Back on the Hill for Dinner with Karen Bass

I was back on Capitol Hill Tuesday, April 5, for the first time in two years. My last visit to the Hill was CRISP’s Social Work Day on the Hill reception in the Rayburn Building in March 2020. We cancelled Student Advocacy Day scheduled for the next day as the House and Senate would go into hiatus until the Covid-19 pandemic abated. We are still waiting. Capitol Hill is still not open to the public however, lawmakers can schedule tightly controlled meetings with individuals and groups. Our dinner with Congresswoman Bass was one such meeting designed to draw attention to a bill on kinship guardianship she would introduce the next day. You can read more about the bill and the event on the CRISP website.

Getting into the building was a bit of an ordeal. I was instructed to meet an escort at the South Capitol Street entrance of the Longworth Building. Upon arrival at Longworth, I was directed by a Capitol police officer that I needed to enter at the Rayburn Building across the street where the appointment desk resided. Then it was back to Longworth where other guests were waiting. We met our escort and went through security. When we arrived at the entrance to the Capitol, we were directed to leave the building and enter the Capitol Building through the South door. Just a warning to get there early if you are attending a meeting before Capitol Hill is officially re-opened to the public.

I was happy to greet Congresswoman Bass who has attended CRISP events and was the recipient of the 2021 CRISP Congressional Social Worker of the Year Award. I also had the opportunity to talk with Congressman Danny K. Davis from Illinois who I met when I joined the faculty at Howard University School of Social Work in 2002. His chief of staff Richard Boykin and I attended National City Christian Church in Logan Circle. We struck up a friendship and a bargain. He would host student interns from the School of Social Work, and I would serve on the planning committee for Congressman Davis’s State of the African Male conference.

Several Members of Congress attended the dinner, including co-chairs of the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus, which Bass co-founded when she arrived in Congress in 2011. Managing the event were impressive young people from the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI), also founded by Congresswoman Bass to complement the mission of the Foster Youth Caucus, much like CRISP’s role with the Social Work Caucus. Cortez Carey, the recently hired Executive Director of the Foster Youth Caucus, was the evening’s spokesperson, a job he shared with Zahra Marin, NFYI’s National Policy and Organizing Director.

The program began with Robert Romero’s poignant recounting of his life in foster care that eventuated into a stable and productive experience when his aunt and uncle began to provide kinship guardianship. His story was captivating and set the stage for the presentation by CRISP Legislative Director Dr. Angelique Day who provided research to Bass’s office during the crafting of H.R.7426, tentatively titled, Promoting Permanency Through Kinship Families Act. Day, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work, is establishing herself as an authority in the field of child welfare. She is the lead evaluator for five federally funded projects at the Children’s Bureau. As an Indigenous alumnus of the foster care system, Angelique brings a unique perspective to efforts to care for the nation’s vulnerable children.

The kinship guardianship bill is the latest in a series of legislation Congresswoman Bass has introduced as she anticipates leaving Congress to tackle the tough job of being mayor of the nation’s largest city, Los Angeles, California. She is currently neck-in-neck with billionaire developer Rick Caruso who has spent $9 million on his campaign. You can send love and support to her campaign.

Being on the Hill under current circumstances made me realize how dislocated we are from our government when we are not able to fully engage with our representatives. Yet, we often neglect to exercise this critical role of being responsible citizens. Most Americans limit their engagement to voting, which is critically important, but we also must hold our representatives accountable and, when we have opportunity, provide research and ideas that will enhance their efforts to address society’s needs. This is particularly true for social workers who have taken the pledge to pursue social justice.

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