Q&A With Ebonee Mears

Ebonee Mears headshotEbonee Mears, MSW ’20, is a Community Organizer at Bedford Stuyvesant Community Partnership Program, a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that collaborates with the community to enhance the health and wellbeing of children and families. During her time at Silver, Ebonee was a co-leader of the Black Women’s Social Work Coalition (BWSWC), a member of the Student Leadership Council, a Silver Champion Admissions Ambassador, and an MSW intern in our Office of Inclusive Engagement & Student Life (IESL). In spring 2020, Ebonee co-founded the NYU Silver - Black Alumni Network (S-BAN) alongside fellow Class of 2020 graduates Ymani Hawkins, Nerija Rosemond, and Lauren Stair, and she continues to co-lead the organization today. She recently spoke to NYU Silver about her career and her continued commitment to Silver and Black alumni in particular.

What does your job entail?

Community Organizer is my title, but essentially I am a coordinator for the program. There are two parts to my role. One part is consistently creating partnerships with other organizations in Bed-Stuy, and that’s really important. That constant communication and working together is how we stay in the know about what’s going on in the community and what resources are available. The other part of my work is community engagement through community events we put on. We do a lot of food distribution, school supplies distribution, parties, etc. We work especially closely with the NYCHA developments, specifically Marcy, Brevoort, and Sumner housing. And that’s where that first part of my job really comes into play. When we're out in the community, putting on these different events, people will come up to us with questions about resources and services they need and we are able to refer them to our community partners.

Under the community engagement umbrella, I supervise three Community Ambassadors and they are an amazing team. They live right in the community and they help us out with the events, they help us in different meetings and in different settings. They are kind of the eyes and ears of our community.

My job is a great mix of micro and macro practice. I think I’ve been able to combine micro and macro in this job because of the strong clinical training I got at Silver as well as the close connections I made with some of the professors who were doing macro work and encouraged me to pursue opportunities that felt right for me.

It must also be satisfying because you see the results of your referrals; you see people in the community getting what they need.

Yes, but it’s definitely hard sometimes because you don’t always see it immediately. Sometimes you do something and it may not work out for the family, or that may not have been the referral that they actually needed. So you have to go back and you have to start where they are again, and you have to use those active listening skills to see what it is that they could actually use, what they really need. And so you don't always get that instant gratification.

That said, we do monthly reports, and even those times when I don’t feel like I’ve done a lot, when I look back at what I’ve done for the entire month, I see I made X number of referrals, we did X amount of programming, we did this, we did that. So it’s a nice feeling to look back and see that, even though I may not have gotten that instant reward, I really have done a lot, I really am serving the community and helping to move it forward.

What do you love most about your work?

The team that I work with is what I love most. In addition to the Community Ambassadors, whom I supervise, there is also my Program Director. It’s basically the five of us and the team and the teamwork that we have together is really incredible. We bounce ideas off of each other, and we have hard conversations sometimes about real things like racism and classism in our community. We have a real team and we’re doing real work. I think teamwork is often undervalued. I love building partnerships, I love being in community with other people, and I love the team that I have!

Did you use any of NYU Silver's Career & Professional Development supports to help you secure your position?

I definitely used the resources from the Career & Professional Development office! Before we had to leave campus because of the pandemic, I met with Sonia Bhansali, the Associate Director of Career & Professional Development. I asked her about what I should look for in a job, what titles would be appropriate for the work that I wanted to do, and she was very helpful with that process. Once we were all at home in April, I started to look for a job, and those keywords and titles that she helped me identify helped me find the position that I have now.

Was there a particular class or faculty or staff member that was particularly influential?

Well, Silver was a place where I felt really at home and so I can honestly say there were so many people that really helped me get to this point. But I do want to single out professor Amanda Mays. I had her class my first semester of my first year. She and I connected and she stuck with me all through my two years, just having my back and really helping me to identify what I like, what I am interested in, and what I want to do. She was also my Clinical Supervisor in my second year Field Placement as the MSW intern in the Office of Inclusive Engagement and Student Life. And so she was a very important person in my time at Silver. So was IESL Associate Director Angie Kim. As my internship Task Supervisor, she really helped me move forward and figure out how to engage communities. Professor Zoila Del Villar also was an amazing part of my journey, and, of course, my classmates were so important during those two years. I have so many people who touched me when I was at Silver. To be honest, that was my favorite part of my Silver experience ‒ the connections I made.

And I still have those connections. For example, Lauren Stair, Nerija Rosemond, and I work together to run the NYU Silver - Black Alumni Network (S-BAN). That was something that we created along with Ymani Hawkins while we were at Silver through our relationship with each other and our leadership of the Black Women’s Social Work Coalition (BWSWC). We knew how important that relationship was and how important it was to continue to move it forward.

What led you, Lauren, Nerija, and Ymani to found S-BAN?

As I mentioned, we were the leaders of BWSWC from 2019-20 and once the year was coming to an end, we saw how much of an impact the organization had and how important it was for Black students at Silver. Although it was called the Black Women’s Social Work Coalition, we had people who identified as men attend the meetings because they wanted a space to connect as well. So that’s why we created S-BAN. We did it for our community because we loved what it felt like to be in a space together, to give people a space where they can talk, where they can just share about things that we have in common. And so we really did create that just for us, just to continue to keep those connections. And it really has grown into something beautiful.

In February, we held a four-part Black History Month Workshop series and that was incredible. Just from the planning of it, Lauren, Nerija, and I got so excited from what we were thinking, the ideas that we were coming up with. Then to see it in action, we were like ‘oh wow this actually happened! This is real. We made this happen.’ We put in the hard work, the long hours to make sure our community had something, and it was amazing to see Black alumni from our class and from classes way back come. But it was also amazing to see new students come to those workshops. And it wasn’t closed off to only Black people. We had students from other identities and races come too.

It was a great experience and I love being a part of that team too. It’s another team I feel strong in, a team that uplifts me, a team that continues to have my back. So shout out to Lauren and Nerija because they are incredible and they are the bomb!

You mentioned how talking to your connections at Silver helped lead you in the career direction that you followed. What did you expect to be doing when you came into the MSW program?

I thought that I was going to do clinical work in the sense of being a therapist. And I found out along the way at Silver that clinical work looks very different than what I thought when I came in. I thought it could only look like one-on-one therapy, and that isn’t true. Clinical work can be done in group settings, it can be done in community work, it can be done in so many different ways. And those clinical skills that I learned at Silver, they are transferable anywhere. I do macro-micro work, but even when I’m doing the macro part of my work, I’m still using those clinical skills that I learned, even just in the little things that I do. So I’m really happy that I was able to go to this program.

How did your leadership experience at Silver contribute to your professional success?

As I said before, in my Field placement in Silver’s Office of Inclusive Engagement and Student Life, Angie Kim was a very important person in helping me figure out how to engage communities, and that’s part of the work that I do now. When I started, that office was relatively new and I was its first intern so we had to figure out how to build a plane and fly it at the same time. That took a lot of leadership from Angie to teach me, but also from me, within myself, to figure out how to stand up as a student leader, how to create ideas for the office, and how to make the opportunity something special. And that was really something that I was able to take away in my leadership skills ‒ How do I listen to the needs of my community? How do I hear what my community is saying? How do I create or refer them to something to meet their needs? 

Angie Kim and Amanda Mays also showed me how to really care for somebody that you’re leading. You can know how to write up reports and do X, Y, and Z, but caring for the people you work with, that’s an important part of leadership too. So my role as an intern for IESL was a very important part of my learning and leadership development.

Being a leader for BWSWC also taught me how important it is to listen, which is not always talked about when it comes to leadership. Leadership is often described as just being the point person, as being the person in front. But, as I learned with IESL and BWSWC, leadership is sometimes about listening to what your community needs, what they’re saying they want, and then making it happen. And so I was really able to hone in on my active listening skills with BWSWC.

Being on the Student Leadership Council (SLC) also shaped my leadership. With SLC, you're meeting new students as they’re coming in for orientation, you’re guiding them as they start the MSW program, and you’re trying to make the experience special for them. Mentorship ‒ how you can give back to the people who are coming next, which is also a part of leadership ‒ is something that I really learned through the SLC. 

All of those leadership experiences at Silver, they shaped me and I have been able to bring them into everything that I do now.