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Pamela Williams-Jones, MSW, CASAC
I was born into a strong Black family in the beautiful rural village of Bagotville, British Guiana, now renamed Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America. As a child growing up, I climbed hundreds of exotic fruit trees in the back yard and ate fresh, natural and organic fruits off the land. I learned from my father, a man with a keen sense of history, that my African ancestors came from a West African country, possibly Ghana. The adults in my village would dress in very colorful African outfits to celebrate ‘Ghana Day’ to commemorate the independence of Ghana. When I became a teenager, I would accompany my father and other siblings to ‘Emancipation celebrations’ at the village community center. This was a joyous three-day celebration to commemorate the Emancipation of Slavery in the British West Indies which was granted on August 1st, 1834. I looked forward to the various African and Creole dishes, pulsating drumming, cultural dances and uplifting speeches which began each year on July 30th and culminated on August 1st with the pouring of Libation.
My mother was a fulltime homemaker and an avid church goer. My father was a strict disciplinarian. He raised all of his 14 children to believe in education as the pathway to a successful life. He had a way of distilling his form of discipline through traditional sayings and proverbs. One of his favorite saying was, “A little bit of learning is better than silver and gold”. He had a proverb for every situation. Another one of his favorite sayings was, “Eat a little, live long - live and let others live’. I believe that my father learnt a lot of his wisdom from my grandmother Elleion whom we called Nana. I remember her introducing me to several “uncles, aunts and cousins” whom, as I got older, discovered were not my biological family members. What I also learned from observing her interactions with the men and women in her home, was her very caring, nurturing and compassionate spirit. My grandmother turned her home in the city into a shelter for homeless adults; many of whom she provided food and shelter for until they were able to financially support themselves. My grandmother was known to be a very respected and well-loved woman in her neighborhood.
My Dad, who was an officer in the Guyana Police Force, would visit his mother often. Whenever my father visited Nana, he would take me along and I always observed the respect, love and empathy that she showed to everyone in the home. No one was treated differently from the other. Likewise, I saw the respect and gratitude everyone in the home showed towards my grandmother and father. Those moments shared in my grandmothers’ home, made an indelible impression and impacted me greatly; to see how my dad had adopted his mother’s character to help and serve others. I too, from a young age, felt a great passion and followed the path – to help those in need.
I migrated to the USA in my early 20’s and became a Guyanese-American Citizen. I found my niche working as a counselor, with diverse populations, mainly mentally ill adults. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Human Services in June 2002 and afterwards, I studied at Brooklyn College to complete a Master’s degree in Community Health Education in June 2007.
As I continued to render service to vulnerable populations, I encountered many challenges, one of which I quickly observed was the dual diagnoses of many clients; substance abuse addiction and mental illness. This led me towards obtaining my Credential Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling (CASAC) certification in 2010. Having my CASAC qualified me to counsel individuals with substance abuse addictions.
I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Social Work to gain more clinical skills so I could better help my clients. I am now pursuing a Masters in Social Work Studies at Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY, and am scheduled to graduate in May 2021.
One aspect of my formative years which I recall with sadness was the aspect of racism. Guyana was called a land of six races but was dominated by the two largest groups: Black Guyanese, the descendants of Africans and East Indian Guyanese, descendants of indentured laborers from India. As a child I was mocked by my Indian school mates because they felt that my short hair was not as good as their long hair. They would call me ‘blackman’ in a derogatory way and as children we retaliated by calling them ‘coolie-man’, a derogatory term for low caste Indians. As I grew older, I realized that there was little difference between me and my Indian friend Khrisnawattie because we were both dark skinned and shared a similar history of struggle even-though her parents had a small grocery store and my father was a policeman. Khrisnawattie, one of my best friends from childhood, is of East Indian descent and we still communicate and visit each other today as adults with children of our own.
I taught my daughter the values of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, to be proud of her black heritage and to inculcate the values of self-worth described by Dr. King as "not the color of your skin but the content of your character”. In this age of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it has become very urgent for me to make a significant contribution to the cause and development of black people of my city Brooklyn, New York. My clinical approach will be holistic, and person centered. I aim to meet the clients where they are at mentally and emotionally; work to help them understand how their challenges impacts their life situation and find solutions to their problems.