On Thursday, December 1st, Kenton Kirby, Director of Trauma Support Services, was awarded the Emerging Leader Award by the National Association of Social Workers, New York City Chapter (NASW-NYC). Kenton became the Director of Trauma Support Services here at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center in April of 2016 after being the Program Coordinator for the Make It Happen program since 2014. We are immensely proud of Kenton and the important work that he does.

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We sat down with Kenton and asked him a couple questions.

What is it that you do on a daily basis?

I am the Program Director for Make It Happen, a program that works to give young men between the ages of 16 and 24 who have experienced violence the tools necessary to overcome traumatic experiences, and enable them to succeed in spite of those experiences. We are changing the narrative about these young men, and helping them see that their past trauma does not define them. Make it Happen provides the safe space and tools they need to support each other and find their own strength as black men so they can move forward in their lives.

How did you find yourself in this line of work?

I was previously a forensic social worker in New York State’s court system and, prior to pursing my MSW at NYU, was working in the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. The experience of being part of the child welfare system and seeing first-hand how oppressive and self-perpetuating the system can be for children and families led me to want to get my MSW. As a social worker, I wanted to be a voice of change, an advocate who can interrupt systems and let people oppressed by them know the resources available to them. With my degree, I can do that, especially in the role I am in now.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love working with my participants and helping them heal from challenging life experiences. I love that I am helping change the narrative for mental health interventions to a population that historically has been oppressed by this field. I truly love that my participants are the experts in their own life experiences. I’m just adding additional resources or tools to their toolbox.

What are some of the challenges you face?

Working with our participants and being confronted by the challenges of navigating the systems that impact them and at times get in the way of their healing. 

What is one of your favorite memories from working with Make It Happen and the Mediation Center?

One participant I was working with was recently released from prison at the time I started working with him. He was connected to a street organization since he was a teenager, and one day he saw some people he had old conflicts with and they assaulted him. He reached out to me, because he wanted to retaliate and he felt that talking to me would help him get back to baseline. That story confirmed that there is such a need for programs like Make It Happen. 

What does this award mean to you?

It means a lot that the field is recognizing the revolutionary work we are doing here at the CHCMC. 

Do you have any advice for young men?

Hard work truly pays off. Even in healing. 

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To contact Kenton or learn more about the Make It Happen program, email kkirby@crownheights.org or call (718) 773-6886.