Since opening its doors in the early 1970s, FIU has welcomed students from all walks of life, including nontraditional students with remarkable backgrounds and aspirations like Worlds Ahead Graduate, Alan Brailsford, who has earned a Master of Social Work with a certificate in addictions at the age of 55. The former Air Force Sargent received his FIU degree this summer with almost 3,800 other students who are graduated during seven ceremonies on Aug. 7, 8, 9 at the FIU Arena, 11200 SW 8th Street in West Miami-Dade County.
Brailsford was fresh out of high school when he joined the Air Force. There he was able to fulfill his desire to help others as a medic in the ICU and ER, on surgical wards and in clinics. After four years of service in Texas, New Hampshire, Florida and Korea, Alan decided not to reenlist when his tour was up in 1983. This was long before a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was to be adopted, and the military’s unspoken sentiment toward LGBTQ persons at the time was “just don’t.”
So Brailsford, determined to define the next stage of his life as a gay man, came out to his parents. Although Norman and Elli received the news with compassion and unconditional love, society was not as accepting, and Alan fell victim to self-hate. Like many other LGBTQ individuals who struggle for acceptance, he turned to alcohol and drugs. Yet Alan’s desire to help others never wavered. With the support of his parents and brother Donald, and through a 12-step program and volunteering, he was able to gain perspective and overcome his disease.
On May 29 of this year, Brailsford celebrated eight years of sobriety. After his first-hand experience with addiction, Alan decided to pursue a Master of Social Work from the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work in order to help others on the path to recovery.
When Brailsford decided to pursue his master’s degree, he knew that he wanted to live in South Florida—primarily Wilton Manors due to the large LGBTQ population who call the area home. When he saw two men holding hands while walking their dog, “I knew I was home,” he said.
Now that he has earned his degree, Brailsford wants to be able to help those in the LGBTQ community who suffer from addiction and mental health problems, or who, “…just need support getting through what life sometimes throws at us,” he said, adding, “Empathy is more important now than ever before. With the divisiveness in our society at large, the need for all of us to seek to learn about those we share this world with, what their story is, is crucial to increasing understanding and compassion for our fellows.”