In the words of Walt Whitman:
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
Walt Whitman’s poem, I hear America Singing, celebrates the workers of America. Likewise, Studs Turkel immortalized the workers of America on his radio show and in his book, Working. For Studs, “there was not a voice that should not be heard, a story that could not be told,” for “he believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say.” He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their [workers of America] stories are remembered.
Over the past week I have had the good fortune of seeing America and honoring at two different venues the Workers of America.
Thanks to Iris Healing Retreat and Dr. Elena Kapistina, I was honored to attend for the first time the LAP (Labor Assistance Professionals) retreat in Las Vegas, Nevada. The last time I was in the Tropicana (the hotel that hosted the event) I was a mere 17-years-old and it was the creme de la creme of hotels, home to legends. This is a hotel that has faithfully employed union workers and is proud to host LAP.
LAP represents these “Brothers and Sisters “ who are the backbone of our country: grounds crew in our airports, truckers, railroad workers, hard machinery workers like those brave souls who climb high on telephone poles.
Starting with their motto – Protect-Preserve-Improve – Boston’s Union #25 shared how they have been working hard to help families who have children with autism. From supporting preschools, sports teams, to advocating for housing and employment for underserved young people, this group is helping change the landscape for those whose loved one’s experience autism.
The first round of speakers talked about the importance of maintaining unions as a vital force in America and like many other groups, they talked about their struggles recruiting millennials. All the speakers offered current research on opioids, alcohol, marijuana and more. Having only one speaker at a time, the room was always full of over 300 people listening and taking notes all day. To top that off, they were one of the most appreciative audiences I have ever experienced. Coming up, asking questions, stopping me in the hallway and always making me feel welcome.
There were fewer treatment center booths than I have seen at many conferences. All of them were prepared and ready to help these workers of America. From mental health concerns to alcohol and drug and chronic pain from injury. The treatment centers that were there all wore the union seal and were equipped to address the mental health, trauma and substance abuse of these constituents.
In Vegas, I was also able to connect with a true game changer, Dr. Esther Jones Langston, Professor Emeritus at UNLV School of Social Work. Believe it or not Esther and I became best friends at SDSU San Diego State University School of Social Work over 52 years ago. Esther would go on to have a distinguished career as the Dean of UNLV School of Social Work. Together we traveled to East Africa in the country of Uganda to speak to the heads of state. Always an unlikely pair, she has been present for both the births and deaths I have experienced in my life. What a joy it was to be reunited on her home turf where she continues to travel the world helping others.
Leaving Las Vegas, I headed East to Hampton Roads, Virginia – with its rich black history – where I met another set of dedicated workers at the 3rd Annual Intersections of Violence, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Conference. Sessions ran from The Children Are Not Ok Impact to Domestic Violence, Foster Care to Trafficking Problems, The Trauma-Informed Multidisciplinary Team, Helper Help Themselves and The Importance of Self Care.
This 4-day conference – held in the area where Booker T. Washington graduated from Hampton Roads University – ended with me doing an all-day training on the Uninvited Guests: Substance abuse, Mental Health, Process Disorders, Chronic Pain, Legal Issues and other, as well as addressing Aging and Gen Z. Paradigm Malibu, Keys to Recovery, Sober World, and Campus Recovery all sent magazines for the over 450 participants to receive and hardly one was left by the time I arrived. Tricia Everett’, the training and grants coordinator stated that everyone was ever so grateful for the magazines. As a contributor to all of these publications, I am honored that the participants of this conference get to read about the latest trends in behavioral health and how to better serve their colleagues and friends in the work they do.
The room was a cornucopia of folks – from case advocates, to law enforcement, lawyers, a doctor, licensed clinical social workers and line workers. Asked what they wanted to get out of the conference, there was a thirst for cultural diversity, learning more about substance use disorders, chronic pain, how to work with resistant clients and build community coalitions .The group also shared about the paucity of services for mothers and children and the need for services to help mothers who experience substance use disorders. These folks work in the trenches, they are important players in the solution of today’s losing trifecta: opioids, alcohol and marijuana.
This was different than some of the conferences I attend in the respect that participation is important, and constituents are eager to learn new skills and strategies. This group is not courted by big centers looking for business and yet they demand celebration, care and concern. While all of us in the behavioral health care world need to make a living, I invite the big centers to collaborate with local child abuse, domestic violence centers, child protective services, etc. as they are doing groundbreaking work.
And to all the Workers of America: the baggage handlers, crews, fire fighters, policemen, air control persons, teachers, and beyond — you are the true Superheroes of America. I salute and thank you. Till next time!
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.