Being a social worker as an Afro Latina
Understanding how the intersectionality between races helps our staff help our clients in the best possible way
The LAA prides itself on our staff’s diversity and cultural competence as a human and social services agency. Approximately 85% of the LAA staff identifies as Latino, Latinx or Afro Latino – representing 11 different Latin American nationalities. When a client steps foot into any of our outreach centers, we prioritize making clients feel seen, understood and welcomed.
And when we say every client, we mean it. Including non-Spanish speakers.
Our services are not limited to those who speak Spanish. Melisa Nichols, the LAA’s SNAP Program Manager, has made it her purpose to make sure that non-Spanish-speaking clients also feel welcome. She knows what it is like to come into a place and not feel welcome just because they don’t understand your language or needs.
She says that when an African-American client comes to the LAA, she makes it her thing to make them feel welcomed and important. But it isn’t so much about making them feel important because they are Black but about making them feel important because they came to the LAA as a client. Melisa’s driving force has been that “although we provide services completely in Spanish, we want everyone that comes in through our doors to feel seen, understood and welcomed.”
Melisa is a proud Puerto Rican, Afro-Latina and mother of 5 children. After spending the first few years of her life in Puerto Rico, she moved to New York with her mom where she spend the majority of her life. Being the oldest of 4 siblings taught her compassion and empathy at an early age and made her want to help the community.
Her social work career interest began at a group home she felt very connected to due to personal reasons. She then transitioned to case management in the human services field- working with diverse, low income, underrepresented BIPOC woman and children at The Healthy Start Center in Rochester NY. Melisa earned her degree In Human Services and Criminal Justice. Melisa’s personal life experiences and professional/educational background have provided her with the foundations that now make her an empathetic social worker.
In 2016 Melisa moved to Atlanta to begin the next step in her career at the LAA – the first time she had worked in a predominantly Latino-serving institution.
Growing up her identity was always an issue because she doesn’t look like the stereotypical Latina. When she arrived to Georgia and saw that other Latinos (non-Puerto Ricans) also looked like her that changed. “When I moved to Georgia and started working at the LAA, I actually started to really identify as Latina instead of just Puerto Rican,” Melisa said. She then understood that Puerto Rico was her place of birth but she had a lot more to offer! She was able to fill that void that she always felt existed by being able to serve Latinos from different countries. Melisa says that one of the many unifiers of LAA is that we all speak Spanish but it goes beyond that. We come together through our food, traditions, and celebrations.
When asked about what the non-profit world could be doing better to support the afro-Latino community, Melisa said: “Understand. Invest in understanding the multilayers of diversity. It goes beyond just race and ethnicity. It’s not just about having the knowledge and understanding to work with all groups in the community. It is about being inclusive in all aspects of the business. It should be reflected from the top down. From the funding decision-makers to those in the front lines.
Representation matters! It matters in cartoons and in television so it should matter in non-profits and grant decision-makers as well.”
To learn more about how YOU can support the LAA’s Family Well-Being Department, please go here.