Sharde Miller always knew that she wanted to work in a helping profession. She just wasn’t sure what shape that would take.
She was born and raised in New York, and her family are immigrants from Jamaica. Growing up, Sharde saw that people were naturally drawn to her, that they trusted her, and that looked to her for support.
When she was around 7 years old and on a family vacation, she remembers becoming fast friends with a group of children who all spoke different languages. “There may have been a language barrier but it didn’t stop me from finding ways to communicate,” she said. “In some ways, social work was following me my whole life, even when I didn’t really see it.”
But there can be a stigma around social work in some communities of color. For many, social work meant separating families. And to them, mental health matters were private – and best kept within the family unit.
“I hesitated with pursuing this career because of the stigma attached to our field,” Sharde said. “When you actually get into the work, you realize the truth over the misconceptions. So much of our role is focused on creating positive change and about supporting family reunification. We are providing a space for both children and their parents, helping them navigate really difficult situations.”
Sharde went to Utica College where she supervised a building of college students as a resident advisor. The work there helped solidify her desire to pursue a career in social work.
“In college, I realized I was interested in psychology – the way the mind and the body works. I was interested in integrating systems,” she said. “That was the path that I fell into. I decided to pursue the psychology degree with a focus on child life.”
After undergrad, she worked for a year at the Puerto Rican Family Institute as a supportive mental health case manager and care coordinator before enrolling at Fordham’s graduate school of social services to get her master’s degree.
At Fordham, her final internship placement was at the William F. Ryan Community Health Center on the Upper West Side. One day, she was discussing her postgrad plans with a therapist at the center. He had previously been employed at Children’s Aid, and he encouraged Sharde to apply for a position with the agency.
For the past three years, Sharde has been working as a mental health therapist at our Bronx Health Center. In her role, she works with both individuals and families. Many who are who have experienced trauma and are involved in the foster care system. She’s supported her clients through many life stressors and challenging situations. “It’s tough work.” She said. But the work leaves her feeling like she’s a force for good in her community.
“I want my clients to know that they’re not alone,” she said. “It’s an isolating experience to deal with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, trauma, and loss – especially if you don’t have any skills, resources or support.”
In addition to her clients, she’s also taken on a graduate intern for the fall and spring. The intern has her own clients under the supervision of Sharde. To her, it’s another part of her mission to make sure that the field of social work is met with respect, not stigma.
“This work is a calling for me,” Sharde said. “I felt like this is where I should be, even when I was wrestling with it. I was always on my own path.”