LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Hundreds of Black social workers marked 40 years of service to their communities during their annual conference, “Ma’at, Sankofa & Harambee: 40 Years Strong,” held at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton April 1-5.

They traveled from Michigan, Ohio, Washington, D.C., Louisiana Oakland and Northern California for the National Association of Black Social Workers’ flagship event. The conference included skill-building institutes and workshops. Some of the topics covered included gang violence, mental health concerns and understanding Blacks in the criminal justice system.

Other sessions discussed the use of cultural and African-centered approaches toward service, replacing old theories about the “un-adoptability” of Black children with special needs, and the problem of post-traumatic stress disorder among Black Americans.


Dr. Shirley Better presented during the workshop “African Americans and Latinos: On the Cusp of Social Transformation or the Brink of Racial Confrontation.” She underscored how institutional racism, an issue she called a pertinent to every aspect of the group’s mission as social workers, touches every sector of society.

“At a time when African Americans find some commonality with Latinos, they also feel threatened by them. How are we to deal with the competition in the urban areas for housing, education, jobs and political power?” she asked.

Blacks must first deal with the overarching problem of institutional racism, Dr. Better advised.

She said she has advocated for over 15 years that social workers address the ramifications of the relationship between Blacks and Latinos.

“Now we must. Many of us in California are aware that there must be a much closer relationship between the two. On the east coast, there weren’t that many Latinos until the last 5 to 10 years, now they’re beginning to see that there’s a whole new dynamic that is beginning to be expressed and we must begin to deal with them,” said Dr. Better.

The sociologist and author told some 50 colleagues institutional racism is rooted in policies, practices and procedures, rather than individual actions. The “Three Ps” are built on negative actions that exploit or disadvantage people based on their membership in non-White racial groups, she said.

Increasing joblessness, marginalized and overcrowded schools are some of the frustrations Blacks experience and may blame on immigration, Dr. Better said. However, she added, there is a scarcity of resources that fuels these frustrations. Solutions should include highlighting the visible strengths between the two groups and shared problems, such as equal concerns over housing, education and jobs, Dr. Better argued.

Interracial collaboration–which can include establishing networks of crisis intervention and long term mediation–can provide training that exposes the underlining causes of racial conflicts and promotes action to help eradicate institutional racism, she said.

“We don’t have to see Latinos as the enemy and building collaboratives doesn’t mean we’re going to be on step on every point, but there ought to be areas where we can coalesce,” Dr Better said.