Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

When Success Doesn’t End the Struggle

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: Spirituality, mindful living, social work, success, privilege, people of color, poverty, culture shock, conversation, Utne visionaries, University of Chicago, Julie Hanus,

executive attireSocial work for the affluent: It sounds like an oxymoron. Down in Chicago, however, licensed clinical social worker Jinnie English is carving out a valuable new specialty for her profession—and opening the door to talking about the challenges of life after poverty.

English, profiled in University of Chicago magazine, didn’t set out to practice what she refers to as nontraditional social work. Rather, the Chicago alumnus “stumbled across” a niche clientele in the early days of her practice. Her outwardly-successful clients, most of them people of color, “had a lot of psychodynamic issues, masked under a really nice suit, a great haircut, nice home in the suburbs,” she tells the magazine. “They were left with the internal struggle of being poor.”

English herself grew up at times on welfare and “I still feel that shame,” she tells University of Chicago. For those who come from a less-privileged background, success can be a severe culture shock. Many of her clients also grew up in dysfunctional families, and don’t know how to respond to having power, she explains.

Among her colleagues, English often runs into the attitude that helping privileged people “doesn’t count,” but she’s determined to push the conversation forward—pointing out that many of her clients are the “successful products” of traditional social work. Her resolve calls to mind two other conversation changers: Dean Spade and Tyrone Boucher, 2009 Utne visionaries and co-creators of Enough, a dynamic website where people write about and discuss wealth, class, and the personal politics of resisting capitalism.

Source: University of Chicago

Image by *sean, licensed under Creative Commons.