Social Work Breaks Barriers With Deliberate Actions

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

Mit Joyner

Social Work Breaks Barriers is an appropriate theme for the profession to commit to as we enter 2023. It is the theme for this year’s Social Work Month, which we celebrate each March.

As social workers, we have reflected on the aftermath of the midterm elections, which put in power numerous candidates with seemingly no moral values. Now, we must seriously think about the role all social workers need to play at this time in history. What deliberate but necessary actions will each of us take that will change the current hateful conditions in our world?

I recently was inspired by the documentary The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, which serves as a reminder of the power of social work. I urge every social worker and social work student to watch the documentary to learn or be reminded of how we must take deliberate actions — even in the face of life-threatening risk — to expose and change oppressive institutional racist systems. All of us know the amazing mother of the civil rights movement. Her entire life was committed to social justice advocacy and she never gave up. Her early activist actions protected her family from the infamous Ku Klux Klan.

On Dec. 1, we celebrated the 67th anniversary of the day Rosa Parks took another stand. On this day, the 47-year-old refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus. This was not the first or a one-time action by Parks. She had been working quietly to stop the sins of racism. This action was planned and Parks knew the consequences. Her arrest led to the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, which became a timber of derailing desegregation in Montgomery, Ala.

Rosa Parks understood the power of collective persistence. Along with other civil rights advocates, such as Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Honorable John R. Lewis, she understood that collectively coming together was the only way to confront the status quo. At that time, white supremacist patriarchy was the status quo, as it still is today. 

Parks noted, “We did not have weapons to go against the power structure, but our persistence, patience, faith and our belief in each always strengthened our determination to remain steadfast and united.” 

Parks said the success of the bus boycott was because “we banded together for a common cause; as long as we are divided and fearful, we are defeated.”

Parks, who noted her desire to become a social worker if she ever had the chance to obtain a college degree, provides a model for us on how to take the deliberate actions needed for change. 

Like Rosa Parks, social work is committed to justice advocacy. For all of us who serve the profession, we, too, must never give up. The NASW Code of Ethics demands that we assist those who are the most vulnerable. Therefore, as social workers, we must break the barriers that perpetuate global racism and hate for all of those who are different from the status quo.

One of my earlier articles was “Racism is America’s Human Stain.” We see it, we know that it is there, yet we ignore it. It is time that the social work profession universally commit to exposing the human stain everywhere it exists — within our profession, our workplaces, our schools and universities, our organizations, and in our various systems. This also includes our communities, our families, our nation, and around the globe. Social work must commit our resources, talent, knowledge and skills by taking the necessary, deliberate, individual, and collective actions that tear down oppressive systems — those systems that continue to prey on people of color; those who are discriminated against based on their gender or sexuality; those who practice their religion; or any group where documented disparities exist.

As a community of social workers across the country and the world, we can come together to fight white supremacist patriarchy. As Parks noted, “It starts in our communities,” but is only ignited by taking deliberate necessary actions. We are the ones to whom Rosa Parks and other global social justice leaders have passed the mantle.

With action we can and we will respond by coming together collectively to fight injustice and oppression. With action we can and we will work together across generations. And, with action, we will always prepare and encourage the next generation to carry this torch forward until, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

NASW will move forward in 2023 with an agenda filled with deliberate actions and live up to our theme Social Work Breaks Barriers.

Contact Mit Joyner at

cover of February / March 2023 issue

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