A time of awakening and reckoning

Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D., MPH, ACSW

Allow me to begin this entry with a wish that all reading this are finding some ways to enjoy the fading days of summer 2016. For me, it’s been one very hectic period – physically, intellectually and emotionally.

On June 22, we kicked off the NASW National Conference, “Leading Change, Transforming Lives.” I will come back to the theme and its serendipitous impact on my summer later, but now — Wow, what a wonderful set of opening presentations and an energetic room of social workers from around the globe.

My only regret is that I could not stay for the entire meeting, as I had to leave on June 23 for the International Federation of Social Work meetings and the World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development in Seoul, Korea.

For those not familiar with these gatherings, our association is part of a global network of professional associations that meet regularly to explore the ways in which social work, social welfare and social development services are developed, implemented and regulated.

Associations in this network, much like our national office and local chapters, work diligently to improve the delivery of social work services and to advance policy initiatives of importance to the profession and our clients.

Almost immediately after returning from a week of exhilarating meetings within this global context, I departed for the AIDS2016 meeting in Durban, South Africa. This meeting of HIV and AIDS researchers, policymakers, advocates and people affected by the global pandemic also takes place every two years.

The AIDS2016 meeting drew more than 18,000 registered delegates and hundreds, if not thousands, of nonregistered participants through the Global Village.

I share these experiences because they fit in a context of transformative living (our conference theme) and the need for social work professionals and our leadership to accommodate brisk change, hurried paces and the need to be nimble and responsive on many fronts simultaneously.

As I moved about these many spaces this summer, I also needed to keep an eye and ear on what was evolving in my own “backyard” — and to be responsive to emergent and present demands.

This scenario is not unfamiliar to most social workers who are called upon daily to fill many roles sequentially or simultaneously.

Our educational preparation and on-the-job training provides us with many of the skills needed to readily face these demands, even when our plates are so full we would rather avoid adding another thing. This becomes the plight of the transformative professional social worker in uncertain times, as Dr. McClain so eloquently stated in his July News column.

As I navigated this summer of 2016, I too found myself at times at the brink of personal and professional exhaustion and uncertainty.

However, knowing that the decisions and actions we make, or do not make, today will have significant implications for our profession and our clients, gave (and gives) me a boost to push beyond the simple space of “me” and to see the wonder and potentials of our collective impact.

I guess it is like hitting that brick wall, which you can experience when you run long distances and feel you cannot go any farther. Giving up seems the best option, but then you realize there is something greater than this moment at stake. So you push on until you reach that goal, which previously seemed so unattainable.

Our own professional association is dealing with rapid and important transformative experiences. As a collective we must be responsive to managing complex fiscal demands, assuring future viability, and growing new programs and services that address the needs of a diverse membership.

During this summer, we have had our own share of jolting interpersonal experiences as exemplified in the often-tense moments during the modernization process.

While not making it a focus of this entry, I am confident that we can come through this experience with a stronger and more unified approach — as long we all continue to engage in open dialogue and stay the course, even when it is uncomfortable and defies our personal interests.

After all, at the end of the day, we each have the best interest of the association and our profession at heart, although we might not always agree on the immediate steps for getting there.

Let me not omit that the summer of 2016 also saw our profession elect its next president, Dr. Kathryn Conley Wehrmann (president-elect), who will assume the presidency of our association in July 2017.

Other national positions were filled and local chapters welcomed new leadership as well. These new leaders accepted the call and challenge to make themselves available to you, to us, at a time when their skills, talents and energies are so vitally needed.

To them I say thank you and congratulations. For you, the members who took time to either participate as candidates yourselves or to vote, I thank you for being part of the process that assures the continued success of our association, whether times are easy or turbulent.

I will not likely forget the summer of 2016, in part because of the many experiences I have had.

As this period fades and I can reflect on its ups and downs, I am certain of one thing: There is a strength and value in knowing that social workers like you are sharing in this heavy lifting and together we can do things that no one of us can do alone.

Contact Darrell Wheeler at