Reclaiming social welfare

Because all people matter

“Every man is our brother, and every man’s burden is our own. Where poverty exists, all are poorer. Where hate flourishes, all are corrupted. Where injustice reigns, all are unequal.” — Whitney M. Young

Angelo McClain, Ph.D., LICSWDuring the 1960s, Whitney M. Young, as president of the National Urban League, brought a new thrust to social welfare by helping identify and solve urban community problems, working to prepare high school dropouts for college, helping to get black workers into jobs previously preserved for whites, pushing for federal aid to cities, proposing racial integration of corporate workplaces, and championing economic empowerment of urban communities.

The social welfare solutions Young proposed in his Domestic Marshall Plan were thought to have helped shape President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Not afraid to take bold action, he brought the Urban League to the forefront of the civil rights movement, serving as a key organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington. He also was elected president of NASW in 1969.

During his tenure as NASW president, Young urged all social workers to blaze trails that fostered human and social welfare. Proclaiming that social work was uniquely positioned and equipped to play a major role in improving our nation, he challenged all social workers and social work organizations to take leadership responsibility and professional action in America’s struggle for social justice.

Driven by a belief that all people matter, Young called on social work to be “an effective voice for the voiceless, hope for the hopeless, and power for the powerless.”

During his fifth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke to the hopes and aspirations of Americans and our simple, yet profound, belief in opportunity for all — an America where prosperity is widely shared across all communities.

Obama asserted that the defining project for our generation must be to restore the American promise of opportunity through a renewed spirit of citizenship; a spirit that demands a sense of common cause, an obligation to serve our communities, and a desire to stand up for the rights of everyone.

Turning Obama’s vision of citizenship into reality requires leadership, the kind of leadership that social work is uniquely positioned to provide. In advancing social welfare, social workers put ideals of citizenship and prosperity into action every day.

In response to our nation’s social welfare challenges, The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (The Academy), an organization dedicated to achieving excellence in the field of social work and social welfare, launched in the fall its Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative.

The initiative is designed to identify solutions to America’s biggest social welfare challenges — issues such as hunger, HIV infection, the stigma of mental illness, and economic inequality.

The project seeks to engage the social work community in identifying ambitious yet achievable goals for society that mobilize the profession, capture the public’s imagination, and require innovation and breakthroughs in science and practice to achieve.

Through its work to identify America’s grand challenges, The Academy has taken an important step toward helping social work reclaim social welfare.

As the profession prepares to take on new challenges to advance social welfare, we must put aside any tensions between specialization and generalist practice, between macro and micro methods of intervention, between research and practice, between education and policy, between scholarship and management, or between professionalism and public policy.

Solving America’s social welfare challenges requires all aspects of social work to understand that all facets of the profession play an important role.

As we recognize and celebrate the contributions of social workers this month (and throughout the year), let’s reinvigorate and reclaim our time-honored tradition of advancing social welfare.

Personally, I’m proud to belong to a profession that recognizes that all people matter.

Happy Social Work Month.

(The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare welcomes ideas from the social work community. Visit Grand Challenges for Social Work for more information.)