Skip to main content

Honoring one of our own and painfully aware that the work continues

Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson released the following statement on Tuesday, May 17:

This past Saturday, more than 200 people spent the evening in Chapel Hill honoring Mrs. Hortense McClinton, our University’s first Black faculty member and a national social work pioneer. At the dinner we announced a scholarship in Mrs. McClinton’s honor, the details of which we will be sharing over the next few weeks. It was a wonderful event full of warmth and loving energy.

Several community stakeholders and guests commented afterward that it was important that the University and the School of Social Work honor the McClinton legacy and that they felt that the building dedication and scholarship dinner signaled – in an important way – that UNC and our School understand the importance of acknowledging the contributions of Black individuals ­– that they matter. At the same time, Mrs. McClinton and her family were deeply touched by the outpouring of respect and every intentional effort that was made to honor our School’s social work pioneer.

I wish that I could end this note here, but I cannot. The sad reality is that at the very moment we were celebrating the progress that has been made toward equity, justice, and access, a racially motivated, hate-filled, self-professed White supremist mercilessly gunned down innocent African Americans (including several who were elderly) in a Buffalo, New York grocery store. This act of domestic terrorism, pre-planned and acted out with precision, physically sickened me as I am sure was the case for many of you.

Upon hearing the news, I panicked and phoned my best friend who lives in Buffalo and frequents Tops grocery store. When he did not answer his phone. I prayed to God that his dark skin did not cause him to be killed. Once we confirmed that he, his wife, and 23-year-old son were all okay, I reflected on my prayer. Did I just pray that my friend was not killed and worry that he might be because he is Black and may have been grocery shopping? What is this? This is ludicrous. What is it that would make me breakout in hives, nurse an upset stomach for days, and call/text my friends and family repeatedly until I was assured that they were okay? This is racialized trauma. We do not speak about racialized trauma enough. In fact, when people bare the effects of racialized trauma, we say they are hypersensitive, psychosomatic, or simply failing at life.

The pervasive nature of racism and White supremacy should rekindle our purpose as social work practitioners, educators, and researchers to do all that is within our power to fight against evil. After I was assured that my best friend and his family were okay, I asked him (he is the Dean of the School of Social Work at University of Buffalo) what our School can do to help them right now. He said that they are still trying to make sense of it all and are helping their community staff call centers and therapeutic support groups and services. He said that the one thing that he hoped all social workers would do for Buffalo right now is name this event for what it is. Do not call it a tragedy or say that there has been a tragic loss of life, he said. To that end, I am saying that an act of racism took the lives of innocent people this past weekend and that it has been this way for hundreds of years in this country. What will you name this event? What will you do? What happens within you when innocent people die?

Without a doubt, we cannot afford to say we are tired, we need a break, the School and University have been through so much these past two years. My friends and colleagues, we have so much more work to do.

Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson