‘I remember sitting there thinking that I must not be worth anything.’
“I’m the youngest of eight. My biological parents were not able to provide properly for us. That’s not a condemnation, just the reality of the situation. At the age of 3, I was placed in my first foster home, a cruel, abusive and traumatic experience. Thank goodness for the profession of social work. They picked up on something, and they rescued me and placed me in my second foster home in Amityville while I was still 3.
“The day I left, the lady I was placed with got me dressed, took me downstairs, sat me on the steps, went back inside and slammed the door. I remember sitting there thinking that I must not be worth anything. And my next thought was that this was a cold, cruel world. I told myself, don’t ever count on anybody or ask for help. I reasoned that the same way I had been left sitting out there is the way it would always be. Then a car pulled up, a social worker got out, took me by the hand and opened the back door. And there was this beautiful woman who was my saving grace. On the other side of her was the youngest of my older brothers. He and I were reunited and grew up together in that loving home.
“Those are some of the details of the powerful impact social work had on my life. Social workers supported my brother and me as we grew up. We were able to go to summer camp every year. When I showed an interest in playing the drums, they provided me with all the materials I needed. It made it possible for us to join the Boy Scouts.
“Another defining moment was when I was 16. I got into trouble, and my social worker showed up in court along with my foster parents and minister. I remember the judge saying he would sentence me to probation instead of sending me to reform school because I had such a strong support system. That was another positive impact that social work had. I learned that the purpose and mission of social work is to empower others. Those are all examples of the ways I experienced the profession. As I got older, I started to understand that you hear so many negative stories about social workers and the profession. But my story is the antidote. I always stand up and say, but that wasn’t my experience.”
I’d like to pay homage to my biological parents who gave me life, my foster parents who made my life, and thank God for the profession of social work because it saved my life.
“I went to Suffolk Community College to earn my associate degree in broadcasting. I just wanted to be DJ. While there, I got an opportunity to do an independent study and did a documentary on foster care as a tribute to my late foster mother. I decided to tell stories of those who helped others thrive like my foster mother did for me. So I went to Brooklyn College for broadcast journalism. While studying there, I started a public affairs program called ‘Viewpoints.’ It grew in popularity, and that’s how I honed my skills. I became the first African American student to be president and general manager of the college radio station.
“While at college and afterward, I worked in mental health helping clients with various mental health diagnoses. Years later, I also started producing public affairs programming for radio station Z-100. In 2009, my wife suggested I get my master’s in social work. When I asked her why, she said, ‘You volunteer with youth, you work in human services, and you’re a product of the system.’ I enrolled in Adelphi, going from 2010 to 2014. During that time and afterward, I continued to work in the mental health field. I was also teaching in a career training school, helping students to succeed.
“I currently work with the homeless veteran population as a HUD-VASH [HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing] social worker. I decided to combine my two professions, which are also my passions. I formed Kelsunn Communications and created the ‘Kelsunn-on-the-Air’ social work podcast, which promotes, highlights and uplifts the social work profession and educates the general public to the vital contributions professional social workers make. The pinnacle of this journey was on June 24 in Washington, D.C. I was honored with National Association of Social Workers Foundation 2022 International Rhoda G. Sarnat Award, given to an individual, group or organization that has significantly advanced the public image of professional social work. I wrapped up my acceptance speech saying, ‘I’d like to pay homage to my biological parents who gave me life, my foster parents who made my life, and thank God for the profession of social work because it saved my life.’”
Interviewed by Liza Burby