Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Can Be the Profession's Sankofa

Mildred "Mit" C. Joyner

Mit Joyner

As we approach the holidays, the NASW board of directors and I wish everyone a wonderful new year. I readily admit 2021 was a tumultuous year for me that was packed with anticipation and unknowns. NASW hurdled numerous challenges and the staff worked to restructure programs and to create and execute innovative ways to effectively and efficiently serve our association members. As president, I thank the entire NASW enterprise for their hard work in achieving success over the last year. This includes all chapter staff, the board of directors, the national staff, the CEO, our countless volunteers, and NASW’s growing membership.

In 2022, it is important for me as an NASW leader to embrace social work traditions and approach the next year of my leadership with honor, honesty and hope for our association. I recently attended a plenary session at the 2021 Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, where Dr. Abbey Tasse reminded the audience of the Adinkra symbol of Sankofa. The symbol is a bird looking back, which means to “Go back and take” and it “signifies the importance of returning in time to bring to the present useful past cultural values, which are needed today. It is believed that progress is based on the right use of the positive contributions of the past.” (Agbo, 1999, p.3.)

Over the last 19 months of my leadership, NASW has faced the COVID pandemic and the racial pandemic that has been in existence for generations. In 2020 and throughout 2021, the NASW board, like many other association boards, examined and revised policies that were not equitable, excluded others, and maintained the status quo—and we are still engaged in the process.

The board and staff worked on a publication that acknowledges the trauma social workers have inflicted on diverse individuals, groups, and communities. With purpose, NASW reviewed social work’s history and published Undoing Racism through Social Work: NASW Report to the Profession on Racial Justice Priorities and Action.

NASW developed an anti-racism statement and committed to continue to develop new pathways forward that examine all of our actions through the diversity, equity and inclusion lens. In the new year, NASW will continue to apply the DEI lens in all of its actions. NASW realizes it is critical that the association embed DEI into the core of who we are and how we conduct business day to day.

It is my belief that all social workers who study, graduate and practice social work must incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion in all that they do. Imagine if DEI became the gold standard of social work, one of the defining core values. Social work is a profession that requires every practitioner to adhere to the Code of Ethics. As social workers, our strength is to engage communities and work to achieve the goals of those communities, with focus on respecting the dignity and worth of all of its members.

As social workers, we know and accept that we will be confronted with oppressive constructs, racism, white supremacy, privilege, and other status quo systems. We already anticipate that we will be called upon to disrupt patterns of injustice from a variety of people and populations.

We must lean into opportunities to magnify our ethics and operationalize our knowledge base, which spans across the micro, mezzo and macro spheres. We also must incorporate DEI to strategize and take deliberate actions for sustainable equitable change.

More than ever before, all social work organizations must work together to hone and validate social workers’ unique skills through qualitative and quantitative research. Further, as the utility of our profession is made more evident through key findings and our expanding collaborations with our nation’s most critical public safety and social welfare systems, social workers are well-positioned to influence, enhance, and reimagine constructs that have created explicit and implicit barriers for historically vulnerable populations.

We have learned from the past and now as we look forward to the year ahead, let us do so bravely and boldly. We must be ready to take the necessary action to dismantle the structures, barriers and systems that we know historically perpetuate hate and inequities throughout our society. Let us continue to be the gatekeepers of justice, equity and inclusion — always eager to give all access to dignity, hope and a future orientation based upon the realities of that access.

The social work profession has the responsibility to ensure that all who practice are indeed qualified and aware of our commitments to facilitate diversity, equity and inclusion as a material outcome that alleviates pain. That is the gold standard of social work. DEI can be our Sankofa.

Contact Mit Joyner at president@socialworkers.org