‘For the love of her friends’: Classmates remember social work extraordinaire Mit Joyner, ’71

Posted Oct 23 2023
six people smile at the camera while four of them hold a large check during a ceremony honoring the late Mit Joyner, former NASW president, at Central State University

As the Central State University Homecoming festivities buzzed around them, four alumni made their way up the stairs of Wesley Hall, a solemn atmosphere accompanying them. They had gathered to pay tribute to their dear friend and sorority sister, Mildred “Mit” Carter Joyner, DPS, MSW, and LCSW. The group honored Joyner's life and legacy in a moment of reflection, cherishing their memories. 

Cynthia Jackson, ’71, and Cheryl Bradley-Alston, Connie Peters-Matlock, and Marsha “Susie” Norris, ’73, joined faculty, staff, and students to present a gift of $5,500 to support the Social Work Department at Central State. Before the weekend ended, they had raised $8,000 in pledges for Social Work student scholarships.  

Joyner's legacy was one of unwavering dedication to social work, academia, and service to others. Her leadership as president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) during the COVID-19 pandemic exemplified her commitment to improving the lives of those around her. Even in retirement, she continued to inspire and make a difference, leaving a lasting impact on her profession and the world. 

Joyner's impressive career in social work includes serving as the president of two major organizations — the National Association of Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Baccalaureate Social Work Education (BPD). In addition to these leadership roles, she also lent her expertise to Pennsylvania’s Chester County Food Bank Board of Directors. Joyner's experience and contributions in various aspects of social work have undoubtedly been invaluable to the field. 

National Association of Social Workers Past President Mit Joyner, a 1971 graduate of Central State University
Mit Joyner, '71, a past president of the National Association for Social Workers. Courtesy: NASW

“President Joyner often said that we stood on the shoulders of giants in the profession such as Whitney Young, a social work legend. We now stand on the shoulders of Mit Joyner, a true social work pioneer, a voice for social justice and the power of social work, even in these turbulent times,” NASW President Yvonne Chase, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, said in a statement

Today, Joyner’s social justice advocacy lives on in the memory of all those who knew her. Her wisdom can be found in the Essential Chats with Mit YouTube and Facebook series and columns published on the NASW website. 

Jackson said she and Joyner were inseparable “besties” of over 50 years. They met in a Pennsylvania junior college before transferring together in 1969 to Central State, where Joyner earned her Bachelor of Social Work. Joyner later received a Master of Social Work from another esteemed HBCU, Howard University, a Historically Black University in Washington, D.C.   

“We did everything together. We celebrated births, (mourned) deaths, and (cried) tears, and we were at each other’s weddings,” Jackson said. “I have some of my Fab 42 sisters with me. We had 42 on our line, and Mit was part of that line. 

“I miss her laughter, but I know she is smiling down on us. She influenced many lives and many careers. We miss her laughter, we miss her honesty, and she was honest. We know that she’s shining down on us, and she’s so proud that we’re acknowledging her lifelong, prestigious career,” she added. 

The duo was so close that they were sometimes called Mit-thia, a combination of their names.  

“Her and I were Lucy and Ethel. I’ve lost my Ethel, but she’s been with me all weekend,” Jackson said. “She’s right beside me. I feel her.”

Mit Joyner: A legend among social workers  

Joyner began her career as a protective service worker at Chester County Children and Youth Services. She was later department head and legal liaison for the child abuse unit. Moving into academia, Joyner became an associate professor at West Chester University, later chairing the Social Work department, and retired as a full professor.  

In the words of her friends, “Mit was a true educator and demonstrated her commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of those in need, approaching every interaction with kindness, compassion, and a genuine desire to uplift others.”  

Bradley-Alston recalled how committed Joyner was to friendships and relationships. She shared advice with the students attending: “Keep in touch with each other, no matter what. Don’t leave it to another friend to keep up with your friend. … Nothing in my mind can replace those friendships.” 

Norris remembered their sister as a force to be reckoned with and someone who “knew how to get things done” throughout her career. 

Joyner loved Sigma Gamma Rho and her alma mater, Peters-Matlock said. She described moving from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Detroit, Michigan, with her husband after graduating, then moving back after two decades. 

“It was like we had never separated. We picked up right where we left off. … For the love of her friends, she would do anything,” Peters-Matlock said. 

Gift made in tribute 

two individuals including Mit Joyner hold a sign that says Social Workers Social Justice in front of a Black Lives Matter sign
Courtesy: NASW

Dr. Amy Hobbs-Harris, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (CHAS), was joined at the ceremony by Dr. Jonathan Trauth, director and associate professor of the Social Work Department; Dr. Edison Perdomo, chair of the CHAS Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences; and professor Dr. Neisha Wiley. 

Hobbs-Harris was inspired to learn about Joyner and the friendships she held dearly. 

“It’s clear that CSU inspired Mit. … She had an amazing 32-year career at West Chester University," Hobbs-Harris said. “One of her proudest accomplishments was that she successfully led a fundraising drive to erect a statue of Frederick Douglas on their campus.    

“We’re so appreciative (of the gift in Joyner’s name). … Learning more about Mit has further inspired me.”  

Central State University Vice President of Institutional Advancement Tiffiney Gray, who also serves as executive director of the Central State University Foundation, called the ceremony a treat for all those who attended.  

“I knew we were expecting a gift in tribute,” Gray said. “I didn’t know she had so much wisdom for us. The advice deposited to us today is invaluable.”  

Joyner, who passed away on July 9, 2023, is survived by her husband, retired federal judge J. Curtis Joyner; her three daughters, Jennifer C. Joyner-Hall (David A. Hall III), Nicole M. Joyner, and Jacqlyn A. Joyner; and two grandsons, David A. Hall IV and Jacob J. Joyner Hall.  

“Mit will be remembered for her warm heart, infectious laughter, and boundless love,” her obituary reads. “Her vibrant presence and radiant smile brightened any room she entered, creating a welcoming space for all. In her free time, she found joy in traveling, gardening, cooking, spending time at her home in Martha’s Vineyard, and creating beautiful memories with all who crossed her path, for she brought love, laughter, and warmth into their lives.” 

To make a gift to support students majoring in Social Work at Central State University, visit centralstate.edu/give and select the following options:  

  • Under Gift Designations, select "I Want to Designate My Gift to Support Academic Programs.” 

  • In the new box labeled "I Want to Designate My Gift to Support Academic Programs & Scholarships," select “Social Work Department.” 

  • Select whether you want to make a one-time or recurring gift. 

  • Make certain the amount of the donation is correct. 

  • Fill in the form and click “Submit.”