Academic journal article Social Work

Multicultural Community Organizing: A Strategy for Change

Academic journal article Social Work

Multicultural Community Organizing: A Strategy for Change

Article excerpt

The literature on social work practice in the 21st century depicts a grim picture. Demographic projections suggest growth in three populations disproportionately affected by poverty: single-parent families, older people, and people of color (Murdock & Michael, 1996). Projections suggest that income inequality will grow as the movement to reduce government spending leads to decreased federal responsibility and a decentralized, residual welfare state (DiNitto, 1996; Hasenfeld, 1996; Murdock & Michael, 1996). Therefore, the need for human services will increase while resources are eliminated; social work practice will become privatized and focused on methods of serving increasing numbers of people from diverse backgrounds in a context of limited resources (Hasenfeld, 1996).

This future vision of a reactive social work profession adapting to a situation of increasing injustice is chilling. Gaining perspective on these trends can provide a vision for proactive practice, policy, education, and research that can fulfill the profession's mission and purpose. What alternatives exist for those committed to increasing social justice and access to needed social supports? An alternative perspective can be developed from studying how social workers can affect these larger trends. By improving the lives of single-parent families, older people, and people of color, social workers can reduce inequality and the need for increased services. This reduction requires developing effective methods for working with diverse communities to influence policy and practice.

The scholarship on the future of social work practice has not adequately focused on the implications of these trends for community practice (Raffoul & McNeece, 1996). The increasing shift from federal to local administration of social welfare services suggests greater power for local communities in resource allocation and a significant role for community practitioners in the evolving welfare state. However, the growing ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity of society presents a challenge for community workers. Skills for working in a multicultural environment are important if communities are to be well represented in the planning process.

This article identifies how multicultural organizing can help improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities. A literature review on multicultural community practice identifies its dimensions, scope, and methods. Ways in which multicultural organizing can be pivotal for affecting positive change are discussed.

Multicultural Perspective on Community Practice

Community organization methods are designed to create social environments that support social justice through influencing policies, developing programs, or governing locally. Although the target of change is the community, the forum for change can be individuals, families, groups, or organizations. Organizers emphasize the importance of individual contact in building community change efforts (Burghardt, 1982; Staples, 1984). These contacts can lead to the development of social action organizations that can influence policy affecting economic and social institutions. Community change efforts can range from short and focused activities such as public hearings to long and sustained projects such as the development of alternative services (Kettner, Daley, & Nichols, 1985; Mondros & Wilson, 1994).

The concept of social justice is central to the practice of community organizing. Social justice refers to equity, equality, and fairness in the distribution of societal resources (Flynn, 1995). Social justice includes a focus on the structures and outcomes of social processes and how they contribute to equality, places explicit value on achieving social equity through democratic processes, and assumes that the social work role is to develop policy and practice that contribute to these goals (Flynn, 1995; Van Soest, 1994). Although community organizers may work toward local or short-term goals, the overall goal is social justice and social equality. …

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