Afrocentric Social Work

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Afrocentric social work is a culturally specific paradigm that embraces an African-centered worldview as the basis for theories and models of practice. Afrocentric social work draws on the principles, values, and local knowledge for models of practice. The hallmark of the social work profession has been its emphasis on promoting humanitarian values. These core values of social work are firmly grounded in a historical foundation of social justice, as demonstrated in the profession's commitment to equality and self-determination for all as an integral part of its professional ethos. The general purpose of social work operations and practices has been subject to numerous and profound changes over time. One of these changes is the addition of specifically Afrocentric social work, which seeks social change through empowering blacks to address their own needs and the pressing needs of their communities.
Recent developments in critical theory, which have identified the various ways in which Western forms of knowledge dominate social work models and approaches, have clarified the necessity of Afrocentric social work. These understandings strengthen the need to examine the knowledge base of social work to locate its intellectual hegemony as the source of its explanatory theories and therapeutic ideas about human behavior. It is in this way that scholars and researchers challenge hidden sources of oppression within social work knowledge and create new models for practice.
Thus a new generation of black scholars and researchers is engaged in developing theoretical and practice models that encompass the values and cultural heritage of black people as action-oriented strategies for social change. This heritage includes belief in the interconnectedness of all things; the spiritual nature of human beings; the interdependence of collective and individual identity; the inclusive nature of family structure; the oneness of mind, body, and spirit; and the value of interpersonal relationships as the source of interpretative frameworks of human behavior.
Afrocentricity as a theory of social change is in accord with social work's mission to promote humanitarian values and empower oppressed communities. Afrocentric social work gives voice to the cultural values, philosophies, experiences, and interpretations of black communities regarding the causes and resolutions of social problems. These cultural elements and themes become the source of knowledge and interpretative frameworks used to design social work interventions as a means of black empowerment, community regeneration, and spiritual renewal.
Historically, social welfare activities in black communities have been closely connected to social, religious, and political organizations, which have been major sources of support for black families and individuals in the struggle for survival and resistance to deep-seated racism and oppression. These unique historical experiences provide the background and context in which contemporary black led organizations have asserted black rights through which the needs of black people have been addressed. One of the first black groups to call upon black social workers was Marcus Garvey's organization during the early part of the 20th century.
Social welfare activities have been shaped and defined by forms of solidarity, mutuality, and reciprocity grounded in the cultural antecedents of African personhood and community. Thus black communities, scholars, and professionals have been engaged in reconnecting with an African cultural matrix in their quest for community regeneration and revitalization and cultural renewal. Cultural knowledge provides an important resource base for black individuals and families engaged in affirming their spiritual, emotional, and intellectual experiences and potential and in creating new visions and futures in the diaspora.
Community-based rights of passage programs have become an established framework for social work practice in black communities. There are various forms of rites of passage that support major transitional relationships in families and facilitate the regeneration of communities. Life-cycle development (i.e., rites of passage) programs use cultural values as the central feature in guiding social work interventions. This action-oriented approach is an effective tool in responding to the needs of many young black people. An African-centered worldview is articulated within the program through the value system represented by the seven pan-African principles known as the Nguzo Saba. Each principle of the Nguzo Saba provides the focus for program objectives and activities. These social work interventions have made important inroads in serving the growth needs of young black people and their families and communities. Codifying African cultural values in explanations of human behavior enables Africans' empowerment to be realized through a culturally centered approach to social realities.

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Further Reading

  • Graham, Mekada.The African-centred Worldview: Developing a Paradigm for Social Work. British Journal of Social Work (2) 252–67 (1999). This was one of the first articles to apply the Afrocentric concepts developed by Asante to the social problems of Britain. dx.doi.org.
  • Graham, M. (2002). Social Work and African-centred Worldviews. Birmingham, UK: Venture Press/BASW. This is the first work written on the nature of Afrocentric social work. It deals with the cultural-specific issues surrounding the welfare of African people in the United Kingdom.
  • Schiele, J. (2000). Human Services and the Afrocentric Paradigm. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press. This awardwinning book has become the standard by which many other social welfare works are judged.