Social justice remains our common cause

Angelo McClain, Ph.D., LICSWWe live in a nation established by the people, of the people, for the people to secure the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

During the last few years, there has been profuse evidence that, for many, the American dream still remains incredibly elusive, especially for the poor and for people of color.

From Charleston to Baltimore to Missouri, people are demanding that America live up to its creed and irrevocably secure their right to live in social and economic freedom.

In 2015, advocates for social justice celebrated a number of important social justice victories. Consider the milestones achieved on June 26, when we witnessed historic Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage and housing discrimination.

The Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling that the 14th Amendment requires a state to license same-sex marriages and recognize those performed out of state was widely applauded across the social work profession.

These victories are the culmination of years of advocacy, struggle and fight, and provide precious pivot points for righting other injustices that threaten safety, well-being and happiness.

Pope Francis’ monumental visit to the United States and his unique message of peace and social justice reminds us that America must deliver on its promise of freedom for all. While many lined the streets to simply catch a glimpse of the world’s most well-known religious leader, others were just as anxious to hear his views on social issues.

Pope Francis did not disappoint those who advocate for advancing social, economic and environmental justice. His call to current American leaders to sustain the country’s history of fighting to protect the most vulnerable was a call to action that resonates with social work’s long-held social justice values.

Social justice (or lack thereof) profoundly affects people’s lives. Given the presidential election and our nation’s readiness for change, 2016 offers a golden opportunity for social work to make breakthroughs on many deeply rooted societal injustices.

Opportunities abound for social workers to be active leaders in protecting voters’ rights, advocating for fair immigration policies, reforming criminal justice, advancing youth justice, reducing poverty, and undoing structural racism.

Some have misperceived “Black Lives Matter,” interpreting it as a slogan rather than a proclamation that every life is sacred, that every human being is endowed with unalienable dignity; that we all suffer when categorical injustices exist.

The enlightened recognize Black Lives Matter for what it truly is — an authentic civil rights movement that embodies the reality that many in our nation continue to live under the oppressive, long-reaching yoke of institutional racism.

As social justice change agents, we cannot rest when poverty pervades the American mainstream; we cannot pause when our criminal justice system favors punishment over recovery, rehabilitation and restoration; and we must not stand down when some spin the false narrative that we live in a postracial society.

As change agents, we seek multifaceted solutions and approaches to myriad social justice issues, such as remedies that call for approaches to criminal justice that favor help, hope and healing over excessive punishment.

Across the country, social work is taking a stand against the status quo. For instance, the Commission to Advance Macro Practice is on a campaign to rebalance social work’s focus to assure that sufficient emphasis is placed on social work macro practice and addressing social injustices.

The commission’s mantra, “Macro matters,” is an important reminder of the enormous power in policies, politics and people.

Another example is the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s grand challenges for social work, which will be announced in January and are designed to galvanize social work efforts to advance social justice causes.

Every day, social workers — working in a broad range of settings — strive to bring more justice to individuals, families, groups and communities. Social justice is the common cause that bonds and unites us all; it’s the overarching objective of our profession.

Increasingly today, through social media and the vast availability of visual documentation of daily life, we are confronted with irrefutable evidence that large segments of our society are crying for, and demanding, social justice and freedom from oppression.

As agents of change, we must engage the struggle to answer their plea. As we enter 2016, individually and collectively, what will our answer be?

For more information on how you can get involved in social justice change efforts, visit:

Contact Angelo McClain at