Your source for the social work profession in North Carolina.
By Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP; Associate Executive Director, NASW-NC
I had the honor of attending the National Association of Social Workers 2014 National Conference: “Social Work: Courage, Hope & Leadership.” Social work conferences are meant to engage and refresh professionals that are often overlooked and undervalued and provide valuable continuing education which is essential to our practice. The 2014 NASW Conference did not disappoint and provided an arena to reenergize and connect with the profession we all fell in love with.
Please forgive me as this post does not do justice to the depth of expertise that was presented to the attendees at the conference. The 11 plenary speakers and hundreds of workshop speakers each deserve recognition for their work and dedication to the profession of social work. I am including a few highlights from the conference.
I attended the 2012 NASW Hope Conference and a few things have changed in the past two years. Dr. Angelo McClain is the association’s new CEO and Dr. Darrell Wheeler is the new Board of Directors President. Both men welcomed their colleagues from 12 countries and all 50 states with sincere admiration.
I think most of the attendees were deeply anticipating the keynote by New York Times best-selling author, TED Talks sensation and social worker Dr. Brené Brown. Her message on courage and vulnerability was heard loud and clear. She started out by saying, “Social work is not what I do, but who I am.” We must work to be courageous, which means we expose our vulnerability in safe ways with people who love and care about us.
It is always uplifting to hear from the best of your profession but it was speakers who are not social workers who touched me the most this year. Kane Smego, spoken word poet from Durham, NC performed four poems that reflected on his time as a youth with a single mother and living in a racially and economically divided community. Smego’s words were powerful and moving, reminding us that the power of the arts can heal us in ways we can’t always explain.
Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer and Divisional Vice President for Walgreens grew up in a violent foster care home never knowing about his birth parents. It was a social worker who literally saved Pemberton’s life and saw the potential in a lost but bright orphan. As Steve spoke to 1,500 social workers he said, “I was surrounded by extraordinary people. People a lot like you.” Pemberton has gone on to write a memoir and advocate for children aging out of foster care.
Former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and economist Dr. Robert Reich provided the closing keynote and, in my opinion, left all in attendance feeling inspired, heard, and valued as a profession. He outlined the economic reality that the middle class is slipping into poverty and the American people need to wake up and become engaged. “The safety net should be a trampoline, not just to catch people when they fall but to lift them back up,” said Reich. Reich left us with, “There is nothing more noble than being a social worker.”
Not only was our opening speaker from North Carolina but NASW-NC members were in attendance and presented in workshops and poster presentations.
Kevin Carter, MSW, LCSW Co-Director of the Joint Master of Social Work Field Education at North Carolina A&T State University and the University of North Carolina Greensboro presented with his fellow North Carolinians Alesia Alexander Layne, MSW, LCSW and recent A&T grad Tyran Hill, BSW. “Unpacking the Pileup: A Long Term Vision for Healing Loss in the African American Community” helped outline an approach to reaching across divides to making healing connections in community grief, loss and trauma.
“Courage, Hope, Leadership: A Social Justice Practice Perspective,” was the presentation given by North Carolina State University social work faculty Karen Bullock, PhD, LCSW, Jodi K. Hall, EdD, MSW, and Marcie Fisher-Borne, PhD, MSW. The symposium identified components of social justice which is essential in social work practice approaches.
Dr. Melody Brackett from Elizabeth City State University presented with her colleagues on “Financial Capacity and Asset Building Leadership for Social Work Practice.” Aimed at building professional capacity for improving the financial circumstances of low income and financially vulnerable households, this curriculum is being used at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
NASW-NC member Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW of the Center for Financial Social Work presented on “Financial Social Work: Playing a Role in Economic and Social Justice.” Wolfsohn outlined skills and tools to help clients manage money better. “Those who have the money have the power. Our job is to empower.”
And I finally met Veronica Hardy, PhD, LCSW, CCTP from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke whose poster presentation “Developing Leaders Against Human Trafficking: Enhancing the Social Work Curriculum” outlines an introductory course about human trafficking for graduate students.
The NASW Film Festival was an opportunity for attendees to view films that feature social workers, are made by social workers, or have focused public attention on issues important to the profession.
I attended “Justice Denied” which was produced and co-directed by social worker Geri Lynn Matthews whose husband Michael suffered from depression and repeatedly tried to commit suicide. She discovered that decades ago Michael had been a victim of military sexual trauma (MST). This film is a vehicle for male soldiers and veterans to tell their stories about the trauma they have endured by fellow soldiers. The most amazing and shocking moment of the conference was the film’s panel included two veterans who were both drugged and assaulted by their roommate in the military: serial killer and sex offender Jeffrey Dahmer who committed the rape, murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Because these soldiers initial cries for help were ignored, this monster went on to destroy many more lives. The goal of this film is to educate and, hopefully, initiate change in the way MST is handled in the military.
After a successful 2014 conference, the 2016 NASW Conference will come with high expectations and I hope I am lucky enough to attend.