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The Power of Social Work
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The Power of Social Work
Advocating for Change in the Chinatown Community

Edward Ma, ACSW, MSW

November 2007

As a long time NASW-NYC member, social work advocate and administrator, I am grateful for this opportunity to share my political experience within the social work profession.

Armed with social work knowledge and skills, I have been very active in Lower Manhattan and the Chinatown community. In view of the disparate treatment of the Chinatown community and social work profession, I started engaging in volunteer work to assist with voter registration efforts and Mayor Dinkins’ election campaign. As an outgrowth of this work, I succeeded twice as being a mayoral appointee of the NYC Human Rights Commissioner for six years. I was also appointed to serve on Community Board 2 for many years. For all of this community service, I received an esteemed proclamation from the City Council, awarded by Councilman Alan Gerson.

Over the years, I have learned that as social workers, if we do not go beyond our boundaries or social work methods, it will be difficult to break out of our shells and to effectively reach those we are aiming to help.

My experience helps to highlight some of the practical ways that social workers can utilize their voices and skills to advocate for change in communities.

Recently, I made a presentation at CUNY on “The Making of Asian American Community Democracy: Chinatown Prosperity and Mainstreaming after 9/11,” concerning my six years of volunteer experience during a time of tremendous need and change.

As a founding member of the Chinese American Voters Federation, we undertook comprehensive efforts to sponsor the 2005 Democratic Mayoral Candidates’ Debate along with an ensuing joint press conference held by Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg. At this time it was announced that $32 million was designated by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for Chinatown. It was the first time Chinatown was involved in such extensive political leveraging between Democrats and Republicans. Mayor Koch once refused to campaign in Chinatown because of “a scanty 1,500 votes”. Now Chinatown is responsible for 25,000 to 30,000 votes.

As a result of my presentation at CUNY, I also received an interview with the Voice of America, and American Express announced a $10 million historical preservation project, possibly targeted for rebuilding Chinatown.

In addition to my intensive involvement with Community Board 2, my dream for the formation of a “Chinatown Committee” is finally coming true. The committee was instituted a month ago. Now more Chinatown leaders and residents can speak out on issues of concern. We are pleased that a new political/community platform has been established.

On various occasions, I have also represented Chinatown and the social work profession while delivering testimony at City Hall, the City Council and the Borough President’s Office on the issues related to congestion pricing, the prevention of elder abuse, the Lower East Side/Chinatown Empire Zone, as well as mental health issues.

I always carefully select issues to advocate for. In fact social workers, are in a better position to engage in advocacy because of our understanding of human behavior and our analytical knowledge and skills. And, we can design a better plan of tactics and strategy.

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