Sa’uda Kariima Dunlap (Pronounced: Sa-OOda KaH-REEMAH)
I am a Brooklyn girl, born, raised and currently reside in the dopest borough! Both of my parents are Black American. My mother is from Bennettsville, South Carolina and my father is from Queens. My parents converted into Islam before I was born, hence, my Arabic name. Sa’uda means Black and Kariima means generous and kind. I wore a khimar, which is a type of Muslim headwear for women and girls, for the majority of my childhood and practiced the Muslim faith. While I no longer practice the Islamic faith, I honor all of its teachings. I consider myself to be spiritual at the juncture in my life. I identify as Black American with roots in South Carolina on both sides of my family.
I attended Hunter College, City University of New York for my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and graduated in 2002. I obtained my Master’s in Social Work with a specialization in Social Work and Law from Fordham University, Graduate School of Social Service in 2008. I received a post master’s certificate in Non-Profit Executive Leadership from New York University, Silver School of Social Work in 2019. I plan on returning to school to obtain my PhD in the near future.
I explored graduate programs and social work aligned the most with my commitment to justice in all forms. I wanted to be of service to people which I believe is my life’s purpose. The core values that help me walk within my purpose are accountability, common sense and justice. In order to be effective in any role, accountability is required. Accountability serves as a form of checks and balances between myself and the people I serve. Common sense allows me to perceive, understand and make decisions. Justice is rooted in morality, equity and righteousness. Justice is an inherent right. Economic, gender, education, environmental, racial and social justice are forms of justice and all require fair treatment which will result in equity. Justice is in alignment with freedom. Without freedom and free will we are all confined mentally, emotionally and in some cases physically.
My career includes case management with a preventive agency, working in a psychiatric public hospital providing treatment to children and adolescents, clinical consultation to a community-based organization and implementing school mental health programs in the public health sector. I currently work for one the largest non-profit human services agencies in the NYC tri-state area as a program director of a school based mental health program. I have a staff of 12 clinicians and case managers/parent advocates along with MSW students that support the program. I am also an adjunct lecturer at a local university in the social work department.
I love Black folks immensely. I am deeply rooted and guided in the experiences of Blackness. We are powerful, resilient, practical, creative and joyful. I am committed to providing healing spaces for Black folks because we deserve to have healing spaces for ourselves and our families. We deserve to be released from generational trauma. We deserve to restore with our families and communities to create a full life free of mental anguish. We deserve absolute joy! Joy is a revolutionary act and it is everywhere we manifest it!
The system of racism is omnipresent. I’ve always been acutely aware of the function of racism at all levels. My experiences growing up in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood and attending schools were marred by racism. While working in a psychiatric hospital and at a large public health agency, my voice was rarely considered to be included in structural decision-making processes. To the constant minimizing of my experience as a Black woman is largely white spaces. I rarely spoke up at the start of my career for fear of retaliation. Over the past few years, I have found my voice and learned the language to fully express my righteous anger. As I continue to grow, I’ve learned how to be tactful and strategic with my power. I chose to put my energy towards uplifting my people in every space that I enter. If I could change anything about how I handled situations, I would have partnered with people sooner. Partnership with people to affirm me at work has been restorative.
My clinical approach is varied—I am trained in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing and Solution-Focused Therapy. I use all modalities based on the client’s needs and goals. I center people’s experiences and their interactions within systems of oppression. I openly name all of the “isms”, racism, sexism, colorism, ableism as well as patriarchy, homophobia and transphobia and its impact on our functioning. My approach is affirming while holding clients accountable to be active in their own healing. I push clients to confront themselves. It’s not always comfortable because comfort is not present in growth. However, I create a soft space for clients to land as they unpack and process. I am conversational, reflective and am known to give homework so clients can build their mental health muscles.
My life’s brand is powerful, intentional and purposeful. My purpose is to activate and cultivate the natural leadership in others. I am the daughter of Lucille (Muslim name: Hawwah), granddaughter of Annie Mae, great granddaughter of Lucy and great-great granddaughter of Alice. I am the continuation of the legacies that their wombs created. I am the proud mom of a college aged daughter who attends Hampton University and a precocious pre-teen son who is wiser than his age. I am also the 2nd of 17 children, oldest girl, I have one older brother. I am the proud auntie of 17 nieces and nephews. My village is deep and is cultivated by love.
Finally, I change my hair style every 3-4 weeks ‘cause that’s my business. I speak fluent sarcasm. I love shoes and sneakers in all colors. 90’s Hip Hop and R and B is the best music genre and I find levity and laughter in most situations because a good cackle is healing.