Social workers are met with varying problems, people and personalities daily. It is a simple fact of this crucial career — all different kinds of people need help and support. Improving the well-being of members of your community means social workers need to be capable of interacting with people from different backgrounds, with varying economic statuses and myriad religious beliefs. Clients may speak other languages or struggle to communicate in other ways. Diversity is the central tenant of a successful social worker, and embracing only makes them better at what they do.
Cultural competency is a cornerstone of superior social work. Being culturally competent means you understand the “specific cultural, language, social and economic nuances of particular people and families.” Social workers have the unique ability to understand both the difficulties faced by different groups of people and how the inequalities of our current social systems can have a negative effect on lives — whether it is people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community or people facing mental health disorders. Culturally competent social workers are vital to the well-being of the community and the people they serve. They identify problematic situations and unfair societal boundaries, transcend language barriers and understand the nuance of family dynamics across ethnicities. They are sympathetic to the rights of the elderly, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals. Cultural competency is an invaluable aspect of social work and a trait of all exemplary social workers.
The National Association of Social Workers firmly believes that the profession calls for defenders of social justice — a belief that rings true as social workers are one of the few groups of professionals willing to stand up against injustice, stereotyping and unfairness. The core values upheld by social workers bleed into their professional lives. A prime example of this is an international social work organization issuing a statement after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks condemning terrorism but imploring people to look closer at the potential root issue: worldwide ideologies and practices that resulted in entire Middle Eastern nations suffering from poverty. Social workers seek to promote policies that allow for the advancement of disenfranchised individuals. They support legislation (like the Voting Rights Act) that protects civil liberties and they dedicate their careers to ensuring equality.
The field of social work itself has a diverse past filled with exemplary members of our community who uphold the high moral standards of the craft. Honoring minority contributions to the world of social work is a great way to acknowledge how far social work has come and how specific individuals facilitated such growth. Mary Church Terrell was an exceptional woman — as both a woman and an African-American, she was doubly disenfranchised, especially during the late 1800s. However, she rose above the inadequacies of the American culture of yesteryear — she was among the first black women to obtain a bachelor’s degree, was a charter member of the NAACP and helped create the National Association of Colored Women (and served as its first president). She fought for women’s suffrage and equal rights for all and helped start the process of desegregating public spaces. And Dorothy Height may have passed away five years ago, but her legacy lives on today. The “godmother of social work,” Height spoke out against lynching and dedicated herself to a career in the social work field. She led multiple organizations (including The National Council for Negro Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus) and received two medals of honor for her superior work and her unparalleled heart.
Social workers have a unique responsibility, one that is rarely matched in the professional world. They are bastions of change and justice and proponents of equal rights. They support, inspire, engage and speak out. Social workers are a diverse group from varying backgrounds, ethnicities and religious beliefs and this is why they are so good at what they do. Everyone needs support at some point and social workers are culturally competent social justice warriors capable of helping anyone and everyone.
Chris Ingrao is the community manager for SocialWork@Simmons, the online MSW offered through the Simmons School of Social Work. This innovative online program empowers aspiring social workers to effect major change in their communities. In his free time, Chris enjoys exploring New York City and seeing a lot of live theater. Follow him on Google+.