We had the good fortune of connecting with Valon Alford, MSW, LCSW, LICSW and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Valon, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born in Pascagoula, MS, but I grew up in Durham, NC. I am a first generation college graduate born to teen parents. My parents worked hard to provide for our family. Iam the oldest of six children, and my role as a big sister has informed every aspect of my life, including choosing to change my major in college from nursing to Human Development and Family Studies. I always knew what we lacked in material things we had tenfold in love. I worked to put myself through college- customer service agent, mortgage collector, certified nursing assistant, cashier. Once I graduate high school, I was pretty much on my own. I knew I had a safety blanket to keep me from being homeless, but everything else was up to me. I learned a lot being on my own. I learned a great deal about the world and how systems work, but most importantly I learned who I was. I learned that through my own failures, hardhsips, and triumphs, I enjoyed empowering people with information and knowledge for their own journey. I learned that being a mortgage collector was not my forte because I always needed to know the “why” and I always sought to find a way to mitigate negative consequnces of untimely payments. My manager kindly advised me that he would support me in finding my next role. It’s hilarious now because I didn’t even think it was shady. He was tired of me asking about rules, policies, and exceptions. It gave me permission to explore finding a role that allowed me to walk in my purpose. I applied to grad school while completing summer internship at the local Department of Social Services. I completed my MSW at Howard University, “the Mecca,” and it changed my life. I saw people who looked like me leading national organizations, running their own businesses, calling the shots all while investing in my education, showing me it could be done, and offering mentoring on a level that I had not experienced before. Growing up without a silver spoon and having the awareness of it made me grind harder. It helped me to understand that “lacking” can be a catalyst for resilience. As a social worker, I am able to relate to all of my clients because of the various intersections of my own identity.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I am a clinical social worker with advanced training in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, as well as sexual health. I completed the Sexual Health Certificate Program at the University of Michigan in 2019 where my areas of focus were Sex Therapy and Sexuality Education. As a Black women with degrees in African American Studies, Human Development & Family Studies, Sociology and a Master of Social Work degree, I have educational, experiential, and lived experience navigating multiple systems of oppression and understaning how it informs the human experience here in the US. I created Vitality Wellness Solutions PLLC in late 2018 to create a safe space to prioritize wellness and pleasue by focusing on the intersections of mental health and sexual health. I have provided several free webinars on various topics including maternal mental health, sexual health during pregnancy, child sex abuse, and healthy relationships. I am particularly invested in sexual health for Black women. Culture, stigma, health care disparties, and racism inform who we are as sexual beings and notions of what we think is acceptable or appropriate. My passion lies in helping women to reclaim their bodies, particulary their sexuality. I thought a course once called, “Sexual Health for Black Women: Beyond Pregnancy, STIs, and Pleasing Men.” I wanted to empower women to conceptualize sexual pleasure as their own- something that belongs to them regardless of context, something that they own regardless of martial or parenting status, regardless to whether or not a partner appreciates or honors it. That is something we aren’t always intentionally taught. My business offers sex education classes for individuals, groups, and organizations. I also offer clinical supervision, therapy, and consultation.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Durham has changed so much! Although I am a Durham native, I moved away right after undergrad, and I lived in the DMV for almost a decade. I am still relearning my city and local community. I’m learning about hidden treasures so as Perkins Orchard. It was in the cut, but full of fresh, locally grown produce. We had a nice fall day and we picked pumpkins, loaded up on muscadine grapes, and even bought a stalk of sugar cane! Beyu Cafe is a great, Black-owned restaurant in the heart of downtown Durham. Before the pandemic, you would find live bands and poety nights there for a nice, chill, laidback vibe. Also, Seven Springs vineyard is also Black-owned and recently opened about an hour outside of Durham. They host themed wine tasting events such as HBCU night, comedy night, paint night, and sip and puff (wine and cigar night) events. Bull City Escape is great if you want to solve a murder mystery in under an hour!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would not be the woman I am today without my family- immediate, extended, and the fictive kin composed of close friends I hold dear. My mom prayed and taught me the value of picking and choosing my battles. My father and siblings inspire me to put my best foot forward. My friends have laughed, cried, picked me up when my car broke down, fed me when I was hungry, incorporated me into their families while I was away from mine, and continue to love me whole and unconditionally. I’m grateful for all of my group chats, girlfriends, happy hours, and venting sessions with friends and colleagues; they keep me grounded. I’m grateful for mentors who have celebrated my successes and offered construtive criticism when I missed the mark. I appreciate my FBCG, Howard, UNCG, and CFSA family; we have shared the best and worst of times together. I hope to make you all proud.