Black History Month and Social Worker Salute

As we close out Black History Month and head into National Social Work Month and Women’s History Month, we honor four Black Social Workers, past and present, who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others. Read more about these women and their historic work.

Georgia State Representative Shelly Hutchinson

Rachelle “Shelly” Hutchinson (D) was recently elected to her third term as State Representative for District 106. She was the first Democrat to win in this district since 2002. She is an advocate for children, and among many bills that she has introduced, she has proposed legislation to make pre-K and kindergarten mandatory for all children. In an effort to improve conditions in our criminal justice system, she has also advocated for limited use of solitary confinement for inmates.

Shelly Hutchinson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Louisiana State University and her master’s degree in social work from the University of Georgia. She is the founder of the Social Empowerment Center, a mental health outpatient center. She and her family live in Snellville, Georgia.

Thyra J. Edwards (1897-1953)

From Thyra J. Edwards, the granddaughter of runaway slaves, began her career as a school teacher in her hometown of Houston, Texas. After moving to Chicago, Illinois she shifted her focus to social work. She pursued her interest in child welfare through a variety of social work positions, which led the way to her founding her own children’s home. “From her point of view social work should: advocate for disadvantaged and at-risk populations; focus on issues and problems specifically affecting the well-being of women; and demonstrate the ability to work with diverse populations.”

Edwards held travel seminars around the world, focusing on at-risk populations and women in many cultural contexts. By 1944 Edwards was heralded as “one of the most outstanding Negro women in the world.” At a time when it was believed that Black social workers should only focus on Black clients, she worked with people of all races and nationalities. In 1953, she organized the first Jewish child care program in Rome to help Holocaust survivors. Edwards was also a skilled journalist, orator and union organizer, and served as the executive director of the Congress of American Women.

Dr. June Gary Hopps

Dr. June Gary Hopps has dedicated her life to issues of race, inequality, social justice, and human and civil rights. Dr. Hopps was the first African American and the youngest person to serve as dean of the Boston College School of Social Work. Dr. Hopps has won the National Association of Social Workers’ award for Outstanding Leadership in the Social Work Profession. She was honored with the establishment of the June Gary Hopps Graduate Fellowship at Boston College; and the proclamation of June Gary Hopps Day by the state of Massachusetts. Dr. Hopps is currently on faculty at the University of Georgia.


Congresswoman Barbara Lee

From A social worker, Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been representing California’s 13th District since 1998. She is the highest ranking African American woman in Democratic Leadership, serving as Co-Chair of the Policy and Steering Committee. She also serves on the Budget Committee and the powerful Appropriations Committee, which oversees all federal government spending. Congresswoman Lee received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in psychiatric social work.

During her graduate work, Congresswoman Lee founded the Community Health Alliance for Neighborhood Growth and Education (CHANGE, Inc.) which provided mental health services to many of the East Bay’s most vulnerable individuals. Congresswoman Lee has long advocated for legislative action to end poverty. In 2007, she worked with a diverse coalition of Members to create the Out of Poverty Caucus. In 2013, she became chair of the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity. As chair, she leads more than 100 Members of Congress in crafting and advancing legislation to lift millions of American families out of poverty and into the middle class.


February 2023