From the Pen of the President: August 2023
NASW-Illinois Chapter President Latesha Newson, MSW, LCSW
Greetings, NASW-Illinois Chapter Social Work Community!
I am honored to introduce myself as your board president. I believe that we are at a very pivotal moment in our world, and it is important for us social work leaders to influence and lead the charge for change as we are in a reconstruction phase in our society. This is particularly important as we are in rebuilding post-pandemic and post–racial uprising. I have had the privilege in being on the board since 2019 and played a pivotal role in our chapter’s advocacy and impact on issues of social justice.
When did you get involved with NASW? How has your involvement in the chapter helped your professional career?
I first became involved with NASW as a student liaison for my university social work program. As a student leader with NASW, my passion for advocacy and social work grew as I was involved in organizing for Advocacy Day. After graduation, I was encouraged by my former social welfare policy professor who is also a former president of our chapter to enhance my leadership skills by running for a seat on the chapter board of directors. I went on to serve as Calumet District Chair from 2019 to 2022. I also concurrently served in 2020 as co-chair of the Task Force on Racial Justice where our chapter’s recommendations on police reform were reflected in the Criminal Justice Omnibus bill which was signed into law by Governor J. B. Pritzker. From there I was also appointed as chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee where I served from 2021 to 2022.
My involvement in the chapter has enhanced my skills as a social work leader and advocate, as well as provided connection through relationships with other social workers who are committed to doing the work. Equally as important, my involvement has afforded me the opportunity to be a part of creating invaluable change in our state and further advancing our social work profession.
Tell us about your field of practice.
I am currently a university lecturer in the social work program and BSW field coordinator at my alma mater Governors State University. I greatly enjoy helping shape the minds and skillsets of emerging social workers. My approach to teaching stems from a social justice perspective where I challenge my students to assess and evaluate systemic barriers, amplify their voices through advocacy and action to create a greater level of access to resources, and advancement in the areas of equity, diversity, and human rights.
I also serve on the social justice initiative advisory committee for GSU, and we recently open our very own legal clinic which is the first of its kind in the Southland. We provide pro se legal services and assistance for marginalized individuals without access. Here is a link to our site for more information: https://www.govst.edu/legalclinic/
In addition to my work in the academic environment, I also enjoy working with clients part-time in private practice where my clinical focus is on trauma and working with children and families.
What are your views on social work leadership?
My view and approach to social work leadership is one of a collaborative approach. I believe that it is important to have a shared vision that we collectively build towards as a community. As social workers, collaboration is essential as we work across all systems to help build, improve, sustain, and safeguard the human rights and societal needs of others.
Whitney M. Young Jr., former NASW president and architect for civil rights and social justice, framed it best in stating, “I am not anxious to be the loudest voice or most popular, but I would like to think that at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, an effective hope for the hopeless.”
What is your vision/goal for the chapter in the next two years as president?
My vision and goals for my term as president are as follows:
Continued advocacy for mental health access and equity. During my term as chair of our chapter’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC), we partnered with the Collaborative for Community Wellness with a focus on advocacy for Treatment Not Trauma (TNT) in the city of Chicago. Our DEI and our chapter have been very instrumental in supporting this important plan and approach to mental health crisis for the city. Please read our initial DEI Subcommittee Statement published back in March 2022: https://www.naswil.org/post/nasw-il-deic-subcommittee-statement-on-treatment-not-trauma
A great update regarding Treatment Not Trauma—it officially passed out of the Chicago City Council Health and Human Relations Committee on Monday, July 24, 2023, and I had the honor of providing testimony on why the reopening of the public mental health clinics are vital for community residents. I also spoke about the importance of creating a comprehensive model for mental health care, crisis response and prevention which aligns with our social work values. This important plan will now move on for a full council vote in September, and we need the support of our social workers and allies in the city of Chicago to inform city alder people of the importance of passage of this ordinance for the City of Chicago. For more information on Treatment Not Trauma, please see the links below:
Growing our membership within the chapter
Building the strength of our chapter through the development of a Legislative Committee whose focus will be to collaborate, inform, and support our advocacy and legislative actions. An official call out to membership will be forthcoming.
Continued efforts to advance our social work profession by growing our social work workforce and strengthening and diversifying our profession in our relationship with Telligen Community Initiative. This work will continue by forging partnerships and collaborations with community colleges, universities, and others throughout our state.
Continued efforts focused on dismantling systemic oppression and advancing social justice by protecting human rights. The recent decisions and overturning of important Civil Rights legislation is alarming but also evident that our work towards social justice must continue.
With a significant election approaching, efforts focused on addressing injustices around voting and voter suppression are pivotal.
What do you do in your spare time? Any hobbies or interests that help round out your work as a social worker?
In my spare time I enjoy engaging in self-care by attending live music and comedy events. I also enjoy unwinding through reading a great book and spending time with friends and loved ones. In addition, most people find it interesting that I am a fan of ALL Marvel and DC movies, and in my downtime will engage in binge watching. I often say this is how I recharge my Superhero Social Work Strength.
I look forward to working alongside and serving our great chapter!
Latesha Newson, MSW, LCSW, serves in community mental health and is adjunct professor at Governors State University in the Department of Social Work. She is a strong advocate for social justice and works to influence policies that create equitable and transformative change in our society. She has been served on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors since 2019, currently serving as Calumet District Chair, chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC), and as member of the national NASW Delegate Assembly. In 2020, she served as co-chair of the NASW-Illinois Chapter Task Force on Racial Justice where the chapter’s final recommendations on police reform were reflected in the Criminal Justice Omnibus bill. In addition, she also serves on the community level as commissioner on the Human Relations Committee for the village of Park Forest. Latesha believes that it is our social responsibility to create and effect change through advocacy, policy, and the advancement of social work.