As the overarching social student organization we tried to research and arrange a bus for group transport of any students interested in traveling to Lansing together. Due to pricing we then decide to spread the word for carpooling. As the driver, I took on three fellow students. We met in front of the Thompson Home in the dark of 6:45 am. The first two arrived on time but the third became stuck in traffic and after a half hour wait we told her that it would be best if she simply met us there in Lansing. We arrived at the quite large glass paneled Center at 9:10, so we did not miss too much and didn’t have to fight the crowds to sign in and find a seat. To the right of the conference hall entrance Trevor and a few other workers smiled and hawked NASW goods to those hungry to take home souvenirs. The free coffee against the walls inside was more than welcome after the long early morning drive. I took my black.
As we reached our seats Duane Breijak of the National Association of Social Workers - Michigan, Trevor’s supervisor, was giving the agenda for the day and how best to get the most of our time attending the conference. By 9:30 he took his leave and three speakers, Rep. Theresa Abed – MSW, Rep. Marcia Hovey Wright –MSW, and Stephanie Chang – MSW along with a moderator were seated on the stage to share their insights and visions of how social workers can affect policy for the good of their communities and clients. Come 10:45 the two ladies I came with and I went to hear FBI Victim Specialist – Carmen Kucinich present on Modern Day Slavery: Human Trafficking. She limited her topic to child pornography and prostitution in our local region since Human Trafficking in general could not be covered sufficiently in the hour and a half breakout session. Her presentation was riveting as she unraveled the circumstances that lead many young girls and some boys sell themselves beneath the coercion of either a street pimp or even a relative.
During the lunch break we took time to meet a few students from other schools and some from our own university whom we still had not met or not seen in a while. Once the meal finished we headed down to another packed breakout room for the Ferguson issue. Unlike the Human Trafficking presentation this was more a public forum where people were allowed to express their opinions on what went wrong in Ferguson, how we have Ferguson type tragedies right here in Michigan and what should we do about these incidents. Viewpoints came from people of many colors and I imagine socio-economic backgrounds. Some spoke with outrage that the police can get away with such inhuman behavior. Others spoke with trembling tears in their voices as they asked aloud, “Why can’t we just love each other and try to get along?” To be honest, I was looking forward to some sort of presentation and not a town hall meeting but I was touched by the sincerity and anguish expressed by my fellow students and soon to be social worker colleagues. Afterward we went back to the main conference room to hear Jay Kaplan speak on LGBT policy and the work of the ACLU to bring equality. Many of us from WSU social work clan sat at adjoining tables. At the conclusion of Mr. Kaplan’s talk Duane Breijak returned to hand out prizes and point us towards the Capital building for a LEAD Day group photo. Afterward it was grey, chilly and the skies promised rain as we walked along the river back to my car beneath the Lansing Center. The trip proved to be an interesting journey and rare chance to bond and dream of healing those vulnerable populations needing our caring dedicated efforts to change the world, policy and inspire hope.