Tag Archives: social work

Call The Midwife

23 Jan

Call the MidwifeAbout six months ago, my dear friend Janet Putnam recommended the BBC series Call The Midwife, explaining that I would love it because it demonstrates really good social work.  I must confess that I was rather hesitant and was not sure I would share her interest in the show, given it is about a bunch of nuns.  My interest was piqued some because it is also about the beginning of National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. Coincidentally, this past Christmas, my friend Brad sent me the first season of Call the Midwife. It seemed I would have to cave in and watch at least one episode. Wow! My husband and I have officially become addicted to this brilliant series.  The story was taken from midwife Jennifer Worth’s memoirs and is based on her experiences working in London’s East End in the late 1950s. It truly is a documentary of the start of NHS and of splendid social work — walking alongside people, being present on their journey and offering help.  I love that the real progressive voices often come not from the “modern” nurses; instead the Anglican nuns provide  the progressive narrative. The stellar cast work together in such harmony, they compel one to continue watching.  A social justice icon, Vanessa Redgrave, narrates our story, as the mature Nurse Jenny Lee. Pam Ferris, from Rosemary and Thyme, is the feisty, stern, yet lovable Sister Evangelina.  The amazingly talented and funny Miranda Hart stars as the exceedingly endearing Chummy.  Judy Parfitt, many of you will remember from her Oscar worthy performance in Delores Claiborne as Vera Donovan, plays the lovely and absent-minded Sister Monica Joan.

Tea(r) Towel

Tea(r) Towel

This ensemble cast provide not only a narration of birth, they also give us a didactic story of health care, social work, feminism, and social justice. Each episode is like a gift — a remarkable story that is utterly compelling. I must confess that I cry so much I have to have a tear towel at my side. If you have not had a chance to watch this amazing series, I encourage you to watch at least one episode, for I know you will become addicted to this very sweet and sad story of humanity from birth to death.

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Social Workers Helping the Mormon Church to Embrace the LGBT Community

15 Sep
Friend or Foe ?

Friend or Foe ?

My dear friend and LGBTQ ally, Jennifer Carey inspired me to write this blog article and gave me permission to share a part of her narrative.  Jennifer grew up in the Mormon church and she has witnessed first hand:

I have witnessed myself the public and familial shaming and ostracizing of gay children, siblings, friends.

I have been friends with Jennifer for four years now and she is an amazing and humble ally for the LGBTQ community. As Jennifer pointed out to me, “One of the great internal debates of the church right now is its attitude towards homosexuals.”

Helping the Mormon Church look at and reflect upon its attitude toward the LGBTQ community is Dr. Caitlin Ryan, a medical social worker and self-identified lesbian. Ryan recalls her disappointment and despair with the passage of Prop 8 as she witnessed how the Mormon Church revealed itself as the wealthy, homophobic political and machine it is.  The Mormon Church wielded so much political power and economic power that it had a huge impact on the passing of Prop 8.

Dr. Ryan connected with Dr. Robert Rees, a Mormon and a religion professor, to address the homophobia within the church. I would say this is a lot to unpack, because it means also unpacking hundreds of years of established misogyny. Now in 2014, six years after Prop 8, Rees is working with Mormon families at ways to embrace LGBTQ family members.  Rees is working with Ryan’s Family Acceptance Project. Sadly, too many Mormons found themselves in the untenable position of feeling that they have to either reject their family members or reject their faith.

While I am not a person of “faith,” I do realize that the LGBTQ community needs the support of religious communities, especially of those religions that have done great harm to the LGBTQ community.  The Public Religions Research Institute found that the Mormon Church was second only to the Catholic Church in its hostility towards the LGBTQ community.

We clearly have a long way to go regarding addressing homophobia, which is enixtricably tied to misogyny.  I am hopeful that the work of Dr. Ryan and Dr. Rees will help move conversations that create more space for different people.  If you know of any LGBTQ person that is expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings please contact the Trevor Project.

Women’s History Month 2014: Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon

14 Mar

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon.  In 1973, Reagon founded the  a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Johnson Reagon started her music/social work career before Sweet Honey in the Rock.  She was a type of community organizer and performed with The Freedom Singers in her hometown of Albany, Georgia. The Freedom Singers was, in part, formed by Johnson Reagon’s husband, Cordell Reagon. How amazing and lovely that Cordell and Bernice were friends with Pete Seeger, who helped to support the founding of The Freedom Singers.

I was first introduced to Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1991 at the Black Arts Festival at Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia. After hearing them perform Ella’s SongI went out and bought all of their albums and went to every concert when they came to Atlanta. Reagon earned her doctorate at Howard University and became a strong voice in the Civil Rights movement. Reagon has dedicated her life to issues of social justice and the intersections of oppression. Reagon, through her music, addresses issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the intersections of oppression.  She reached many of us dedicated to civil rights through song:

I learned that if you bring black people together, you bring them together with a song. To this day, I don’t understand how people think they can bring anybody together without a song…I came out of the Civil Rights Movement, and I had a different kind of focus than most people who have just the academic background as their primary training experience.

I am fortunate enough to stand on the shoulders of greatness, including Dr. Johnson Reagon.  Her work and the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock inform how I live my life and how I teach.

For me, Dr. Johnson Reagon is a musical social worker: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

Black History Month 2014: Audre Lorde

18 Feb

audre-lorde-500x250I would like to honor and pay tribute to Audre Lorde.  Today would have been her 80th birthday.  Lorde was a native New Yorker who grew up in Harlem. Her parents both immigrated to the United States from the Caribbean. Among her many career moves, Lorde was a librarian and a social worker. In fact, she received her Master’s in Library Science from Columbia University.

Although she was married to a man, Edwin Rollins and had two children, Lorde identified as a lesbian. The self-described “black-lesbian feminist mother lover warrior poet,” became a well recognized voice for women, lesbians, blacks, mothers, and poets; let us not forget her anti-war activism. Her fight for equality and peace was rather inclusive, as she was able to see the connections and ties amongst them all. Lorde was one of the first to acknowledge and point to how connected racism, sexism, and homophobia are — what I would call the intersections of oppression. Lorde addressed this intersectionality and how her work at that time dealt with oppression from the dominant discourse:

My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds. . . . [White, arch-conservative senator] Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity . . .or even about sex. It is about revolution and change. . . . Helms represents. . . . white patriarchal power. . . .[and he] knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for.”

What is lovely about this quote is that Lorde was not only inspiring and was practicing good social work, but her legacy is on the right side of history, unlike Helms who left a legacy of hate and racism. It seems odd to me that anyone could not see how connected racism, misogyny, and homophobia are.  Our silence about any of these forms of bigotry will not protect or help us.  Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!

LGBT History Month 2013: Reflections and Work Yet to Be Done

30 Jun

AlbusDumbledoreAs we celebrate the last day of LGBT History Month, I am reflecting on the victory of the Death of DOMA, the tepid Supreme Court Decision regarding Prop 8, and the work yet to be done towards full equality for the LGBT community.  The striking down of DOMA does not mean that LGBT folk are no longer targeted or marginalized. Of course, the marginalization is even worse for people of color who are also LGBT.

Sadly, when I shared my Death of DOMA article on a social work social media page, most of the comments I received were from “Christian” social workers that were defending DOMA and acting as if they were victims because they were afraid to come out as Christians.  Really?  REALLY?  When was the last time a bunch of folk committed suicide because they are Christians? When was the last time in the United States people were denied housing, health care, employment because they are Christian?  I candidly was ashamed of my colleagues in the field of social work and I fully understand why people outside of the dominant culture would not trust us!

We still have a long way to go regarding equity and equality for the LGBT community.  Regardless of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, in most states in the south it is still illegal to be gay and in most states in the south it is completely legal to deny employment, healthcare, housing because of being LGBT, not to mention the many states that have constitutional amendments banning marriage equality, including South Carolina.  You remember South Carolina, the state where they just re-elected Mark Sanford after he spend tax payer money abandoning his job to take his now famous “Appalachian Trail” hike.

While we have so much work to do, I do want to close with a very sweet celebration of LGBT History.  For me, it was absolutely profound to learn that Dumbledore, the Headmaster at Hogwarts, was gay.  What a lovely message for J.K. Rowling to send to young people, that LGBT folk can be wonderful caretakers of children and role models of integrity.

Gay Graduation Gratitude

17 Jun

MHSGraduation“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Walt Whitman)  In the last two years I am grateful that I have learned how to start being comfortable with my largeness and my contradictions — to sit in ambiguity and reflection.

I started this journey with great trepidation.  I was going back to get my MSW as a middle aged gay man who felt like a cross between Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda Morgenstern; I was scared to death no one would like me and feared it was too late to reinvent myself as a social worker.

I have learned a lot about dignity — how to help people retain their dignity and keeping mine, which means working with resistance and understanding how people need resistance to protect something.

My first experience after being accepted into the program was my visit to the IT Department.  You see, I did not know how to access my student account.  I explained this to the very nice young woman who was trying to help me in earnest.  She very politely explained that she did not have the answer to my query, but would make a phone call (she was standing no more than two feet from me).  She picked up the phone and said: “Yes, I have an elderly gentleman here from the MSW program and he can’t get into his account.”  Of course, I looked around to see who she was referring to, and it dawned on me that she was talking about me.  I had become “the elderly gentleman” just two days before the term had started.  Of course, I wanted to take the tennis ball off my walker and throw it at her, but decided just to walk away and appreciate that she was genuinely trying to help.

While I am exceedingly grateful for my professors and their time, dedication, and belief in me, I have to say that I am also in awe of and grateful for so many members of my cohort.  I listen to their individual and collective narratives full of passion and reflection and I have learned a great deal from these absolutely lovely people. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank these people for also embracing me and making me feel so welcomed and integrated into the community.

There have been many times during the last two years that I have submitted to my misanthropic woes and have often reflected: “Maybe I can’t do social work.  I don’t know that I do believe everyone is capable of a transformative experience — what if I’m not capable of a transformative experience?”  Then I hear one of my peers talk about standing in solidarity with me around marriage equality and I get verklepmt and I reflect: “How lucky am I? How on earth did I get here?”  I must confess, I don’t always feel worthy of being in such amazing company and I hope I have been able to add just a tiny significant gem to those I have touched and have touched me.

In the larger scheme, I know most of us are desperately wanting to change systems that are wholly unfair.  We are wanting to eradicate poverty, racism, homophobia, and ageism and underscore the power of interconnectedness and interdependency.  The energy and dedication to creating equity both locally and globally is palpable.  One can feel that amazing energy walking down the halls of the school of social work, or running into each other at the Occupy Movement, or posting activist events for us to attend.  When I look around me today, I feel so much optimism that maybe, just maybe we can actually do it!

I have been fortunate enough to have many “social work” heroes through my lifetime: Bayard Rustin, Nina Simone, Gloria Steinem, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, several of my professors and peers here at PSU, and of course Walt Whitman.   The common thread that ties all of these folk together is that they are all radical progressives — the gatekeepers of truth.  None of us can remain neutral.  If we do not work to interrupt oppression, we are as culpable as the oppressors. As radical progressives, we must not give into systems that collude with oppression, but rather we must stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.  Collectively and individually, we are the Bayard Rustins, the bell hooks, and the Walt Whitmans.

Whitman also wrote, Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you. I find at this point in my life, I am both searching and waiting and I could not be in finer company to do so.

Women’s History Month 2013: bell hooks

29 Mar

bell_hooks_wikimedia_commons_cmongirl_pdToday we honor and celebrate one of my personal heroes, bell hooks.  Our bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  hooks changed her name to honor both her grandmother (whose name she took) and her mother. She earned her B.A. in English from Stanford University, and her doctorate from University of California, Santa Cruz.  hooks’ career has centered around the intersections of oppression, with a focus on race, gender, power, and privilege–a woman after my own heart!

Every diversity training or mediation my company, EqualityWorks,NW, does starts off with this bell hooks’ quote:

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

I think all of us that are doing any type of social work have to believe we are all capable of a transformative experience; that we can experience each other and ourselves in new ways that benefit the greater good. I do admit that on my worst misanthropic days, I have difficulty believing this, but I do strive to have hooks’ strength of character.

It is not a small wonder that hooks was strongly influenced and inspired by another hero of mine, Paulo Freire.  hooks talked about how Preire allowed her the, “right as a subject in resistance to define reality.”  We see this philosophy of hooks in her book, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism.  We also see this philosophy in how hooks addresses the power and influence of pop culture:

Whether we’re talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is. So I think that partially people like me who started off doing feminist theory or more traditional literary criticism or what have you begin to write about popular culture, largely because of the impact it was having as the primary pedagogical medium for masses of people globally who want to, in some way, understand the politics of difference.

 My ulterior motive in celebrating bell hooks is that I want more people to read her work and be impacted by her wisdom.  Of course, I also hope I eventually get to meet her in person.  We are all exceedingly fortunate to have bell hooks!
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