Frontline Initiative Diversity

A New American's Story as a DSP


Josephine Uwazurike worked as a DSP for six years. She is now an executive director at ADA Homes Inc. in Detroit, Michigan

My name is Josephine Uwazurike. I was born in Nigeria and came to the United States in 1980. After my husband Kevin completed his doctoral degree in engineering and found employment, we decided to stay in the United States. I was a registered nurse in Nigeria. With a BSN degree and a RN license earned in the U.S., I worked as a general hospital nurse and later as an assistant director of nursing. It was at a job in public health where I learned about people with developmental disabilities and the services they receive. Knowing that I had a lot to offer in this field, I became a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in 1993. I am now an administrator of several small homes for people with developmental disabilities.

I support 26 people with severe disabilities and mental illnesses. Although my role is to supervise the DSPs who provide services, I still spend between 6 and 40 hours per week providing direct support. Not only do I enjoy supporting consumers, I strongly believe that I should be able to perform any duty that I ask of others. This helps with my administrative role because I know what DSPs in the agency are experiencing and what they need to be able to achieve the highest possible quality of service.

Beyond my job, there are other things I enjoy in this country, such as political stability. Political violence is unlikely here. My experience is that there are crimes in the U.S. too, but in Nigeria, innocent people could face far more frequent and serious threats. Perhaps what I like most is the equal opportunities this country offers. If you are willing to work very hard, chances are you will succeed!

However, there are times when my American dream still seems far away. To me, people here are much more distant towards each other than what I was used to in Nigeria. Sometimes I find it easy to say something wrong. People may assume that I am being offensive, when all I am trying to do is to extend my friendship and concern. Very often, people are so focused on my accent that they don’t pay attention to the message I am trying to convey.

Fortunately, English is a national language in Nigeria along with four other languages. This made my transition to the U.S. easier. I believe that companies that employ immigrants whose native language is not English can offer English classes to facilitate their transition to the new culture and ultimately to assure that quality services are provided. At the same time, they could improve things by embracing the uniqueness that immigrant workers bring to their organizations and creating a welcoming environment.

I have found ways to maintain my culture in the U.S. I belong to a Nigerian cultural group whose members get together regularly to celebrate traditional festivals and perform ceremonies and rituals. One thing I like about this group is that we cook our traditional food, though many Nigerian ingredients are not available here.

It is important for me to share my culture with my non-Nigerian friends and coworkers. Whenever my group has a major event, I invite both coworkers and consumers. When the African Art Museum opened in Detroit, our cultural group put on a folk dance at the event, and many staff and consumers were invited to join the celebration.

From my experience, I believe that communication is the key to everything we do in human services. Coworkers, supervisors, families, and all others should make efforts to improve mutual understanding by recognizing our common goals, respecting our differences, and exchanging expectations and concerns. As a new American, I am working as hard as I can to succeed in my life and contribute to the welfare of my consumers, coworkers, and organization. I am trying to overcome my limitations and cherish every warm helping hand that reaches out from people around me. The more we try to understand and embrace diversity in the workplace, the better off everyone will be.