Uplifting Black Girls in Social Work: A Conversation with Bodequia Simon, LMSW
Welcome to a powerful conversation with the incredible Bodequia Simon, a library social worker and Founder of Black Girls in Social Work. Bodequia’s passion for social work and her community shines through as she shares her inspiring journey. Covering her BSW and MSW from University of South Carolina, to becoming a Certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and dedicating a piece of her career to helping black girls in social work access the support and resources they need — we cover a lot of ground in this episode! Join us for an insightful conversation that celebrates empowerment and community impact.
0:00 – Intro
1:22 – How she got into the field of social work
2:44 – Her experience as a medical social worker
5:57 – Her journey as a student at University of South Carolina
9:09 – Staying open minded about your social work path
12:00 – You’re a lifelong learner as a social worker
13:16 – Journey to becoming a Library Social Worker
14:53 – What does a day-in the-life of a Library Social Worker look like?
18:11 – Social work entrepreneurship with Black Girls in Social Work
22:32 – We’re not doing self-care right
25:03 – Seeing her family in her clients keeps her motivated
Black Girls in Social Work: https://www.blackgirlsinsocialwork.com/
Similar Degree Programs
Bodequia got her BSW and MSW at University of South Carolina. If you’re interested in a similar education path like Bodequia, we at SocialWorkDegrees.org recommend checking out these programs:
-University of Kentucky: Online MSW program
-Boise State University – One year Online program
-The University of Tennessee at Knoxville – one year online program
Connect with Us
Follow us on Instagram at @socialworkdegrees
Hi, I’m Anna. I’m a licensed social worker interviewing social workers and I’m so excited to introduce our guest today, Ms Bodequia Simon, a licensed social worker, a library social worker and the founder of Black Girls in Social Work. She’s also a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor, social work creative author, speaker entrepreneur. Hi Bodequia, so glad you’re here!
Thank you for having me.
Of course. I know I just gave a little bit of your spiel. But if you would, could you just introduce yourself a little bit about what you do who you are?
Yeah, so my name is Bodequia. I do go by Dequia. So I answer to both. But I am a licensed master social worker in the state of South Carolina. And here I am a library social worker in a rural community here in the States. I am a graduate of the University of South Carolina with my BSW and MSW. I’ve done a lot of things in social work so far. But my journey is fairly new. I graduated in 2018. So I’ve done a lot, but I still have a lot left to do. So I’m excited.
That’s awesome. Glad to hear that. I’m also someone who got a Bachelor of Social Work straight into Master Social Work. So yeah, related on that journey. I would love to hear a little bit about how you chose to get into the field of social work. What did that look like?
Yes, so I like to say that I didn’t choose social work, social work kind of chose me. When I was in high school, like everyone else, I feel like I wanted to do a lot of different things. One minute, I want to be a doctor. Next thing, I want to be a nurse, then I realized I hated blood so I don’t want to do either of those things. But I did have a desire to work in a hospital setting. So I entered into a Health Careers Program at my high school. And I had every intention on going to school for Health Records Administration. And so that was the major I declared on all my college applications. That was what I was going to do. And so in the Health Careers Program, we had to complete a clinical rotations pretty much an internship, like a shadowing internship for our final grade. And they couldn’t get me with the Records Department because of HIPAA. Makes sense. And so my teacher at the time, he was just like, well, we’ll get you with the social worker until we can figure out something else. Because I wanted to do the administration side. So I was placed with a social worker, and I fell in love with it.
I love the way that the social worker I shadowed, I love the way that she navigated the hospital. And I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in or been in a hospital setting when it comes to social work but you can go from being on the behavioral health floor, to then going on labor and delivery and just navigating so many different things depending on how your case management program is set up at your hospital. But at the hospital we were stationed at, she had all the floors. So I got to watch her go from working with a patient with a behavioral health concern. So working with a patient in labor delivery to working with the one of the preemie babies, that lost, you know, parental rights. So they were just at
the hospital alone and with the caseworker. So I got to see her do so many different things in the short amount of time that I was with her. And I was like, wow, I was just mind blown and I never knew that there was this side of social work. Because like most people, when I hear of social work, I hear oh, you know, you want to help people but no one really explains what that actually looks like. And so I was able to see what that actually could look like because now I know that that’s not even the only one way that it looks. So when I saw it, I was like, wow, okay, yeah, this is what I want to do. I want to work in hospital. I’m gonna be a social worker. And then when I got into the program, I learned that there was so much more than just hospital when it came to social work. But that was how I initially got into social work just by chance of being placed with a social worker in high school.
That’s awesome. And it’s crazy how some of the most life changing things can happen just by like chance or like you’d never get to happen. And then it opens a whole new world. And it’s wild to hear about the social worker with too and how diverse she was and the different people and the different floors because that’s a lot.
I mean, she, I mean, I got my step sitting with her for sure. We were just like going back and forth, back and forth. And it was actually interesting to compare that experience to my actual experience as a social worker in a hospital setting because when I was a medical social worker, I was particularly in the ER. I rarely ever went up to the floors outside of like case management celebrations and things like that. So my job was strictly in the ER. And that was where I always was in that role. And I did, we did psych assessments. And then we did some medical assessments as well. But the ER was my place. Versus when I was with her I was seeing everything. So it’s just, it’s even interesting like looking back on it today, I never thought about it until just now, how the difference was for me versus her.
Yeah, yeah, that’s really interesting. So you mentioned that you went to University of South Carolina. What are some things you remember about like your program, both bachelor level or master level, like, what’s something you loved about learning social work?
Speaker 2 5:57
What I loved about it —s so a lot of things were happening when I was in my social work program. The election was happening, what was that 2016? A lot of different changes were coming down the pipeline. It was just a lot of real world things, but a lot of content for class. So we had some very real, and mind bending conversations, in my classes that I’ll never forget, especially in my capstone classes, because of literally what was going on not even talking about the textbook, but just about what was going on. I actually remember the day that we went to class, I think it was the day after the election, and just the
open dialogue that we had, and the many different variations of perspectives that were in the room and how we were able to navigate those conversations with our social work hats on. It was very interesting and that’s an experience that I’ll never forget. But particularly with the University of South Carolina, I loved the way that my professors then and a lot of them are still there, they allowed us to just be us in class, and just navigate conversations in our authenticity. And then we talked about, like I said, like a lot of real world things. Their thing was like, yes, we’ll dive into the textbook but let’s talk about real life for a second. So that was like my favorite thing about my program at the University of South Carolina.
That’s awesome to hear. And that’s something I found, like I can relate with to of how application based social work is not just to clients, but also like to yourself as you’re going through the program, because it’s not separate from real life and like, things that are happening in real life aren’t separate from us, like it affects us.
seriously, when, and I will never forget the type of conversations we had the day after the election. The conversations that we had were the way that things were impacting our field placements. A lot of my classmates, they had field placements where they had Hispanic clients. And they just shared how, right after the election, when they went to field, half of their clients were gone and they never showed up, and they weren’t answering any phone calls. And so it was just I’ll never forget the conversations that we had, because it was so real for students to like, see that firsthand. It’s a difference between it being in a textbook versus you actually talking about it.
Yeah, that’s a big testament to how really big macro things impact people on such individual levels for like lasting change.
Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing. What advice would you give a prospective social work student or someone who’s just starting their programs to help them succeed or do well?
So my advice is always to be open minded when it comes to social work. Like I said, when I came in, I just knew I wanted to work at a hospital. I didn’t work at a hospital until like, what, three, four years into my journey as a social worker. And then when I became a student, I was just very focused on school social work. I have yet to work, I have yet to be a school social worker, even though I was so invested in it. So my recommendation is for students or prospective social workers is always to have an open mind. Of course, you can know exactly what you want to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. But just have an open mind of how you want to accomplish it even if you do know exactly what you want to do. Because with social work, and you will learn this quickly, it doesn’t look the same in every state. So even if you know exactly what you want to do in social work, that’s cool, still write it down and look at your options, because the way that you go about reaching the goal that you have may be different in this state versus that state. So then you got to look at, okay, where will I live? What does school social work look like in Connecticut, versus Illinois, you know, so that’s like, one big piece of advice that I give all students is to be open minded. Even if you have a goal, still do your research. A lot of the things that I learned about social work, I learned after I graduated, would have saved me a lot of time if I learned it before. So definitely do your research on the field is so much to learn about social work, especially the way the differences in the States, each state has different licensing requirements. The job markets are different, even within like, for example, South Carolina, the job market in upstate is very different than the PD area in my state. So you know, just do your research in the exact location you want to live, or the prospective cities that you want to live, do your research on the job markets, what they like to look for, because every placement is different, every location is different, every state is different. It’s just so varying when it comes to social work. So you know, just do your research and be open to the way that you know, you reach your goals in the in the first field.
Yeah, I agree. And something that stuck out to me that you said was how so much you learn after you graduate too, because I think lots of times people think of graduations the finish line, whereas those first jobs you’re learning so much.
Bodequia 12:00 So much. And so at my school at USC, they drilled in us that you’re a lifelong learner, you’re a lifelong learner, I still say those words to this day, because now I know it to be true, you really are a lifelong learner when you sign up to be a social worker, because things are always changing. Like we talked about before, macro changes directly impact people on a micro level. And so the exact field you’re working in could change in like the blink of an eye, from something as small but mighty as a presidential election. So the field is always changing. And so you have to be open, open minded again. But you have to be a lifelong learner and just like willing to adapt and change as things change, and just willing to learn more. Because like I said, things are always changing in the field. People change. So you have to keep up with that as you serve people. So yeah, definitely lifelong learner.
Definitely. What did the journey look like post grad? So you graduated. I know, you’ve had a couple of different social work roles. What have those been? And where are you at now?
Speaker 2 13:16
Yeah, so after I graduated, I went straight into work. I think I had like two weeks off, before I went to work. I went to work at Department of Social Services. So I worked for intensive foster care and clinical services department. And it was foster care. But it was the more intensive and therapeutic side of things. And so I was a case manager. I did that for about six or seven months. And then I transitioned into school based therapy with the Department of Mental Health. That was fun. And then that is when I pivoted, and did medical social work in the ER. So when I first signed on to the job, I was a psychiatric social worker. And then right before COVID, they merged our roles into being medical and psych. So we were just case managers, social work case managers in general, doing all of the things in the ER and to here. So now I am a library social worker. I also did hospice social work part time for a bit and that was a that was a learning experience. But now I am in a library. My official title is library resource associates. And so yeah, that’s what I do know.
That’s awesome. And what does like broadly a day to day look like when you’re in the library?
Yeah. So with my role, I like to preface this by saying that all library social workers do something different depending on their community. So for my community that I work in a big need for the community was resources, like no one was out there, how to get access to services, all of those things. So that is my focus is resources and referrals. So I work one on one with any library patron that comes into the library. So some of them walk in, some of them call for an appointment, but they are looking for resources really depends on what the situation is. But the common things that I get is needing assistance with either Medicaid or knowing their options or being screened to see if they’re eligible for Medicaid. And then food and shelter. Those are my three biggest resource needs in our area. But I pretty much can give resources for really anything related to health and social needs. And so that’s what I do on a one on one level. And then on the flip side, I do a little bit of mezzo, sprinkle a little mezzo in there. I coordinate and facilitate community events here at the library that meet the needs of the entire community. So for example, and they’re all related to health and social needs. So for example, I’ve done pop up vaccine clinics, COVID vaccine clinics. I think that we have a provider coming this week that’s doing pop up HIV testing. So it’s things like that financial health classes, self care classes for adults, Mental Health First Aid has become a big part of my job in teaching classes here at the library and getting the community certified in Mental Health First Aid to bridge that gap in services. So one side of my job is one on one, meeting with people, helping them navigate resources, and then the other side is partnering with other agencies to bring in library programming that meet the health and social needs of the entire community.
That’s awesome. Yeah. In a big example of navigating barriers, and yeah, connecting people to what is available and yeah, that’s awesome.
Yeah, I was really lucky with this position. They pretty much allowed me to make it what whatever I want to make it into. So I pretty much like just looked at the Community Health Needs Assessment for the county, see what the biggest needs were as far as like resources, and then I built from there. So this was like a really great experience, leadership wise. And then program design. I’ve never had that experience before. So this is my first time doing program design. So it’s been fun.
A lifelong learner. Trying out new things!
See what I’m saying?
And then the other, the flip side, the more entrepreneurship side, will you speak a little bit on Black Girls in Social Work and what that is, and how it came to be?
Yeah, so Black Girls in Social Work is a networking organization for black women, that are either professionals already in social work, or they are in school for social work. So this came about because I felt the community, I felt community in school. But that changed very quickly when I graduated. When I graduated, all of my social work buddies they were spaced out everywhere. They moved on. They moved to different areas. And, of course, like the connection to your professors aren’t the same. And so I just, I felt a lack of community, a lack of support in trying to find my way in social work. So when I started at the Department of Social Services, it was a great learning experience, it just wasn’t for me. And I knew that I want to do something different. I just didn’t know how to go about it. And so I just did not feel that I had the community that I need it. And as I sought community with other social workers, with my previous classmates, all of us that had no idea what we were doing, or where to go from where we were, we were all black women. And so I found that to be very interesting. And then, I mean, I thought about it, but I didn’t think too much into it. What made me think a lot into it was I began seeking out resources for finances. Because, you know, social services I wasn’t getting paid a lot. And so I
wanted to learn more about budgeting and things like that. So I joined an online community, just trying to learn better ways to do make money, and additional streams and budget. And a lot of the women in the group or social workers posting and saying, you know, I’m just not able to thrive off of the income that I have. Trying to figure out a better way to navigate the field. And they were all black women. And I’m just like, what is going on? So I created a Facebook group. Didn’t think much of it. I just wanted a big old group chat for us all to talk, like what’s going on? Like, what? How can we help each other? What’s the disconnect here? And it turned into way more than I thought it would be. I really didn’t have any expectations, creating it. But the need was there. And so even now, as time goes on, we discover more needs for black women and social work and we really truly try to create what we need within our community. And so especially with our upcoming conference, during COVID, I saw what I experienced a serious need for a space and an opportunity to really experience self care in the most realist form. I feel like we talk about self care a lot on the surface level, especially within our social work programs and especially with students, I do feel that sometimes we do students a disservice, without really talking about self care, like really talking about it and not just oh, you know, call a friend. And, you know, really talking about what it means and what it can look like. And that’s how our conference came about. I really felt that during COVID. And I was just…I’ve been experienced that I was not fully prepared with social work, when it came to self care but I really felt that and COVID and I really saw a lot of not even just black women and social work but a lot of social workers struggle with that. But particularly with our community, we had a lot of people in our Facebook group posting about wanting to leave the field because of the burnout they were experiencing and so that’s how we came about with our conference. And so a big thing that we do, is we try to find a solution for all of the problems for our community and so it’s been a journey. It’s been a journey, I’m really excited about what we have going on right now. And what we have coming up.
Yeah, that’s awesome. And it’s so cool to hear how passionate you are, and that you saw the lack felt the lack, and then other people also felt that so now we can hold hands and you know, pull each other up whenever someone does need help, or does need support, or does need to know how to take care of themselves better. Because I feel that too, that it’s so different doing self care of like, “Oh, I’m gonna take a quick bubble bath”, but then all my problems are still there versus like, oh being really mean to myself up here and I need to fix that to take care of myself or set boundaries.
Bodequia 23:01 Right. And that’s, that’s a good example of how like, I feel that with social work programs, they don’t talk about the different avenues of self care, because there’s financial self care, there’s physical self care, there’s mental and so when I was in school, we never dived into the different aspects of self care. We just had a conversation, you know, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, how will you take care of yourself. And then we will make a list of oh, I will go to the movies, I’ll call a friend. And it’s just like, you know, once you get into the field, it’s just like, Wait, this is least this not helpful at all.
I’m crying at the movie. Now what’s happening?
I couldn’t even get to the movie, because I have borderline symptoms of depression right now. So I can’t even make it. So it’s just like, Okay, what do I do when that happens? Or like the signs of burnout? I don’t think I knew what burnout truly meant until maybe two years into the field. What it really truly means. What it feels like, what it looks like, how to look out for what to do when you can when you’re aware, like, Oh, this is burnout. Like my first therapist had to tell me, this is burnout. And I’m like, oh.
It’s so crazy, because we’re trained to help clients and to look out for them and look at the signs and everything. But then it’s so different when you put a mirror up to yourself, and you’re like, oh, I have to do some more work myself, like whether that’s with me or yeah, finding resources, whatever it may be. So it’s awesome that you have created such a big resource that like I said, I’m sure it’s impacted the lives of so many social workers, which is incredible to see both sides of the profession, like how you’re doing both of them. That’s so awesome. One last question. I guess just who has inspired you throughout your journey?
Oh, who has inspired me? That is a good question. Who’s inspired me the most is my family. I say that because I didn’t have, well, to some people, if you see my history on paper and where I come from on paper, you say that I had like a stereotypical upbringing as a young black girl. And so especially when I meet a lot of the clients that I meet here at my job, I see my uncle, I see my cousin. And so growing up, experiencing a lot of the things that I experienced experiencing a lack of a lot of things. Now, when I’m in the field, I see my family. I don’t even know why I’m getting choked up about that. But I see my family sometimes. I see some of my family members and my clients. And me having a desire to help people really came from being a helper in my family. Because I’m a eldest daughter so helping was just my assignment from birth. You know how it is when it comes to older daughters, and eldest childs, like we’re the helper of the family. And so I was the eldest daughter, I’m the eldest daughter, I’m the eldest granddaughter. And so helping was just, that was just my thing growing up. And so I learned compassion and empathy at a very early age. And so to come into a field, where those are the main skills in your toolkit, and then coming across clients that like reminds you of that uncle and that cousin, it’s just, I don’t know, I’m just coming to the realization that my family really does, like, keep me going in the field, because it’s kind of like that, what if they had a me type of thing?
Being the person you wish was around. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Yeah, that is big. And it’s so important,
can keep you going, because it does get tough. But then also, having that motivation of being a person who you wish was around when you were younger, or you wish the people you loved had around is something that can ultimately be so fulfilling.
Yeah, yeah, it definitely. It makes it all worth it, knowing that it’s one thing to feel like, you know, I’m making a difference because of the data from, you know, all of the clients that are— but when you really think about like, No, I’ve been there with that client was, I’ve been there before. I’ve seen it before. And what I just did for them really would have helped years ago. And so having that type of measurement of success, I guess, is yeah.
That’s so awesome. Yeah. Thank you for sharing your journey and what you’re up to. If people want to stay connected with you or find you on social media or anything, where can they find you?
Yes, so on Instagram it’s @ablackgirlinsocialwork. So you guys my name on Instagram and on Facebook. But if you can’t find me about it on Facebook, it’s definitely my Bodequia Simon, my first and my last name. And I’m also on LinkedIn.
Yeah, well, I appreciate you so much taking the time. It’s so great to hear about your journey and what you’re up to.