Social workers are the unsung heroes in mental health. It takes a special someone to be a social worker. Long hours, low pay, the constant tug of war between professionalism and personal experience, the emotional stress and baggage, and still social workers never stop working to improve the mental and emotional health of those in need. This month we celebrate them, and their contributions to the world.
Since 1984, National Social Work Month has been observed in March to honor social workers’ devotion and empathy in delivering services to people going through unfortunate circumstances. These heroes and heroines help people from many walks of life. They lead us through the stumbling blocks of everyday life by teaching us healthy ways to cope and heal.
Many of us are trying to push through the Covid-19 Pandemic and heal from the tragic deaths of several African-Americans at the hands of police officers across the country. Social workers have been diligently working around the clock to assist as many individuals as possible in these areas. Seeing the number of black social workers increase in the sector is reassuring and necessary.
I had the pleasure to sit down and have an intimate conversation with Shakea N. Houston, a licensed black influential social worker in Chicago. She’s making moves and changes to help our people all over the windy city.
Obsession: Shakea, Shakea, Chi-town stand up! You are a gem to this city, and you know it! How have you been?
Shakea Houston: I’m doing well. I’ve just been grinding and working hard for my brand, my daughter, and for the people. How are you?
Obsession: I’m great! Thank you for asking. Let’s jump right into it. January of this year, you celebrated your eighth anniversary of being a social worker; tell us, where did it all begin for you?
Shakea Houston: Back in 1985, when I came out of my mother’s womb, lol. No, I’m just playing! It started at Columbus Manor Nursing Home, a long-term care facility for the psychiatric population. There are service people with mental illnesses on the west side of Chicago. At first, I wanted to be a police officer, but after having my daughter, I changed my mind completely. Then a family friend suggested that I call them and apply for a social worker position, and I got the job. At first, a week into being a social worker for that population, I didn’t think I would make it. Because growing up, we didn’t talk about mental halls or mental illnesses. All I knew was that people were a little touched or crazy; however, that wasn’t the case. Within a month of working there, I understood mental illnesses and some behaviors. After understanding the art of being a social worker, I had it down pact lol, and here I am still in the field.
Social Work Sunday Tea
Obsession: That’s what’s up! So tell us about Social Work Sunday Tea and what inspired its creation?
Shakea Houston: Social Work Sunday Tea is a multi-purpose organization that serves as a vessel for mental health and conversations around mental health. Social work Sunday Tea provides a platform for mental health professionals to discuss the multi complexities within mental health and our communities.
I was inspired to do this because I wanted people to know about mental health. My goal was to make them aware of their surroundings regarding mental illnesses, have conversations about taboo things in the black community as a whole, and get into the Social Services/social worker world/psychosocial work and programming.
Obsession: You’ve recently become the Director of outreach and marketing at Lotus Healing LLC. Tell us about this company and the vital role you’ll be playing.
Shakea Houston: Yes, I recently became the Director of Outreach and Marketing for Lotus healing. We have two locations: One in Hyde Park and an office on the Westside of Chicago. Our goal is to help you uncover your true potential and lead a life worth celebrating. We apply complementary therapy approaches and techniques to unearth long-standing behavior patterns and negative perceptions that may hold you from experiencing a more fulfilling and meaningful life. I will be playing a vital role in outreach and marketing toward individuals that may need therapy services.
It’s ok to go to therapy. I am a therapist with this company as well.
Recognition for Her Work
Obsession: I must say, you’ve been doing big things this new year. You’re the latest inductee into the One Business Chicago Hall of Fame; congratulations. Our readers would love to hear about that experience and what it means to you.
Shakea Houston: Thank you so much! It feels good to be acknowledged. My experience with One Business Chicago was amazing. The ceremony was lovely and elegant. Like I said before, it feels good to be recognized and honored while I’m doing it for the people. I love people, and I ask God to send people to help me help my people. My experience has been incredible and looking forward to serving more.
Obsession: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started as a social worker?
Shakea Houston: I know now that I can’t save everyone, so don’t even try. I’ve learned to be stern and not a pushover for people, especially dealing with psych patients. Oh, if you don’t document, then it never happened, lol, social work way!.
Obsession: That is facts about documentation. Working in a drug and alcohol facility, I learned that it’s imperative to keep a paper trail when dealing with clients and other staff. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of being a social worker?
Shakea Houston: When my patients have developed coping skills, their medication compliance/rehabilitation and showcase their ability to function on their own is priceless. It’s been a heartfelt moment with their success because I had some input on their journey.
Black Women in Social Work
Obsession: Being a black woman in this field, what challenges have you faced as a mental health professional?
Shakea Houston: Challenges that I’ve faced as mental health professional could be the lack of resources sometimes, like not enough for our black and brown people. Also, being an advocate for people with mental illness, especially with their diagnosis, I challenge the physician. Lastly, sometimes caring too much and the higher-ups do not understand patients’ culture.
Obsession: Why is a Black social worker necessary in this field?
Shakea Houston: Black social workers are necessary for the field because we need a representation of ourselves in the black community. Black social workers who can understand show empathy and relate with Black and Brown people. So I believe that is necessary for the culture and the nature of mental health as a whole.
Obsession: If you could give one piece of advice to a social worker in training, what would it be?
Shakea Houston: Always create boundaries and standards for yourself, do what you can, trust your gut, remember to be ethical and honest, and always do right by people. Also, extend grace.
Obsession: It has been amazing chatting with you, Shakea! Being a fellow Chicagoan, it’s an honor to show people outside of our city the good we’re doing here. I have one last question for you, what is one thing you’d like for people who aren’t from here to know about Chicago?
Shakea Houston: If you were born and raised in Chicago, you can survive and handle anything in life. We’re built Chicago tough.
To keep up with Shakea, follow her on her social media handles.
Facebook: Social Work Sunday Tea
Youtube: Social Work Sunday Tea
Would you like to support Shakea’s movement? Saturday, September 24, 2022, at 7:00 pm at the Midwest conference center 401 West Lake Street, Northlake, IL. She’s hosting an adult Prom and Fundraiser. This event is to help raise money for nonprofit organizations in Chicago. For tickets www.socialworksundaytea.com
Social workers make a difference every single day. Here are some ways you could observe #NationalSocialWorkMonth
- Shout out a social worker you know on your social media, or use your social media page to raise social awareness.
- Donate to social work organization.
- Learn more about social work and what it means to your community.