Buffi Williams

Licensed social worker Buffi Williams addresses the crowd at Monday's AALI (African American Leadership Initiative) Speaks event to discuss solution-focused thinking, strengths-based leadership, mindfulness, and the link between mental health and educational success for youth.

The road to positive change is paved in solution-focused thinking.

Buffi Williams, stressed this point on Monday during her talk on youth mental health at an AALI (African American Leadership Initiative) Speaks event at North End Community Improvement Collaborative in downtown Mansfield. 

Williams, a licensed social worker for over 20 years, said solution-focused thinking means just that — focusing your attention on possible solutions, instead of dwelling on the problem.

In Williams’ case, she grew tired of hearing about traumatized children being put on hefty doses of medication without addressing the root of the issue and determining the cause of negative behaviors.

She used the example of a 10-year-old who weighed about 60 pounds and was prescribed 60 mg of Adderall (used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy).

“He was traumatized, and what they were trying to do is really get to the place where they could numb him,” she said.

It was later discovered that he was being sexually offended by his brother, she said.

Instead of sitting idly by as problems among local youth manifest, Williams took action by starting her own agency called New Day Life Center.

“My agency is a place where emotional wellness meets academic success,” she said.

Her agency provides emotional wellness programming to children in kindergarten through fifth grade. It also offers an academic wellness program called “Level Up” for girls, ages 14-17, as well as a “Bounce Back” program for teens that is based on cognitive behavioral therapy.

She said many of her female clients are using self-harming mechanisms.

“What I’m finding out is in the African American culture, a lot of the time we act like that does not happen,” she said. “Oh yes, it does. I saw one girl who came into my office — she was cut up so bad on her legs, it looked like someone beat her with a whip.”

The need for healthy intervention and support among local youth in crisis is vital.

Williams emphasized the importance of emotional regulation and wellness in relation to personal and academic success of children. She also discussed the need for designing social service programs in a strengths-focused manner in order to achieve these goals.

She said a person’s strengths are what they rely on in trials and tribulation.

“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow,” she said.

She asked others in the room, many of whom work for other social service agencies, how many times they’ve wanted to quit their jobs. Heads nodded in affirmation.

“Other than a paycheck, you keep going if your job is meaningful,” she said. 

She also asked everyone to share one of their strengths as a way of showing that each person has something to bring to the table, which is critical to realize if problems are to be remedied effectively using an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“Anything worth having must be done as a team because everything worth having is all uphill,” she said.

Ultimately, the goal is to value people, she said.

She posed the question: “Do we do what we do in our businesses, particularly social services, with the thought of, ‘Have I met my objective?’ Or are we looking for people to be changed?”

It’s easy to make things look good on paper, but it’s crucial to not get so fixated on the bottomline that no attention is paid to whether or not lives are changed for the better, she said. 

“We want to make sure at all times that we are focused on the people we are serving, and not just what we’re doing,” she said.

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Thrive Reporter

Thrive reporter. Graduate of Ontario High School and Ohio State Mansfield. Wife. Mom. Dog lover. Fitness enthusiast. Plant collector. Mac and cheese consumer.