Event Calendar

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Meetup: The Complicated History and Racist Origins of Social Work

Start Date: 2/8/2023 1:00 PM EST
End Date: 2/8/2023 2:00 PM EST

Organization Name: NAPD

Jeni Benavides
Email: events@publicdefenders.us
Phone: (502) 219-6149

DEIJ/Racial Justice Meetup: The Complicated History and Racist Origins of Social Work, 2/8/23

1:00 pm ET | 12:00 pm CT | 11:00 am MT | 10:00 am PT

About the Meetup: Social workers, clinicians, and counselors provide services to our clients and communities across the country.  Those services are a critical component of public defense.  We often discuss the intersectionality of racism and incarceration, but we have never discussed the history of social work and the role that the social work profession has played in supporting racist practices, policies, and programs. In July 2021, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) made a statement acknowledging and apologizing for supporting policies and practices that harmed people of color.

During this session, panelists will discuss:

  • The impact of NASW’s admission on the daily work of defense-based social work.
  • Ways in which social work is often used to carry out discriminatory and other harmful agendas.
  • The ethical and cultural collisions we encounter in our offices and ways to make decisions to address the ethical dilemmas we face.

Meetup Facilitators:  Terri Collins-Green, Lori James-Townes, MJ Jihad, Megan Leschak, Gilan Merwanji, Marlene Seltzer

About the Facilitators: 
Terri Collins-Green, LCSW-C i
s the Director of Social Work for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender (MOPD). She has been with MOPD for 12 years, and a social worker with the state of Maryland since 1999. She came to MOPD as a clinical social worker, was promoted to Regional Social Work Manager in 2015, and then Director of Social Work in 2018. In 2016, she was the recipient of the MOPD’s Jane Addams, Believer of Justice Award. She also serves as a faculty member for the MOPD’s Gideon’s Promise, new attorney training program conducting sessions on Secondary Trauma and Sentencing Advocacy. Mrs. Collins-Green was appointed to the Patuxent Institute Citizen Advisory Board in 2021. She has been an Adjunct Professor with Morgan University, School of Social Work since 2016.  She is also a field instructor for social work interns from Morgan University and University of Maryland and is trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy from Behavioral Tech. Mrs. Collins-Green holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Towson University and a MSW from University of Maryland. She is a motorcycle rider enthusiast during her free time. 

Lori James Townes: Lori James-Townes is the Executive Director of the National Association of Public Defense. Lori assumed this leadership position after three years of working as Assistant Training Director for NAPD and more than 25 years of working on defense teams representing indigent defendants. Lori has over 25 years of clinical practice, leadership, and management experience. At NAPD, she led the creation and planning of NAPD's Women's Conference, which shifted (due to COVID-19) from a 200-person live event to an 800-person virtual event headlined by Stacey Abrams. In 2021, she co-led NAPD's first-ever National Virtual Conference for Gideon Week – bringing more than 6,500 attendees together for the largest public defense training in history.

Prior experience includes serving as the Director of Social Work, Leadership, and Program Development @ Maryland Office of Public Defender. She also led the agency’s social work staff, consultants, and interns. She has held teaching positions at Morgan State University, the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and most recently Towson University.

MJ (Maleeka Jihad), MSW is the Director of the MJ Consulting and the nonprofit MJCF: Coalition, an Agency focused on dismantling systemic racism in the family policing system through education, advocacy, and policy reform. She is the Director of the Family Justice Programs at the Office of Respondent Parent Counsel (ORPC) where she provides trainings and consultations to professionals as it relates to race, culture, and community within dependency and neglect court cases. MJ is continuing her education by obtaining a PhD in Organizational Development and Change specializing in Social Justice (at Fielding Graduate School) with a foundation of International Psychology courses from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. 

Megan Leschak, LMSW is the co-owner of Context Mitigation, a firm that provides mitigation services for clients in both state and federal courts. Megan began her forensic social work career at the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore City where she was awarded a Soros Open Society Institute Fellowship to highlight the impact of structural racism, poverty, and violence on defendants. She subsequently worked as a mitigation investigator in the Delaware Federal Defender Capital Habeas Unit and as the social work supervisor for the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender. Megan earned her MSW from the University of Maryland where she cocreated the course Racism and Racial Equity in Social Work Practice. Megan has trained attorneys, investigators, and social workers across the country.

Gilan Merwanji, Esq., LMSW brings 8+ years of experience in criminal defense social services management and direct practice within managed assigned and public defender offices. Currently, he is the Holistic Defense Director and Social Work Supervisor with the Harris County Office of Managed Assigned Counsel. Before joining Harris County, Gilan was the Social Work Supervisor at the Capital Area Private Defender Service in Austin, TX, and worked as a policy specialist with the Crime and Justice Institute. Prior to that, he worked at the King County Public Defender’s Office, as a Mitigation Specialist II. In this role, he was an advocate in the Seattle Municipal Court and the Involuntary Treatment Act Court for alternatives to incarceration. In Atlanta, Gilan worked as a Forensic Social Worker for the City of Atlanta Public Defender Office, using data gathered from bio-psychosocial assessments to develop and engage in negotiations and obtain alternative sentencing for vulnerable clients. He also brings experience as a Policy Coordinator for the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. Gilan has an M.S.S.A and J.D. from Case Western Reserve University, and a B.A in Economics and Government from University of Texas at Austin.