The Tip of the Iceberg: Social Work, Social Justice and Social Action – Darrell Wheeler, Ph.D.


So these are really fun events for me because I
see I so many colleagues as well as former students and
alumni. It is just wonderful to see folks. So if you don’t know who I am My name is Dr. Jan Greenberg, I’m the director of the School of Social Work. I’m honored that the dean Darrah Wheeler accepted our invitation to speak our annual Dorothy Pearson lecture and equity and
social justice. Doctor Wheeler is nationally known
for his research on HIV-AIDS and also his leadership role. He’s the president of the National
Association for Social Workers. This year we’re trying to do something
different. This is about the fourth year that we’ve done this
Dorothy Pearson lecture on equity and social justice. In light of what’s happened at Ferguson and also more recently in our own backyard
on Willy Street with the shooting-death of Anthony Robertson, we thought we would do something different. And so after this lecture we’re gonna have breakout sessions to
discuss the role of social work infighting injustices a racial injustice. These breakout sessions are going to be
led by our first ever cohort of BSW Phi Alpha honors society students who helped organize today’s event, and they’re going to be co-led by some field instructors as well as our community partners. I just wanted to
take a minute to introduce our five BSW honor students and our co-leaders for their breakout groups. Our five students are Anna Ballweg, Allison Bender, Kim Hayman, Marissa Hojnacke, and Megan Osowski. This is our first cohort. (applause) I’d also just like to recognize the people who will co-lead the breakout discussion groups: Reverend
Everitt Mitchell, Amanda Angola, Muthoni Imungi, Tracy Schroepfer, and Linda parks. Thank you. (applause) Following the lecture, we’re gonna bring out some food, we’re hoping that you’re going to grab some food we’re gonna set up five different places in the in the
auditorium with circles and that you’ll… at the very end we’ll show you what those who have been participating in the breakout sessions have got a color-code which will tell you where to go – what circle to go. I also just wanted
to thank Mary Paulaskis wherever Mary is. (Background: “I’m here” and applause) Mary has got to be, Mary has been an advisor for the school
and she’s worked real closely with our BSW honors society to make today
possible and if it wasn’t for Mary today wouldn’t have happened so thank you so
much Mary. Today’s lecture is
made possible by Dr. Dorothy Pearson. I
want to just say a few words about Dr. Pearson: She’s a really
poor person to myself and Dr. Wheeler is here because of the mentoring that Dr. Pearson
provided him. Dorothy was born in Darbun, Mississippi, a very small farming community. She was the youngest
of nine. When she was eight, the family moved to
Bogalusa, Louisiana, a small paper mill town. Dorothy excelled in high school, her parents were really supportive of her academic aspirations. And she went on to receive a bachelor’s degree at Southern University in Baton Rouge in 1959. And she was about to enter graduate school in Atlanta University or Fisk University to study sociology. They were both
segregated institutions and Dorothy had always had gone to school in
segregated school systems. But five days after receiving her
undergraduate degree her brother lived here in Milwaukee, and she decided to take a
vacation up to Milwaukee where her brother lived. And I don’t know if anyone has been in Bogalusa in the summertime, but she
fell in love with Milwaukee and the cool breezes off the lake (Michigan). So she
decided to apply the UW School Social Work for her
master’s degree. Also at that time it was not only
the cool breezes off the lake. It was also
at that time the South was deeply segregated in the
1950s, and she wanted to know what was on the other side. She had done well in segregated school
systems and she want to see if she could manage,
if she can make it in an integrated educational system. I’m just going to show a very short clip on which Dr. Pearson talks about her decision. I was born and raised in the South where segregation was the law of the land among the races Black and White. And as a result I
was educated in Black institutions. I had excelled in those settings. And I was, you know, kind of riding high. But it occurred to me: gee, there’s a whole ‘nother world over there. You know, maybe I don’t really know anything. I don’t know enough; because the doors were so guarded on traditionally white institutions
that I did not the opportunity to attend. And I felt that I needed to sort of test myself to see if all this was real, you know. Supposedly there were a whole lot of stuff I’d never heard of. And I’m not as with it as I’d been thought to be in my community. So I said, “Gee, I gotta go over there and see how I might do over there where I’m not permitted to go.” I wanted
to broaden my horizons. I was satisfied with
my education, that was all I knew. But I said it must be something else. No matter how self-confident you are, that the laws of the land and how other people view you can have an impact. I had support with family and community and so forth. But I knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to see the broader world and to see how I fit. And what my preparation was. And I’m happy to report to you that I was
well-prepared. That’s the impact that society with its
segregation laws had had on me. That I must step over the line and see what it is. And it was a bunch of foolishness as to why there were more resources of course because of the discrimination. But if you could think and can do critical thinking, once you get
an opportunity you know, you’re just like the other people who have had it. And maybe more because you had to learn the rudiments of it without having the instrumentation. So I
feel very fortunate I’ve been a part of both worlds. I just wanted to share a little more
about Dorothy’s story. At the time she came up
here, she was 21 years old and the youngest of nine. Her father was a sharecropper, the idea of going to college was really far, and she was the first in her high school, first in her family of nine to
graduate high school. But she came up here and at
that time at the university, we had two campuses.
One in Milwaukee and the other in Madison. And it
was the summertime and the deadline for admissions had far passed. And she was initially told that
she would have to wait a year. But Dorothy is not somebody to tell to wait a year. when she has her mind set on something. So she decided to make an appointment with the director of the school in Milwaukee. And he met with her and he
was so impressed with this woman’s drive, he asked the admissions committee
to make an exception review for her application to see if she
was qualified to get in. She was accepted into
the program. She was allowed to start in the fall. Now she had to deal with
the fact that she got into the school, but she had no
way that she was going to be able to pay out-of-state tuition so back then the graduate school had these special scholarships that would waive out-of-state tuition. It was offered to the most promising
students. But at the time that Dorothy was
admitted, all of these scholarships had been allocated to other students. So again, Dorothy was not going to be deterred from at least trying to get into the school at Wisconsin. So she made an appointment with the Dean of the graduate school. At the meeting with Dorothy he too
was impressed with this woman and he decided to grant her a tuition
waiver. So now she got into the school, she had a tuition waiver, but she had no money to live on
for day-to-day expenses. Also back then in the 1960s, this was the early ’60s, these large agencies like Family Service used to have stipends for students and some of us benefited from those stipends and wouldn’t otherwise had been able to a go to school. Dorothy decided to apply
to the family agency in Milwaukee to do our first year internship. She was
accepted but the stipends had already been allocated and there was no money left. So you can guess what Dorothy did. She got on the phone, she called the
executive director of this family service agency and he agreed to meet with her. He
promised he didn’t have a stipend for the fall, but he promised if she entered the
program, if she stuck with it, if she did well her first semester he would find a stipend for her in the beginning at the second semester. So Dorothy went on, she eventually completed her MSW at the school. She worked for a couple
years then she returned to the PhD program in 1973 to get her PhD. She
returned in the early ’70s to get her PhD. She did graduate in 1973. She was the first
African-American to graduate from our program. With her PhD in hand, she went on to assist
in a joint appointment at the University of Miami School of
Medicine and Barry University School of Social Work. In 1975 she took up
a position at Howard University as a professor. She remained
at Howard until 1999. She established the first PhD program in social work at Howard
University and she became its first director. Dorothy has been the recipient up many awards in 1999. The National Association for Social Work bestowed upon her the highest honor, the title of ‘social work pioneer. Dorothy is is a highly motivated and energetic, passionate, determined
person, incredibly bright. But the thing I feel probably most
proud about is that her success is due to the fact that
doors were open here at Wisconsin at a time when doors were
being closed shut to African-Americans around the country
in terms of higher education. The other thing I like about this is Dorothy had the courage, and it
took incredible courage for somebody to walk through those doors not knowing what was on the other side. I
think we can all take great pride in Dorothy’s success and
that our school had a small role to play in it. So with this
background, I wanted to introduce our keynote speaker.
It’s a great privilege and honor that Dean Wheeler is speaking
today. He is the president of the National Association of Social Workers, as I
mentioned. He is also the Dean of Loyola University School of Social Work. You can’t
imagine how incredibly busy he is; he’s making a time to come up
here to speak in his busy schedule so thank you so much. Dean Wheeler received his MSW at Howard University where he was mentored by Dr. Pierson.
And he received his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh where he also
received a a masters in public health. He went on to
a position at Hunter College up in New York City where he rose through the ranks to Associate Dean for Research from 2007 to 2011. He left Hunter in 2011 to become the
dean of Loyola. Dr. Wheeler’s pioneering research
focuses on the identification and exploration of individual and communal
resiliency and HIV prevention and intervention with a
particular emphasis on African-American, gay, bisexual, and
transgender communities. He is the author/co-author of over 50 articles,
book chapters, and monographs. His work has been funded by the American
International Health Alliance in the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention for which he received a four-year grant of 1.7 million dollars. Since joining NSW in 1986,
he’s been active at both the chapter and national levels. He’s held many positions including the national board vice president, the chair of the
national health section committee, and co-chair of the national committee on
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. Dean Wheeler was elected to the NSW
presidency in 2014. He’s been honored by the profession by
being named a social work pioneer. Please join me
in welcoming Dean Wheeler who will speak on social work, social justice,
and social action. (Applause) Wow! (Chuckles) Murmer: Oh, I’ll get it Good evening University of
Wisconsin How are you? [Audience: Good] Wonderful, wonderful. I’m gonna pull up my presentation and
then I’m gonna tell you a couple things about…. ….me that maybe we didn’t cover already. As a
pioneer it just means you’re getting older. It’s such a pleasure to be here. You saw in the video clip and you heard that I had the wonderful privilege of being
supported, mentored, taught, led, drug, kicked… Umm, never kicked but
wonderfully molded by Dr. Dorothy Pearson. She was my instructor and my graduate counselor. We had directors or counselors
at that particular time at howard university. And there are two things that, well, many things that we have in
common starting with the last being Social Work Pioneers. But Dorothy
Pearson finished college the year that I was born.
So it was 1959. I rarely tell my age, I usually fib and say I was only three when I started this process. But as you can tell by the math I was
actually seven. [Audience laughter] Alright, there we go you got it! Umm, and, so we were probably kindred spirits in
some way, and so who would’ve known at the time of my birth that I would be in the in the presence of what I consider
iconic greatness. When we sat in those classes together and had the opportunity to experience from Dr. Pearson when she talked
about being the first African-American woman to get
her Ph.D here at the University of Wisconsin at
Madison. And to think that many years later at be standing here with the privilege of giving a lecture that she named. As I prepared for this I was in communication with Dr. Pearson and was actually going over thoughts about the lecture. And I was very studious on this and said, “I can’t
disappoint you.” “What am I gonna do? [Unintelligible] With anyone who’s ever had a mentor of
that magnitude, it’s like, it’s more than humbling. It was like,
‘Okay, I won’t be able to get a sentence out.’ So I regret that she can’t be here but I’m
actually glad that she’s not here. [Audience laughter] It would be even more difficult
for me to move through the presentation. And as we were talking, that’s when we
came up with, she said, “You really framed this out with your
content around the iceberg.” And I wanna just say a couple things that she and I talked about before I get
into the lecture. And I had a wonderful lunch with our social work baccalaureate honor students. And you know I was writing when I was talking to Dr. Pearson. Right, here it
is. We talked about many things. She really talked about the need for this lecture to emphasize
the content on social justice; for it to be something that challenged
our thinking about the way we approach the work that we do, and it needed to be grounded in social
work practice. And really something that would go
into perpetuity. So I really commend you for having this
wonderful opportunity to celebrate someone I hold in such high esteem. I’m sure
you do as well. With that said, I want to dive right
into my presentation. I promise not to do an overkill with
PowerPoint presentations. I have several slides but hopefully
they’ll be as engaging as they are content deep. But I want us to move beyond just the ‘I’m gonna lecture at you’ because I’m not
an expert on anybody in this room. As I tell
individuals, it’s a 24/7 job to take care me. There’s no way in the world I could
be an expert on anyone else. What I can do is offer any insights that
I have along the way. Just one final disclosure about
their commonalities we have with Dr. Pearson, when she talked about when you gave
her history and talking about the the product
segregated suburbs’ school systems, even though I grew up in Chicago,
Illinois, given the time that I grew up K through 12 was a segregated experience
for me. The first time I ever sat in a classroom
with a white person I was in college. That’s how
the Chicago Public School Systems were. And we’re not that far from Chicago, and many other issues that Chicago
Public School Systems face are the same issues that you face here.
And unfortunately they’re some of the same issues that we
would’ve faced then, but I would say in many ways that they’re worse. Because there were some elements, and Dr. Pearson nailed it,
there were some elements about the preparedness to a segregated system that well prepared me to be able to really take on interesting
challenges. As we’ll talk about in our
discussion in our our time together, there are things as social workers
that we need to pay attention to and understand from our historical
perspective, right to contemporary practices to be able to extract from
those the things that makes sense today,
jettison or discard things that don’t, but always have an eye
towards what we can do better to achieve that social equity and that
social justice that we talk about. I like to begin a bit with definitional statements. And we talk
about the topic of tonight’s
discussion: social justice and social equities. So, I think it’s important to be on
on a common paint with some terms. I just want to highlight a couple of
things here. I know everyone can’t read it but I’ll just
read a couple things here: ‘Social justice is a process, not a
destination.’ It’s really important to understand and and for me to articulate that
because destinations are a place that you arrive to and then you stop. Social justice clearly
is not something as a place we arrived to. We thought we
had achieved it at many moments in time. When we elected a non-white president we had a
race-neutral society, we had arrived. Lies. We thought we had
achieved it in the ’60s when African-Americans achieved a certain set of civil rights. And what do we see now? We have
constitutional mandates that are actually gerrymandering the whole political voting electorate by
re-designating voting lines. So we achieved it, not. We had equity between and among the
genders when we had women’s suffrage. And women in the room, everything’s rosie
right? Why do we have income inequalities that are just
astonishing in an industrialized society. We didn’t get
there. So one of the the questions I even posed
to us is, “Is social justice attainable?” Is social justice the same as the absence of social inequalities or
social injustice when we’ve lived in a society
where we’ve never even seen what social justice and social equity truly looks like. This is not to
point the finger at any one group or groups of individuals, but it is to articulate very clearly that in the absence of a clearly defined social system where we have actually seen, experienced
that utopic moment that we call social justice, we’re
talking about building something that has never existed. At least not in this social system. There
have always been inequalities and in fact,
many of the social systems that we have today are predicated and demand that
inequalities drive some of the very forces that and systems that we have now relied on
so heavily. You know, you hear that
political rhetoric and people say things like you know, “I
don’t believe in federal government intervening, but don’t mess with my social
security.” [Scattered audience laughter] You know, exactly. You know, they’re
predicated on all kinds of myths that we hold about
what truly is a socially just and socially equitable society. So, the diagram
to the right of the screen, my right, your left, is really about
the difference between equality and equity, that equality
actually shows that people would be compressed. We actually have to get to equity
where some people need a bump up to even get to the point where they
would be able to achieve in a way that’s meaning or comparable to other groups. And so as a society, the question becomes: Are we poised for social equity? I
raise that as more of a Socratic kind of a question and one for us to think about during the course of our time today. And
maybe in the breakout groups and possibly in the question and response segment that we have tonight. But really equity and equal opportunity, you know, is something that we grapple with as
terminologies and that sounds wonderful rolling off lips, but the question is,
“What is it?” What would it look like if it were
achieved? What are the obstacles that keep us from getting there? So let’s go to the profession and because this is the social work program and I’d like to spend some time doing that. So I wanna talk a bit about the helping profession; and I want to reinforce this particularly
for our students, because we talked about this at lunch, when we talk about our helping profession. Social work in our second bullet here,
social work is a verb in this regard. It is both
social and it is work. It is not something to be done in a passive process. You don’t just think about social work.
If you don’t act on it, if you’re not engaging in
social systems are you really doing that which is social work? Jane Addams would probably say no. The founding mothers of our profession would say no. Dr. Pearson would definitely say no. Does it mean that it comes without
conceptual richness and depth and theoretical rigor? No, that’s not what I’m saying. Does it mean that we act without knowing and having an intent with direction? No, that’s not what we’re saying. But
social work without social action, work is a core component of what we’re talking
about. When we talk about our profession we often talk about our profession as a helping profession. There’s two things I want to say about
that before we get into the content-rich area on the various
ways in which we do this. We talk about social work being a
helping profession; oftentimes it’s it’s characterized as
helping others, other professions and it’s
seen as that handmaid profession. Well, here I’d like to say
it’s really quite actionable and it’s not about inertia.
Again, it’s not about not doing. And it is about mediating those systems
that really keep people from reaching that
social equity. It is the true interface between the
individual and those social systems where we engage in the practice of the work engaging and utilizing those social
systems. I guess that definition is as much for our non-social work friends as it is our social workers
but really to reinforce this. We do many things. We provide services, we refer, we develop, we coordinate, we assess, we research… You know, goodness knows, those of us
in academia, we research but once again I say if we’re not connected to the practice and
actually out doing the work, what kind of social work is that? I’m a
nightmare of a dissertation committee person because when I get your dissertation, the
first thing I look to is how it relates to practice. If it
doesn’t relate to practice I ask the question, “Why are you getting this degree in social work?” Because if I can’t see the social work
there, then you’ve got a real issue with me. I don’t care how rich the
methodology is; a position or epidemiology would never have something not connected to that which they’re doing. And
so we have a responsibility there. We’re known by our actions, so as a profession, people understand us as a field based on, and I really, I’m gonna
draw- I wish I could have gotten this slide. And
Mary shared it with me from your presentation that you had
actually last week, when you were doing the racial equity, confronting racial injustice in
social work beyond neutrality. It was actually one of the the last
slides and I got this at lunch time. So it’s really quite compelling and so
I’ll just read from it. It says, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those in times of great moral crisis who
choose to do nothing.” We are known as a profession by our actions. And so what we’ll be talking
about tonight, what I’ll be emphasizing is the actionable
components of what we do and combining that
with the rigor of a commitment to this thing we
call social justice, social equity, and resolving these disparities
of our time. You know, we do this work in so many
different ways, we do it in our aging, we do it in criminal justice, military and veterans, health
inequalities and disparities, disaster planning and aftermath.
This one is taking, these two are actually taking up a lot
of my thinking these days, as we go into the 21st century, true 21st century mode, with all of the
cyberattacks, well, disaster planning… It seems like every day we’re also
on the brink of that next disaster whether it’s somebody flying over Capitol Hill in a one-person kind of device, which is an interesting thing because
you can fly over Capitol Hill, land on Capitol Hill ground, and be gently escorted all the lawn. But if you’re a Black man selling lucies [Slang: cigarette]
on Staten Island, you’re held in a choke-hold and killed. We’ve got a paradox there. And the
question comes up: How do we resolve this and where are we
in the actionable moments that speak to what we see in our
time? So let’s take a deeper look at the current state of social work and
beyond the iceberg’s tip. Now what our contemporary
perspectives? And the way that I wanna do this, because
I anticipated that there would be diverse audiences, I’d like to
dissect this into many different professional realms
that social workers engage in and maybe even get you thinking about
the places in which we do this work. So one of them is child welfare and
children and family welfare. Social workers do work, and
this one is first because this is actually one of those places that social
equity and social justice, safeguarding children,
where we really have laid claim as a
profession to being at the forefront. I mean if there’s
any domain that is truly ours or was historically ours, it’s
probably child and family welfare. What has happened over time? We’ve become so routinized, we’ve become so wedded to the social system that what do
people think about when they think of child welfare engagement? They actually think got
social workers as ‘you’re the people who come and take children away.’ That’s kind of the beginning and the end
of where people see us in a field and in an area of practice
that is so replete with opportunities for
us to strengthen and reduce the inequalities that we
see in family systems. It’s not, we’ve come a ways from the 1960s of going in and being the social worker
looking in the cupboards of single mothers to see if there was a
razor or any indication of a male potentially living in the house. Alright? I mean we’ve come a long way. Because first of all we don’t want to the
home visit, so we’re not, I mean that’s one of the reasons we may not be there. But really we’ve come to realize
that maybe having a two-parent household may not be the worst thing in in in the
space. But sometimes having a two-parent
household requires that we engage in a therapeutic process to help people
understand how to live in blended families; to learn how to bring children
into the fold you may not be your biological children but need the
nurturance care and supervision up the newly introduced parent whether
that’s a male or female. We’ve learned that in our social system,
and I looked at the statistics for here in Dane County, we are in Dane County right? In Dane County, that you know
your situation is not that
different than its mirror in many non-rural spaces across the
country. In urban spaces where increasingly we see a gap between
economically empowered households that are female-headed and those that are not.
Households that are are female-headed typically have, on par, less money available to them. They
are very often non-white in urban environments
because of high concentrations of non-white populations centered in
urban environments. Not that there are non-White women who are single parents and there are many of
them who are out there who are economically
strapped in grappling with life circumstances. But what we see in a place like Madison,
Wisconsin or Milwaukee or Chicago, is we see the gap in the differential
actually crying for social workers to be engaged, and the question is, where are we? What are we doing? And if our services are so greatly
needed, and so useful, why aren’t we seeing the
compression of that gap? We’re seeing the widening of that
gap, and not only the widening of that gap, but the maintenance of that gap in such
a way that it becomes almost predictable at birth what the consequences will be for
individuals born into those households. So children and family welfare engaged
on an individual-level system where we, – what we historically have called direct
practice, but clinical work with individuals,
children, and families is an important component. But if we
don’t attend to the Mesosystem and the political system that under-gird and
finance these systems, we’re missing something critical. If we think about another domain in
which social work has historically and
classically been engaged, it certainly isn’t mental, and we now have used the term increasingly behavioral health: Focusing on the actions and not not always on the structures of the brain or on the
mental functioning, but recognizing that these mental
systems, the neuropsychological in the neurosciences affect behaviors, and it’s
actually the behaviors that society sees. And we’re out there in the trenches and doing the work engaged in behavioral work. Social
workers in the United States are still the largest provider of behavioral and
mental health services. However the gaps that we see in the
individuals who receive exemplary services and those who don’t
continue to grow. I could probably ask you in this room if you’re a health care provider involved in
mental health or behavioral health what your case-load might look like and how is it changed
over recent times. It probably hasn’t gotten better, it’s
probably gotten worse. Exactly. I could ask you how many of you as students who were engaged in mental
health or behavioral work get adequate supervision and you know, most of you should say yes because you’re a student, but then when you that neophyte worker in the mental health and
behavioral system, your first job out, what happens when you get plunged in
there and there’s no supervision? What we’re seeing here is a system where equity is almost not guaranteed. Social inequality becomes reinforced
because the systems and structures that finance what we do in these systems
actually are not geared to provide the service
that we say it’s supposed to provide. So the question
before us becomes what are we doing not just in
terms of delivering the best evidence-based or the best evidence-informed practice, but what are we doing to combat the
systems that actually support and retrench the
kind of behavioral systems and behavioral delivery systems that are guaranteed to
do just the opposite of what we say we want them to do? Because there’s no way in the world
you’re gonna get the outcome, you know, garbage in produces garbage out. There’s just no doubt about it. And
so our mental and behavioral health systems, whether it’s starting with the de-institutionalization in the 1980s, or we’re looking at the de facto behavioral
mental health systems today which are called jails. Which is where we warehouse
individuals who sit with mental health systems, mental health
conditions. Most statistics indicate that not
less than 30 percent all persons incarcerated
today have an underlying or primary mental or
behavioral health condition. And if you add substances to that, you’re
probably dealing with upwards of 50 to 60 percent of all
people in incarcerated situations. So if we’re not attending to the mental and
behavioral health issues what are we actually doing as a social
system to produce the kind of equity that we
say we want to achieve? Having the best evidence-based practice
model doesn’t necessarily work in a very
complex and messy system in the real world. Income and economic well-being, when more than 10
percent of the US population is living in
poverty, no matter where you are, this is national,
at least 10 percent, is living in poverty. And that doesn’t
necessarily count those of us who delude ourselves on
a daily basis to think that we’re not just because we have a paycheck today. Here today, gone tomorrow. How many of
us are living that close to being insolvent should we lose the job that we hold
today? In a system that produces economic and social insecurity, there is a fundamental and underlying flaw that says while we give lip service
and rhetoric to a model of social justice
and social equity, what are we truly doing? I recently
had the opportunity to participate in a panel with prior Congressman Dellums,
Ron Dellums. He talks very eloquently about the debate that we have on capitol
hill, and I invoke him now. What he talks about is why are we having a debate on a minimum wage? Because the debate should be on a
livable wage. A debate that’s predicated on a minimum
wage suppresses the possibility back to that
picture of equity, that anyone what ever get beyond
the point of just barely having enough to be poor. Why aren’t we as a social society, as a society that says ‘we’re civil
society engaged in a debate about the livable
wage?’ And where are we as social work
professionals in that debate? Where are we in producing evidence that maybe
compares society that provides a livable wage to
those who don’t or systems or circumstances that would
promulgate a livable wage compared to just a
minimum wage or poverty circumstances? The undergirding factors for so many of our
social ills are right there embedded in an
economic system that is predicated on the one percent
owning what, 80 percent or more of the wealth in
this country, held by as I said that one percent,
while the rest of us are struggling and have our heads in the sand and our tails in the air, and we’re going to get bumped in the end. There is no doubt we live in an odd system where we promote striving for the
highest standards of economic and social inclusiveness, but we
put in place systems that guarantee it will never happen. How many have you
have clients whether you’re a social worker or not, who when you meet with them, one of the
first things they say to you is, “I need money?” Dr. Pearson said, ‘What?’ ‘I need income to go to school.’ ‘I need income to sustain myself.’ Romance with no finance is a nuisance. Let me just tell you. (Audience laughter) If you try to go to the movie theater after this event, and go in with no
ticket and no money and no popcorn, there’s no romance at the end of the
night because you’re not getting in to the movie theater. (Scattered audience laughter) It’s just not going to happen. So we have
to be realistic about the fundamental reality that money is part of a capitalist society. And I
say particularly to our academic leaders: How many of us do not promote and talk about economic sufficiency in
our course in content work? How many students have I come into
contact with and say, “Boy, we don’t really talk about money.”
Whether it’s money for ourselves in negotiating for our jobs, or money
about our clients and how to manage it, this is a fundamental reality when in
fact as you see, we’ve got 10 percent of the US
population living in poverty and 1 percent commanding such a
disproportionate segment of the national wealth. An area that is really, really, really near and dear to my
heart is someone who was a public health degree. Before going to social work school I
went to medical school. I actually did not like medical school. Sometimes I say I hated it, I won’t go so
far as to say I hated it, but medical school and I didn’t get along. I
realized after about six months there Marcus Welby only existed on TV, because I wanted to be Marcus Welby.
Those of you who don’t get it ask somebody who’s a little bit older later. (Audience laughter) They’ll explain at the commercial
break, okay? But it was really an experience that, you know, was daunting for me and I stumbled into this thing called social work. But I
knew I wanted to be engaged in population-based activities; but also to impact the health and
well-being of individuals. And I think that’s why I actually do a lot of health and behavioral work and HIV-related work. But these two slides do a couple
of things. One, it celebrates… (Audience member cough) Bless you. …celebrates
what social work does, and social care. And let me be very clear there is no
health care without attending to the social
circumstances of the individual. Persons live in context. Whether that is in a health care setting or
in their own home setting. How many of you have been to a health care provider who says something and you kinda look at them, and you go, ‘I can’t incorporate that into my life.’ Because, you know, if you’re a new
mom or new parent, and they’re like, ‘Well, get
some rest.’ Okay you gonna get rest with three kids at my sister and her partner, we’ve got
three kids at home, between soccer games and mitigating fights, and whatever
else they’re doing, there’s no rest for the weary. It’s just not gonna happen. And just taking
care of yourself is getting that five minute reprieve when the kids are between activities; and it looks very
different. And then the other thing I put out here
is that the the issues about individual health care,
and some other stuff I mentioned earlier about behavioral health care are really
important, but society is looking for large-scale
impact of population-oriented outcomes. So the prospect for public and mental-medical health social
work engagement is still quite promising. This is not a commercial to become a
public health social worker, but it is underscoring the fact that
there are many disciplines recognizing what we’ve known for over a
hundred years as a social work profession: That it is about context in environment. There are increasing encroachments on our professional turf coming from many different disciplines who are
saying almost as an epiphany, ‘Man, the person’s environment really affects what happens to their health.’
And I love coming up behind them to be able to say “Knock, knock, social work knew that for a
long time. “Yes, I’m a social worker we’re gonna we’re
gonna help you understand this.” But we as a profession have to
understand and claim what is historically ours if we’re going to reduce the
inequalities that we see. This is an area for me as I said, dear and dear. In my own research, in the work that we
do on HIV and AIDS, if I might take just a moment to talk about that, we know that in the United States there
are probably 1.2 million individuals living with HIV in the United States. You know,
whether it’s new infections or long-term survival. We know that 50,000 individuals become
infected every year in the United States. It’s kind of a
steady-state experience. However, in the United States, the best
medical care you can get anywhere on the planet, if you can afford it, in the United
States, is that 20 percent, at least 20 percent of those individuals 1.2 million don’t know
that they’re HIV-positive. And of the remaining 80 percent, go
to the end of the story, not more than 18 percent of the
remaining 80 percent are achieving optimal medical suppression of their HIV in an environment where medical
optimization is readily available. So I spend a lot on my research time
looking at the systems and structures that create
those inequalities. And let me say they look
pretty bleak if you are a non-white male- -But let me back. They look bleak if you’re a gay man or a bisexual man in the United States. That’s the population
that’s driving the epidemic. And it looks even worse if you’re an
African-American male. And it’s even worse if you’re between
13 and 24. In the United States that’s where the
epidemic is entrenched. And so when we talk about some of the things we’re going to talk about in just a moment, think about the 13 to 24 age group African-American men. Oh, you recently had a situation with
someone who’s in that age demographic, didn’t you?
When we talk about the criminal justice system and human
rights, the picture is relatively bleak on so many different fronts for young
men across the country when we look at that
income inequalities, when we look at poor housing
opportunities, when we look at social instabilities. But then when we look at the criminal justice system and the human rights situation United States,
and you’re a young man in that population group, and you’re living in the United States
of incarceration, where we have the highest per capita
incarceration of individuals of any of the
industrialized countries, why is this? In certain places, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it
happens here, I don’t know this for a fact, but having lived 16 years in New
York, I know that in New York City there are some actuarial processes that build future beds in Rikers Island and upstate prisons predicated on the zip code birth of a cohort. So, they’ll look at how many
African-Americans are born today and calculate how many prison beds they’re going to need in 15 years. That’s exactly what they do; because they
know the pipeline is there. They know that economic
inequalities are there, the structural realities are there, they
know and if you look at a map, it’s quite unfortunate, and
your statistics show this as well, again looking at the statistics from
your conference last week: Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, we all have the same problem. We live in environments where unfortunately, 50 percent of the African-American young men who enter
high school will not graduate. Fifty percent. What does that foretell for an incarceration and a human rights experience? Let’s not forget that
the United States has not signed on to the Human Rights Declaration. (United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) And why is it that we as a society that
says, ‘Oh, we can shoot someone in their back,’
and then on the media you see that person go but that doesn’t happen in the United
States. That doesn’t happen in Dane County. That doesn’t happen in my state. But where in the hell did it happen if it didn’t happen in your backyard? It wasn’t a clip
from a TV show from another planet or another country.
It was right here. So the question becomes, where are we in this political and social time of great need for what social work says it has to
offer? When we have the Tony Robinson’s, the
Michael Brown’s, the Kimani Gray’s, the Kendrick McDade’s, the Trayvon
Martin’s, where is our profession? Where are we as individual social workers? A moment of historical lesson. And why I really talk about
this as being the tip of the ice berg. I’m not one who’s really gonna go
out and do a rally or march for any one of these individuals, I’ll be very clear
on that. And let me tell you why; because this is,
as I say, the tip of the iceberg. Every week we hear about another one of these
situations occurring. If the most we can muster is a rally for the individual and say, “I’m
marching for Trayvon.” No you’re not, Trayvon is dead. “It’s an unfortunate reality…” No you’re
not, you’re marching to absolve your guilt from
having not done something or being engaged at a deeper level and
particularly if you’re a professional social worker. When we look at Ferguson, and we saw the powder keg of Ferguson, how many people have heard of Pierce City, Missouri? And the historical events that occurred there are little more than a hundred years ago? Hands up, I know five people
heard of it. Pierce City, and you can look this up to
fact-check it, Pierce City- but don’t look it up
until we’re finished with my discussion. (Audience laughter) Pierce City, Missouri, not that far
from Ferguson, early 1900s, an African-American prominent community that coexisted tenuously with a white
community in a really segregated part of Missouri, but there was an incidents much like we’ve seen in many of the Jim Crow experiences
where when something happened to a white
individual, all attention was focused on the black community immediately. So, it resulted in a, not just a lynching of an individual, but in Pierce City, what they did was in the middle of the night, took the
black homeowners out of their homes, men, women, and
children, marched them down Main Street opened fire on them. The individuals who were not immediately killed had to flee with only the things
they had on their backs. And then let’s fast forward now to 2015, some of the ancestors have come back, and they’ve actually dug into some of the cemeteries and done the anatomical tests to confirm that those
are the ancestors, and so they’ve come back and said, ‘Well, if
these towns were owned by black folk, where are the deeds that now were transferred to the white
community that are living there?’ And so the white community has said, ‘Well
there’s no way for us to know and who would really have paid
attention to that? So we own it now.’ Talk about reparations, you’re talking
about upset people living in Pierce City. So something like a Ferguson incident, a Mike Brown, we’re just seeing a
powder keg waiting to happen. And that’s one example. How many people, I
know, probably more people know about this?
Where was Black Wall Street? In Oklahoma, right? If you haven’t heard
about the Black Wall Street, it was in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City was the place when, didn’t- Oh didn’t we just have an
incident in Oklahoma? Yeah, exactly. Historical legacy upon
historical legacy begets what? If we’re not taking care of
everything underneath the iceberg, attending to the
tip of the iceberg really doesn’t get us anywhere. But just
as I finish that train of thought, the Black Wall Street was in Oklahoma, one of the few places that in the
depression was thriving. It did economically well. And clearly
when the rest of the environment but was going downhill, people were looking and saying, “Why is
this going well?” Well as a fundamental result of segregation that resulted in that because black folks couldn’t bank anywhere else. We didn’t allow black folks to invest in some of the mainstream systems, so when the mainstream systems
failed, their money was protected because that wasn’t part of what could have been impacted by the depression. So economic forces would tell us of
course they’re gonna be isolated. So what was the social response
to that? They razed Oklahoma City. They bombed it from the air and took it off the map. The same thing happened to Rosewood, Florida. Fact check on any of those. When we live in a
society where we have human rights violations of this nature, is there any wonder there’s a legacy
of frustration amongst a group up young men who’re economically, socially, and politically
isolated in such a way that we don’t do anything for them as a social system? So
it’s not just about my hands are up, or I’m I’m here for Trayvon, it’s are we attending to the historical underpinnings that we need to know about
that get us to where we are today? Aging is a place that you know, we’re aging, we’re
aging as you’re sitting here listening to me talk. We’re aging as a social system. And aging is another place where social work
finds itself in great need. Helping people to advance across a continuum, you know I
like to say, and maybe it’s a function of me getting older, there’s too much
attention to youth. There’s just too much attention given to youth. Because the reality is, getting you to
adulthood and beyond, that’s where, you know, you’re
only under 18 for a short period in your life. And if you live long enough you’re gonna be
over 18 longer, so the emphasis should be on people 50, 55, and up now. (Scattered audience cheering) That’s the new number, that’s the one I claim. (laughs) Exactly. But the reality is, if we’re not
attending to the nuanced and special circumstances
of individuals about aging helpfully, we’re gonna end up in a
really bad situation and we see it in the disparate outcomes when we look at that infirmity that we see in
certain groups who have poor nutritional outcomes, poor
housing, all about other things that we talked
about before that predict how you’re going to end up in terms of
you’re aging experience. All of these really speak to a few things, our structural and
social determinants of health and human services. Where are
we in terms of developing our
activities around things like early childhood
development, education employment, income and job
security, food security, while I didn’t put it up
there, Chicago is one of those places, and I can
imagine it is here, we have food deserts. There’s no grocery
store and no place to get any real food. You have to buy synthetic, canned, or Mc- I won’t say, I won’t do a
brand name. You have to buy prepared food that probably doesn’t hold the same
nutritional value for you. And that has a negative impact in the
long term on your body and how your body
metabolizes and then what happens to the relationship between the body and the
mind and the implications that we see. Are we attending to this where are
we as social workers? Housing, social exclusion, and stigma, all of these factors come into play. Now
I’m nearing the end of the discussion, a few
more slides and discussion points. And I don’t want to leave on a negative, so I want to say that the future is promising,
but its only the tip of the iceberg if we only focus on the tip of the iceberg. If we don’t pay attention to the forces that lead to the
historical realities that bring us to the circumstances in any of those areas that I identified,
what are we truly doing as a professional body? What are we doing when we hold events that then we leave and say, “Oh I feel really great, I
got out there?” You know, what I think about this is, I don’t
know how many people read this month’s NASW news. We have to do these things like share things about myself. Watching television growing up in the 1960s, I
think I was traumatized. Whenever something came on TV and it said a special report, by the time I
was 10 I thought that meant somebody was dying. Because after watching J.F. Kennedy’s funeral, Martin Luther King’s funeral, Robert Kennedy’s funeral… Every time
something came on that news, I remember standing by those big black and white televisions said and
I remember my parents actually sitting up at night. I didn’t
know why they were sitting up at night in the ’60s; but it was a
tumultuous time in Chicago in the ’60s, in 1968 and ’69. It was for the safety of the
family that they were doing that. These are the things that we have to pay
attention to that shape who we are and that’s probably
why I’m a bit radical about these things. I think we’ve not
allow the history of these things to come forward. That we have allowable many instances our desire for social justice to overshadow a clear articulation of the
historical roots, the deep part of the iceberg that needs to
be told. Because if we don’t tell that
component of the story we miss something very powerful. You know, look what happened to a ship going up, you
know, the Titanic is where I’m going, if you don’t pay attention to what’s underneath. So as we conclude, you have to, we have to, as social
workers, pay attention to all levels of our
professional practice: Macro, mezzo, and and, oh typo, “macro,” not “ma-kar.” Macro, micro, and
mezzo. We have to really pay attention to the
political and economic policies and trends of our days. Whether that’s religious and human
rights, biological or technological, immigration and other forms of cultural
reforms, we really need to be engaged if we’re going to do
this work in attending to our state legislative
annual federal budget initiatives. Because again as I jokingly said
about the relationship between romance and finance, where the money goes you know, as Terry Mizrahi might say
is you know, ‘How you use your budget is truly the
most important thing.’ Where that money actually ends up speaks
volumes to what you’re true agenda is. All of the lip service we give to the
wonderful stuff that doesn’t have any support economically doesn’t produce the outcomes that we
would hope to achieve. We have to attend to diverse clients, diverse work-load compositions, and more
flexibilities in roles. So you’re meeting last week on
diversity is really important, and one of the things I say about diversity
is, you know, much akin to what I said at the
beginning this presentation is itis a 24/7 job to take care me, and the real work of diversity work is
about getting your stuff in order. It’s not about learning
the five things I need to know to work with Latino communities or Asian
communities or migrant, you know, Bahrainians or that other
group. That’s not what it’s about. The real work
in diversity work is understanding what does diversity mean to
you. How are you sitting in positions of privilege and
power, and I sit in positions of privilege
and power and I won’t deny that. How do I understand the concept that
privilege and power manifest in my own life? As a male, men in social work rise to academic
leadership more rapidly than women in social work
and it’s a female-dominated profession. Why is that? And I have to be
very careful about the utilization of my voice when I’m in spaces where I am a guest in a female-dominated profession to make
sure I shut up and listen to the voices of the true rank-and-file our profession.
Those who actually gave birth to this profession
in a meaningful way that I reap the privilege of because I
was born a male in this gendered society. So it’s really
important for us to think about the work that we do from that perspective. We as a profession must attend to the person in environment, the case
to cause, the system’s oriented practice. We can’t
blame the victim as we so often do and we slide into this
very rapidly. Give you a prime example; I think we do a
very interesting job of victim blaming in our contemporary
issues. How many people have seen the clips on on the news lately of the, since we
talked about it, the black man being shot in the back,
being chased. Those loops going over and over and over
have an interesting weight. The subtext is that the police are wrong. What they actually show is the victim. The most, most of the video is focused on
the victim and so we end of making mental images in our mind about the victim as
much as we do about the perpetrator. And we tacitly reinforce the victim blaming and, we were talking about this at lunch,
one of the things that we learned after September Eleventh, is that you who were able to see repeated clips on the news of the planes
hitting those towers were traumatized and had fears. So what are the implications of
constantly showing those same kinda clips to young man 13 to 24 who look like
those guys? It has to be by extension some of the
same traumatization and victim blaming. And we
need to be careful about that, and we need to write to our media
folks and say, “Are you attending “to the parallel structures that we know
impacted other groups “that you’re reinforcing something that you may
not intend to, “but you may need to pay attention to?” We
have to listen to indigenous knowledge. As social workers I think sometimes
we’ve gotten into a space where we stopped listening to the true
experts, and those are the people who have to live in
the circumstances in which they live. You need to as part of your cultural awareness, my cultural
awareness, ask somebody, “What is it like to be in
your shoes?” At the end of the day, you know, as I
said, we’re known by our actions. But it comes down to three
simple things. What we do? Why do we do it? What difference
does it make? The ‘what we do’ are truly the skills and
practices and tools and processes that we bring to the efforts that we hope to achieve. And are we truly articulating those well? Kind of like the metaphorical
stethoscope, do we have the tools really well articulated? The ‘why do
we do it’ is the conceptualization, constructs, and theories. Are we paying attention to the
historical antecedents in the concepts and the theories that lead us to make decisions? And are we being critical about those processes? And are we absolutely committed to following the trail that takes is often to places we
don’t want to go, in a answering the question, “What
difference does it make?,” given what I’ve done? And so I leave you
with that. You know, it says in that slide, “Do you
remember when all we had to worry about “was client care?” Well in a highly competitive environment
that we find ourselves today, with the kinds of social injustices and
inequalities that we have today, it’s not okay sit quietly in your office and take care of the one client
only and not pay attention to the bigger perspective. I don’t think
that’s what the founding mothers did in the settlement house movements. I don’t
believe that and I think they were very clear about that. And I don’t think it’s the way we should
be going today. So with that I really say thank you for inviting me and the future of the profession is in our
hands. And the time that you’re going to spend
either querying me of questions or playing the video I
didn’t get to see, (laughs) or in the breakout groups.
And I’m more than willing to stick around and
respond to questions. Thank you very much. (Crowd applause)




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