The following was written by Kia Pratt, a social worker with FCS’s Community Support Services.
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans, many of whom overcame tremendous adversity to positively impact the future of our world. As an African American woman, I am especially interested in raising awareness of the too-often neglected achievements of African American women — women like pioneering social justice reformer Mary Church Terrell.
Terrell was an extraordinary African American woman who focused on uplifting people through education, employment and community activism. The daughter of former slaves, Terrell was the first black women to earn a Bachelor and Masters degree from Oberlin College. She used her newly-acquired knowledge and powerful voice to advocate for women’s suffrage, racial equality and other pressing social issues of the time. Terrell became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) where she spearheaded the expansion of social services to support the changing needs of women of color. She encouraged local NACW chapters to build homes for the aged, start free health clinics for the poor and establish schools for black girls. (Read more about Mary Church Terrell’s accomplishments.)
Terrell’s contributions opened doors for many African Americans, including myself. Growing up, my family emphasized the importance of education, stressing that college was the path to opportunity. Shortly after obtaining my bachelor’s degree in social work from Stockton University, I began working as a social worker for Family and Children’s Service (FCS), helping to administer the agency’s Jersey Assistance for Community Caregiving program (JACC). JACC provides an array of support services to vulnerable seniors who want to continue living in the community, but who are at risk for placement in nursing facilities. I’ve learned that many of our clients do not seek help because they do not have access to certain resources. For example, they may need transportation to a doctor, or a walker to help with mobility. I believe it is my job, and the job of all social workers, to bridge the gap between those who have access to resources, and those who do not.
Becoming an FCS social worker has been empowering. It is tremendously gratifying to provide hope to people who have nowhere else to turn, and to work with colleagues who demonstrate compassion and commitment to their clients. In the future, I want to earn my master’s degree in social work (MSW) to enable me to advocate at an even greater level for individuals in need and their communities, just as Mary Church Terrell did.
I am deeply aware that my accomplishments would not have been possible without the people who have come before me. Individuals such as Rosa Parks and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. were criminalized for standing up for their beliefs. Their sacrifices created opportunities for me and so many others. As an African American social worker, I take pride in continuing my ancestor’s legacy of advocacy and hope to inspire my peers to get involved in pushing for social change in their communities. As I look at the many communities in need of services, it’s evident that there is more work to be done.
Kia Pratt is a social worker with FCS’s Community Support Services where she helps administer the Jersey Assistance for Community Caregiving (JACC) program.