Throughout this month, we’re highlighting stories from alumni and friends to help celebrate the 2020 Social Work Month theme “Social Workers: Generations Strong.” In marking the 2010s, we sat down with two-time alumna Dr. Tawanda Hubbard, MSW’05, DSW’17.
Dr. Hubbard does it all from serving on the SSW’s Alumni Council to teaching as a PTL for Rutgers SSW to volunteering with NASW-NJ to keeping up with her full-time job as specialist professor at Monmouth University. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Hubbard and learn more about her decision to enter the profession, her thoughts on social work’s past, and her hopes for the future.
How did the decade in which you studied at Rutgers SSW impact your education and career? Was there an event or movement that sparked your interest in social work?
During the decade I attended Rutgers, I personally experienced a great loss and bore witness to tragedy and pain, as well as triumph and joy. I started the Rutgers MSW program in New Brunswick in 2003 after spending more than a year volunteering after the loss of my younger brother to gun violence. He was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting at the age of 19. After losing my brother, I took time to heal and reflect on what mattered to me and what I was doing with my life, and I came to the decision of how I wanted to make a difference and be part of the solution. My decision led me to social work.
A year before the loss of my brother, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center took place. A close friend and Godmother of my daughter worked in one of the twin towers. I cannot put into words the emotions I felt that day when I received her call saying she was late to work, and the tremendous sadness I felt for those who did not hear from their loved ones on that day. To think, I was in the World Trade Center two days before the attack having lunch. When I graduated with my MSW in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Watching the devastation and pain on the faces of those losing loved ones, their homes, and treasured possessions still leaves me speechless. In April 2007, the Virginia Tech Massacre took place. It saddens me to know how many more have taken place since that time and the number of innocent lives lost to senseless violence.
Bearing witness to these hurts, loss, and pain life can bring has definitely informed and shaped the work I do as a social work practitioner and educator. I work with children and families who have experienced trauma, loss, abuse, and pain in life. I am committed to equipping the students and professionals I teach and train with the knowledge and skills they need to provide quality cultural relevant services. In 2008, Barack Obama won the presidential election, making him the first African-American President of the United States, and it gave us joy and hope as a nation and people. I have a similar feeling of joy and hope when I bear witness to persons and families I work with when they turn the corner and begin to experience relief and feel whole again.
This year’s Social Work Month theme is “Generations Strong.” What does this idea mean to you?
“Generations Strong” reminds me of an article I wrote entitled, “A Moment of Reflection: Focus on African American Social Work Pioneers” published in the NASW-NJ Focus, 22(1). The words I wrote in 2013 still ring true for me today: “As Social Workers we have a strong foundation to stand on, a rich heritage to draw strength from, and a value system that affirms who we are and what we do that we inherited from the social workers who came before us. We owe the social work pioneers and social reformers thanks for the riches they have passed on to us, this great history, and work we hold dear.” (p. 5)
What do you see as the future of social work? How can the field of social work adapt to our ever-changing world?
Social work continues to have a bright future. There continues to be a need in our society and across the globe for social work and the unique skills, knowledge, and valuable contributions social workers bring to the table in providing quality services to and on behalf of the individuals, families, communities, and nations we serve. We have a presence and are a part of just about every industry, but what is our positionality in these spaces? How are we seen? What power do we hold to bring about lasting, transformative changes? It boils down to asking, “What is social work's influence?”
When looking at the future of social work and the position the field of social work holds, we need to be prepared and equipped to meet the needs of our ever-changing world. It is essential for the profession to take a closer look at how we are positioning ourselves as a profession and how we are educating future social workers by cultivating and equipping social workers to lead, supporting and consuming the knowledge created by social workers, supporting and lifting up each other, and advocating for social equity and benefits for social work practitioners on the frontlines equal to other helping professions.
We need to step up and take ownership of how social work is seen, be the authors of our own narratives, and make it known that social workers are thought leaders, innovators, scholars, researchers, strong advocates, and skilled practitioners that need to be at the decision-making table in every arena we occupy. By taking this position, social work will be prepared to adapt to the ever-changing world.