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Four years ago on May 24, Virginia social workers and the rest of the nation watched in horror the videotaped murder of George Floyd, Jr., a Minneapolis Black man who was slowly suffocated by a white police officer during a simple investigation into a potential counterfeit $20 bill. The death sparked nationwide protests and led to a burst of racial justice actions and “new” anti-racism commitments as organizations and individuals scrambled to respond. 


NASW had long been involved in anti-discrimination and racial equality efforts but professed that it could have been doing more in a 2021 statement of apology for its historical support of “policies and activities that have harmed people of color.” Since then, the social work profession and NASW have made significant strides in expanding its professional and policy work around eliminating systemic racism. 


Social workers can read about NASW’s examination of racism within its organization and the social work profession in Undoing Racism through Social Work: NASW Report to the Profession on Racial Justice Priorities and Action. ​A robust microsite of race-related resources such as trainings, publications, and research is also available at NASW’s Racial Equity site.  


NASW Virginia Chapter, meanwhile, released this statement of condemnation and call for justice after Mr. Floyd’s murder and reinvigorated its role in the fight against systemic racism. 


With input from members, the chapter greatly expanded its racial-justice-related trainings and conference sessions; increased its use of leaders of color as event speakers; lobbied for restorative justice scholarships for Black social work students; fought state bills and regulations that would disproportionately harm people of color; held town halls to share grief, anger, and proposed actions; and more. Through education and activism, the chapter continues to advance a more equitable society for Black social workers and their clients of color. 


That work isn’t easy, especially in light of recent gubernatorial gutting and vetoing of bills that would have reduced the outcomes that disproportionately harm people of color or maintain structures of systemic racism. These include curbing reproductive and contraceptive freedoms, vetoing meaningfully gun violence prevention and safety progress, increasing accountability and reducing the use of solitary confinement, and allowing pro-Confederate license plates and Confederate “heritage” nonprofit tax exemptions to continue. 


Also recently has been Gov. Youngkin’s demand to review public university curricula around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and his appointments of university board members who are known opponents of higher education DEI initiatives and course content. 


As any social worker in the field knows, education of social work students regarding racial history, generational trauma, discrimination, and cultural competencies are needed knowledge in practice, indeed mastery and understanding is mandated by our Code of Ethics and advanced in our Social Work Speaks policy manual.

  

Advocacy around all of these issues takes work—and volunteers. Any member is invited to contact Executive Director Debra Riggs at driggs.naswva@socialworkers.org if interested in joining the chapter’s Policy and Social Justice Committee. The group helps chart chapter policy priorities and works to advance NASW goals around anti-racism, human rights, support of the profession, and more.  


Below are some resources and news around racial justice and health disparities to help assure social workers that the chapter is staying on top of its commitment. No matter how long the battle takes to attain a society that offers “liberty and justice for all,” Virginia social workers will continue to lead the way.


  • May 17 was the 70th anniversary of the Virginia-based Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that legally ended racial segregation in the state’s public schools. Ironically, a recent review of federal data by Axios found that racial segregation in the state’s public schools has actually increased in the past 30 years. Unsurprisingly, the research also found that, when attending a school composed of majority Black and Latino students, these youth experienced higher student-to-school counselor ratios, above-average suspension rates, more teacher shortages, and fewer resources. 



  • Virginia is creating a two-year Commission to Study the History of the Uprooting of Black Communities by Public Institutions of Higher Education in the Commonwealth. The 19-member commission starts July 1 and will study land disruption—including the taking of some land by eminent domain--of Black communities due to expanding public universities and colleges. The project launched after a study by the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism documented historical and allegedly ongoing encroachment in Newport News of a predominantly Black neighborhood by Christopher Newport University; University of Virginia and Old Dominion University also are among the schools cited. 


  • For a quick overview of the health of Black Americans, visit the Office of Minority Health’s microsite, which cites the latest research and statistics on higher-than-average rates of death, maternal mortality, chronic diseases, and more. Many of these outcomes are due to systemic racism that has led to lower or late-stage physical and mental health treatments, inadequate access to affordable housing or nutrition, higher injury rates or deaths from gun violence, and rising suicide rates.   


“While the horrible death of George Floyd, Jr., may seem in the increasingly distant past, it is up to us as social workers and our organization to keep alive the momentum for positive change resulting from the national outrage and anger of that terrible day,” said Riggs. “Together, we will continue battling systemic racism and show that Black lives matter more than ever.”

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