Justin Hodge: Political Social Worker on the Rise

One of most rewarding aspects of the work we do at CRISP is encountering so many gifted social workers in all parts of the country who are eager to become change agents and difference makers by working in the policy and political arenas. Many are young and in the beginning stages of their budding social work careers. They are in BSW and MSW programs. Some are recent graduates just getting their feet in the door, exploring possibilities, and discovering where they can make the greatest impact. They are eager to fulfill the NASW Code of Ethics mandate to pursue social justice and advocate for issues affecting people and communities, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

One such social worker is Justin Hodge, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work where he co-leads the Policy and Political Social Work Pathway and is the director of the Online Certificate in Political Social Work. We are fortunate to have Justin as president of the CRISP Board of Directors and member of Social Work Democracy Project Board of Directors. He was elected to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners in November 2020 and is running for re-election this year. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently appointed Justin as chair of the state’s Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity. Established in 1981, the commission develops policies and programs to reduce poverty and provides opportunities for low-income residents to participate in the development of those policies.

“Historically, the commission and the bureau it advises have focused on providing crisis services,” Justin stated when asked to describe his priorities. “I am going to be moving us in the direction of focusing more on the root causes of poverty and supporting services that will disrupt generational poverty.” He identified Children’s Savings Accounts, Financial Empowerment Centers, and combatting predatory lending as specific areas of focus. “We will also move into collaborating with relevant state departments on addressing our affordable housing crisis, which is an area the commission has not historically been involved in,” he added. He says he plans to move the commission towards being more involved legislatively by partnering with Michigan Community Action, an advocacy association.

All of this sounds exciting, but Justin’s first order of business is to get reelected. Michigan’s primary is set for August 2nd, so there is time to show your support for this rising political social worker. You can visit his campaign website to contribute to his reelection effort. No amount is too small. We must support social workers running for elective office. Seldom do they benefit from PACs and must rely on the support of small donors. Unlimited and unreported contributions corrupt our electoral system, but that is no reason to refrain from making donations to social work and other desirable candidates. Getting elected takes financial resources and social workers should want to see Justin continue this important work. He must retain his seat as County Commissioner to keep his seat on the commission.

I first met Justin years ago when he attended CRISP’s Student Advocacy Day and former Michigan School of Social Work dean Lynn Videka told me he is someone to connect with. Fortunately, I listened to her and invited Justin to be an instructor at our Political Boot Camp. He was a favorite of the participants and we have been working together since. Of course, I see Justin going straight to the House of Representatives since Capitol Hill is CRISP’s focus. I told him he should begin charting a path to Congress—what initial steps does he need to take? Should he first run for the state assembly? He needs to learn as much as he can about the incumbent and have through knowledge of the demographics of the district and the issues important to voters in the district. And, of course, identify and begin to cultivate sources of support. This process usually takes years and in cases decades. The sooner you begin, the better.

Former Congressman Ed Towns hosted a virtual session on Mapping Your Path to Congress during the 2022 Student Advocacy Day in March. You can view a recording of this session and others on advocacy, immigration, child welfare, and environmental justice on the CRISP website. We need more social workers engaged in the political arena. Please let us know what your students and graduates are doing to become more active. Let us know what you are doing. Send information to info@crispinc.org or directly to me at celewisjr@crispinc.org.

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