What Really Happened at the Annual Meeting
Message From the Executive Director
Robert Schachter, DSW, LMSW
If you were not able to join us at the 2010 NASW-NYC Annual Meeting, you missed sharing the experience of being deeply touched at our collective professional core. It is remarkable how these meetings can do that.
This issue of the newsletter will highlight aspects of the meeting. Suffice it to say here that we take inspiration from the achievements of our colleagues, especially when these achievements come in spite of, and often because of, enormous personal and social challenges.
How many people recognize and understand that a magnificent institution sitting in the heart of Central Brooklyn, Medgar Evers College, providing a stepping stone for so many working class and low income kids, is today led by a social worker who grew up in the Jim Crow South? In sharing his personal story, Dr. William Pollard removed a barrier between us as social workers, even the most accomplished among us, and the people we serve.
At least for me, his story tells us that any of us can come from the most challenging circumstances, whatever these circumstances might have been. Based on my own years in the field and some knowledge of the profession’s history, I believe that a great many social workers have stories of a similar nature.
Toward the end of his keynote address, Dr. Pollard shared a story of a slave, recently freed at the time, who wants to make a contribution to Booker T. Washington in his effort to build what is today Tuskegee University. Because she has no money, she offers as gifts what she has: six eggs.
Dr. Pollard uses the imagery of these gifts to underscore essential values for social workers. Without going into detail here about what each gift stands for, what is overriding for me in his story is how the courage, strength, survival, and culture of a people emerging out of slavery has a great deal to teach us how to be social workers today.
In short, the eggs stand for: 1) meddling, 2) involvement, 3) remembrance, 4) leadership, 5) vision, and 6) pride.
There were other meaningful experiences at the Annual Meeting. Presenting the NASW-NYC Lifetime Achievement Award to Pat Volland of the New York Academy of Medicine reflected the work of a woman who has probably done more to advance the profession in recent times than anyone else I know of, both in New York and in the country.
For a great many years I lived with the question of how a profession such as social work makes advances. In meeting Pat ten years ago, I found out. Pat Volland is so skilled in her area of work, so smart, and so strong that foundations looking to invest in improving health outcomes for people as they age have turned to her to be the conduit of funds to support the growth and development of gerontological social work across the United States. National NASW has learned from her, as I have, and there is a lot to learn.
A little over a year ago, Pat was in a serious accident. The road to recovery has been long. What is remarkable, extraordinary, is that Pat has returned to work. It is clear to everyone who knows her that all the remarkable talents that she long possessed were even greater than we knew. The profession is the beneficiary of her return to work.
The third highlight for me at the Annual Meeting was the presentation of the Chapter Service Award to Dr. Martha Adams Sullivan.
Anyone who has served on the NASW-NYC Board of Directors knows that we have had thrown in front of us, many of the most confounding, contradictory, and perplexing issues facing the profession. Licensing is a good example. The role of the Board is to figure out from a tangle of possible ideas, few of which necessarily reflect the broadest principles of the social work profession, the best possible stance and course of action. It is not an easy task, for any board member, nor for the collective.
It is at this very task that Dr. Sullivan excels. After our profession’s leadership deliberates and mulls the various aspects of an issue, it has been Martha’s, soft, what I experience as silken, voice that often settles the question.
Listening to her is like experiencing someone take a Rubik’s Cube, moving the sides a few times, and placing on the table the solution, with all the reds, blues, greens, whites and yellows lining up on each side.
This reflects the type of decision-making our profession needs. Through Dr. Sullivan, we have the vision of how this is achieved.
On a deeper level, the Annual Meeting is not about William Pollard, Pat Volland, and Martha Sullivan or their personal accomplishments. It is all symbolic.
The Annual Meeting is in actuality about every member of the social work profession, each and every one of us. It is about all of our accomplishments— accomplishments that happened before entering the field, and accomplishments that every day help the New Yorkers who are in need of service, and accomplishments yet to come.
Our speaker and honorees serve as beacons, in a sense showing us where we are going, and eliciting a deeper experience from which we get our passion for this difficult work. At the end of the meeting, it was palpable how people were feeling.