Jahnellia Brown knows what it’s like for African American communities to have fewer resources for help with mental health and other issues related to social work. And she’s going to do her part in helping to close the resource gap and meet those needs.
Last summer, Jahnellia Brown was in a car when a gunman fired shots through the windshield. She was not hit, but the senior in the School of Social Work’s BSW program had PTSD for a few weeks. “I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was scared,” she says.
Talking to a counselor at the School helped, but Brown says that “where I come from, people don’t have counselors to talk to, and things like that shooting happen on the daily. They just have to suck it up and go about their lives, like it was normal. But we shouldn’t normalize that.”
When Brown was a senior in high school—a place where she knew of no social workers—her uncle died of a drug overdose. “When he passed away, that pushed me toward social work,” she says.
Brown plans to earn an MSW, with a concentration in mental health, after she graduates. “In African American communities, there aren’t that many opportunities to seek mental health help,” she says. “Politicians label people who are poor or unemployed as lazy, but they haven’t seen these people struggle and doing all they can to support their children.”
The need for help in poorer communities and the social injustices in these communities have given Brown a start on her career path.
“I want to change the system,” she says. “People say, ‘Oh, we’re just little ants in this big colony, what can we do?’ We can make our voices matter. Change isn’t going to come unless someone brings it. If you see a problem in your community, you should be the one who advocates for policies to change and so forth.”
On a micro level, Brown wants to help troubled teens change their lives for the better. But as she nears the finish line for her BSW, she sees that the field of social work offers change at various levels
“When I told my parents I was going into social work, they said the field was too small, I wouldn’t find a job,” she says, laughing. “But what I’ve learned in my time in the program is the field is actually very broad. And it’s predicted that jobs will increase by 18 percent over the next 10 years.”
Social workers have a wide variety of choices and settings in which to work, Brown adds. “You can help people at an individual level. You can advocate at a community level. You can be a counselor in a high school, you can work in a hospital, you can work in agencies and clinics, you can work in private practice,” she says. “It’s a very versatile field.”