Mildred “Mit” C. Joyner, MSW, LCSW is the incoming President of the NASW. She is professor emerita of social work at West Chester University (WCU) in Pennsylvania. Joyner received a BSW from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and her MSW from Howard University’s School of Social Work in Washington, DC. 
       Her professional career began at Chester County Children and Youth services as a protective service worker; she was promoted to department head, then legal liaison of the child abuse unit. Joyner later joined the faculty at WCU as an associate professor, where she was elected by the faculty as department chair of the undergraduate social work department. She retired from the university as a full professor, and presently works as a consultant. 
       Joyner is a member of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, Council on Social Work Education, and NASW, where she recently ended her term as national vice president. In West Chester she serves on the board of directors of Chester County Food Bank and is a bank director at DNBFirst.

       Racism is America’s human stain. Many individuals around the globe are rightfully protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Avery, and Breonna Taylor. All were black and their lives were cut short due to unlawful actions by the police and vigilantes. Since 1619, we have witnessed continuous unjust murders of brown and black people, coupled with a disproportionate number who are sentenced to prison and spend endless months and years in solitary confinement.  Racial injustice is why there are protests throughout our nation and around the globe. Black lives matter!

       Social justice is a core social work value: it demands that as practitioners, social workers uphold their code of ethics and take deliberate actions so justice and equity exist in all communities. Social workers who understand the history of why brown and black people are unsafe in their own country can work to dismantle oppressive institutional policies and practices. In order to advocate for vulnerable groups, you must understand the centuries of inequalities that exist in this country. Unfortunately, during this time in our nation’s history some individuals still question the actions of the protestors rather than focus on why the protests are occurring.

       Hopefully, the resources in this article will heighten awareness about social inconsistency and social injustice and how they severely affect the day-to-day lives of brown and black people.

      One source is Pulitzer Award recipient, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project, published by the New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Social workers will gain a deeper understanding of the impact of revisionist history. The project helps to clarify the origin of systemic racism in the United States. The 1619 Project traces how slaves were whipped, purchased, sold, and murdered in this country for economic gain. Overseers developed an ownership mentality that today could be defined as prejudice, implicit bias and white privilege. However, brown and black people who must live with these social inconsistencies and social injustices call it racism.

      Watch the film Just Mercy, currently streaming free through the month of June courtesy of Warner Brothers. Just Mercy is the true story of Bryan Stevenson an attorney who represents Walter McMillian. Mr. McMillian is an African American accused of murder even though there is overwhelmingly evidence proving his innocence. The movie gives a chilling, heart wrenching depiction of the trauma suffered by individuals, families, and communities of color when they courageously go up against an institutional racist system. Bryan Stevenson is a social justice activist; his life’s work is dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system. He believes that to change the system you must change “the culture of policing” in order for sustainable progressive policies to be enacted. Stevenson initiated the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Virtually attend the innovative museum to learn more about the numerous documented atrocities that were inflicted on black people in the United States. Another source is to follow the Equal Justice Initiative which is Stevenson’s organization. It is a necessity for social workers to update their knowledge about mass incarceration and the trauma it imposes on individuals, families, and communities. Inconsistent practices by police who arrest and prosecutors who convict often create fear and rage in brown and black communities.

     Another horrific but true story is “the Central Park Five”. The powerful Netflix series by Ava DuVernay, When They See Us, is an eye-opener. At the conclusion of the series watch the in-depth interviews. Learn about the social injustice that occurred to five African Americans in the prime of their young lives. They were wrongfully convicted due to police biases, racism, and a rush to judgement by the New York Police and District Attorney’s office.

      Reflect on the lives of Steve Lopez, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusuf Salaam, and Raymond Santana – would this happen to teens in a predominantly white community? If a similar injustice did happen to teens in your community would you not expect outrage?  After viewing these powerful stories how will the lessons learned change your practice?

     Extremely painful is Kory Wise’s story; he spent twelve years in prison and many of those years he was in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is inhuman and social workers must advocate that it cease. Judith Resnik, a professor at Yale Law School stated that “the existing race-based disparities in the use of restricted housing impact everyone in a prison’s ecosystem. It’s a problem for everybody, and the way to fix the problem, and fix the problem for sub-populations, is to end the practices that deprive people of sensory stimuli no matter who they are.” Those who are aware of the vile conditions of solitary confinement and the long-term psychological damage prisoners experience are social workers who are equipped to demand reform. Disproportionally brown and black people are subjected to solitary confinement –yet another travesty and tragedy.

    To learn more about solitary confinement, turn to Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC), chapter of Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA). Its Bibliography, with over 300 entries, was selected by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) as its Educator/Resource for May 2020. It offers a comprehensive overview of solitary confinement that includes voices of those who have been affected by it, the ethical dilemma of health and social services providers who work in criminal legal facilities, and proven humane alternatives. Its members work to change the current culture of violence, racism, and economic and social inequality prevalent in the legal system to one congruent with its code of ethics through the abolition of solitary confinement through humane alternatives. It continues to strengthen its relationships with its foundational institutions – the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and its related organizations, institutions and agencies.

    On July 1, 2020, I become the next national President of NASW and it is indeed an honor and a privilege to serve our professional association. Like all previous NASW Presidents the mission “to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies” will guide my work. Currently, NASW is faced with two public health crises –a global pandemic and major racial injustice and divisions in our country –and a historic presidential election. It is critical for all NASW members to actively engage with their chapters. NASW needs your voice and your volunteer efforts so together we can work on all of these critical and complex issues as we create sound relevant action plans together. Social work is positioned and has a unique opportunity to lead, alongside other professions, in building a just world. If you are not a member of NASW, I humbly request that you join; informed social workers are needed now more than ever.

     In closing, learn more about institutional and systemic racism. In doing so it will assist you as a social worker to lead meaningful conversations in communities, at the workplace, with colleagues, and family members in order to effectively advocate for those we have committed to serve. We have a responsibility as social workers to take much needed corrective deliberative actions so we can bend the arc of justice towards equity for all.  Social work: the time is Now!

 

 References:

  • Hannah-Jones, Nikole. 2019. The Legacy of Slavery 1619 Project. New York Times Magazine, New York Times, NY 2019.

  • Stevenson, Bryan. 2019. Adapted from Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption “Just Mercy.” Warner Brothers, CA.
  • Stevenson, Bryan.  https//eji.org
  • DuVernay, Ava. 2019.  When They See Us (TV Mini-Series). Harpo Films and Netflix
  • Antigua-Williams, Juleyka. 2016. The Atlantic “The Link Between Race and Solitary Confinement.”  Washington, D.C.
  • NASW Code of Ethics. 2018. National Association of Social Workers, Washington, D.C.
  • Bibliography on Solitary Confinement – https://www.cswe.org/Centers-Initiatives/Centers/Center-for-Diversity/Educator-Resource/May-2020
  • Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement – http://www.socialworkersasc.org
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