Campus News

Medgar Evers College standout students honored at 17th Annual Social Work Conference

By David Gil de Rubio  |

With hundreds of social work professionals, students and faculty on-site and tuning in remotely, Medgar Evers College was the industry’s hotspot on March 28, 2024 as we hosted the 17th Annual Social Work Conference in the AB1 Dining Hall.

And it was also an opportunity to put forth some of MEC’s Department of Social Work brightest students.

MEC student voices were heard throughout the day via panels like “Understanding Trauma Across the Life Course: Youth and Young Adults” or when their peers were being honored, in this case seniors Zoe Naomii Clarke and Casey Ortiz. The former was bestowed the Dr. Eda Harris-Hastick Academic Achievement Award and the latter received The Professor Elaine Reid Spirit Award.

With both Clarke and Ortiz off attending the NABSW (National Association of Black Social Workers) Conference in New Orleans, their awards were accepted in their absence.

Clarke’s mother made for a particularly heartfelt moment when she read the acceptance speech her daughter forwarded her to read.

“Today is the experience of a lifetime,” her message read. “To think I went from being on academic probation to being on the President’s List and graduating Magna Cum Laude. I want to thank Medgar Evers College for the experience of a lifetime. My professors constantly reassured me that I had their support in and out of the classroom and had faith in my abilities — it means the world to me.” 

The students were supported by a who’s-who in the social work world, with an array of veteran panelists bringing plenty of insight to the proceedings. The day’s other panels were “Unaddressed Trauma: Understanding the Signs, Symptoms, and Impact of Trauma Among Formerly Incarcerated People” and “Inequities in Health Care: Re-Traumatization as an implication of Health Care Service Delivery.” 

This year’s event was sponsored by the Medgar Evers Transition Academy and the Department of Social Work in collaboration with the New York State Office of Mental Health, the Bronx Psychiatric Center and the New City Children’s Center. The theme was “Empowering Social Workers: Readjusting the Lens of Society Through Social Work.” 

Elaine Reid, MEC’s own retired Assistant Professor of Social Work, moderated the “Inequities in Health Care” panel, whose panelists were Dr. Seanna Kaye Denham-Wilks, Dr. Mathylde Frontus and NYU professor Kelsey Louie. Denham-Wilks pointed out to students majoring in social work that they should not lose sight of trying to break the cycle of health care inequities because of the quest to get a perfect GPA and get high grades. 

“We need to challenge [what we are learning] to make sure we are not unwittingly beginning the process of ingesting disparities based on the way we are trained,” she said. 

Louie, whose work with young people running a community-based substance use prevention program for adolescents at Veritas Therapeutic Community, chimed in from his perspective of being involved in foster care prevention. 

“Trauma doesn’t get talked about enough,” he said. “Systemic problems require systemic solutions. And rather than look at what is [inwardly] wrong with someone suffering trauma, take a harder look at the external environmental factors that might cause this trauma.” 

Dr. Waleek Boone is honored during the 17th Annual Social Work Conference

The day ended with a surprise commendation for Dr. Waleek Boone, founder of MEC’s Transition Academy. Coming from the office of Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, this award commended the Medgar Evers College alum for his work with the Transition Academy and bettering the surrounding community. In keeping with Boone’s demeanor, he was quick to deflect the praise he received.

“This social work conference is about the team and not about me,” he said during his brief remarks. “I’m surprised and humbled by all of this. But as anyone who knows me will say, I do this work not for the accolades but to save lives.”