By Sylvester Bowie
March is social work month. The idea of having a month set apart to celebrate, encourage, and support the interest and work of social workers was first introduced by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in March 1963, the idea was first conceived and intended to introduce National Professional Social Work Month.
As we identify, celebrate and encourage social workers in March 2019, it is hoped that we will be mindful of the contribution of social work as a profession to the development of this nation, the upholding of certain cherished values and the practice of respecting the dignity and valuing the worth of the individuals we encounter (and even those we do not) in the course of our activities.
After the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, President Roosevelt introduced the New Deal (https://www.britannica.com/event/New-Deal ) and right there with the President was a social worker—Harry Hopkins. He was a social worker with Settlement House experience. It is said that Hopkins was the second most influential person to the President, with only the President’s wife, Eleanor, being more powerful.
Eleanor Roosevelt first observed Hopkins as a passionate, young social worker in New York and referred him to her husband, who was, at the time, Governor of New York. Hopkins managed Roosevelt’s relief program in New York. Having done such an excellent job, he was selected to head the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and later its successor, the Works Progress Administration. During World War II, Roosevelt was so trusting of Hopkins that he asked him to serve as special representative in talks with both Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.
Social Work Month is a time to reflect and be proud of our role in nation building. It is a time to be proud of our rich tradition of being willing to sand up for truth, rights and justice. Before the Congress of the United States voted to give President Bush the authorization to use force in Afghanistan after 9/11, it was a social worker (Barbara Lee) who was described as an army of one (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/07/30/how-barbara-lee-became-an-army-of-one-215434) who stood on principle and voted against the authorization. Ms. Lee said about her vote: “There must be some of us who say: Let’s step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today, I do not want to see this spiral out of control.”
Of the 531 Members of Congress (all 100 senators and 431 house members) she stood alone in voting against the authorization of the use of force. Eighteen years later, the US military is still in Afghanistan, thousands of lives have been lost, thousands injured, and billions of dollars spent. Time has proven that Barbara Lee’s thoughtfulness and stance on principle has served her well. That is the social workers way, to be reflective in decision making and to do what is right not necessarily what is popular.
I hope that our social work celebration, recognition and support in March 2019, will cause us pause and reflections that point us in the direction of the many social workers who have made meaningful contribution to the lives and experience of the powerless and disenfranchised.
I will use a word salad to encourage the way we should think about Social Work Month in 2019. I am using examples from students in their descriptions over the years: when I think of a social worker, these are my thoughts: “Integrity, committed to learning, humility, respect, courteous, open, honest, humility, generosity of spirit, listener, empathetic, considerate, sensitive, humorous, accountable, competent, non-condescending, communicator. Identify a social worker and share as many of these word/thought with them and thank them for their service to individual, community and