As a BSW and MSW student at Boise State University’s School of Social Work, I remember Naomi Johnson always sitting in the front row of chairs in the classroom, readily prepared for the class session and asking salient and thought-provoking questions. She was an insatiable learner. During her matriculation at Boise State, her commitment to her studies and her future profession as well as the respect of her peers earned her the position of President of the Organization of Student Social Workers. As OSSW advisor, I can attest to the dedication she demonstrated to the organization’s mission as well as its members. As a first-generation college student, she was relentless in creating opportunities for her fellow students to serve the Boise community. In 2013, she graduated with her BA in Social Work and 2014 with her MSW.
Fast-forward three years; I recently had the opportunity to reunite with Naomi who is working with veterans as a clinical social worker and is working toward her clinical social work license. While her work with veterans keeps her busy, her boundless energy in affecting change has taken her down new paths, including voted as Senator Bernie Sander’s State and National Delegate during the 2016 Presidential elections. Additionally, she is active in many grassroots’ initiatives including testimony for those who provide local and political statements on specific topics such as health, immigration and citizenship, and refugees.
Most recently, she is a candidate to be a member of the Boise City Council, a six-member council that has many responsibilities. The members of the council act as liaisons to various City boards and commissions such as the Airport Commission, Library Board, and Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners. They also serve on the boards of such organizations as the Capital City Development Corporation, Downtown Boise Association, Community and Regional Planning Association of Southwestern Idaho (COMPASS), and Valley Regional Transit. Council Members also represent the City by serving on many national organizations.
After being encouraged to run for this position by many individuals involved in grassroots initiatives, Naomi researched the functioning of the city council. She realized that her interests of supporting refugees, the homeless, as well as the many systems that ensure the operation of the Boise community aligned with the roles of the city council. She understood that her social work knowledge of systems and advocacy for an equitable quality of life of all residents of Boise would be of benefit. She further elucidated “the values of social work overlap with her values as a future city council member as she believes the quality of life is very important to our city and it is the quality of life that shall shape the issues we see as practicing social workers.” She states, “We all want the same things – to live in an environment that is safe, affordable, peaceful, and with access to nature.” In addition, Naomi believes “it is important to me that we have an avenue for community members to have a voice when it comes to council decisions. In many other cities, there are representatives from each district or sections of town. I think this is a good way to ensure someone can be held accountable, to ensure that all voices are being represented. Currently, community members feel the Downtown, East and North End are overly represented and I want that culture to change.” When asked, “If she could accomplish only one thing while on the city council, what would it be?” she answered that “It would be a combination of community involvement and improvement to our commuter and transportation system currently in place.”
Upon concluding our conversation, I asked her what will she do as a newly elected city council member. Her response of humility and grace did not surprise me. She stated, “I will humbly learn the ropes just as quickly as I can. I will show up every day an advocate and over time, I will work to ensure all community members have access to our council and the decisions we make. I will ensure that neighborhoods are represented, including the Bench and West Boise, and through all future developments, I will advocate for commuters, renters, and our environment.”
It was a pleasure to reunite with Naomi Johnson who demonstrates that the roles of social workers have no boundaries in affecting change!
Submitted by Bonnie Davis Kenaley, Ph.D.