Foundation Names W.E.B. Du Bois One of 25 New Social Work Pioneers

By Paul R. Pace

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NAACP co-founder William Edward Burghardt “W.E.B.” Du Bois (1868-1963), pictured at left, was among the first scholars to emphasize the person in environment (PIE) theory. He was the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, and became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University.

Du Bois highlighted the contributions of African Americans in creating the United States. He also drew attention to racial disparities in outcomes like health and criminal justice. His work documented the history and meaning of racialized life, practices and policies. His efforts provided the methodological innovations still used by social workers and other social scientists.

For his many achievements, the NASW Foundation has inducted Du Bois and 24 other social workers into the NASW Social Work Pioneers® program. Being named a Social Work Pioneer is one of the profession’s highest honors. These pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition, and they serve as role models for future generations of social workers. In addition to Du Bois, the other Pioneer inductees this year include:

Lawanna Barron, who for nearly 30 years has been recognized for her contributions related to strengthening and expanding programs to prevent child abuse and intimate partner violence, and to support the strains experienced by military families.

Richard Barth, a professor and emeritus dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland. He is the founding president of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and the chair of the Grand Challenges for Social Work initiative.

Gary Bess, who has contributed to the social work profession through his more than 40 years of macro social work practice, including directorships of two free medical clinics in Southern California for the underserved.

Risa Breckman, who served at the forefront of what would eventually be known as the elder justice movement: working directly with people who experienced elder abuse, and more.

Eddie F. Brown, a social work scholar, policy advocate, and Indigenous Elder whose work has made a lasting impact on Indian Country. Brown has served at the highest administrative levels in federal, state and tribal governments as well as within universities and social work education.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Cauble, who formed a coalition of Colorado social workers to support family therapists who might need specific training requirements in proposed state legislation. Nationally, Cauble conducted advocacy work on behalf of NASW, with others, to move what had been a trust, and established NASW/ASI.

Hank Cecil, renowned in Kentucky for his unwavering commitment to micro, mezzo, and macro social work through his sustained ethical practice as the owner and founder of Starship Care, LLC.

Darla Spence Coffey, who served as president and CEO of the Council on Social Work Education from 2012-2022. Her efforts include establishing 842 programs that increased the number of social work graduates to meet the demand of the social work shortage in the world.

Shirley E. Cox, a visionary leader, researcher, teacher, mentor, and advocate at the local, state, national and international levels for nearly 60 years. Cox was a pioneer in preserving and expanding NASW through difficult times in the 1970s and in advocating for and securing licensure laws across the United States.

Ivor J. Echols, who made pioneering contributions as an educator, an activist for civil rights and social justice, and as a spokesperson for the social work profession. She inspired hundreds of students, and, as a leader, strengthened numerous community and national organizations, including NASW and the National Association of Black Social Workers.

Diane E. Elze, who has made notable contributions to the social work profession through her career-long commitment to working with and on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth.

Sudarshan Kapoor has committed to the peace and nonviolence movements and bridging peace studies as social work. He has sought, fought and taught about peace and justice through nonviolence in California’s Central Valley and beyond for 56 years.

Leslie Leighninger, who has done seminal work to share knowledge about the social work profession. Her efforts resulted in an improved understanding of historical developments for other social workers, as well as historians.

Mark Lusk has taught thousands of social work students and mentored numerous colleagues, academics and social work practitioners. Lusk has been a tenured full professor and administrator at seven major state universities and visiting professor at universities in Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Morocco, and Guyana.

Mary L. McCarthy has been a change agent throughout her career. Her work at the University at Albany, statewide, nationally and internationally attests to the scope and impact of her contributions.

Julie Niven has worked throughout her career as a behavioral health therapist within government and nonprofit sectors, making significant innovative programmatic changes to benefit patients/clients as well as facility staff.

Masaru Oshiro, who served as Hawaii’s deputy director of the Department of Social Services and Housing. His responsibilities included corrections, parole and criminal injuries compensation programs.

Scott Ryan has made an undeniable mark on the field of social work through his leadership and his multifaceted contributions to research, higher education, and his communities’ children and families needing clinical service.

Jonathan Bentley Singer has been a trailblazer in the social work profession as the founder and host of the Social Work Podcast (, the first podcast by and for social workers. Singer founded the podcast in 2007 while he was still a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh.

William Spitzer has made broad-ranging leadership contributions throughout his distinguished career that have significantly advanced client services, professional practice, and social work education.

Diane Stroud initiated the first Respite Care Program for drug- and alcohol-affected children in Illinois as well as the first Illinois Respite Care Program for HIV/AIDS-affected children and their families. She also developed the Teen Parent Initiative through the Department of Public Aid in response to welfare reform initiatives affecting teen parents in the state.

Jim Toy (1930-2022) was a leader both in the state of Michigan and nationally. In 1970, Toy became the first person known to have publicly come out as gay in the state of Michigan, while speaking at an anti-war rally in Detroit. He co-founded the Detroit and Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Fronts.

Larry Watson has made significant contributions to the profession throughout his 50-year career. His impacts have been broad and deep in many areas of social work. He has worked as a practitioner, an administrator, an academician, an author/researcher, and as an advocate for people in need.

Judy Webber has left a lasting legacy of leadership, innovation and integration within California Social Services. She served the State of California Department of Child Welfare for 20 years as the longest tenured child welfare director in the state.

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