We Must Examine America's Soul to Address Injustices

Mit Joyner

By Mildred "Mit" C. Joyner, MSW, LCSW

Coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in the United States. Holiday plans must be revised as we are encouraged again to stay home to remain safe. How many citizens will heed this advice? What will it take to get Americans to consider the health and safety of others? When will the risk that first responders take become our nation’s priority?

Why do some people care only for themselves and not the community? Most importantly, can the social work profession lead in educating communities about how collective interdependence is necessary for an equitable future? Our country is deeply divided.

If democracy is to survive, social work must examine the real soul of America.

Humanitarian crises continue to unfold across the country. Numerous conversations about innovative pathways are topics of daily Zoom meetings. Social work organizations continue to address these pandemics, and they offer sound advice and collective guidance. I personally want to thank NASW’s chapters, NASW’s national office, and sister organizations for the anti-racist work everyone has been engaged in - especially since the death of George Floyd in May.

Members and non-members rightfully demanded that an anti-racist social work framework be embedded throughout the association and the code of ethics - with a thoughtful, thorough review of NASW governance, policies and practices and implementation of recommendations that bring inclusive voices to the table.

The nation just concluded a bitter and contentious election cycle. A new administration will be sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021. Now it is time for the entire social work enterprise to act. It is essential that the social work profession begin the work to heal and unite our communities. Social workers already have established relationships in their communities and are poised to fully discuss plans and policies that must be implemented to address the racial, economic, environmental, and health care crises.

It is crucial that the profession engage and confer with community members on issues that continue to divide this nation. The social work profession must be deliberate and decisive and turn the page on our dark past. We must carefully examine and identify those who want to uphold justice versus those who are wedded to the unjust systems in America.

Social workers, let us reignite the soul of caring in America. People’s belief in one another is a necessity if change is to occur. We cannot hide or ignore the major flaws that exist in this country. The social work profession must not allow the ugly sores created by systemic injustices to continue to fester. Let us disperse into the communities to listen, learn, engage and obtain relevant information that will dismantle these injustices.

Communities must have the opportunity to engage and express concerns from their own perspective. Our neighbors are in desperate need of guidance and direction. The nation’s mental health is teetering. Social workers are essential, we are the change agents, the community-builders, and the problem-solvers. With our knowledge, skills and core values, we can re-engage communities and help the nation accept and appreciate the benefits of a just society.

I believe many individuals and communities are ready to eradicate hate and overcome the political divisiveness that has resulted in rifts, chaos and destruction. I also realize that there are those who have no interest in building a just community. But if our profession does nothing to expose and address the hate and inequalities in our communities, they will continue to grow. Wisdom and truth are powerful tools for change and the profession can facilitate these much-needed community conversations.

Social workers, let us use our problem-solving skills and talk with the people of this nation to ascertain the directions communities want to foster. With 56 chapters of NASW, along with sister social work entities and the thousands of social work students in accredited social work programs, let us all unite and be the force of change to bend the arc of justice toward liberation for all.

It is not easy work, but it is necessary work. These words from the late politician and Civil Rights leader Barbara Jordan sum it up: “For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future. We must not become the new puritans and reject our society. We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done. There is no executive order; there is no law that can require the American people to form a national community. This we must do as individuals and if we do it as individuals, there is no President of the United States who can veto that decision.”

Let the social work profession lead this moral movement and communicate effectively that all people must be free and have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their race, creed, nationality, origin, gender, sexual identification, abilities, disabilities, age, religious beliefs or income. The time is now.

Contact Mit Joyner at president@socialworkers.org