NASW-Illinois Chapter President Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we'll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
I start with this except from the poem, “The Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gorman. She is the National Youth Poet Laureate who, at the presidential inauguration, captivated people around the world just days ago and who I think is wise beyond her years. I think that we not only needed the words when she recited them but need them still as we continue to deal with the countless social challenges we’re tenaciously trying to resolve. In the last year, hopefulness levels have fluctuated quite a bit depending on the events we’ve been experiencing as a nation. The words in this poem may help us heal and fill us with hope.
This is also a great piece to commemorate Black History Month, the annual celebration that offers us an opportunity to honor the countless achievements of Black Americans in every sector throughout our nation’s history. We must go beyond exploring African American history or beyond supporting Black businesses during this month though. We must continue to advocate for criminal justice and police raid reform, mass incarceration suppression, increase funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), affirmative action, and for policies that would lead us to equity. We must continue to tackle racism and speaking out against systems that seek to discriminate and oppress any group. Our association is here to support all of us in doing the work that must be done. It’s impossible to do it alone.
I’m imperative that we seize the moment, which happens to be my motto for this new year. I don’t about know you, but I’ve felt comforted when writing “2021” since the first day in the year. Although I no longer felt like offering my enthusiastic, “Happy New Year!” to people after the horrific attempt against our democracy and the Capitol, I’ve continued looking for ways to remain optimistic. I’m trying to remind myself that crises also present opportunities for change.
The country has a new administration, with a high percentage of political appointees who identify as people of color, women, or LGBTQ. In our state, there is a new speaker in the Illinois House of Representative, which was boasted as extraordinary. The Black Caucus is setting out a range of economic, education, and criminal justice issues. Plus, the COVID-19 vaccine phased rollout is taking place. All these present social workers with great opportunities to serve and advancing the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities we serve. We must be careful not to engage in blaming victims throughout the helping process.
The number of lives lost to COVID-19 is expected to reach half a million in the next few weeks! This is unfortunate. Although historic medical research against brown and black communities may be contributing to apprehension to get vaccinated, it is immediate and expanded access to testing and vaccine distribution that could make the difference between life and death. Let’s evaluate the narratives we at times use to try to make sense of disparities.
Although disease, violence, and division may be markedly invading our consciousness, let’s remain hopeful.
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.