Where am I?

An Advocate for Change

This article first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Tableaux.

Tamitha Price is often asked to nominate other people for awards in her position as the executive director for the National Association of Social Workers-Missouri Chapter. When the phone rang, and she was informed that she was the honoree this time, she was shocked.

“It didn’t compute at first that this was for me!” she said.

But for those who have been in her classroom, it was no surprise that she was honored with Fontbonne University’s 2013 Part-Time Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award. And those who know her story were even less surprised. 

After graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in business, Price got a job as a manager at a Wal-Mart in Lexington, Tenn. As manager, one of her responsibilities was to testify against anyone who shoplifted from her store. This had never been a problem. Those who break the law should be prosecuted, right? But then one day, it wasn’t so cut and dry.

“A woman stole formula for her baby,” she explained with tears in her eyes as she recounted this defining moment in her life and her career. “This was not a dress. It wasn’t makeup. She needed the formula for her child.”

Price didn’t feel right about testifying against the mother, and she carefully considered her options.

“I thought, is that what I want to do? Is this what my father, a police officer, would do? The answer was no – I don’t want this, my father wouldn’t want it, and neither would my higher power.”

Price turned in her resignation shortly after the incident and did some soul searching. She went back to school at Southeast Missouri State and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work – a field that closely aligned with her personal values and would allow her to help other people like the young mother.

Price went on to earn a Master of Social Work from Saint Louis University, and then, at 29, she was selected for her current position, becoming the youngest leader the association had ever had.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” Price said. “I had never led a nonprofit, but 15 years later, I’m still there!”

With her previous success and obvious passion for the field, it’s no surprise that Price has been involved with Fontbonne’s social work program since Sharon Jackson, head of the program, began developing the curriculum in 2009.

"Sharon asked me if there was anything I thought today’s social workers should have more knowledge of before they graduate. Anything that undergraduate programs should expand upon, and the answer was easy,” she said. “I told her they need more knowledge of administration.” 

Price had fallen in love with administration and policy herself while completing her undergraduate course work.

“I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to help just one child at a time. Through lobbying and legislation, I could help hundreds of people affected by a variety of circumstances,” she said. “I love seeing that moment when my own students have the same realization.”

Price currently teaches an eight-week policy course.

“I don’t want them to just be listening to a talking head,” she said. “I want them to feel it, experience it, hear it, read it, and then apply it in the real world. Sometimes we stay in the classroom, sometimes we don’t. Whatever is the most effective way to understand a concept, that’s what we do." 

One of the projects Price’s students complete is to choose a piece of legislation, research it, and then actually make appointments with their legislators. She takes them to Jefferson City to lobby on Policy Day, which is hosted by NASW-Missouri Chapter. By the time Price’s students graduate, they haven’t just learned about policy, they’ve experienced it firsthand. The ability to offer this unique opportunity for future social workers is something Price treasures.

“I’m very grateful to Fontbonne as a whole to have allowed Sharon to develop this program so comprehensively,” Price said. “I’m happy to be one small piece of the pie that contributes to creating good, sound social work education for our amazing students.”