As a social worker, Terriyln Rivers-Cannon has spent nearly 20 years providing a voice for those who need it most. In April the Savannah native made history becoming the first Georgian and African American to be recognized as the National School Social Worker of the Year by the School Social Workers Association of America.
“I just keep saying it’s a blessing. I was stunned when I found out (that I was the first Georgian and African American). I could do nothing but stand and pause for a second,” said Rivers-Cannon, who credits her family and husband for their unwavering support over the last 18 years in helping her get to where she is today.
“The work started so much before the award. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but this is just like icing on the cake and every time I would say, ‘This is what I’m going to do’ and put those things into action over time, they’ve always given me their full support and I’m so very thankful for that.”
A graduate of Tompkins High School, Rivers-Cannon obtained her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Voorhees College and her master’s degree in social work from Florida State University. She later earned her doctoral degree in educational leadership at Argosy University.
After graduate school, Rivers-Cannon worked as the medical social worker at Memorial Health University Medical Center and now works for the Atlanta Public School System at Booker T. Washington High School and Fickett Elementary School.
Being able to empower, provide guidance and speak for those who can’t do it for themselves is what she enjoys most about her job, Rivers-Cannon said.
“Our students aren’t always going to tell other staff members what’s going on, but when it comes to a social worker, we’re able to provide that comfort and reassurance for them and let them know that whatever your situation is, it’s going to be okay,” she said.
Rivers-Cannon wasn’t always interested in becoming a social worker, but was inspired to go into the field by her aunt, Katie Mae Tindal.
“She would sit at the table with all of her social work information and we would have long conversations about it and I would always think, ‘That’s not for me; I’m not doing that.’ But the more we talked about it, the more I became drawn to it,” she said.
Being the oldest of four, Rivers-Cannon said she often took the lead when it came to her siblings, which also helped pave the way for her career.
“I ended up as I am right now doing this work and I truly enjoy and thoroughly enjoy doing the work,” she said.
Rivers-Cannon currently shares advice and resources on her weekly podcast, “Dare To Soar with Doctor R.C.” and in the coming weeks is preparing to launch a scholarship and website, dedicated to her aunt, that will help to build her public speaking opportunities.
“It’s centered around information about social work and advocacy and providing information to families,” she said.
“We talk about parents, but I always say that a parent is not always someone who gave life to you biologically. It’s about the individuals who truly care and are there for you to provide that time that’s needed.”