The through line of Danielle Wright’s life is more than just “helping others.” Her story’s theme is specific to assisting people of all ages manage and understand emotions to increase their empathy, goal setting skills, and decision-making capacity.
Danielle’s narrative started when she was a camp counselor with the New Orleans Recreational Department (NORD). She met two children – one with severe eczema and the other misdiagnosed with ADHD. “They were struggling, and I had the desire to help them but didn’t know how,” Danielle says. “I didn’t know how to fight for them.”
Her desire to leverage her lived experiences as a woman of color led her to study psychology, social work, and public health. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Spellman College, she found herself at Tulane because of the powerful legacy of its alumni, especially Pearlie Hardin Elloie, who was one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit to desegregate the university. Danielle has Masters degrees in Social Work and Public Health and a Doctorate of Social Work – all from Tulane. She now runs seven social-emotional and community wellness programs under the Navigate Nola Division within the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
Part of Danielle’s DSW advance practice project included designing portions of this program and then applying for and receiving a Kellogg Foundation grant to launch SEW NOLA. SEW stands for Social and Emotional Wellness and is a classroom-based intervention to address mental health and reduce the stigma for seeking health, especially in marginalized communities. It increases emotional intelligence (EQ), informs educators, and helps children combat PTSD and toxic stress. “We’ve worked with over 1100 kids aged three to 13 and trained over 600 educators on how to teach and build EQ,” Danielle says.
The techniques used within the program are developmentally appropriate and varied. Students might use a “Feelings Board” or “Worry Tree” to identify and then name what they are feeling. Facilitators also lead yoga practice, talk through calming techniques, and guide participants in stressful scenarios.
Furthering her commitment to building empathy, Danielle has returned to her NORD roots in partnership with Daughters Beyond Incarceration for their “Capturing Resilience” traveling photo exhibit. “This initiative gives a face to the tens of thousands of children with incarcerated parents and helps us understand how to make a space for those affected by mass incarceration,” Danielle says.
Danielle’s story is far from over as she continues to follow her own advice to “allow clinical work to inform policy to make change.” Using data from her work, she has written policy briefs to elevate the voice of marginalized communities and advocate for the services they need. “All areas are interrelated, and you need experience in both,” she says. “And, be open because you could find your niche where you least expect it.”