Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leadership, ethics, and the law

In doing ethics trainings I am often asked to talk about legal liability issues. This provides an opportunity to talk about ethics versus law...that these are overlapping but not synonymous terms. Certain things may be legal but not ethical, and one of the things a leader must do is struggle with this issue, having the moral courage to speak the truth and act on it.

One area where social workers struggle with this tension between legal and ethical is around immigration. Our social work leadership through NASW has put together a toolkit to help social workers who wrestle with this area.

As a result of the NASW President’s Initiative on Diversity, the purpose of the Immigration Toolkit is to provide NASW chapters, members, and other entities with policy information and tools to promote the competency of social workers in the immigration field, to fight discrimination against immigrants, and to take social and political action in support of the rights of immigrants. To view the Toolkit, go to:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month

It's Hispanic Heritage Month, and an opportunity to think about Hispanic/Latino leaders who have focused on civil rights issues. Here are a couple I could think of, with some information from a variety of internet sources.
Who are the Hispanic/Latino leaders you most admire?

Dennis Chávez
As a United States senator, Dennis Chávez battled for the rights of Hispanic residents and Native Americans in his home state, New Mexico. He was a senator for 27 years, from 1935 to 1962. Chávez tried to stop discrimination against workers based on their race, religion, or ethnic background. He played a major role in the establishment of an agency to protect workers, known as the Fair Employment Practices Commission.

Cesar Chávez
César Chávez came from a family of poor migrant workers. Through the experiences of his family, he knew the hard lives led by farm workers who came to work in California from Mexico. They had to live in dirty, cramped places and earned little money. In 1962, with Dolores Huerta, he started a group to change these terrible conditions — the United Farm Workers of America. At first the workers were afraid of the produce growers. But Chávez inspired the group and led peaceful protests and boycotts. These actions convinced the growers to sign contracts with the farm workers and to treat them better.

Dolores Huerta
Dolores Huerta has devoted her whole life to better treatment and justice for farm workers. Along with César Chávez, she co-founded the United Farm Workers of America. She negotiated the first labor contract for the migrant farm workers and helped get the growers to agree to stop using dangerous chemicals on grapes. Because of a boycott Huerta led in 1970, urging people not to buy California grapes, the grape industry agreed to treat the workers better.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
In 1982, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban American to be elected to the U.S. Congress. When she was 7 years old, her family fled Communist forces in Cuba. Today, the Republican congresswoman strongly opposes Communism in Cuba. She advocates for human rights around the world.

Sonia Sotomayor
She is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace retired Justice David Souter . Her nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 6, 2009, by a vote of 68–31, and she was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on August 8. Sotomayor is the Court's 111th justice, its first Hispanic justice, and its third female justice. Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent and was born in the Bronx.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Quiet Leader

Today I'm thinking alot about Gary Shaffer, a man who has been a quiet and courageous leader in the field of school social work for decades. Gary is an amazing example of leadership without fanfare, without force, without ego. For over 20 years Gary has worked in NC to educate and prepare social workers to work in our schools. He knows the importance of having a social worker there to help the child whose academic performance or behavior is problematic, not due to lack of skill or smarts, but due to poverty, violence, substances, bullying, or simply having no one that cares. He communicates the needs of school-age kids, and the importance of school social workers, to county commissioners, legislators, school systems, universities, and anyone else with whom he speaks.

Three particular ways to help kids have been Gary's most recent interest: getting free lunches to kids in poverty during the summers through the schools; banning corporal punishment in schools in NC; and passing anti-bullying legislation to protect vulnerable kids. He was particularly tenacious in his advocacy for the anti-bullying bill, which passed the General Assembly this small victory and impossible without his leadership.

Gary has led both by word and by example. His most recent and most courageous example has been in how he handles his health. Gary has been struggling with illness for several years. Throughout this time he has kept on keeping on--even when we knew he was tired or felt sick or was sick and tired of his treatments. His passion for the work was strong and helped him continue the fight. So whether in his work or his life, Gary has been a gentle yet tenacious leader, fighting for what he believes in and dedicated to the wellbeing of kids and the social workers who help them. We're fortunate to have leaders like Gary Shaffer, and I know I'm a better social worker and person because of him.