September 20, 2023
Congratulations to MSW student Christian Ohonba on being awarded the NASW Foundation - Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial Scholarship.
This scholarship is “awarded to master’s degree candidates in social work who demonstrate an interest in or has experience with health/mental health practice and commit to working in African American communities.”
Name: Christian Ohonba
Program and Expected Graduation Year: Online Clinical Fall 2024
Congratulations on being awarded this scholarship! What is the significance of this award as it relates to your education and future career?
Honoring one’s gift can be difficult if one is a first-generation graduate, as one often must seek roles that have substantial salaries instead of what would truly transform the world. Being awarded this scholarship provides a bit of a buffer in my educational cost and allows me to be more focused in my learning, so I can be an active force that stimulates change and progress within the field of Social Work.
What initially inspired you to continue your education in social work?
After working for a prominent Home Health and Hospice software company and with hundreds of clinicians in person, including working within a hospice facility, the call to honor my true purpose became more prominent. Often, while working within the hospice facilities, I would get asked if my background was in social work due to my innate understanding and focus on holistic care.
Who is someone you look up to regarding social work and social justice?
Those who have transmuted their life challenges to help others bloom into their highest expression motivate me. These people typically aren’t well-known, yet their genius is no less impactful.
Why do you believe it is vital to provide/raise awareness of mental health services in African American communities?
The life struggles of the African American community often are never fully expressed, so the need for a safe haven is vital to healing and growth. Mental health affects the body, thus stunting their ability to live well. I’ve walked the path of seeking mental health services when my cultural norms deemed it taboo. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of therapy firsthand. It’s provided the ability to integrate my life’s experiences, allowed my brilliance to shine into the world, and illuminate others on their path.
Tell us about your commitment to working in/with African American communities.
In my research, one of the main barriers that prevent the African American community from seeking therapy is the lack of culturally competent practitioners. I would bring a vast catalog of experience, both professionally and professionally, to help equip those within the community with the tools needed to thrive. During a recent client call through my current practicum internship, a client thanked me for “seeing them and not judging them.” Her story was challenging, but many things were easily relatable, and I could provide authentic empathy.
How has the GCSW prepared you so far for a future career in providing mental health services to underrepresented/underserved communities?
Being only in my first semester at the GCSW, I feel well supported by the intentionality of all the material. I am learning to not just check concepts off the list but truly embody them.
What would you say is the type of impact you would like/hope to make?
To weave all my experiences in overcoming mental health challenges together and use that to empower and fortify often ignored women. Beauty is vibrant, and partnering with women would help beautify the world as they heal.