NASW’s Michigan chapter hosts race forums

Feb 23, 2016

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Many NASW chapters are addressing the complex issues of racism, hate crimes and police use of force in their communities.

Attendees at a University of Michigan-Ann Arbor forum watch a video interview of former congressman Ron Dellums during the school’s fall forum, “Developing A Social Work Response To Racism, Hate Crimes, and Police Use of Force.” Photo: University of Michigan School of Social Work

The NASW Michigan Chapter is the latest example of social workers working toward positive solutions.

This fall it partnered with 14 schools of social work to host a first-ever series of social work forums to develop a statewide professional plan of action in response to the continued acts of violence, racism and hate crimes that have garnered national attention.

“We have been seeing that social workers want to do something concrete in their communities and need to have conversations and dialogue around these very difficult and touchy topics,” said Duane Breijak, director of member services and development at the Michigan Chapter. “However, most professionals have not had the forums to do so.”

The effort, “Developing A Social Work Response To Racism, Hate Crimes, and Police Use of Force,” was a partnership between the chapter, Wayne State University School of Social Work in Detroit, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and the Michigan Association of Black Social Workers. The forums provided an opportunity not only for social work students, but also for social work practitioners and educators to have their voices heard, Breijak said.

Allan Wachendorfer, the chapter’s director of public policy and coordinator for the project, said the chapter wanted to organize a social work response, but didn’t want to assume to know what that response should be.

“These events were a way for us to gather and talk as a profession about what our role could be,” he said. “Many of us have been involved in conversations, but we wanted action steps.”

In October and November, individual forums were hosted at schools of social work at 15 sites across the Great Lake state. Each forum began with an impassioned video message from former congressman Ron Dellums, a national social justice leader and social worker. The video helped set the stage for attendees to discuss what their local communities and the social work profession need to do.

Antoinette Debose, MSW student and NASW Michigan Chapter Region 10 board member, attended forums at her school, the University of Michigan, as well as those hosted at Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University.

“I had an opportunity to share a few thoughts and encourage students of color to get involved with NASW and various initiatives that support the forums, such as anti-racism and police violence,” she said.

From the February 2016 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story here.