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Saturday, April 1

From the Pen of the President: April 2017

Don Phelps, PhD, LCSW
NASW-Illinois Chapter President

In classes this semester, my students and I have been talking about the history of social policy, social movements, and the current political climate. I am fortunate to have bright and curious students who aren’t afraid to talk about controversial topics and who have the ability to hold multiple truths during our honest discussions. We talk about the current polarization in politics and the need for difficult conversations, open minds, engagement, and advocacy.

During a recent class, one of my students raised her hand and asked sincerely, “How do you not get burned out after spending thirty years advocating for equality and social justice? Isn’t it one foot forward and three steps back?” The question took me by surprise. I told her there are days that I feel like staying home and curling up in a fetal position, but those moments don’t last very long. For me, advocating for social justice isn’t just a political position; it is a core value that I’ve centered my life and vocation around. It hurts me deeply to see people suffering, oppressed, or marginalized.

Many of my conservative friends and family members mock me by calling me a social justice wearier (SJW) as if that’s a negative term. An SJW is a derogatory phrase referring to “a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.” Having a sensitive heart that “bleeds” when there are injustices doesn’t mean you're weak; it means you know your heart is still beating. Being a SJW doesn’t mean that you are an “elite” that has never experienced injustice; it means that you have decided to put those experiences to good use. So yes, I am a bleeding heart social justice warrior, and that's not likely to change any time soon. If, at the end of my life, people remember me as a SJW, I will have lived a meaningful life true to my core values and the values of our profession.

As we continue to strengthen our coalitions and advocacy during this political climate, I hope you and your colleagues will join us at our Social Work Advocacy day on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Here are just a couple reasons:

1) Illinois has not had a state budget for the past twenty-one months. It may be another two years without a budget.

2) The crisis in higher education funding continues. MAP grant cuts and other cuts to higher education will continue to impact our programs.

3) The stagnation of social service funding and lack of a budget will impact employment prospects for students and professionals due to the cut in vital services to the people we serve.

We need your participation. Information and online registration can be found on our website at http://www.naswil.org/advocacy/advocacy-day/ or you can register that morning on-site. If you have any questions about the day or specific bills we are focusing on, please do not hesitate to contact Kyle Hillman, the NASW-Illinois Chapter Director of Legislative Affairs at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). I look forward to seeing you in Springfield on April 4th.


Don Phelps (PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago; LCSW) currently works as a tenured, full professor at Aurora University's School of Social Work. For the last thirty years he has worked in various roles in social services including adolescent and family therapist, clinical director, chief operating officer, chief executive officer, and professor. In 2007, Don and a few of his graduate students developed, funded, and implemented ongoing therapeutic groups for children at Hesed House, the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois. During a university sabbatical in 2011, he provided pro bono clinical services and clinical/administrative training at the Casa Hogar Los Angelitos orphanage in Manzanillo, Mexico. He currently serves as president of the board of directors for the Center for Faith and Human Rights, an international nonprofit based in Washington, DC.

Posted on 04/01/17 at 08:00 AM

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