MSW Student Story: How Did I Get Here?

Jabari Evans is one of 250 MSW@USC students who are graduating this week with their master’s degree in social work. In his student story, Jabari reflects on his experience gaining his social work degree online, his passions, and his hopes for the future.

As I enter what most would consider the final stretches of the MSW@USC, I find myself reflecting on the very first time I spoke with an enrollment representative over the phone about possibly entering the program. For many years, I had flirted with the idea of going back to school for some type of graduate program, but I was very indecisive as to whether I wanted to transition into something like social work. Being the son of a psychologist and a clinical social worker, it would seem that I was destined to provide supportive services, but even still, I was convinced that I needed to forge my own path rather than go into the field that my father or mother were in. From communications programs to law schools and, eventually, schools of psychology, I spent countless hours researching, taking entrance exams and filling out applications. I would get acceptance letter after acceptance letter and, although I was urged by many to go, I would ultimately decide that I wasn’t prepared to go back to school.

Further complicating the matter was the fact that I had spent the better part of 10 years as a member of a hip-hop band that had a record distribution deal with Sony but was on the verge of being dropped from our label. We toured all over the country, traveled overseas to perform and released albums nationally, and I had somehow convinced myself that going back to school meant leaving hip-hop behind. On a whim, one day I started researching social work programs, and I had an epiphany. I realized that my father had always been my best friend and my mentor and that maybe some of the things that he instilled in me might naturally make a great social worker. I had always looked up to my dad, and it was his advice that made me feel the most comfortable with a decision to possibly pursue a social work degree. He told me that all he ever wanted to do as a parent was unlock my hidden strengths and provide for me the opportunity to become whatever I wanted in life. He also told me that social workers tend to have the job of motivating total strangers to do the same, and that if my musical voice motivated people, he didn’t see why my clinical voice wouldn’t, too.

My MSW@USC Experience:

Since having that conversation and actually entering the MSW program, I have had several ups littered with a few downs. Though I think I have thrived academically in the program, I found myself having less and less time to do things I love to do or quality time to spend with the people I hold most dear. Moreover, I think I became overly concerned with the lives of my clients in placement and forgot to consider my own self-care.

As social workers, we often spend so much time worrying about others as it is essentially intrinsic for us. Even still, the ability to serve as a model of stability for those we advocate for calls for us to actually know ourselves, love ourselves, care for ourselves and maintain the energy to genuinely project ourselves to our clients.

Though I always feel I am very self-aware, this program has shown me that self-care is sometimes easier said than done. That said, my advice to anyone starting this program is two-fold: Know you will have lots of personal learnings and go into a place of real self-discovery, and find your balance—a balance that may look different than what you currently know. Goals for scholastic achievement may take precedent, but nurturing your inner spirit with leisure time becomes vital to maintaining one’s equilibrium. Essentially, gaining a degree shouldn’t mean losing your entire sense of self. As I have progressed into my sixth semester and see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel,” I have begun to work out again, meditate, attend social outings with my friends and even go in the studio weekly to record songs.

Last but not least, with the help of some childhood friends, I recently founded an arts organization called the Brainiac Project, which partners with Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy on the south side of Chicago to empower African-American youth by teaching them life skills, self-efficacy and entrepreneurship through recording arts. This organization has been the biggest blessing for me while I’ve been at USC because now I see nonprofit management as a route to advocating for youth and staying connected to the music I love.

My time at USC hasn’t just shown me how to become a social worker; it has shown me how to care for myself, be empathetic toward others and use my own unique strengths to inspire and unlock the hidden strengths of others.

I hope to one day be seen as a leader in the African-American mental health community, and I believe that the first step on that journey started with my fieldwork and coursework at USC’s Virtual Academic Center.