Going Beyond Yourself To Support Other Individuals, Communities And More With Social Work

Social work is a diverse profession that ultimately supports others in various manners.  It can be defined as a practice-based profession that promotes social change, development, cohesion and the empowerment of people and communities.  Many serve in the profession either on a clinical level; or in a management and community organization level.  In March, the world celebrates National Social Work Month, but social work practitioners celebrate daily as we serve on various levels and roles.  Let’s take a look at some amazing Black women in Social Work who are carrying the torch within the helping profession.

Shirlee’ce McClain

Concentration: Juvenile Services, Multi Systemic Therapist

What inspired your career in social work?

“I’ve always had a passion for understanding mental health. Growing up in a community that’s dismissed issues regarding mental health really fueled my need for more. I initially went to nursing school but I felt social work would allow me to make a better impact on adolescents in society, and change the  mental health stigmas tied to those youth.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“The greatest reward of social work is being able to see your impact whether it be big or small. Knowing what you do everyday helps someone be able to have a better quality of life makes all the hardships, and failures worth it in the long run. The failures are the challenges for me, but with those come wisdom and the strength to try again and do something different and better the next.”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I work with a lot of youth that come from both families of color as well as biracial homes. Being able to work with those kids as well as their families not only in the therapy aspect but also providing education whether it be about hair, skin, or other challenges people of color face is more rewarding to me than anything I’ve ever done in my career. In my position I am able to help communities of color help themselves which in the long run will help others.”

Sharonda Stiggers

Concentration: Clinical

What inspired your career in social work?

“I truly believe that Social Work found me. I began work in the field of education, and I soon realized that it was tearfully difficult to teach while noticing repeated gaps in the mental health support for our students. During my time as an educator, I also began writing my book, Mental Makeover: Reclaiming Your Beauty from the Inside Out, which is a self-help book addressing mental health, healthy processing, and self-development. In my writings, my love for healing as it relates to one’s mental health and family dynamics grew stronger. Divinely, I made the decision to apply to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Social Work Graduate School, days before the application deadline, and I was thrilled to be accepted into the program! All in all, I knew I always wanted to be what I needed growing up, and it is super fulfilling and an honor to do so.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“Each day my rewards are always plenty, because I have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those in our community. As I reflect on the journey, one of my greatest rewards in the field of social work is having had the opportunity to serve abroad. For a summer, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, and for Spring Break I studied in Costa Rica. Connecting with those amazing students and learning about their cultures, no matter the language barrier, brought tears to my eyes! Service and love transcends all barriers. Challenges have been the initial understanding that we might not solve each and every problem…. And that is okay!”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I serve as Black mental health professional in a rural area, and this provides countless opportunities for a positive impact to those of color in our communities! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had client’s tell me, “I’m so glad you’re my therapist,” and I know exactly what they mean. It’s beautiful to see people of color be comfortable to simply be themselves, as they process and navigate through their trauma and individual healing journeys.”

Patience Mukurazhizha

Concentration: Clinical

What inspired your career in social work?

“I grew up in Zimbabwe; and experienced and witnessed how marginalized individuals were affected by poverty. I also saw how the systems took advantage of them.   I grew a desire to be able to help even just one family to change their lifestyle, from poverty through education, advocating and counseling.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“Social work is by no means an easy job, but it is rewarding.  When you know that you have been able to save a life, a marriage, a school dropout or even a job; the inner joy and peace is remarkable.  It is so rewarding to know that regardless of the result, you accepted the tasks the best way possible, respectfully and with dignity.  It is rewarding to know that you respect your client and you are working with them so they can perform at the highest level, without judgment or bias. My fulfillment comes from achieving to gain trust from clients and work together as a team to achieve goals.”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I started a nonprofit organization to help less privileged children of color to attain basic education from pre-K to HIGH school.  I opened an account with a local black owned bank.  I shop from black owned stores.  I have also learned to support black organizations through participation and donations.”

Tanika Walker

Concentration: Clinical

What inspired your career in social work?

“It was inspired to enter the course of social work after my parents divorced and my father moved to a low income community. The difference between the haves and the have nots amaze me. I didn’t understand it. I wanted to bridge the gap and find a way for equality amongst different social economic communities.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“Some of the greatest rewards I have experienced are reunification of children with their parents, seeing clients achieve their goals in therapy and connecting clients to resources to help increase their day-to-day functioning.”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I am packed in communities of color through my direct work with clients.  Additionally my mental health agency is working in these communities to help directly impact their quality of living and mental health stability.”

Shawnte West

Concentration: Child Welfare and MACRO

What inspired your career in social work?

Honestly I graduated with a social science degree and then went into child welfare practice. I received the title VI-E stipend for an MSW degree and I was sold.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“I have experienced winning advocacy campaigns for the pay equity of Social Workers. The challenges of race, community and child welfare remain to be challenges in this field.”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

Showing up in spaces where social workers should have a voice and seat at the table are how I continue to impact BIPOC communities. Advocating for a growing stock of providers that are outside the majority are another avenue that I use to make an impact.”

Michaella Conteh

Concentration: Children, Youth, and Families

What inspired your career in social work?

“I was inspired  to pursue a career in social work because I wanted the opportunity to work with the whole family unit. I wanted to be able to advocate for them, provide them with resources, and make an impact on people’s lives. Also, coming from an underprivileged county I have definitely experienced challenges in life that I can relate with to some of the families that I have the opportunity to work with.”  

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“Some of the greatest rewards that I have had in social work is having the privilege to work with so many different families. Also, having the opportunity to help families within the child welfare system. When parents tell me thank you for understanding their situation and taking the time to work with them, that is a great reward to me. One challenge in social work is dealing with all the different systems that are involved. Not having enough resources to provide to our families is an existing challenge which can cause a set back and negative impact on the families.”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I am impacting communities of color as a social worker by creating a positive and safe space when I work with families of color. By me being African and from a different cultural background, I believe it is a positive thing when working with families of color. I can somewhat relate to them and the challenges that they might be facing. When it comes to providing referrals to the families I make sure that they are connected with resources that they are comfortable with and have agreed upon. For example, if an African American family asks me to connect them with an African American therapist, that is what I would do to make them feel heard and comfortable.”

Dr. Carmela Daniels

Concentration: Clinical

What inspired your career in social work?

“As a child, I knew that I wanted to be a social worker.  I had mentors that worked in the field and I saw the changes they made in the families that they worked with; and I knew that it was the career for me.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“Rewards: I find it rewarding to be able to serve and advocate for populations that are in need.  We as social workers have the influence to make the changes that will cause policies and procedures to ensure that services improve for people who need them. 

Challenges: I find that bringing the culture of women of color to the field of social work to be difficult.  In the field it is hard to make sure that we are heard and seen as change agents just as our counterparts.”  

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I continue to work in the field of education to help encourage young men and women of color who are interested in social work support to help them get through their phases of education and career.  This is very important as when I was in school there were few women of color who were a strong source of support to help me in the field.  I want to be that source of strength and support for those in school and education now so that they can see and understand how they will be the new agents of change for the future.”

Jasmine Cobb

Concentration: Clinical

What inspired your career in social work?

“Originally, I was going to work in the medical field for the money and survival, but I knew deep down that was not being authentic to the desires of my heart. So, I followed my heart! I love the arts! I’m all about expression! I have a background in theater, journalism, communication, and social work. I was inspired to make the shift from journalism to social work under the leadership of my first supervisor while working in children and family services. Ultimately, I was drawn to mental health to serve as a therapist because it is my belief that it doesn’t matter what one’s societal status or background is; everyone is susceptible to loss and mental illness, which is one more thing that makes us more alike than different.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“Some of the greatest rewards I have had in social work are growing up as a minority in a rural area compared to some of the larger surrounding cities, and getting the opportunity to travel to Africa for my graduate studies in Social Work abroad. Prior to this, it was only a place to dream of- getting to return to the Motherland and witnessing firsthand the royalty I am derived from, as opposed to the stark, dark contrast of the poor images and stereotypes portrayed of the African continent in America. Some of the challenges that I’ve faced within the realm of social work are unfortunately some of the same challenges I face as a person of color outside of the profession, which exemplifies a social work term that easily comes to mind: Intersectionality. The only difference is that both my education and tenacity for social justice have afforded me the privilege to be in various positions where I am able to put a spotlight on some of the ills that are still apart of our lived experience. The experience-  which tends to be denied by some because of the slow progress and change that has been made over what on the surface may feel like decades upon decades ago, but has actually been more of a short time ago.”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“The way I am making a difference for communities of color as a social worker is through advocating and empowering systems and organizations at every level regarding mental health and wellness. As research shows, marginalized populations are not afforded the same access to services as some of our counterparts in order for us to improve our overall well-being. Many times, speaking from a few personal experiences- organizations even go as far as “documenting” inclusive practices, but the actual experience of bearing witness to said practices, missions and values are short-sighted. I have made it my mission as a member of our impacted communities to be one of many voices that will hopefully continue to rumble and amplify hard conversations until change is made. My practice specialty is grief, loss and bereavement which is also a facet of the black experience.”

Dashaira Bennett

Concentration: Healthcare, Family Violence, and Child Welfare

What inspired your career in social work?

“As a child, I’ve always had the helping spirit. I learned at an early age the rewarding feeling of helping others. I was intrigued by individual stories; and from my own experienced adversities is what inspired my career in social work.”

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“Wow there’s many rewards of being a social worker. Anytime you’re able to bring life to someone else’s life by assisting with life circumstances is the greatest reward. As I reflect, within the last five years, a few of my greatest rewards have been teaching at-risk pregnant teenagers about Baby Basics, leading the social work team at the Baltimore Convention Field Hospital-COVID facility, and advocating for groups that social justice issues can affect. My greatest challenge is resource navigation and broken systems. This is especially challenging because it impacts your ability to help individuals in need. Social Workers should really be called miracle workers.” 

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I am impacting communities of color as a social worker by being present in regards to SW Code or Ethics, speaking boldly about injustices, and working hard to teach communities of color emotional resiliency. I strive to empower colored communities by encouraging individuals to take an active role in producing change they want to see happen in the world.”

De’Anna Benson

Concentration: MACRO and Mezzo Practice 

What inspired your career in social work?

“Growing up, I’d always tell my mom that I wanted to help people. I started my personal journey in high school when I had the opportunity to volunteer with the PEERS group. There was a student, in particular, who I truly cared about. This is when I learned that I had a passion for development and intellectual disabilities. He and I attended prom together both my junior and senior years, took time to build a strong rapport and continue to support one another from a distance now. Throughout my journey within the last eight years, I’ve learned that you never really know what sort of impact you’ve made on someone and the passion behind it will reveal itself. 

This led me to carry out my calling into the field of social work.” 

What are some of the greatest rewards and challenges that you have had in social work?

“I’d say social work is a field that truly doesn’t receive the appreciation it deserves. We are life heroes, problem solvers and social scientists. The greatest rewards have been my ability to see people prosper after experiencing some sort of challenge, my growth interpersonally as I’ve developed a sense of self and gratitude and the opportunity to continue pouring love into someone we may not even know. COVID has been a challenge but also a blessing in disguise. There’s more awareness of mental health, social injustices and the protection of essential workers.”

How are you impacting communities of color as a social worker?

“I’ve always yearned for an opportunity to make an impact, rather big or small, in our BIPOC communities. I’ve invested the energy, effort and sensitivity and time into learning the history, incorporating the social work knowledge and skills and ensuring the importance of this work is highlighted. I’ve spent quite some time volunteering and understanding what our communities need by asking them first. I serve as an active mentor for Black Girls in Social Work and as a collaborator on an active research grant providing social-emotional support to African American and LatinX teen mothers in Tampa, FL.  From my journey in Lima, Peru as a Muhammad Ali Scholar for Peace & Justice working with numerous organizations and assessing the needs of domestic workers to my experience in social work roles employed part or full time (macro and mezzo)to my love for teen parents, children experiencing developmental and intellectual disabilities, and adults battling renal disease, I’ve dedicated my life to nurturing and supporting our communities of color.”

These are just some of the BIPOC faces within social work practice.  Each professional is making their mark as they strive to strengthen individuals, families, communities, and policies.  Connect with each social worker to see how you can learn more about their great work or to create a partnership for the future.  Happy Social Work Month!

Writer C. Scott is an authorpreneur, mom and freelance writer who also offers literary services. Follow her online as @curls_coils.

(Photos courtesy of each individual social worker.)

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Writer, C. Scott, is a mompreneur, author and blogger. Follow her online as @curls_coils and @mysweettealife.
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