Past, Present, & Progress

Past

He who forgets his past is lost.

African Proverb

There’s a saying that says “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been”. I heard it often in movies growing up and now it has so much meaning. Growing up, that statement was vague. I understood that I must have some knowledge of MY past to know where I’m going. I really didn’t think about how the past and knowing my history intersected with the history of my ancestors. When I think of the history of my ancestors and what they lived through, it makes me think of how their experiences have shaped familial traditions, values and norms.

Reflecting on my personal and professional experiences, I have always been drawn to working with African American communities. I’ve seen the great, bad and ugly in the African American community. Working with African American communities created a sense of belonging for me. My thought was, “these are my brother and sisters and I want to do work that uplifts the community.” I’m proud to be Black and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Despite the oppression and discrimination, it is a unique experience. Although most African Americans have been stripped of their ancestry and connection to Africa due to slavery, we have worked to redefine what culture means in the African American community.

I admire the resilience of African Americans over time. Yet, it’s been my experience that African Americans are complex and divided. I’ve seen division in African American communities and families. The division I’ve observed comes from socioeconomic status and educational attainment. It appears that once a Black person “makes it”, they can be seen as a source of financial opportunity or as a traitor for leaving others behind. 

I didn’t want to be that person who turned their back on the African American community in the pursuit of the American dream, but I saw myself slowly drifting towards that narrative. I bought into working to better myself through my education and even in the spaces I occupied. I was living my life based on Eurocentric, individualistic principles because I wanted a certain lifestyle that didn’t involve building and uplifting the community I lived in. Rather, I wanted to forget because of painful memories instead of working alongside others so they didn’t have to experience the same pain.


Present

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Madela

Enrolling in a Social Work program has changed my worldview, more studying Africentered Social Work. Over the last month and a half, I’ve been challenged to think about how my views align with the broader society and Africentric principles. During one session, we discussed worldview and how our personal worldview aligned more with an African or European worldview. Surprisingly (or not depending on who you ask), I found I hold both tendencies of being an individual and being interconnected to the things and people around me.

Now that I’ve provided some context on my personal and professional experiences with the African American community, the following are the core values and beliefs I have adopted to use in my present and future practices.

Values & Beliefs

Interconnected

I’ve come to understand that we all connected and operate interdependently. The activities we participate in and the work we do affect individuals, groups, families, and nature. One particular incidence or activity will impact something or someone. For instance, I’m studying Social Policy and Evaluation. If I select a research method that includes giving an intervention to a group and withholding an intervention from the control group, I have to consider how the intervention (or lack thereof) may help or harm participants.

Self-Knowledge & Self-Determination

Self-knowledge and self-determination means to know one’s self and to define ourselves – speak up for ourselves. These beliefs align with my role as a future social worker to advocate for underrepresented and marginalized communities. One thing I’ve learned to do it to realize the privileged identities that I hold and how those identities will influence the work I do in African American communities. Additionally, self-determination is more than just about the individual, but also how that individual make contributions to the community. It reminds me of the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. We are individuals, but we all play a role in communities. We can give of ourselves when we have substance: self-awareness.

purpose & Faith

The Kwanzaa principle Nia, or purpose, states it is to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness (Onley 2019). I view purpose as an essential component to my future practice because it serves as a reminder that we are more than the labels and stereotypes society attributes to African Americans. While learning about Africentered Social Work, it’s inspiring to see so many pioneers who have lead the way in Social Work and working towards progress for African Americans. This value is ingrained in work I’m doing while pursuing the Social Work degree because I’m not studying to edify my own needs, but to serve a community I identify with and am wholeheartedly connected to.

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” 

Maya Angelou

Incorporating faith into my beliefs was something I recently adopted. To have faith as a belief means that I have a commitment to the community I’m serving and to see and appreciate the value of those community members. Another way I view faith is being connected to a foundation that keeps one grounded. I grew up in a semi-religious home where we went to church service, but didn’t practice in the home except for prayers for dinner. The way I understand faith now is more than a formality, but a necessity to life. Faith means understanding our connection to each other, to support, be supportive, caring and being responsible for each other. Faith is the building block on which we can stand to uplift the Black community.


Purpose

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

~ African proverb

Theory in Practice

I discuss community often throughout this statement as a reminder of the population I’ll be working with. Working in policy and evaluation will impact individuals and families as a result of programming and public policies, but the focus of the theory in practice will using theory in communities.

I will discuss a theory and a program model. First, I’ll discuss how Critical Race Theory can be adapted using an Africentric Approach. Following Critical Race Theory, I will discuss Inclusive Program Development as a model and incorporate an Africentric Approach.

Critical Race Theory

Critical race theory (CRT) is described as the response to the long history of scientifically justified racism and how institutions and structures of society perpetuate inequality and institutional racism (Gamble & Weil 2010). CRT provides a framework social workers can use to recognize, analyze, and change power dynamics that reinforce racial inequality and maintain institutional racism (Kolivoski, Weaver, & Constance-Huggins 2014).

The theory can be adapted to use a strengths-based approach to addressing racism when working towards social justice. Using an Africentric approach, the theory can be utilized as a means to discuss how all humans are equal and share a common bond. Additionally, this theory can be adapted to incorporate self-awareness as a principle with the notion that we are interdependent of others and the institutions in which we live and engage with in society.

Inclusive program development model

Inclusive Program Development is using knowledge about the community to learn about their needs and concerns by engaging in communication and feedback with the community. The model should ensure ongoing feedback, productive communication, and guidance for needed change from community members; consider and utilize local resources and support when developing a new program; use interested sponsors who can focus on site visits to monitor or evaluate programs; and remain grounded in the community and its needs and directions by reflecting, discussions, interactions with, and guidance from community members (Gamble & Weil 2010). Inclusive Program Development has three implementation stages including:

  • Early stages: This stage involves paying close attention to the desires of the community and assessing needs, resources, and context for program planning. The information will be used to set priorities and using the time to incorporate subcommittees and the planning committee.
  • Middle stages: This stages uses strengths/needs assessment from community members to document resources, concerns, and community needs. It involves building the purpose and vision, writing the purpose statement and goals, and using program or project activities to develop the program model.
  • Concluding stages: The last stage includes using participatory and empowerment evaluations to assess the programs to determine if outcomes are met.

The Inclusive Program Development incorporates community input and resources in this model. The model be adapted by having the program coordinators and evaluators consider their worldview when implementing the program and the evaluation design. Being culturally humble and culturally competence to promote social justice as an ongoing process for practitioners can help build upon strengths rather than community deficits. Another adaption would be to consider the context of the history of the community, including past oppression, culture and norms, and traditions to understand community dynamics and how the practitioner’s experiences can support the goals and objectives of the community.

Community Experts

In my future practice, whether it be for an organization or my own business, it is imperative to understand that community members are experts of their own experiences. Theories to guide my work, but I will consider if the frameworks I’m using are appropriate for the community I’m working with. It is my role as a social worker to work alongside the community to identify needs and an intervention for a community issue or concern.

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