Social Work graduate student works to empower Black women through holistic wellness as Schweitzer Fellow
In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those who rekindle the inner spirit – Albert Schweitzer
AeYanna Yett, a Wayne State University dual-title Master of Social Work and Infant Mental Health program student, has been named a 2021-22 Albert Schweitzer Fellow by the fellowship’s Detroit Chapter. The 12-month fellowship administered by Authority Health, challenges young people to create sustainable change in community health and comes with a $2,000 stipend and the opportunity to conduct a 200-hour community service project.
Named after the 20th-century physician-humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Fellowship launched in 1940 with the goal of supporting the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, West Africa. The Fellowship has since evolved into a diverse group of graduate student leaders from around the globe working to design, implement, evaluate and plan for the sustainability of community-based prevention and intervention projects that address the social determinants of health. Yett was one of only nine graduate students to be selected by the Detroit Chapter for this prestigious opportunity. Yett’s project, Project Metamorph-SIS, is rooted in community service and utilizes Black feminist thought to provide a sacred space for Black women to find support, empowerment, and friendship while addressing physical and mental health disparities associated with chronic stress, race-based trauma and environmental inequities.
According to Yett, research indicates that in urban communities such as Detroit, Black women and girls are at a higher risk for experiencing a wide array of traumatic events and resulting trauma symptoms. “When faced with environmental violence coupled with daily stressors (i.e., children, work, finance), adverse history, and gendered racism, Black women in particular experience difficulty in effectively dealing with the demands and challenges of everyday life,” states Yett. “Trauma and the ability to successfully cope with traumatic stress impacts their social, mental, emotional and physical health.” For Yett, this hits particularly close to home. As a Black girl growing up in a predominantly White suburban Detroit setting, Yett experienced gendered racism daily and was forced to manage the aftermath of trauma. “Living in a household stricken with substance abuse and domestic violence, I understand firsthand the resulting physical, mental and education challenges that Black women can experience. I used what I learned from my work as a Social Work student, my histories, and my research to frame and shape my vision, and Project Metamorph-SIS was born.”
Project Metamorph-SIS offers a culturally specific intervention that views Black women’s reality from a positive, culturally relevant approach to further understand their strengths, resilience, and struggles and in turn, promote effective coping strategies and healing practices to address trauma symptoms. “By focusing on the transformation of view, Project Metamorph-SIS aims to promote equitable access to holistic healing through validating and valuing Black women’s lived experiences, especially in Detroit,” noted Yett.
Yett will collaborate with local organizations and Wayne State University (WSU) partners to advance Project Metamorph-SIS, including MSW alum (’97) and SASHA CENTER Founder and Executive Director Kalimah Johnson. Yett and Johnson will focus on the empowerment of Black women’s journey to holistic wellness through the promotion of healthy eating habits as a coping strategy for traumatic stress. “AeYanna’s determination, organizational skills, strong work ethic, exuberance for social work and her capacity to understand the importance of engaging black women through her partnership with the SASHA Center (which is a culturally specific organization working to help black women heal from trauma) is what we are so excited about,” stated Johnson. “We look forward to supporting her efforts and developing a sustainable program that will integrate both micro and macro practice skills into her understanding of food security and access for black women survivors of sexual assault.” Project Metamorph-SIS also aims to cultivate a community garden to emphasize the process of transformation and growth by participants. Additionally, Yett will work with Wayne State College of Education Assistant Professor for Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, EER Associated Faculty, and Research Faculty for the Detroit Education Research Partnership Erica Edwards, PhD. Edwards, an expert on working collaboratively with under-resourced communities to develop safe and culturally relevant secondary school experiences for vulnerable young people, will collaborate with Yett to foster a sacred space for Sisterhood to grow and thrive within a community of Black women.
Yett was introduced to the Fellowship by WSU Associate Professor of Social Work Tam Perry, a leading network perspective gerontologist focused on housing transitions of older adults. Perry and Yett initially worked together at the WSU Humanities Clinic in the summer of 2020 and subsequently worked together with the Senior Housing Preservation - Detroit, a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to the preservation of subsidized low-income senior housing in Detroit and the United Community Housing Coalition, a non-profit organization providing housing assistance to Detroit’s low-income residents. “Working with AeYanna has been such a pleasure and I couldn't be more proud of her skill set coupled with social justice commitment,” noted Perry. “AeYanna displays enthusiasm for community-centered advocacy, a willingness to organize big ideas, contribute to system-level innovations around food insecurity among older adults and a drive to put her ideas out there in public ways.” Yett recently published a blog that highlights the impact of COVID-19 on older adults displaying her social work training and passion.
Because Fellows are recruited from a wide variety of academic programs, they benefit from extensive interdisciplinary interaction, both with peers and mentors.
Following their initial year of service, Yett will become a “Fellow for Life” joining a group of professionals united by common training and a commitment to the continued service of vulnerable populations through their work and service.
“Within my journey with self-care and therapy, I learned that Black women do not usually have the luxury to seek mental health treatment due to a variety of reasons, including their role in their family and the stigma of seeking treatment, resulting in underdiagnosis. Mental health treatment is expensive and because of the many oppressions, stressors, and challenges that they endure, Black women deserve culturally specific, empowering, and inexpensive mental health care that will cater to their identity and needs holistically. It is my hope that Metamorph-SIS will provide this to my Detroit community.”