Strengthening Our Professional Self Identity
A Gathering of Social Workers of African Descent in Celebration of Black History Month
Darrell P. Wheeler, MSW, MPH, Ph.D., ACSW; Chair, Task Force of Social Workers of African Descent
On Monday, February 22, 2010 more than 20 social workers came together to celebrate Black History Month with a special salute to the pioneers, and current and future leaders of our profession. The gathering was convened by the NASW-NYC Social Workers of African Descent Task Force and the meeting was co-lead by Task Force members, Martha Adams Sullivan, Ella Harris, Ismay Griffith, and Darrell P. Wheeler (Chair).
The gathering was the first in what we hope will be many such events that bring together those interested in sharing information, resources, and learning more about the contributions of African descendent social workers to our profession. In addition to learning more about the often untold contributions of social workers of African descent, the event provided a unique opportunity to network with our colleagues from many different practice areas and throughout the five boroughs. Participants included academicians, clinical practitioners, students, recent graduates, agency and program administrators, and many others. The common theme as well as the dominant spirit in the room could be characterized as understanding and celebratory; we shared our successes and expressed our concerns as social workers broadly, and more specifically as social workers of African descent in a safe and profoundly nurturing environment.
Many issues were raised for the Task Force leadership and NASW-NYC to consider. Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of the topics raised and discussed. However, the reader should have a sense of the power and passion that was shared and an insight into the topics that will be explored in future gatherings.
• Professional development and job security, particularly in these times of financial uncertainty.
• Mentoring and developing supportive professional relationships that can support career building and decision making.
• Lack of content in our professional development about the roles and contributions of Social Workers of African Descent.
• Dealing with racial and ethnic conflicts in work and professional settings.
• Decision making, leadership, and professional growth in the profession.
Even as a planner for this event, I must admit, I was awestruck with the enthusiasm and authenticity of the evening. As a member of the Task Force I was honored to have been a part of group that convened the gathering. At the same time, however, I became keenly aware of how much work we still need to do to be supportive of the many social workers (and clients) who were not or could not be in that space that evening. In writing this brief reflection on the event, I am so encouraged knowing that NASW-NYC and our professional colleagues will be meeting again to continue this work.