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Have you seen her in action yet? The new Wonder Woman film is a thrill for so many reasons, especially to social scientists like myself. We study the things people do, say, and feel so that we can get a handle on how fast society is approaching "hell in a handbasket" status. Watching Wonder Woman was most amazing because of her innate, undeniable, burning sense of empathy for the less fortunate. Social workers rejoice-- Wonder Woman just made your case for why helping professionals need help: salary increases, self-care assistance, and professional autonomy. Now.
Giving a shit isn't easy: When's the last time you stopped to help a friend? Was it mildly inconvenient? Now think of the last time you helped a stranger. It's not always fun helping out a friend in a rut, but it can feel a million times harder to care when you don't even know the person or the nuances of the entire situation. Wonder Woman--and social workers like her-- don't focus on the negative aspects, only positive solutions and problem-solving. We serve, and we serve it well. There is something about the people who truly want to heal their communities and create peace. We are hands-on in so many lives, even in people's homes and workplaces. We are saving families, communities, and oftentimes even people you do know. Cancer facilities, school guidance counselors, non-profit, rape crisis centers, youth programs, music camps and other agencies all employ social workers to do the dirtiest work and the heaviest lifting: the most difficult conversations about tragedy, the uplifting and empowerment of dismal youth, the negotiation of suicide prevention with the oppressed. We literally bring the food to feed the children-- and the plates to put it on. Or if you're really good, you might've located the dining table through community resources and even kept the lights on for a family in need.
Society is so advanced that its leaving actual people behind in the name of status, wealth, and.... I'm not sure what to call it. It's some sort of phenomena when the rich get farther and farther up the chain while the others are oppressed, suppressed, and given crumbs so that “hypothetically” we can kill each other off in a grossly upsetting game of “survival of the most aggressive”(if the fake food movement doesn't do it first). Were we expected to leave the people to fend for themselves, in an unjust and oppressive world? Wonder Woman ain't havin' it, we're here to help ALL-- ex-felons re-entering society seeking employment and services, exploited youth, the differently abled, the neurodiverse, minorities, the impoverished, the lost, the uncared for, the victims of all types. Who did you think heroes saved? Who does your country protect?
Caring and empathizing takes openness, patience, and a strong poker face. It takes someone who can take being spit at one day and appreciated the next (or not). Someone who can fight for love, even when things look scary as hell. I remember staying in bed, literally ill and disturbed for days after one of the summers that changed my life. There was a string of unlawful murders of innocent citizens at the hands of those charged with protecting us, coupled with the Pulse massacre shootings here in my own state, just four hours away. I got up and talked to children about how they felt. I spoke to them about how to protect themselves and keep out of harm's way. I validated their fears and empowered them to take charge by putting themselves and their education first. Then, I worked with other strong and tender hearts-- leaders, movers, and shakers, to create places for community members to talk and heal from the collective traumas we were experiencing. Why did I do those things? I was compelled to action by pain. My goal was to love people back to health and give them time and space to care for themselves. If you think this way, then you deserve all the resources you need to carry out your fantastic mission. There should be easier access to resources for people who help people. Gas money, healthy food vouchers, grooming opportunities, relaxation or stress-management activities, and even financial assistance. We can't all go online soliciting for funds to help communities-- it should already be “a thing.”
Naive or nah? Maybe a little. Wonder Woman knew how to do lots of amazing things, but some of our ways here just didn't add up. Social workers can feel the same way at times. Just like Dizzy Dee on Netflix's The Get Down, we can feel super alienated by those around us who don't understand our sensitivity to human suffering or social injustice, no matter how seemingly small. As social workers (or badasses who specialize in good vibes) we know that crap adds up. We can't tolerate one mean joke, one sexist comment, one racial slur or even one tiny mention about how America belongs to the 'real' Americans. Wonder Woman reminded me a lot of Disney's Moana: a film about always seeking to do good, and be the highest form of herself. If a Disney character can transcend her fears and oppressions to save her community, then maybe so can we.
At one point during the movie, I saw a familiar look cross Wonder Woman's face through my IMAX 3D glasses. It was a look I had given myself in the mirror many times before. A look that stared me in the face when talking to weary co-workers after some of the most stressful days and our entire lives. Seeing the ongoing tragedies of life and helping dissect every single one of them with methodical care and genuine concern takes a lot of energy to say the very most. Counselors, mental health workers, therapists, case managers, teachers, school counselors, mentors, teen center staff, youth workers, and so many other professionals do it every day. It is here that I will drop the bottom line: it may even sound like a ransom request or a hostage situation, which is perfectly appropriate due to the life-and-death nature of this request. I am asking all policymakers, change leaders, social justice advocates, and people of influence of large and small affect to say loudly and clearly that you support increasing wages and support for social workers. There are too many times where I've heard either out loud or in whispers that the good people in this world feel afraid to even start a family because they cannot afford to do so, due to low wages and financial instability. That means Earth will miss out on the progeny of all of the sweetest people we know. The ones that do right when it's hard. The ones that show grace and mercy when it's not deserved. The ones who are gentle and positive, and make the world feel safe. Those people are hesitant to become parents, which means the next generation won't have them. Or at least that's my theory. Either way, it's alarming, especially because it's my current situation as well, and I have plenty good vibes and heart-knowledge to share with the next generation. Truth is, superheroes need help too, and I know exactly where to start. It starts with me, you, and everyone we know.
Buy yourself a ticket to see Wonder Woman, if you have the cash. Who knows, maybe in the future, helping professionals will receive emailed tickets to heart-happy movies as a self-care promotion from some app in the near future-- that sounds like a pretty good start! And if you're one of the hard working folks saying “but I work hard every day too!” ...you probably deserve some stress-reducing perks yourself. Community caring and sharing starts with all of us. <3
Rochelle Powell is an eclectic social worker pursuing her passion: saving the world. After work, she serves folks by reading their tarot cards as #ChellieRhapsody and empowering them to live happily and peacefully, without the hassle of social work paperwork all the damn time. She sings and procrastinates, and is working to heal trap music artists that are spreading negative vibrations to communities using low-frequency music. Rochelle is married to her hard-working spouse who is literally good at everything and has the most beautiful smile. They both officiate weddings with #AYROontheGO and have plans to get an RV, travel the country, start a big musical family, and homeschool them in the ways of their culture and natural, happy living. Their next goal: learn a couples' acroyoga headstand routine by August 2017.