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Social Work Student Draws Inspiration from her Battled Past

Published October 18, 2018

“There’s no reason to run and hate yourself for what happened to you.”

Nazareth social work student and mother of five Lakisha Sims — who told her story at the YWCA Empowering Women Luncheon — uses her experiences with abuse, addiction, and loss as inspiration for her education.

Every year since she can remember, Sims traveled with her family, and one of their main vacation spots was Disney World. These trips were meant to bring the family together, and compensate for the abuse. One trip didn’t turn out the way they had hoped. Sims was only 7 years old when her dream vacation turned into a nightmare.

Her parents had been arguing about her mother’s alcohol abuse when they reached a McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida. Her father went inside, leaving her mother alone with Sims. “It was something to do with the way I was chewing that upset her. She slapped me in the face, causing me to bleed,” said Sims.

After causing a scene, the employees started to get involved. Her father, who was a police officer, had told everyone that he would take care of it, but at that point it was too late and her mother was arrested. “I cried and begged them not to take my mom away from me again, but they did. I felt horrible as if this was all my fault because I shouldn’t have made her mad.” Sims and her father stayed overnight in a hotel, and appeared in court the next morning. Once her father got her mother released, they immediately traveled back to Rochester.

When Sims was just 16, she graduated high school and sought a fresh start. She attended Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, far from her family. Young and alone, Sims was asked what she was running from at such a young age. At that point, she realized she had to go back home to face what she had left behind.

After returning home, things only got worse for her. She eventually started having kids of her own, and engaging in some of the same behaviors as her parents. “Everything started to trickle down,” said Sims. In 2004, Sims started abusing cocaine, and shortly after she lost custody of her children. Within a year, Sims  started her process of getting clean and regaining custody of her children.

Sims looked into several programs, but struggled to find one that suited her needs. On her final search, she found the YWCA Steppingstone Supportive Living Program, designed to help women in recovery work their way to independent living. Sims advocated for herself to be admitted, believing it would be perfect for her because it did not give her as much freedom as other programs did. She wanted structure and discipline within her recovery process.

Focused and determined to get clean, “I got scared to go out into the world, but eventually I started going out and doing small things. The YWCA would give me tickets to go to the Strong Museum of Play with my kids. Sometimes I would go to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings out in the community. I tried to keep myself as busy as possible,” she said.

In 2007, Sims finally completed the program, was officially clean, and was given her kids back. Her mission now is to learn and to educate. Sims began her education at MCC in 2014 and graduated in 2018. During her time at MCC, Sims was a member of an international honor society known as Phi Theta Kappa, and was also its vice president of membership. She received a degree in addiction counseling with honors, while earning 350 credit hours towards her certification to become a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor. She is working towards her bachelor’s degree at Nazareth and plans to continue here to complete a master’s program in social work. “My experiences have inspired my education, and now I want to educate others,” she says.

As humans, we all face hardships in life. Lakisha Sims is an inspiring example of overcoming a dark past for a better future. “I want to ensure that the system doesn’t fail other people the way that it failed me,” says Sims. “I can’t remove the stain, but I can use that knowledge to educate the world and make it a better place.”

For More Information

Nazareth Social Work Department

Nazareth College’s academic strengths cross an unusually broad spectrum of 60 majors, including education, health and human services, management, the fine arts, music, theater, math and science, foreign languages, and the liberal arts. The coeducational, religiously independent, classic campus in a charming suburb of Rochester, N.Y., challenges and supports 2,300 undergrads and 700 graduate students. Nazareth is recognized nationally for its Fulbright global student scholars and commitment to civic engagement. Rigorous programs, an uncommon arts and sciences core, experiential learning, career skills, and a global focus prepare graduates for not just one job, but for their life’s work.