NASW-NC Member Dan Beerman’s column was published in the Winston-Salem Journal about the lessons he learned from a social worker who inspired him in his work teaching social work students. His column is worth sharing:
Column: Social work lessons that will stick
I was sitting in my office at the Forsyth County Department of Social Services in the mid-1980s, and one of my colleagues came in to discuss a problem. We provided a broad range of services for people who called in or walked in. One of our social workers was concerned because there was a pretty steady flow of people coming in and asking to see one social worker in particular, Deloris Chaskley. I found out that these were people Deloris had seen in the past, and they did not want to see another social worker, they wanted Ms. Chaskley.
Deloris died last week, and her passing reminded me of the importance of public services, caring for your community and the spirit of giving 110 percent for those who live at the social margins of our society.
I worked in this department for over 20 years and was blessed to work with many amazing people. But Deloris was one of my teachers who provided me with valuable instruction in my profession. I have used her instruction to teach social workers in the undergraduate and graduate social work programs at UNC Greensboro and NC A&T over the past 10 years. She taught me three important lessons.
Engage deeply and sincerely: Deloris had the capacity to engage deeply and respectfully with marginalized people. People who came in and asked for her knew that she would sincerely engage with them and respect their story. She would not shame or judge them, she would help them become problem solvers. She was a partner and mentor, not a hapless do-gooder.
Show courage in naming racism: As a woman of color, Deloris was not afraid to give her truth to people in power. Sometimes that truth involved helping others see the racism in programs, policies and organizational actions. She could be successful in this tricky area because she had high respect and a solid reputation in her client work. As a white male manager, it was essential for me to be able to hear these messages from her and other staff members.
Keep your eye on the prize: This old phrase of the civil-rights movement had meaning to her, and she lived it out by her actions. She once told me that she could put up with some of the “issues” she found in a big government agency because it was a great vehicle to focus resources on those who need support and help.
I have used every one of these lessons in my teaching, and I thank and honor Deloris for her fine work and her patience in teaching me.
Deloris and my hundreds of other colleagues at the Forsyth County Department of Social Services engaged in careers of public service, often inspired by the messages of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. None of us became economic millionaires. All the social workers I talk to reflect on these careers of service with great pride and honor. Deloris was just one of many. Deloris Chaskley changed the lives of hundreds of people over her 27 years as a social worker in our community.
I am now semi-retired from teaching but will go back this fall to teach two courses in the Joint Master of Social Work program at NC A&T and UNC Greensboro. I will bring the lessons of Deloris and others with me and use them to help grow a new crop of social workers who can help their fellow citizens become productive problem solvers. Thanks again, Deloris, for your gifts. They will live on in those who have come to replace us.
Daniel Beerman is an assistant professor of social work at UNC Greensboro.