For Bethel College senior Sheldon Nunnally, Los Angeles, the trip to Kansas City proved to be, in his words, “life-changing.”
The event was the annual conference of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD), March 4-8 at the Westin Crown Center. Nunnally was one of 10 Bethel social work majors, sophomore through senior, who attended the conference along with Hamilton Williams, associate professor of social work.
Last semester, the students in Williams’ Intervention in Human Systems class applied to present a poster at the BPD annual conference. Their proposal was accepted, and Nunnally agreed to be one of two students who stayed with the poster to answer questions for judges and other visitors.
“I didn’t know how big this conference was until I got there,” Nunnally said. “Hamilton didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to be nervous.”
Since the theme of the conference was “Educating the Masses,” the Bethel poster described how the Día de los Muertos parade they help organize each fall, in conjunction with a Newton Catholic church, can be used in place of a protest event to educate and inform.
“When people hear ‘protest,’ often they think ‘riot,’ or something negative,” Nunnally said. “We showed how, instead, a parade could inform about [a minority] culture and history, and even about issues such as voting, and could take the place of protesting.”
“Sheldon hit a home run with his connection to the dynamics in the community and the impact this has had since the parade began three years ago,” Williams said.
For Nunnally, the size of the conference and the number and variety of people he spoke to were part of what made the experience significant for him.
“I think about my friends [back home in Compton], how many are in jail, or dead,” he said. “I had never done anything like this before -- if they could see me now. I have a daughter, and I want to make her proud.
“It was also life-changing because school has not been so important to me before,” he said. “[In high school,] sports was the main thing.
“I wasn’t interested in school because [there] they weren’t interested in me. And here I was the student to make the presentation [at the conference]. I’ve come a long way from where I was.”
Besides being a confidence-builder, the conference for Nunnally and three of his peers -- all of them young black males -- put them in a surprising position.
It was almost like “black privilege,” Nunnally said. “There are not a lot of males in social work, much less black males. They don’t usually see a group of young black men at a conference like this.”
For more of this article, visit the Bethel College website.