Olivia Byrd, MSW ’19

Olivia Byrd headshotBalancing Congressional Casework and Social Entrepreneurship 

Olivia Byrd, MSW ’19, is a Congressional Caseworker in the District Office of U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler (NY-10) and is also the founder of Soulutionary, LLC, an online business with the mission to normalize and spread mental health awareness through apparel and products which will provide Black, Indigenous, People of Color access to mental health and wellness services.

In October 2020, Olivia returned to NYU Silver virtually to share her journey with current students in an “Ask Me Anything” event hosted by our Office of Career & Professional Development (CPD). Mary Burns, MSW ’19, the interim Associate Director of CPD, shared the following highlights.

A proud native of Sacramento, CA, Olivia earned her BS in Human Development and Psychoeducational Studies at Howard University. Upon graduating, became a Homeless Outreach Specialist at Pathways to Housing DC. During that time, Olivia realized that in order to make a greater impact, she would need to further develop her knowledge of mental health and the lack of access and services for people of color. That led her to pursue her MSW at NYU Silver.

During her time at Silver, Olivia participated in our Focused Learning Opportunity in Evidence Based Practice for Adults with Severe Mental Illness and studied in Mexico and Argentina. In addition, she held multiple leadership roles, including serving as the Co-Leader of both the Black Women’s Social Work Coalition and the Silver Affinity Collective. She was also a 2018/19 recipient of the Council on Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship.  

In her current work as a Congressional Caseworker, Olivia said she handles inquiries, resolves problems for constituents, and acts as a liaison between the Congressman, constituents, and government agencies or other organizations. While she handles a broad range of inquiries, she focuses on VA issues, student loans, and housing inquiries. Although she didn’t have past government experience, she felt that her social work experience prepared her well. “This role involves a lot of collaborating and interacting and building relationships with other case workers, many of whom are social workers,” she said. “We go to the bat for our constituents.”

As for balancing running her business with her full-time job, Olivia said “I figured it out and I made it work because people needed it.” Olivia said she founded Soulutionary, LLC in the midst of the pandemic not only to decrease stigma and raise awareness about mental health but also to directly increase black and brown communities’ access to mental health and wellness services. In addition to custom products, like hats, t-shirts, and drinkware, the iamsoulutionary.com website includes resources and a directory of healers of color for those seeking services.

Another one of her goals, said Olivia, is to make advertising more accessible for healers of color. “Many people don’t realize that Psychology Today and other sites where people find mental health services cost a lot for the service providers,” she explained. Olivia does not charge healers to be listed on her site. “I’m not trying to get rich,” she said, “I’m trying to help people.”

Olivia’s advice to current students: “Network! Volunteer! Get involved and find and connect with other students with similar interests.” She noted that when she was at Silver, the program allowed her to have a seat at the table, and when a seat wasn’t there for her, she brought her own. She specifically cited her role in convening and co-leading the Silver Affinity Collective, which contributed to the development of Silver’s Action Against Racism agenda, which is still a priority of the School today. She added that her experience advocating with the Silver Affinity Collective steered her towards doing more macro work, which she may not have explored otherwise since she was focused on community mental health. Now, she said, “I want social workers to be a part of everything.”