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Parks' work is rooted in promoting diversity, inclusion and equity from her class contributions, research questions, clinical work and service. She embodies the spirit of this award; her service contributions in this area are especially commendable given her doctoral workload.
Her research focuses on underserved African American children and families. She has a passion for children's rights and protection. Through advocacy, mentorship and research, Parks is devoted to creating evidence-based treatment and positive support services to improve the mental health of children and their families.
What does receiving the CHS Rising Star in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Award mean to you?
I am truly humbled and honored to be awarded the Rising Star in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Award for 2020. I feel extremely validated and motivated by receiving this award and being recognized for my efforts to promote social justice during my time at VCU. The fight for equity and social justice for all oppressed folx is ongoing. Most people fight without receiving any recognition, as systemic change is our goal. Breaking barriers and eradicating oppressive policies on an institutional scale is often laborious and slow. The creation and implementation of these awards, by the CHS Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee demonstrates the College's commitment to acknowledging this gradual, yet powerful work and giving a platform and voice to issues and individuals who often are left voiceless.
My hope is that with this increased spotlight on individuals and groups committed to social justice within the College, collaboration and innovation can continue to occur both within and outside of departments so that we can continue to advocate for diversity of students, faculty and staff from marginalized identities and for equitable and inclusive policies and initiatives.
In 2016, I chose to attend the clinical psychology program at VCU because of the work some graduate students and faculty were doing to fight against oppression both in the greater Richmond community and within the department. Although we still have work to do, it is truly an honor to receive this award four years later and to be a part of a program, department and college that prioritizes justice for all oppressed groups.
"What motivates me most is the prospect that one day suffering will not be the expectation for folx with oppressed identities ... I relish at the thought that joy can one day be our standard, our human rights will be honored and equity and inclusion will be the status quo."
Are there any partners in your work that helped you achieve this honor?
I believe wholeheartedly that neither I nor any of my accomplishments can be separated or distinguished from my community. Given this, there are many partners whom I collaborate with frequently and who helped to pave the way for various initiatives we have accomplished over the past few years. First, my colleagues — other graduate students and friends — have been my most frequent partners in my work at VCU. Graduate students like Keyona Allen, Irene Jacobs, Stephanie Romo, Melissa Avila, Ebony Lambert, Stephanie Wilson and other Black and Brown students, helped to shift the culture of our clinical psychology program and our broader psychology department. I want to acknowledge my Black and Brown colleagues and friends who co-led discussions about mental health and wellness in Richmond through the graduate group B.L.A.C.K. (Building Legacies Around Cultural Knowledge). I also want to recognize our community partners from Hickory Hill Community Center and Blackwell Community Center, specifically Shaina and Ms. Cheatham, and our community participants, who challenged and engaged us and taught me the importance of community care.
Additionally, I'd like to acknowledge my mentor, Dr. Heather Jones, who has supported me since February 2016 and has always pushed me to step into my role as an advocate and to believe in my power. Dr. Rosalie Corona, the director of clinical training in the Clinical Psychology Program, has been such an integral ally and partner in the work we have accomplished in the Marginalized Clinicians Advocating for Intersectional Change group, formerly the Clinical Psychology Program's Diversity Committee. Without her support, we would not have been able to push forward our ideas to faculty leadership.
Additionally, faculty in the psychology department's Committee of the Promotion of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, including but not limited to Drs. Fantasy Lozada, Joshua Langberg and Mary Beth Heller, our director of graduate studies, Dr. Zewe Serpell, and our chair, Dr. Michael Southam-Gerow. They all have supported my and other graduate students' critiques and challenges of the department and used their privilege as faculty to advance several initiatives that have led to some systemic change in our department. Last, I want to recognize faculty, staff and students whom I work with on the CHS Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Committee; it's truly an honor to serve next to such brilliant people, who continue to use their voices to advocate for change on the highest administrative level.
What excites and motivates you in your research and work?
Broadly, what motivates me most is the prospect that one day suffering will not be the expectation for folx with oppressed identities, particularly Black and Brown children and families. I relish at the thought that joy can one day be our standard, our human rights will be honored and equity and inclusion will be the status quo. Until that day, I prioritize doing research and work that is accessible and meaningful to the very same communities who raised and uplifted me.
Specifically, I am excited to continue to conduct strengths-based research centered on Black parenting and advocating for culturally relevant and congruent mental health and wellness interventions. It takes a village, and as such, to achieve these goals, I hope to continue to collaborate with my influential mentors, colleagues and friends at VCU and to continue to grow in my social justice activism.