by Jeane W. Anastas, Ph.D., LCSW, ACSW
The theme of Social Work Month this year is “All People Matter,” and I cannot think of a better way to sum up what the profession of social work means to me. I began my own career in social work in the 1970s as a “non-traditional” (“night school”) student in a BSW program, a single mother trying to get my education back on track. Although my late mother had been a social worker, I had not really considered a social work career for myself until I enrolled in an introductory class in social work. The course was taught by Dr. Constance (Connie) Williams, an African American clinical social worker who was president of our state’s NASW Chapter and who later had a major role in our Governor’s office. One of her first reading assignments for our predominantly white class was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a reading she used to underscore the continuing importance of civil rights, the problems that come with poverty and the limits of casework in addressing structural issues, and the resilience of the human spirit. As a committed feminist and citizen activist for causes like peace and the environment, I was surprised and delighted to learn that social work was a profession in which the commitments to helping and to social change came together. My decision was made.
My professional journey since Dr. Williams’ class continues to include efforts to understand racism in all its forms and to effect change in oppressive conditions. I cannot remember which teacher of mine once observed that change requires both leaders and followers. I have tried to be a follower of those who know much more about racism than I do. Mostly, my efforts have been small ones, along the lines of the “bloom where you are planted” idea—with the people I work with, in the institutions that employ me, and in social service programs that serve people of color. I do not always get it right, but I do “stick my neck out” when I think I need to.
As a profession, social work is not as diverse as we need and want to be, but we do better than many others. In social work education, the sector of the profession in which I am employed, we know that we need to be more diverse at all levels—students, staff, faculty, administration. Fortunately, at all of the social work schools where I have worked, students have been leaders in pushing for change—in curriculum, in inclusion, and in climate. I am hopeful that this passion for making change for all people will carry over into the careers they make as graduates.
An important element of my commitment to progressive action and change over the years has been through my involvement in my professional association: the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). NASW—at state and national levels—advocates for our wonderful profession, for better pay and fair reimbursements, better working conditions, loan forgiveness, and recognition for all that social work contributes to the well-being of society. This month, for example, I was proud to hear mention of social work and “all people matter” on National Public Radio broadcasts. NASW made that happen. NASW also works for progressive legislation—also on state and national levels—supporting initiatives like increasing the minimum wage, early family support and early education for children, and comprehensive immigration reform, to name a few. Our current signature initiative on the federal level is the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, which The New Social Worker has partnered with SocialJusticeSolutions.org to support.
Active involvement in a large membership organization like NASW is also an effective way to enhance your professional development through continuing education, to get professional support through networking, and to develop your leadership skills through meaningful volunteer work while you are building your career. If you are not already a member, you can make this Social Work Month matter by joining us now.
Because all people matter, social work matters, too. I hope that Social Work Month brings you much deserved recognition for your contributions in your workplace or school, in your community, and in the wider world.
Jeane W. Anastas, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, is president of the National Association of Social Workers and has served as a leader in the profession for more than 25 years. As Professor of Social Work and Director of Strategic Planning and New Initiatives at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, Dr. Anastas teaches courses in the MSW and PhD programs on social welfare policy, teaching and learning in social work, and philosophy of knowledge. She publishes widely in the areas of women's issues, GLBT rights, mental health, social work education, practice research, and research ethics.