When Davida Adedjouma graduated from the NYU Silver School of Social Work (SSSW) in 2007, she took away an MSW degree uniquely infused with a lifetime of experience. Her 50 years included time as a single parent, welfare recipient, award-winning creative writer, and college teacher. Additionally, she lives with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Adedjouma got into social work unexpectedly. In her late 40s, while finishing her BA at Empire State College, a professor urged her to get an MSW, telling Adedjouma she showed aptitude and that there was a need for black therapists. Inspired, Adedjouma applied to the SSSW because she had had a very positive experience a few years earlier in NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Once accepted, she registered with the University’s Center for Students with Disabilities. Along with academic assistance, the Center also afforded her financial assistance.
“I loved the SSSW; it changed my life,” Adedjouma said. “Learning how to accept clients as they are, without judging them, was the biggest thing for me. It made me a better person,” she said. “The professors made social work exciting, and the students were inquisitive and compassionate—willing to go the extra mile for you. It was amazing to be around so many good, good people,” she said. And her SSSW experience reinforced her desire to work with poor minorities.
Adedjouma was quick to see opportunities to use writing as a treatment technique with her clients. Her published works include the book, The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children, and she has received grants to live and write in France and Australia. At her first field placement while attending the SSSW, the senior center ARC Fort Washington, she helped members with early dementia write their life stories.
Adedjouma is employed where she completed her second-year field placement—HELP/PSI in the Bronx. This organization provides residential health care for a challenging population: people with both AIDS and chemical addiction, most of whom also have some form of mental illness and are court mandated to attend. Writing is an effective and exciting way to help them, Adedjouma found. “I try to have all my clients keep journals,” she said. “I’m even teaching therapeutic creative writing groups. I just completed a 10-week cycle, and the students begged my boss to let me do a second one.”
She keeps in touch with the School through Alumni Affairs, headed by Courtney O’Mealley. When the School was renamed following Connie Silver’s generous gift, O’Mealley invited Adedjouma to attend the ceremony and speak on behalf of current students and alumni. “Of course, I agreed. To be given that honor was just incredible to me,” she said.
In fact, Adedjouma’s greatest financial assistance and mentoring came from Silver. Adedjouma received the Constance McCatherin Silver Fellowship and Silver offered her advice about entering the meaningful world of social work.
After graduation, Adedjouma obtained a post-master’s certificate from a psychoanalytic institute. Now, she is working on a PhD in health psychology through an online university. She wants to sharpen her awareness of the psychological implications of health conditions, such as chronic pain, and ultimately hopes to combine private practice and writing.
Referring to her past experience with textbooks that focused on pathology in African American families, she said, “I want to write social work textbooks in which African Americans are more accurately and adequately represented. I mean, where are the happy black families pursuing their goals?”