The Mississippi chapter of the National Association of Social Workers gathered Thursday and Friday of last week for its annual conference at the Natchez Convention Center. March is Social Work Month nationally. This year’s rallying theme is “Social Work Matters” – an important message in a time of severe and widespread cuts to social service programs and budgets, austerity measures causing much pain to many people.
Invited to offer a keynote address to the several hundred assembled, I did my best over 45 minutes with a captive audience to affirm the progressive, principle-centered, justice-oriented heritage of the profession, while attempting to scare everyone into action with the prospect of even meaner politics and social welfare back-sliding ahead.
On a happier note, the Southern Miss School of Social Work looked very, very good. Attendees wearing black-and-gold “Southern Miss Alumnus” ribbons were ubiquitous throughout the Center and downtown Natchez. Southern Miss faculty studded the program with high-attendance educational presentations. An evening reception hosted by the school was “the” extra-curricular headliner.
Best of all, two former Gulf Coast faculty colleagues, Patricia Davis and Ray Scurfield, and a current Hattiesburg MSW student, Bethany Kent, received top honors. Pat Davis was recognized for her induction into the national pantheon of “Social Work Pioneers,” an exclusive privilege indeed. Professor Emeritus Ray Scurfield was presented with the chapter’s “Lifetime Achievement” award, reserved for only the most outstanding of lifelong contributors to the profession. Delta native Bethany Kent received the state’s “MSW Student of the Year” award, in recognition of both her achievements to date and her promise as a professional and a leader.
Without doubt, 2012 should be remembered as a banner year for the school.