Education: Bachelor of Social Work, McMaster University; Master of Social Work, Ryerson University
Profession: Social Worker (Child Welfare); Independent Researcher
Years of Experience: 7 years in the social work field; 3 years in Child Welfare; 4 years of research experience
When you were a child, did you envision becoming what you are now?
The short answer is no; I envisioned myself becoming a professional athlete and/or working as a psychologist. I only became aware of the social work field in my last year of high school/first year of university and the world of academia in my last year of my Bachelors and throughout my Master’s.
Can you please tell us about your journey? When did you first think to yourself, “I made it”?
Throughout my elementary, middle and high school years, I did well in school (honour roll student in grades 11 and grade 12) but never thought of myself as an academic. Simultaneously, I was also an all-around athlete with a passion for Track and Field. The fact that I was successful in both the athletic and academic world naturally defied the stereotype that Black male athletes are intellectually inept.
Growing up in Scarborough—where I saw so many people remain resilient and dedicated to providing the best life possible for their families despite the violence, poverty, lack of resources and underemployment around us—I developed a profound interest in analyzing human behaviour, the social ills of society and helping people heal from emotional and mental trauma. However, at that time, I did not have the language to understand these terms in depth. Realizing that I did not want to pursue a PhD right away to become a psychologist, I applied to the social work program while in my first year of university (the social work program is a 2nd year admission program at McMaster University that includes an admissions test). Learning that this was apparently a very difficult program to get into—as told to me by professors and other peers who failed to get in on their 1st, 2nd and sometimes 3rd attempt—it delighted me that I was accepted into the program on my first attempt.
However, I believe the first time I thought to myself, “I made it” was winning the Deans Writing Award after completing my Master of Social Work, an award given to the student with the best written research paper in their cohort. This was a significant accomplishment because that research paper not only detailed important aspects of my life journey but also displayed the refined academic writing skills and academic knowledge that I used to conceptualize other Black men’s experiences, especially dispelling the myth of the “angry Black man” and bringing their typically silenced voices to the forefront. Many other accomplishments then began to take effect after winning this award.
Did you face any challenges on your journey to get where you are? Do you currently face any challenges?
Most definitely. I faced many challenges. One challenge was being one of the few Black people on the McMaster University campus and classes, and sometimes even the only Black man in my classes. Notwithstanding the fact that I made many friends of various cultures, it’s still not the most comfortable feeling not seeing yourself reflected racially and gender wise. Other challenges were working various jobs, especially in my 3rd and 4th year of school, while balancing my academics, physical fitness, internships, family obligations and a relationship with my now-wife. There were many times that I definitely felt like giving up and asking myself if all of this work was really worth it.
Currently, a major challenge I am experiencing is finding ways to merge those in the world of academia with those in the governmental and self-employed professional realm and those in poor urban settings both working in grassroots organizations or the residents themselves, especially within the Black community, into a cohesive working relationship. Due to the fact that I have been around all three worlds as a published scholar, government professional and a previous resident of a place affected by urban blight, I have been able to connect with all three of these different worlds. However, there remains animosity between all of them when it comes to meeting the best needs of the overall community. It is a “work in progress” but the challenges, of course, are sometimes difficult to manage.
What skills do you believe a person needs to succeed in your profession?
I believe people in my position need to have strong relationship-building, analytical, writing and oratory skills. I personally have seen a dearth of people in my profession possessing all four of these aptitudes. While having the kind-hearted spirit and desire to help people is great to begin with, it is not enough and will not necessarily be beneficial to working with clients on its own. First and foremost, it is imperative to have the ability to form relationships with clients in order to execute any of the latter skills mentioned above. Secondly, possessing the ability to critically think about the many angles of a case or a family’s situation, including the factors that historically and currently are affecting them, in order to find the best alternative to their dilemma is so valuable. Lastly, to complement this skill with the ability to convey one’s position or advocacy oratory-wise for the client, coupled with writing this information on paper in a report or affidavit for example, even if it is just relaying the facts, in a concise yet powerful and persuasive manner will collectively help people succeed in my profession.
What advice would you give to others who aspire to be where you are?
To be where I am, I would say that people need to be extremely disciplined, organized, passionate and perseverant through the difficult times. It is so imperative to balance work and play; I would not have been where I am right now possessing a Master’s, a published research article, a well-paid government job, appearances in the Share and Sway magazine and various accolades if I did not take time for myself to do the things I love. Doing the academic and professional work is important, but those self-care days are so crucial for taking care of yourself emotionally, mentally and physically. However, there always needs to be a balance between these two important activities. Creating a schedule for yourself would help with this task as it would help organize your time.
Create a general outline of what it is that you are looking to achieve in life in general. I did this so many times and would change it again and again and again as new things came up. This is where the passion comes in; if you are passionate about the objective or objectives you are trying to achieve, you will eat, breath and sleep your goals/dreams. When it comes to facing those tough moments stemming from family, spiritual, academic, relationship or work challenges, hit the “pause” button and reset. Once you have regrouped, it is time to get back into it and persevere because the last thing anyone wants to do is give up. Whether you are religious/spiritual or not, profess your future and assert that you will be achieving this goal or goals. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and a God fearing man and I strongly believe in the power of our words and have seen the positive outcomes of speaking things into existence. Two other pieces of advice I would give are to have a support network whether that be professional, social, academic, familial or all of the above and to have either a mentor or mentors. I’ve developed so many different relationships with professors, supervisors, other professionals, and of course people in my family for different purposes. DO NOT do this on your own. The most successful people you can think of all had mentors and/or people who imparted wisdom onto them in some regard. While I always have been an independent person and it has helped me along this path, I would not have succeeded or be in my current position had it not been for the people who helped guide me here.
My very last words of wisdom are to “have a little faith.” Whether you are religious/spiritual or not, read Hebrews 11, my favorite chapter in the bible where it talks about many people in the bible, from Abraham and Noah to Rahab that simply had faith that God would see them through and committed courageous acts. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see” –Hebrews 11:1.
Can you please share one goal you achieved that you are extremely proud of?
There are so many things I am proud of but I would say my one goal that I am extremely proud of would be publishing a scholarly journal article independently (not being attached to any university institution) at the age of 25 all while managing a full-time job, a young son, a wife to whom, at the time, I was newly married. I never once in my life thought I would be an academic, nor did I believe that people coming from where I come from or who look like me were academics because I neither saw nor knew that they existed until I became older. I also did not know much about academia either as I do not have many, if any at all, in my family. So to develop a keen interest in academia later on in my career (more vigorously at the end of my Bachelors and in my Master’s) and publish a scholarly journal article not too long after remains a very big achievement for me and I hope it inspires other young Black children and youth, especially young boys, to know that they too have a place in the academic and professional realm. We are more than just athletes and entertainers; we were the first scientists, artists, engineers, intellectuals and technologists. To conclude, in the famous words of the world renowned rapper/poet Nas in his song I can, “I know I can (I know I can), be where I wanna be (be where I wanna be) if I work hard at it (if I work hard at it) I’ll be where I wanna be (I’ll be where I wanna be).