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Omaha Magazine

Andrew Aleman: Advocating Altruism

Mar 26, 2021 03:12PM ● By Wendy Townley
Andrew Aleman in red shirt

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 It would be remarkably easy for one to list the professional and community accomplishments of social worker and LGBTQ advocate Andrew Aleman. 

His professional positions speak volumes of his work and his passion: director of programs for Black and Pink; independent consultant in the areas of equity, inclusion, and sexual health; adjunct instructor in University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Grace Abbott School of Social Work; human trafficking program coordinator for the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence; and community engagement supervisor at Nebraska AIDS Project.

Then there’s community recognition, including Ten Outstanding Young Omahans and Young Black and Influential Awards. 

Aleman finds it’s the hidden pieces of his complicated, oftentimes emotionally draining work that, in his opinion, deserve much more light and far more conversation.

In his advocacy work today and previous position as a therapist, Aleman views the structure as physical exchanges of energy and emotion—responsibilities and regular tasks that don’t often surface on a job description. His primary concern is supporting and advocating for others. 

“[In these situations with clients], someone is physically handing me something that they’re going through and navigating, and I have to hold it,” Aleman explained. “When they leave, I have it put it down and tell myself, ‘I’m going to leave this here.’”

Rather than hiding the emotional and mental challenges of social work, Aleman is striving toward a more transparent status among those close to him. Doing so can only make him better equipped to help others.

Aleman said. “We like to hide things instead.”

A national organization, Black and Pink works to support current and formerly incarcerated LGBTQ individuals and others living with HIV/AIDS, as well as those impacted by violent and oppressive systems. The work, much like most social work, can be emotionally and mentally taxing. In an increasingly socially distanced and isolated society, it’s often an almost absentminded choice for Aleman and others in his field to keep their struggles silent.

Aleman adds it’s important for therapists and social workers to see their own therapists. 

“It’s hard for us to say when we’re struggling and not OK,” Aleman said. “So I’ve really encouraged folks and myself to not be OK in front of others.”

Aleman continued, “I navigate my own mental health with my own mental health professionals. It’s important to talk about it and it’s OK to talk about it.” 

Advocacy and helping others drives Aleman on a daily basis. But it’s more than the immediate impact he sees when working with clients; it’s for the next generation of social workers, and preparing them for the hardships of such important work. It’s also why Aleman values his adjunct teaching position at UNO.

“I do this work every day because of the young people who see us, and the young people who will come after us,” Aleman said. “If we’re not honest with them about the challenges and barriers that we face in life, if we give them this falsehood, then we’ve failed. That is my biggest fear.”

Dominique Morgan knew Aleman long before she hired him at Black and Pink. Years ago, Aleman served as Morgan’s case manager.

“I was just starting in my career space, in school, and he was a constant support,” Morgan said of Aleman. “He was a constant that held me accountable and challenged me in ways I hadn’t been challenged before.”

As Morgan grew Black and Pink, she sought someone to manage programs at the national level. Aleman was Morgan’s first choice, but she wanted to ensure the selection process was fair and transparent by hiring an outside consultant. 

“In my heart, I didn’t want anyone but Andrew running this program,” Morgan recalled. “Out of all the people that have been in my life...Andrew is one of maybe two or three people who made me feel like I mattered.”

Their longtime friendship also meant that Morgan had watched for years how Aleman navigated the complicated worlds of social work and advocacy.

“Andrew is fearless when it comes to holding people to what they say they want to be,” Morgan said. “Andrew’s balance of head and heart is impeccable. You know that he’s centering. He’s leading a national effort to address the needs of LGBTQ in all levels. He’s a visionary, an innovator, and a template. If people are looking for how to do the work, they need to look at people like Andrew.”

Visit blackandpink.org for more information.

This article was printed in the April/May 2021 issue of B2B Magazine.