The daughter of mental health professionals — a mother who is a licensed clinical social worker and a father who heads a behavioral health care organization — Amanda Parks says she was “taught at a young age to use my voice to uplift those who may be voiceless as a result of what I now know to be oppression.” She is currently using her voice and training to advocate for Black and Brown children and their families as a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Previously, as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Parks says she immersed herself in community work that included working as an after-school mentor, a teacher’s aide and a reading intervention specialist.
“Over my four years, I witnessed the disparities, not only in education and academic outcomes but also in mental and behavioral health for Black and Brown children, in addition to the role higher education institutions played in perpetuating systemic racism and contributing to these health disparities,” she recalls.
Dr. Heather A. Jones, associate professor of psychology and Parks’ advisor at VCU, commends her frequent volunteerism and community service activities.
“Since the start of the pandemic, Amanda has been helping with a support group for Black young adults, again volunteering her time, due to her devotion to service for the Black community,” says Jones.
Jones adds that Parks received the first VCU College of Humanities and Sciences Rising Star in Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Award, “the highest level of recognition that our college offers for graduate students doing diversity, inclusion and equity work.”
Jones also commends Parks for her involvement in Jones’ integrated pediatric primary care team “due to her strong interest in working with Richmond-area Black families.” Parks rose through the ranks to become a peer supervisor, offering supervision to her junior colleagues on the team.
Parks says her previous work at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia in federally funded programs with teams conducting research on positive youth development and prevention of violence in communities and schools taught her that something was absent.
“The missing piece,” she says, was “exploring and studying the cultural strengths of Black and Brown children and families. I felt that what was missing was looking at it from a strength-based perspective instead of how Black and Brown youth are more at risk for committing violence and being aggressive.” Parks says she wanted to find out “what are the strengths, what do Black parents do to protect their children from racism or how they respond to their kids when there are health concerns like ADHD.”
Parks says her general research interests center around Black parenting, racial socialization, emotion regulation and evaluating the cultural sensitivity and appropriateness of interventions in primary care and outpatient settings.
Parks has obtained recent clinical experience at the Center for Psychological Services and Development and the Virginia Treatment Center for Children in Richmond, Virginia.
Her current projects include co-authoring a book chapter about graduate training for students who identify as Black, indigenous or as people of color (BIPOC) and working on a systematic review evaluating the methodological rigor and cultural sensitivity of parenting programs in primary care settings.
She is applying for internships in the fall and beginning her dissertation proposal, projecting that she will complete her Ph.D. in 2023.
“I’m somewhere between scientist-practitioner and scholar-activist,” Parks says with a laugh. “I love being a therapist and I want to help to heal some of the intergenerational trauma in our community and I feel that I can do that best by being a clinician and a researcher.”
Amanda M. Parks
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University
Graduate Program: Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, Child-Adolescent Concentration
Education: B.A., Psychology, University of Pennsylvania; M.S., Clinical Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University
Mentor: Dr. Heather A. Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University
This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2021 edition of Diverse and is one in a series of profiles about this year’s inaugural class of Rising Graduate Scholars. Read the rest of them here.