Interview with Professor Leap on Social Work

I’m not sure when and where social work came to be a field I was interested in. I always knew that I wanted to do something in where I would help people out. Of course the question of how always came about and who I specifically wanted to help since there is so many people that do need assistance of some sort.

As the daughter of undocumented immigrants that grew up in Oakland, I found myself surrounded by many things that I deemed “normal.” Living in a neighborhood with low income families that struggle to make ends meet or where over 14 people live in their tiny 2 bedroom apartment or the wondering whether the next meal would come or not was normal for me. We lived in fear. Fear of the police, fear of deportation, fear of borders, fear of family separation all came hand in hand.

As first generation Americans, the culture is different. It lays in between borders. In between English and Spanish. In between Mexico and the U.S. It’s easy to want to fit in somewhere. Whether it was the streets or school, it was necessary to find what would tie us into American culture. The streets do raise you in Oakland. Although I was the smarty pants in my family, I was always intrigued by gang life. About 80% of my cousins ended up joining a gang. Some even in rival gangs that created this new tension.

I found myself in a cross road with them. Although I knew of all their illicit activities, all of them pushed me in school. I saw a side that the streets or their homie will ever see. A man with fears and with little to no hope. I saw them as humans and as my brothers instead of the “thugs” that were portrayed in Gang Wars Oakland from Discovery Channel. Unfortunately nobody else saw them as human, including our own family members.

I grew up admiring these men and loved pushing them forward. I enjoyed influencing them in a positive way. How could I go about that in my life?

Of course this comes with fears and reservations. Fear of those that do not want to open up or want the help. Fear of those who progress but fall back. Fear of not providing them the necessary things for them to succeed.

I sometimes still find myself hesitant. Does academia care about the populations that I want to work with? Why isn’t there a social work major at UCLA? How am I going to be able to tap into that interest?

Fortunately there are few social welfare classes offered to undergraduate students. Although few, I had been dying to take one of those classes since I found out they were offered. I took my first social welfare class with Professor Jorja Leap my winter quarter.

Class was a three hour lecture that met once a week on a Monday which sounds dreadful. Instead I was attentive and loved the material. Although heavy sometimes with conversations of child abuse and confusion over how to go about certain cases, I loved it all. It was my favorite class I had taken my whole time at UCLA.

I was fortunate enough to have an informative interview with Professor Leap through email.

The first question I asked was what had brought her to the field of social work. In where she replied that her search of looking at professions that could bring social change brought her to it. Reading her response made me think about my own personal views on social change. It’s such a broad topic that could be difficult to grasp. I thought to myself, how could I bring social change? It honestly scared me but I realized that bringing that change to the communities that impact me the most, matter. These are the communities I know and love and that I recognized it’s defects.

Professor Leap’s research specifically looks at gangs in South Los Angeles. I asked how was her experience working with gangs. She describes a range of emotions, that vary from sorrow to joy. Lessons are learned every moment and new knowledge surfaces up with each challenge.

Challenges of the field are definitely something that has me hesitant and afraid of going into social work. The challenges of dealing with the hardships of one’s life and with my own as well. I asked Professor Leap how does she keep herself sane in a job that could be highly stressful. She tells me that her secret is taking Saturdays off. No electronics or work on Saturdays. Also the support of a chosen and loving family keep her sane. These are habits I am interested in implementing into my life.

The last question I asked was what was the most important lesson that she had learned as a social worker. She says, “Jump in the deep end — do it.  and remember the meaning of your life will be the attachments you make.” Delving one self into their own passions is important. Not just how one goes about it but who’s there to support you as you dive in. I think of it in my own philosophy of “holding it down for others like they hold it down for me.” That is one of the reasons I want to go into the profession in the first place. “Hold it down” for those that have not had anybody “ride” for them or advocate for them. Humans are social beings. We need the support and love of others. How could I go about doing that? Making a living off of “holding it down” for the community. 

My interview with Professor Leap as well as the class I took with her, reinforced my interests in social work. It made me think about both my motivation and the need for compassion. The need to support those that do not have the same privileges as myself. Whether that be because of immigration status or education. I hope that as a social worker I am able to change people’s life for the better.


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