I did not choose the family or conditions into which I was born and neither did anyone else. 

Over the last two decades, this conviction has shaped and guided my professional decisions, relationships, and passions.  It is the reason why I believe in racial and social justice.  It is the reason why, five years ago, I decided to make a career shift away from 15+ years of direct service work and towards systems-level macro social work.  And it is the reason why I am grateful for the job I have now at CHJT focused on driving systemic change for Rhode Island’s justice-involved and reentering populations.                                                                            

The first thing I have learned during this career transition is that systems work is S-L-O-W.  The instant gratification of having an immediate direct impact on a person’s life has now been replaced by seemingly never-ending discussions and strategy sessions.  After literally three years of having the same conversations, we are now slowly starting to see some progress. 

The second thing I have learned is that very few people at the decision-making tables understand the realities of those for whom they are making decisions. Though I’ve always known this, I now see it and work against it on a regular basis – continually astounded by how individual experiences and community voice are so rarely valued or integrated by those in power.  T

The third thing I am learning as I continue down this path is how important it is to not be afraid to speak up and speak the truth.  Though decision-makers may not always like it, and those engaged in conversation may feel offended by it, it is vital for leaders, policy makers, government officials, and systems to be held accountable by those they exist to serve.  Not enough avenues exist for this truth to be heard, never mind truly integrated.  

And so, I look towards 2021 as an opportunity to build on progress made, raise up the voices and truths of justice-involved Rhode Islanders, and continue the important work of advocating for health and justice reforms that will help all of us thrive.  

Heather Gaydos, MSW

Reentry Project Director