Groups create safe spaces for Black Americans to discuss trauma, healing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This year’s protests, triggered by the death of George Floyd, prompted critical conversations about race and racism in this country. While many community groups have worked to bring people of all races together to talk, some mental health experts say that to move forward we also need to have separate conversations.

Some are advocating for creating more safe spaces for Black people to talk about racial trauma and how to heal.

As a Black woman and mom to a Black son, Lakeisha Johnson has spent a lot of time lately talking about race.

“The things that have been happening, it almost feels like this wound that just just can’t heal,” Johnson said.

Like many other Black Americans, Johnson says an emotional wound flares up every time she sees protests over racial injustice, police killings of unarmed Black people and viral videos capturing racist incidents. It all stems from generational pain.

“Remembering growing up as a little girl four years old still getting on the city bus with my grandmother and she was programmed to always sit at the back of the bus. I’m going downtown and not being able to eat at Green’s lunch counter,” Community Advocate Leondra Garrett said.

Garrett said that type of trauma is triggered when Black people see inequalities, experience microaggressions or for some, as they watch historically black communities change through gentrification. And it’s time to heal.

“If those things affect you and they are heavy on your, it is time for you to seek that racial and equity trauma training,” Garrett said.

She is part of a team leading a book study through the Educational Equity Institute creating a safe space just for Black people.

Johnson is participating in the study and says she feels much less pressure in an all Black space.

“There’s a lot of head nodding, because we know that we we all have experienced some of the same things and similar experiences and this common agreement without having to explain and, and teach the other person,” Johnson said.

For five weeks, both women, along with therapists and other community members are meeting on zoom to discuss the book, “Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome.” It covers topics like racial socialization, ideas about good hair and colorism, and how Black people may unknowingly perpetuate racist beliefs.

“These are things, I tell people, we don’t even think about we just take for granted that these things have been in our family for so long,” Garrett said to the group in a Saturday meeting.

The group is unpacking their pain together and developing strategies for everyday life. Johnson knows it’s a long journey but this feels like a good start.

“I think, you know, just that little bit of sharing and holding space for each other. You know, it can get you through the day,” Johnson said.

The group has two more sessions and they’re already planning another focused on parents. There is also an online support group for black, indigenous and people of color, that starts next week.

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