in recognition of
her lifelong commitment helping the African American community,
was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in
1994 and was awarded the Citizens Medal Award for distinguished
service by President Ronald Reagan in 1989. She is perhaps best
known for her roles with the YWCA and the National Council of
Dorothy Height has been acknowledged for her leadership and vision
by every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. She worked closely
with Whitney Young Jr., Martin Luther King Jr. and Mark Battle
and participated in almost every major human rights and civil
rights event during the past several decades. Her extraordinary
leadership skills and capacity for selfless dedication continue
to inspire me every day.
Josephine R. Lambert, one of my mentors at Boston University
School of Social Work, where I received my degree, was the first
African American woman tenured there. She received her master's
degree in social work from B.U., and went on to direct youth programs
at Cooper Community Center in Roxbury, Mass.
Lambert moved to Washington, D.C., in 1956 to work for the U.S.
Department of Health, Education and Welfare as a social science
analyst and community organization specialist. She worked primarily
with youth at risk before returning to teach at B.U. Her contributions
to education for students of color, her passion for fostering
understanding across racial lines and her efforts to create services
for communities of color were, and still are, a source of inspiration.
In listing just a few of the pioneers in our profession whose
work encourages and motivates me, I know I have failed to mention
the work of the hundreds of other groundbreaking social workers
who came before. This does not mean, however, that they are forgotten.
As professional social workers, we rededicate ourselves to their
efforts on a daily basis, honoring their memories and paying tribute
to their work, their struggles and their successes. I encourage
each of you to take a few moments this month to think about those
whose courage opened doors for you and for this great profession
and to honor the memory of the social work pioneers whose stories
touch your heart and move your soul.
To contact Gary Bailey: firstname.lastname@example.org
From February 2004 NASW News. © 2004 National
Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. NASW News
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