The Path Forward: Climbing the Hill Together

From the President

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

Mit Joyner

Amanda Gorman made history as the first national youth poet laureate to speak at a president’s inauguration with her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

The vibrant African American woman who graduated from Harvard University offered us hope and a direction for the social work profession.

Her poetry underscores the rationale for why social work must take bold, deliberate actions that bend the arc of justice toward liberation for all. Ms. Gorman reminds us that this time “will represent a moment of unity for our country.”

The insurrection that occurred on January 6, left our democracy badly bruised. Insurgents seized the United States Capitol, destroyed and defaced federal property, killed a U.S. Capitol Police officer, stole federal and personal property, went on a vile rampage, and took selfies and posted videos. They chanted “Kill Mike Pence,” then-vice president, while also on the hunt for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, with a goal to hang them both on a scaffold they erected on the U.S. Capitol grounds.

Eugene Goodman, a U.S. Capitol Police officer, diverted the mob as they ascended the stairs inside the Capitol. He used a tactic that redirected the insurgents, stopping them from locating their human prey. Thankfully, due to his astute analysis, all members of Congress reached safety. Officer Goodman’s actions helped to save our democracy.

As Ms. Gorman captured in her poem and our eyes witnessed, on January 6 there were attempts to shatter the nation. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated,” she said.

We now come together, embracing truth and eyeing history to find the path forward. Moving beyond fear toward “just redemption,” we see we have come through attempts to intimidate and delay democracy. It is now our responsibility to create a new chapter for those who follow.

President Joseph R. Biden clearly understands the direction this nation must take. Ms. Gorman recited Biden’s vision “to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.” Alisha Haridasani Gupta wrote in the New York Times: “President Biden’s proposed Cabinet is the most diverse in U.S. history, comprising more women and people of color than any Cabinet before it. In many ways, this fulfills his campaign promise to select a team that looks like America and modernizes the predominantly male, white institution. Building a diverse team will lead to better outcomes and more effective solutions to address the urgent crises facing our nation.”

Several social workers are positioned to drive the administration’s inclusive vision and agenda. Andrea Palm, MSW, Wisconsin’s top health official is now the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Jared Bernstein, MSW, is appointed to the Council of Economic Advisers. Wendy Sherman, MSW and NASW Social Work Pioneer®, will serve as the deputy U.S. secretary of state. Meg Kabat, LCSW-C, CCM, leads the transition at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Michael Lindsey, PhD, MSW, MPH, has been appointed to the Centers for Disease Control’s Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) for a five-year term starting in 2022.“

The United States is a nation that has spent the past four years torn apart by racism, political polarization and mistrust.... Helping the country heal will be among President Biden’s top priorities,” wrote Tim Craig, Mark Berman and Amy B. Wang in a January 11 Washington Post article.

The Biden-Harris agenda for our nation is aligned with the social work social justice agenda. The social work profession cannot remain silent. Ms. Gorman gives us this warning: “We’ve learned that quiet isn't always peace, and the norms and notions of what is ‘just’ isn’t always justice.”

NASW and all social work sister organizations should release an immediate plan of action outlining the ways social workers can help heal our communities. This includes the development of a guide with specific steps for how the profession can work with our communities to address the racial, social, economic, and environmental injustices that have torn our nation apart.

History will judge the actions all social work organizations and social workers take during this profound time. Hope gives us the strength to light the path we must urgently follow. Using the words of the stellar Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Contact Mit Joyner at