December 17, 2020 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

On November 19, 2020, Dr. Rick Csiernik, Professor in King’s School of Social Work, virtually welcomed a guest speaker: Trinidadian-born author Grace Ibrahima as a guest speaker for his Introduction to Addiction class.

“There are no words that could describe what I felt listening to her story, I only wish that she continues to tell it to anyone who is willing to listen,” says Mirlande Dickinson, a fourth year Social Work student who listened to Ibrahima speak.

Ibrahima talked of her struggle and perseverance as she journeyed to a new country but experienced betrayal along the way.  She worked tirelessly to obtain her education and decided to start a family. She shared her transition from using to abusing alcohol and how this was affecting her relationships with her children and husband.

“Her story is one of trauma, strength and resilience with the role of how counselling does matter and make a difference in people lives,” says Dr. Csiernik.

“In my talk, I spoke about the power of having empathy, support and love. I told my story about a black girl who grew up in abject poverty, chronic abuse, and minimal education. I was on a terrible path to nowhere, but I also told (the students) how having a few caring people helped me turn my life around,” says Ibrahima.

“It was important for me to hear her speak because black women’s voices are underrepresented. As I am a black woman in a Social Work program, there are a limited amount of visible minorities in both faculty and students. Grace’s story depicts representation through race, intersectionality as she is a black woman, and focus as she was sharing her struggles with addiction to students taking an addictions course. Grace’s story represents a voice that needed to be heard,” says Dickinson.

As her husband was dying, Ibrahima promised him she would look after their sons, Isif and Halim. Maintaining her sobriety was an essential factor in honouring that assurance.

Ibrahima completed a Mental Health and Addiction program at Homewood, located in Guelph, Ontario, one of the largest mental health and addiction facilities in Canada. She was then inspired to learn more about addiction's elusive qualities. After a few months, her sons’ friends began asking about her drinking. Soon her sons tired of being the “middlemen” and encouraged her to write her story.

“Initially, I wrote the books just for them, but not anymore,” Ibrahima says.

Ibrahima has written two books: Mercy: One Life, Many Stories and All Will Be Well.   

Dr. Csiernik felt it was important during this time of open discussion of social inequity that students hear about issues of addiction and recovery from the perspective of a black woman, born in Trinidad and a newcomer to Canada.

“It is important that when you come to university to learn theory and to develop an evidence informed perspective on practice, especially in social work where how we practice also depends on the person sitting across from us,” says Dr. Csiernik.

“Grace’s story was a lifetime of emotions and I admire her strength to share with the class and her desire to ‘…come back to give back’,” says Dickinson.

Ibrahima hopes the King’s students will be more open to new ideas regardless of their prospective clients' ethnicity, gender, age station, ability, religious or sexual orientation. “I also hope these professionals will treat others not only kindly or as human beings, but both,” she says.

Ibrahima’s presentation to the King’s students was the first university presentation she has given. From the time she first received the invitation to speak at King’s to the moment her son introduced her to the class, Ibrahima says she has felt “all the emotions, from gratitude to fear, and lastly, a sense of accomplishment.” She told Dr. Csiernik she went from being a terrified student feeling over her head and not having any idea of what it meant to write an essay to being a published author and now a guest instructor at a university, something she never saw for herself.

After the presentation, Dr. Csiernik lectured on two key addiction theories, using Ibrahima's story to highlight how the theory can be used to work with individuals seeking to change their drug use.

Dr. Csiernik has known Ibrahima for over 20 years. They met when she was a student at McMaster University and he taught there prior to his coming to King’s.

Ibrahima says Dr. Csiernik’s teaching gave her “hope and inspiration.” She relates a story where she wanted to ask him a question. “I was petrified and felt unworthy to speak with him because I saw him as a ‘Mighty White Man,’ Ibrahima recalls. However, after asking the single question, Dr. Csiernik encouraged her to make a list of queries, all of which he patiently answered.

"Rick treated me fairly and equitably. It was not until years later that I realized Rick's teaching style was actually an example of Social Justice,” Ibrahima says.

Learn more about Grace Ibrahima at

Learn more about King’s School of Social Work at