The Wise Build Bridges: How Marvel’s Black Panther Connects to Social Work

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Overview:

A common misconception about social work is that it simply entails social justice advocacy, because this field encompasses multiple areas of social service, centering around the core value of helping those in need. Ranging from psychotherapy, foster care, minority advocacy, child welfare, mental health counseling, and more, social workers can be found in hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, nonprofit agencies, and government offices, serving a wide range of responsibilities (National Association of Social Workers). Main figures in Marvel’s recent film Black Panther, such as the undercover spy Nakia and the goodhearted king T’Challa, demonstrate core motivations not unlike social workers everywhere (Black Panther, 2018). This featured post will therefore explore careers that follow a social work degree, connect Black Panther to social service ideologies, and feature several interviewed graduate students. 

“I’ve seen too many in need just to turn a blind eye. I can’t be happy here knowing that there’s people out there who have nothing.”
-Nakia to T’Challa, Black Panther (2018)

Like Nakia affirms, it is hard to look the other way when faced with the difficult realities of those in need. Her motivations to help impoverished African communities reflect the ideologies that fuel many social workers worldwide—find a way to help people who need help, and serve others with your heart. So much of the social work field is driven by passion for helping underserved populations, and with a compassion that gives back to the community every day.

“Y’all sittin’ up here comfortable.  Must feel good. Meanwhile, there are about 2 billion people all over the world that looks like us. But their lives are a lot harder.”
-Erik Killmonger, Black Panther (2018)

Like Killmonger asserts, recognizing wealth imbalances and social inequalities is one perspective behind pursuing a career in social work. Many social workers who do not go the clinical route pursue jobs in community health, public policy, or political advocacy, motivated to help alleviate communal disparities and improve the system on a macro level.

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Perspectives:

A degree in social work offers scholars a wide set of career options, allowing students to specialize in their interests. My graduate school, the University of Michigan, is no divergence from that tradition. This program offers macro and micro concentrations, ranging from mental health interpersonal practice, child welfare, human services management, to public policy. Exploring the versatility of this degree, I have interviewed a few social work students at my university, to further explore the variety of passions that encompass this field.

Sneha Balachander, an interpersonal practice student, wants to work in the juvenile justice environment. “I would like to work with children that have experienced neglect or trauma,” says Sneha. “I would also like to work on changing a few bumps in the road regarding foster care placements and adoptions.” Because she was raised in an Indian community, Sneha shared that she wants to address cultural stigmas in mental health. “In India, [mental health issues] are rarely talked about,” she explains. “Most people are immediately ‘labeled’ as being ‘crazy’ or ‘psychotic’ regardless of their diagnosis. I hope that I will be able to change that.”

Nicole Krug, another interpersonal practice student, wants to provide therapy to postpartum mothers. “I feel like there isn’t enough help out there for pregnant women with depression,” says Nicole. “I would also like to focus on the male aspect, because the father’s perspective during a pregnancy is often ignored.”

Yasmeen Berry, a student in the youth and families specialization, plans to work in child welfare. “I want to raise awareness on mental health in children, giving children a voice, letting them be heard, and stopping the societal construct that children are property,” says Yasmeen. “I live by these words: ‘Be who you needed when you were young.’” Her personal background, as well as her work experience with Child Protective Services, have shaped Yasmeen’s overarching passion for promoting youth welfare.

From another angle, Brie Bodary, in the human services management concentration, is pursuing international non-profit work, aiming to serve third world countries. “I was born and raised abroad,” says Brie. “I was surrounded by underprivileged families and children, and this sparked my desire to pursue child development internationally.” She completed internships in Bangladesh and Myanmar with the NGO program Save the Children, and hopes to continue working globally to provide direct care for impoverished children.

Finally, my own goals are to provide therapy to low-income families in California. The attainability of counseling services is progressively difficult, accompanied by increasingly high costs for services. Having worked with disadvantaged children as a behavioral therapist, I witnessed firsthand how economical challenges can affect a parent’s well-being, or a child’s healthy development. In addition, because my family was unable to afford therapy even with Medi-Cal insurance, this has since motivated me to provide affordable counseling services to other needy families.

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“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
-T’Challa to the United Nations, Black Panther (2018)

Summary:

Like T’Challa states, the wise build bridges. The field of social work comprises countless selfless individuals driven by a compassion to connect with others. Like Nakia, many social workers around the globe have found their callings, and will not stop giving because they know help is needed. It may not always be easy, but it is very much easily needed. As such, Marvel’s Black Panther is a great connection to this profession and the groundbreaking ways that social work instigates change. As T’Challa powerfully says, “We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other…as if we were one single tribe” (Black Panther, 2018).

For more information about social work, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Human Services Guide have great overviews. The Oxford Academic is also an informational journal detailing social work research and scholarly articles. I would like to extend a special thanks to graduate students Sneha Balachander, Yasmeen Berry, Jessica Krug, and Brie Bodary for sharing their experiences and career interests with me for this feature. To get in touch with the interviewees, or follow up with any questions, please contact me.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). “Black Panther” Much More Than Just A Movie. Retrieved June, 2018, from https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2018/02/black-panther-much-more-than-just-a-movie

Ann Weick, Charles Rapp, W. Patrick Sullivan, Walter Kisthardt; A Strengths Perspective for Social Work Practice, Social Work, Volume 34, Issue 4, 1 July 1989, Pages 350–354, https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/34.4.350

Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). (n.d.). General Info & Requirements: State of California. Retrieved May, 2018, from http://www.bbs.ca.gov/licensees/hipaa.html

Feige, K. (Producer), & Coogler, R. (Director). (2018). Black Panther [Motion Picture]. United States, Marvel Studios.

Human Services Guide. (n.d.). Defining Social Work. Retrieved June, 2018, from https://www.humanservicesedu.org/definition-social-work.html

Marvel Cinematic Universe. (n.d.). Black Panther. Retrieved June, 2018, from http://marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com/wiki/Black_Panther

National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (n.d.). Careers in Social Work. Retrieved June, 2018, from https://www.socialworkers.org/Careers

Oxford Academic. (1753, January 01). Social Work Journal. Retrieved June, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/sw

Social Work License Map. (n.d.). What is Social Work? Retrieved June, 2018, from https://socialworklicensemap.com/become-a-social-worker/what-is-social-work/

Social Work Resources. (2013, May). Retrieved June, 2018, from https://www.socialwork.org/resources/

University of Michigan: School of Social Work. (n.d.). MSW Program Concentrations. Retrieved June, 2018, from https://ssw.umich.edu/programs/msw/concentrations

University of Michigan: School of Social Work. (n.d.). Program Overview. Retrieved June, 2018, from https://ssw.umich.edu/programs/msw/overview

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Disclaimer: This character, their photos, and storyline references are all copyright by Marvel Studios. All information and content presented in this assessment are solely analyzed for general information and reference purposes. 

© Post material by Juliann Li and The Character Clinic, 2018. All rights reserved.