by Dana K. Harmon, Ph.D., MSW, LGSW
As kids, most people think about what they would like to be when they grow up. At 11 years old, I figured it out.
I always had a desire to “help people.” As a Black girl growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama (a place with a rich history of civil rights and social justice for Blacks in America), I was immersed (at home, school, and community) in understanding the importance of fighting and advocating for equality. When I found out that social workers advocate for those who do not have a voice and work on their behalf to make positive change happen in their lives, I knew this was the path for me.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama (UA), I majored in sociology. Why I did not pursue my BSW degree, I still cannot explain, but I later got my MSW at Loyola University Chicago and my Ph.D. in social work at UA. After completing my MSW, I returned to Alabama and worked at a United Way agency for almost 10 years.
At the agency, I counseled individuals, families, and couples, and co-led various court ordered groups (domestic violence, anger management, divorce, and a juvenile substance abuse program). Currently, I do mitigation work for defendants charged with capital murder.
I think when most people hear the term “social worker,” they think of people who show up to take away children. The truth is that people have no idea how broad our work can be. Depending on your particular focus area, you can make an impact in a variety of professional settings. Those skills you learn never change. Professional possibilities are endless, only limited by personal interest and skill set. Being open to change for yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a social worker.
Sometimes I cannot believe that I have been a social worker for 18 years. I have seen so many things change in the field, the clients served, and myself. Through it all, I still have fun. I love my work. I learn new things about the world and myself every day.
So to celebrate Social Work Month 2016, I encourage aspiring future social workers to figure out what they are passionate about and how they want to try to make a difference. Social work is a career that speaks to the basic desire to really help others. It is not easy work, but it can be so rewarding, impactful, and meaningful.
Dana K. Harmon, Ph.D., MSW, LGSW, has been in the field of social work as a practitioner for 18 years and an academician for eight years. Her research interests include African American males’ and family functioning, marriage quality and commitment, spirituality/religiosity among African Americans, and parental loss.