We Must Never Forget the Progress and Struggle of African-Americans!
By Tawanda Hubbard, MSW, LCSW
Vice President, NASW-NJ
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the significance of Black History in the United States. We take this time to pay tribute to generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity and fought inequality to achieve full citizenship in the United States.We take this time to raise awareness of African American contributions to our culture and validate the accomplishments of African American Men, Women, Children, and Communities.
Black History Month’s story began in 1915 with Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard Trained Historian, and Jesse E. Moorland, Prominent Minister, who founded the Association for the study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). ASNLH is an organization dedicated to researching and promoting the achievements by Black Americans and other people of African descent. Originally this celebration was held for one week; in 1976 it was expanded to a month. Since 1976, every U. S. President has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom celebrate Black History Month.
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When you read the first two paragraphs, what comes to mind? Thoughts and images of events from the past such as slavery and civil rights movements, or recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. You may also think of personal and professional experiences you have had as a social worker or experiences of someone close to you that makes this time matter to you in a significant way. I ask you this question because Black History Month has been with us for some time, and if we are not careful we can treat it as a "regular event,” something that we are used to, something disconnected from its significance -- it is a time created to celebrate African American Progress and Struggles in Society, yesterday and today.
In today’s world, time is a precious commodity. Individuals and families are juggling many different roles and demands placed on them in their personal and professional lives. We have a lot of information coming at us via great technological advances in the 21st century, more responsibilities, and not enough time in the day. In this fast paced society, we must be purposeful in allotting time and creating spaces to slow down, reflect, and connect with people, places, and things that matter to us. We must be careful not to treat people and things in our lives as if they are ordinary, without significance. I challenge myself to practice a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn: Beginner’s Mind—“a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.” There is a danger in failing to see the extraordinary in ordinary events. Not practicing “beginner’s mind” allows our thinking and beliefs to prevent us from seeing things as they really are, taking the ordinary for granted.
As an African American Female Social Worker, I am not exempt from the day-to-day demands and challenges to slow down and create space to remember, reflect, and connect to the people, places, and things that matter to me. Because I am an African American does not mean I know everything there is to know about African American history, contributions, achievements, and struggles. I am still learning. I want to increase my knowledge and understanding about my people’s great contributions and achievements in this world. I want to learn more about society’s impact on African Americans presently and from a historic perspective. As a Social Worker, I embrace and utilize different perspectives that focus on identifying positives and strengths within people and systems, but I am not blind. The deaths and legal decisions in cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordon Davis, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice, Ezell Fork, and Akai Gurley, let me know in a real way about the adversity and injustices African Americans still encounter. It reminds me of the deaths of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and James Chaney, Andrew Schwerner, and Michael Goodman -- and the thought pops into my head -- is it that African Americans have not come that far at all, or is it our Society?
It is clear that African Americans are still struggling against institutional racism and fighting for social, economic, and class equality in the United States. According to the NASW “Institutional Racism and the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action,” we are charged with the responsibility of being mindful of the existence of institutional racism in our personal and professional lives, and its impact pervading in our social climate today. As Social Workers, we have a strong value system based on social justice. We are charged with fighting social, economic, educational, and political forces that maintain the status quo of inequality. We are charged with bringing about change in policies, practices, or procedures embedded in bureaucratic structures that systematically lead to unequal outcomes for groups of people that are evident in today’s society.
Social Workers have been a part of the fight since the first class at Columbia in 1898. I am proud to be called a Social Worker, an African American Female Social Worker, and a part of a great people dedicated to helping others, fighting injustices, addressing the needs of society and bringing our nation’s social problems to public attention.
As Social Workers, we must never forget African Americans’ progress and struggles, not just in words, but in deeds. I encourage every Social Worker to take time this February to remember, to reflect, and to increase their knowledge and understanding of the achievements, contributions, and struggles that African Americans have experienced and continue to encounter. In the midst of juggling personal and professional demands and responsibilities, do not allow this Black History Month to fall into the ordinary.
What will you do today?
Bradley, R. L. (2002). Wake Up! An Analysis of African-American History. Dageforde
Forging Our Way into 2015 http://nabsw.org/members
Institutional Racism & the Social Work Profession: A Call to Action. http://www.naswnj.org/index.cfm
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living. Bantam Books
Tyner, J. (2014). African-American struggles are key in the fight for progress. www.peoplesworld.org