NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Vicki Gardine Williams, LLD, MSW, ACSW, LAPSW
Vicki Gardine Williams*

Pioneering Contributions

Throughout her professional career, Vicki Gardine Williams, LLD, MSW, ACSW, LAPSW, felt a call to serve the “oppressed and vulnerable populations” of our society, which manifested itself in a career as a clinical practitioner and social work educator. Her sense of social justice and equity for all people began in her home community and expanded to regional issues, national civil rights issues, and the realm of policy and legislative efforts in social work licensure. 

Williams dedicated a significant portion of her career to developing policies to ensure Black children in foster care had opportunities to be raised with families, regardless of their racial background, to lessen the likelihood of adverse reactions associated with long-term foster care.

She worked as an Adoption Home Finder for the Lutheran Service Society, Denver, Colorado, where she developed and directed a non-traditional adoption program in locating and recruiting homes for Black children and adoption home studies. Williams served as an Adoption Specialist at the Southeast Resource Center for Children and Youth Service, and  directed the Center’s priority program on Special Needs and Black Adoption in the southeastern region. She facilitated training, consultation, and networking between state agencies and coordinated workshops. Williams also served on the State of Tennessee Department of Human Services Committee to Reevaluate and Revise Standards for Child Placing Agencies. 

Career Highlights

Williams worked to address the issue of inequality in academic structures and administration, including multiculturalism in curriculum, refining what constitutes student success, and diversify faculty representation across race, class, and gender. Throughout her career, she was frequently the only African American female at predominantly white institutions. She worked to infuse multiculturalism and diversity curriculum through education with and between programs and disciplines, not just in social work. Williams’ dedication to social work program development and her community initiatives resulted in her recruitment to serve as the Director of Social Work at Tennessee State University (TSU), an HBCU that was the first public BSSW program in the state.

She successfully navigated the reaffirmation of the TSU BSSW program and served on the Founding Chairs Counsel of the Mid-Tennessee Collaborative Master of Social Work Program at TSU. Her continuous presence at each of these meetings was to ensure multiculturalism and diversity were to be emphasized and infused throughout the MSW programs and that the TSU social work program was included in this proposed regional MSW. Conceptualized in 2005, and launched in 2009, the three institution collaborative successfully delivered one MSW program across the middle Tennessee state region. This is the first program in the country to have successfully navigated Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) candidacy and accreditation processes. She also worked tirelessly to establish social work licensure legislation to the state of Tennessee, which had never been attempted before in the history of the state.

Williams’s leadership within social work organizations and institutions has included local, regional, national, and statewide efforts including Vice-President and Board Member of the NASW Tennessee Chapter; Chair and member of the NASW Tennessee Chapter PACE committee; Vice-President, Board Member of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors; committee member of the Association of Social Work Board’s Education and Regulation Committee; and, three appointments by two state governors to the Board of Social Worker Licensure, Tennessee State Department of Health. 

Biographical Data

Born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Williams attributes her sense of social justice to her parents’ value systems and childhood experiences. Her parents were progressive, well educated, and her father was considered a renaissance man with interests in politics, business, and education. Her mother was the first woman in the U.S. Virgin Islands to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in 1934 from Hunter College. As a child, she witnessed first-hand what poverty looked like for her friends who lived in poor housing while she came from an affluent home and intact family system. Her intelligence, motivation, and outgoing nature eventually afforded her an opportunity to begin college at the age of 16 in Baltimore, Maryland. 

In February of 1963, Williams and 150 others were the first students at Morgan State University to provide “important national leadership in the civil rights movement” by their nonviolent demonstration at a local movie theatre that prohibited African American patronage. All demonstrators, including Vicki Gardine (Williams) ended up in jail. She believed in equal rights for all people at the price of her own freedom. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology from Morgan State University in 1965 and her MSW from Howard University in 1970.

Significant Achievements and Awards

Among her many recognitions, Williams was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Morgan State University in December 18, 2015. She was the NASW-Tennessee Chapter recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in March, 2013; and inducted into Delta Kappa Gamma Society International in April 17, 1999. Williams was promoted to Full Professor, Ferris State University, 1995-1996.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.