From the Pen of the President: December 2020
NASW-Illinois Chapter President Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW
Am I the only one feeling excited about the year 2020 coming to an end? I doubt it. This has been a year like no other. In my case, the first unnerving situation of the year was the earthquakes while visiting my family in Puerto Rico just days after the new year. As many more earthquakes continued to happen throughout the month, I loved that how hundreds of people gathered on January 31st at a famous plaza to receive February with a countdown and fireworks similar to the new year’s celebration that happened just a month earlier. That attempt to continue the year with a renewed sense of hope and strength is something I can easily get behind.
Then the pandemic hit about six weeks after that celebration. The necessary lockdowns and social distancing have also allowed us to closely observe societal issues that we still haven’t been able to fully tackle as a nation. We have once again witnessed racial inequities, this time at alarming rates. I’m not only speaking about the rate in which the novel coronavirus has affected Black, Latinx, and Native Americans. As we paid closer attention to updates regarding COVID-19 and other current issues, we also got to see new instances where Black Americans were the subject of profiling and discriminatory practices while simply carrying out day-to-day activities that somehow were criminalized. We also witnessed the unfortunate deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police, and the ensuing clamor for justice. All these events happened while leading towards the presidential elections, and while many were still denying that racism and white supremacy continued to exploit and oppress people of color for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege. Again, a year like no other.
We are very fortunate to count with colleagues and organizations ready to find solutions and going the extra mile. At a time when I was trying to make sense of everything and wondering what else could be done, I was fortunate to have the immediate guidance and support from our NASW-Illinois Chapter staff and leadership. I feel very humble and immensely appreciate the excellent work of the newly created NASW-Illinois Chapter Task Force on Racial Justice. This splendid group of dedicated social workers, each with great knowledge and experience, came together and offered many hours to make possible a unique list of recommendations that will guide our racial justice initiatives throughout the state. I greatly appreciate the involvement of my colleagues, Latesha Newson and Kristin Rubbelke, for co-chairing this task force with their characteristic humility and dedication. I also want to thank members of our chapter board of directors for supporting this effort, and to the hundreds of members who took the time to offer their views and ideas.
This type of commitment contributes to our resiliency, especially during uncertain times like the ones we’re living. We may not know how many more COVID-19 cases we’ll have in the next few weeks or how much deeper the unemployment rate will be, or how the enormous divisions we’re facing will be mended. One thing is clear. Identifying and changing the practices and policies that have not worked and that may have perpetuated inequity must be everyone’s priority.
I invite you to read the recommendations drafted by NASW Illinois Chapter’s Task Force on Racial Justice and to find ways to challenge the status quo. Changing anything that has made us remain static, is also part of resilience.
I hope the countdown and fireworks on new year’s eve will bring us a sense of relief, optimism, and positive changes.
Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW, is Manager of Health Promotion Programs at Rush University Medical Center. She currently serves as president on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors and is former Chicago District Chair.