With both intellectual and practical expertise in the field of social work, Kareema J. Gray ’94 expresses her passion as a professor, adviser, researcher, and community leader.
As assistant professor of social work and undergraduate program director for the Department of Social Work, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, S.C., Gray says her favorite course to teach is social policy, the study of actions that affect people and their access to goods and resources.
Gray, who received a master’s and doctorate in social work from University of Georgia, focused her thesis research on African American social work history, particularly in Philadelphia during the Progressive Era. She explains that while new ideas for providing services and programs to help the growing poor populations in large cities were being implemented, they excluded African Americans. So, African Americans developed their own service delivery system.
“We have to understand history in order to fully understand the issues and social problems today,” Gray says. “The problems that we are dealing with now in our society are more often than not the same ones in different forms. We can learn from mistakes and victories in the past.”
A biology graduate, Gray was a member of the women’s basketball team, conducted undergraduate research, and volunteered in the community. She continues to play basketball, although she says, “I do not run as fast or jump as high, but my love for the game has not changed; I think it has grown.”
“Coach [Pat] Fisher was hard on us and pushed us to do more than we thought we could,” says Gray. “I did not understand what she was doing then, but I do now. I do the same with my students; I tell them that I am going to push them and challenge them to do more than they think they are capable of, but I am also going to encourage them and support them along the way.”
Gray conducted research on the cicada killer wasp with Charles Holliday, emeritus professor of biology, and assisted Wendy Hill, provost and Rappolt Professor of Neuroscience, on a project mapping calls from finches.
“Both experiences gave me a confidence that I don’t think graduates from many other schools get. Even though I was not 100 percent sure of my career path, I was confident that whatever I chose, I was going to be prepared because of the solid foundation I was able to build at Lafayette.”
Recently named a Woman of Achievement at Winthrop’s Office of Multicultural Life celebration, Gray participated last year in a national conference call with First Lady Michelle Obama and Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House office of faith-based neighborhood partnerships, to discuss the Joining Forces military family initiative.
Gray is involved in a pilot program to train, educate, and move homeless single mothers from poverty to self-sustainable, independent living, co-sponsored by Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Charlotte Housing Authority, and HOPE Charlotte. She is also part of a pilot program in Hays State Prison to create a long-term peace initiative.
At Winthrop, Gray serves on the Cultural Events Committee, Diversity Team, and Faculty Advisory Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics. She also advises two student groups—Disciples on Campus and the student chapter of National Association of Black Social Workers.
A board member of HOPE Charlotte and The Youth Source, Rock Hill, Gray has also worked with Habitat for Humanity. She considers a week spent in Port Au Prince, Haiti, helping a community rebuild as her most remarkable experience.
“Our team built a road that was about a half-mile long using only buckets, shovels, rocks, and gravel! To have the honor of working side by side with such amazing people whose lives had been literally turned upside down, yet they remained so positive, moved my soul.”