Chapter Update

Wednesday, February 16

Get To Know: James Cappleman, LCSW

Nina Nguyen, NASW Illinois Manager, Communications and Membership

As trained communicators with concrete ideas on how to empower communities, social workers have the unique position of understanding social problems. They are also well-equipped to provide the leadership in order to enact changes that improve the quality of life for their clients and their communities. NASW Illinois member, James Cappleman, LCSW, is an example of one social worker whose drive for social justice has projected into the Illinois political arena as he runs for alderman in Chicago’s 46th ward.

A native of Houston, Texas, James was one of seven children raised by a single mother. One year following the difficult death of his father, James’ mother decided it was time to transfer the family’s own suffering by reaching out to help those who were less fortunate. That Christmas, she decided to adopt a family. This single event marked a milestone for James, who later became an activist in his high school, working to integrate and promote diversity among the student population.

James originally began his career as an educator where the majority of his students were undocumented immigrants from Mexico. After attempting to get parents more actively involved in their children’s education with required parent-teacher conferences, James quickly realized that his students were often lacking basic needs that took precedence over their school work. His work as an educator planted the seed later for his future career as a social worker.

James moved to Chicago in the late 1980s, working with homeless HIV/AIDS clients at Travelers and Immigrant Aid (now Heartland Alliance). His experience there motivated James to return to school where he earned his MSW from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Upon graduation, James worked at Children’s Memorial Hospital where he worked with families in their HIV/AIDS programs. Speaking of his time there, James notes a couple he helped who were expecting a child and getting tested for HIV. When the tests came back, the father’s results came back positive while the mother’s were negative. The father was upset by the news, but not because he was HIV+. Instead, he was resentful that his wife’s results had come back negative. Further talks with the husband discovered the root of the father’s anger at his wife, and in identifying the cause, James was able to help the family to reduce the risks of infecting their unborn child with the AIDS virus through practice of safer sex.

James moved to St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1994, continuing his work in their HIV/AIDS program. During the mid 1990s, James served three years as chair of the NASW Illinois Chapter’s HIV/AIDS Task Force.

As the HIV/AIDS climate shifted, so too did James’ career focus. He became more interested in end-of-life care, working at Northwestern Hospital in their palliative care unit. James currently works at The University of Chicago Medical Center as a family advocate. One of the most important things he does there is to ensure the parent’s role as protector as well as training staff in working with families in crisis. His experience working in the healthcare field encouraged James to write a book, Asking the Right Questions to Get the Healthcare You Need (Trafford Publishing, 2008) to aid those living in chronic illness.

The skills he’s honed as a social worker—listening, making decisions using evidence-based practices, and changing the system from within—have also helped James in his role as community activist and advocate. As a resident of Chicago’s 46th ward for over ten years, James understands the importance of creating systemic change. When a gang leader moved into an apartment in a public housing unit in James’ neighborhood, there came with it an increase in violence and drug deals. James worked with residents in the housing unit as well as the neighborhood to recognize that everyone deserved to feel safe in their home. He worked with Chicago Housing Author (CHA) management to not only remove the drug dealer from the unit, but to also work on ways preventing his return. Being a social worker, James understands that a problem cannot simply be mended; the system itself must change in order to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

For the past ten years, James has been on the board of directors for the Uptown Chicago Commission (UCC), a nonprofit neighborhood organization that seeks to improve the quality of life for all Uptown residents. He just finished serving his second term as the board president. James has helped form block clubs, organize service projects, and create open access to necessary information for residents throughout the 46th Ward.

James continues to work with State Senator Heather Steans, State Representative Greg Harris, and surrounding aldermen on many task forces to address issues related to public safety. He served on the Buena Park Neighbors taskforce to address the public drinking problem on the 4000 block of North Broadway. He is an active board member of Annie’s Legacy, a Southside nonprofit organization that seeks to empower women who have experienced abuse and poverty.

Like many other social workers across the country who serve in a range of political institutions, James has decided to join their ranks by running for alderman in Chicago’s 46th ward. James’ advocacy efforts in his Chicago Uptown neighborhood as well as the frustration of being constantly pushed back have helped motivate James into running for office. “Chicago is a city run on favors,” James says. Constituents want quick fixes to their problems. But as most social workers know, there are no quick fixes to tough problems. By working to change the system from within, James Cappleman is prepared to use solid social work systems approaches to  improve and strengthen the citizens of the 46th ward.
To find out more about James and his campaign for alderman of Chicago's 46th ward, please visit:
Posted on 02/16/11 at 10:38 AM


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