Social work attracts individuals with perseverance and passion. Those professionals not only provide direct service to empower individuals and groups, but they also cultivate an interest in federal, state, and local policy development. One alumna gains inspiration from her mother and community to start her social work career and engage in the United States political system.
Earlier this year, Diamond Perri Nickelson graduated from the Tulane University School of Social Work with a Master of Social Work degree. Her strength comes from her mother - a strong, proud Black woman. “Once a child and now a young adult who was raised in a single parent home by my mother, I’ve always been encouraged to follow my dreams and go after everything I aspire in life,” said Diamond. “My mom herself is extremely courageous, strong, resilient, compassionate, and humble. Those values were passed down to me and have helped mold me into the young woman I am today.”
Prior to pursuing a graduate degree in social work, Diamond studied psychology and nursing. “I wasn’t necessarily on the path to become a social worker,” she said. “But, I knew I wanted to help people.” Being a mental health technician led her to social work. She chose Tulane because it is a top-tier university close to her home and offered scheduling flexibility with its online program. “TSSW’s curriculum ranges from therapy to policy development, and it is training future leaders, locally, nationally, and globally,” said Diamond. “I received a strong academic foundation, and I connected with wonderful faculty and fellow students.”
More of Diamond’s inspiration comes from understanding what her community experiences. “People in New Orleans are feeling trauma every day,” she said. “They are living with situations from their past, like Hurricane Katrina, and in the present with no one to talk to about it. Everyone deserves to feel safe and supported. We need to work together to destigmatize seeking mental health support, especially in the African American community.”
Diamond was previously employed at a mental health hospital and in a six-year internship in the Clerk’s Office of Orleans Parish Civil District Court. She completed her MSW field practicum with University Medical Center’s trauma recovery team. Even during the pandemic where her family experienced personal losses, Diamond has maintained a connection to the community and her education. She has participated in mass food distributions and engaged in online training to continue to educate herself on her areas of interest. She has a strong commitment to social justice and applying that to education, juvenile justice, advocacy, or policy development.
These interests led Diamond to run for Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee in District E, which encompasses New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward. She easily connects social work to being politically active. “Social workers must understand social problems, empower communities, and commit to social justice to improve the quality of life for people,” she said. “We have to understand how policy affects people in housing practices, voting rights, and other areas.”
Diamond believes that what social workers learn and value make them effective. “Social workers are great communicators and advocates. They are aware of the various ways to make change,” she says. “Creating change is difficult, but it is an opportunity.”
With an involvement in student government at the high school, university, and graduate school level, Diamond was not afraid to campaign or the work that would be required of her. “This was my season of introduction,” she said. “While I didn’t win, I am not deterred. This is only the beginning for me, and I’m going to take what I’ve learned and put it to use moving forward.”
Diamond knows that social work is a demanding yet rewarding field that offers diverse roles. “You have to possess certain qualities and have the core values,” Diamond said. “For me, social work is to provide great service, be an active listener, build rapport and trust, set boundaries, and think critically.”
For those looking to enter the social work field, Diamond advises them to be their true authentic selves while branching outside of their comfort zones. “Don’t be afraid to get involved or take initiative,” she said. “Surround yourself with different groups and cultures. Develop a strong support system, and practice self-care.”
With an overarching goal of meeting the needs of the underserved in New Orleans, Diamond endeavors to turn challenges into purpose. “See the world beyond yourself,” she said. “Be compassionate about other people and allow hope to push you forward.”