NASW Social Justice Award

The Honorable Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Barbara LeeCongresswoman Barbara Lee, MSW, stands as a beacon of unwavering commitment to social justice. Her career is marked by tireless advocacy in support of historically marginalized communities and progressive causes. Born in El Paso, Texas, Lee’s upbringing was deeply influenced by the civil rights movement, igniting her passion for activism and equality.

In 1998, Lee made history by becoming the first African American woman to represent Northern California in the U.S. Congress, a position she has held with distinction ever since. From her seat in the House of Representatives, Lee has championed causes that reflect her deep-rooted commitment to social justice, including education, housing, health care, the environment, and HIV/AIDS.

In 2023, Congresswoman Lee reintroduced bipartisan legislation called the Improving Access to Mental Health Act.Important to social workers nationwide, this legislation amends the Social Security Act to improve Medicare beneficiaries’ access to health and mental health services provided by clinical social workers (CSWs).

Congresswoman Lee led the introduction of the Social Work Month Resolution over the last several Congresses. She joined Representative Gwen Moore to introduce a resolution that designated March 3-9, 2024, as School Social Work Week. Lee said: "As a former psychiatric social worker and chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, I am proud to recognize ‘School Social Workers Week’ alongside my colleague Congresswoman Gwen Moore. School social workers are critical mental health professionals who serve as bridges between vulnerable students and the resources they need to thrive as adults. Congress must use every possible avenue to uplift and empower school social workers and the students they serve.”

In 1975, she began her public service as a staffer for Congressman Ron Dellums, where she honed her skills as a grassroots organizer and advocate. Inspired by Dellums’ unwavering commitment to progressive values, Lee continued to rise through the ranks, serving as his Chief of Staff until 1998.

Currently, Congresswoman Lee serves on the Budget Committee and the powerful Appropriations Committee, which oversees all federal government spending. In January 2021, she became the first African American to chair the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

Congresswoman Lee is the highest ranking African American woman appointed to Democratic Leadership, serving as Co-Chair of the Policy and Steering Committee. She is the chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (111th Congress) and Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (109th & 110th Congresses).

Through these caucuses, Lee has been a powerful voice, providing support for vulnerable populations in California and around the country. And the Congresswoman’s dedication to social justice extends beyond the halls of Congress: she is a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform, LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive justice, economic equality.

Among her many awards, Congresswoman Lee has been honored as an NASW Social Work Pioneer®, inspiring new generations of social welfare advocates and progressive policymakers. Congresswoman Lee received a BA in Psychology from Mills College and a MSW from the University of California, Berkeley.

Congratulations, Congresswoman Lee, for your commitment to social justice.