For the last nine months, my work as a Greenlining Health Equity Fellow at The California Endowment has focused on trauma-informed practices around the state of California. Trauma-informed practices are those infused with the knowledge that violence (interpersonal, structural, etc.) affects a person’s life and development.
Doing this work has been difficult (and at times triggering) for me and my team. For a lot of us, it means confronting trauma within our communities and remembering to take care of ourselves when the work demands so much of us: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. For me, this work forces me to do some much needed reflection, even in the moments when I honestly want to give up.
My work brings me back to a question that has perplexed me since my junior year at the University of Michigan. It all started in one of my favorite, yet challenging, classes: the Pedagogy of Empowerment: Race, Gender, and HIV/AIDS in The United States. That week, we began to read The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by the philosopher Paulo Freire and my professor, being a fan of the Socratic Method, began to ask a series of questions:
First, “Who is your community?”
Answers ranged from social identity markers (queer and/or trans people of color, first generation students) to geographic markers (Detroiters, folks from the East Coast) to the ever-popular “Wolverine” (The University’s mascot). Reflecting on our collective answers, my professor let out a small “Ha” indicating both our failure to think critically and remarking on our limited interactions with the world outside of the Ann Arbor bubble. So she gave us another question:
“What does it mean to be in community with people?”
Once again, the majority of the class silenced themselves, while braver souls attempted to answer the question with the philosophical ideas proposed by Freire and his other counterparts.
Realizing that she was not going to get a satisfactory answer, she decided to continue on with her lesson…
According to the philosopher Paulo Freire, “Trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.” Community must be rooted in ideas of humility, respect, trust, and most importantly, love (of people and community). These elements are important not only because they help us become better people, but also (and most importantly) these elements force us to see the humanity that exists within ourselves and each other. As we work against inequality, we must see our collective humanity and make ourselves accountable to one another.
I think this question is perplexing because it becomes much more complicated when you factor in individual and community trauma. What does it mean to be in community when historical, systematic, and structural legacies of trauma affect our ability not only to thrive, but simply to survive? What does it mean to be in community when we perpetuate violence and abuse against the most marginalized in our own communities? What does it mean to be in community, when notions of healing seem impossible?
As I watch protests and actions for change unfold in Ferguson, New York City, Baltimore, and up and down the state of California, my current work on trauma and healing reminds me of two things:
- Healing from trauma must be rooted in humility, respect, trust, and love, which gives people the audacity to question their status quo and inspires them to continuously push for a better future.
- In order to heal our communities, we must in engage in the political and radical acts of love. Love being a commitment to healing not only as individuals, but as a community. This is especially important in the moments when apathy and hostility are not only normalized, but encouraged.
Although this work is challenging, I am reminded that my love of community and of people allows me to see my own humanity and it inspires me to do the work of healing, even in the moments when it seems impossible.