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San Francisco County ACEs Connection (CA)

This group seeks to: 1) Understand what we do, what we do well, and call upon each other to collaborate. 2) Create a healing space for folks to work together across sectors. 3) Create a structured way to lift up each other’s work, align resources, and prevent fragmentation. 4) Use technology to communicate differently and stop traumatizing already traumatized systems.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and the Invisible Wounds of Trauma


What an amazing event! The 800 available tickets sold out quick so they also had a big room open for more people to participate via a big live stream screen.

The event was: Racial Trauma: Healing Ourselves, Our Clients, & Our Communities: Addressing the aftermath of historical trauma and today’s societal need for racial humility. The San Francisco Health Network organized it for Black History month on Friday, February 26 at Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco. It featured presentations from Dr. Joy DeGruy, researcher, educator, and author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing; and Dr. Ken Hardy, professor at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions, and director of the Eikenberg Institute for Relationships in New York City.

I had the pleasure of spending the day sitting beside Donielle Prince, Sacramento County ACEs Connection group manager, and Nikie Gibson, San Francisco Trauma Informed Systems group manager (the three of us are in the title image for this post). I also got to see Daisy Ozim, who’s introduced me to so many amazing people across the Bay I keep joking that I’m going to set up an “everyone I met through Daisy” dinner party or something (seriously).

ACEs Connection member Daisy Ozim (right) with Dr. Joy DeGruy (left)

The energy was beautiful, painful, and most importantly for me -- grounding. Dr. Joy DeGruy walked the attendees through the Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles of Ghana, West Africa. I lived in Ghana for a year and visited those dungeons. It’s one of the places where my commitment to racial justice work as a white person in America was established. And as someone who has the privilege of tracing my family origins back to the Mayflower and New England colonies, the connection and commitment runs deep in my own blood.

DeGruy’s presentation included the history of institutionalized racism across all sectors -- medical, media, education, and law. She included epigenetics -- how the toxic stress of trauma can how our genes function and how that's passed on from generation to generation, or, as she put it, how our memories are passed on in our DNA. It's what native, Latino, and African Americans have always reported, she said. 

I appreciated DeGruy’s unapologetic focus on Black people. It’s how she opens up her Oregon State University graduate level social work classes for mostly white students. Her students are presented with the difference between racism (systematic), and prejudice (personal). She asks them if white racism/racists exist. Most hands go up. She asks them how racism adversely affects Black people by sector -- criminal justice, education, and health. They create a few lists together. Then she asks how Black racism/racists affect white people as a population. They are silent. 

She questioned why multigenerational trauma resulting from war, natural disasters, and genocide has been looked at in such great depth, and why there is so much pushback to look at slavery when it’s ok to keep talking about the Holocaust.

She provided a number of books as resources: The History of White PeopleLess Than HumanKilling the Black Body; and Medical Apartheid.

DeGruy shared incredible stories from her time spent in seven African countries. In South Africa they greet you with “I see you.” One woman told her: “You are African. You are just 300 years from Africa.” 

DeGruy was surprised that no one in South Africa, Black or white, was angry when questioned about apartheid. “It’s because they owned it,” she said. As opposed to the United States where implicit bias and cognitive dissonance are foundational.

DeGruy walked us through the DSM criteria for PTSD. Do enslaved Africans qualify? Yes, 7 out of 7. The question then became, did we get any help for it? No. 339 years and no help. Then we became free. Any help? No. Did the trauma continue? Yes. She showed a picture from the Jim Crow South -- small white children and their parents gathered around a Black man hanging from a tree. I don’t think my history books included that one. She questioned the legacy of those children, their children, and their children’s children.

DeGruy asked us if we had heard of the 2008 US commemoration of the end of the slave trade, which followed a similar acknowledgement in Europe. Only a few raised their hands. She asked us about the January 2016 United Nations task force that claimed African Americans to be deserving of reparations. Had anyone heard of that? Maybe eight or ten people raised their hands.

Some of my favorite quotes from DeGruy include:

We are trying to heal from past wounds while we are trying to heal from present wounds, so we don’t heal.

Significant life-threatening events alter genes. We need to be well for the generations to come.

Highest value lies between relationships between people.

Build strong relationships, not rapport.

DeGruy used this Ghanaian proverb in closing:

If you wish to go fast, go alone. If you wish to go far, go together.

Dr. Ken Hardy walked us through the steps of comprehensive healing. It requires acknowledgement, validation, apology with direct-targeted action, acceptance of the apology, and the seeking of forgiveness. For slavery in the US, we haven’t been past the acknowledgement phase.

In the first DSM there was a diagnosis for slaves trying to escape slavery. There was no diagnosis for the slave owners. Hardy was invited to a recent DSM meeting, where new diagnoses would be evaluated for inclusion. When Hardy was asked for his input, he suggested racism should be a DSM diagnosis. Racism is associated with delusions of gradeur, distorts reality, and there is a strong affective reaction to it. He was told, “One more word on racism and you’re out of here.” He was kicked out.

Some of my favorite quotes from Hardy:

If we look for hope we find hope. If we look for pathology we find pathology. If we look for what's redeemable we will find what's redeemable. If those that assess and evaluate and diagnose us are looking for pathology they will find pathology.

Why do you always have to talk about race? Because you don’t talk about it enough.

Too many of us sit in a pool of our own discomfort so white people can be comfortable.

I'll have the conversation with you about evidence-based best practices if you have a conversation with me about practice-based evidence.

Strive to be not jailers but healers. We've been punished enough. Healers recognize that we are in the hope manufacturing business. We hold hope. Be not so quick to see us vs. them. The healer needs to feel replenished in order to bring hope to those we work with.

Rage is not to be treated, not punishment, not anger managed. It needs to be guided and channeled which will lead to the depths of our spirits and if we don't it will destroy us. Rage acknowledges experience -- what happened to you. Rage is a powerful energy source that needs to be channeled.

I was never in slavery but slavery is in me. What's been internalized must be exhaled.

Next Steps:

RYSE Youth Center, Berkeley Media Studies Group, ACEs Connection, UCSF HEARTS, and Trauma Transformed (T2) are collaborating on the SF Bay Area Racing ACEs Summit in summer of 2016. Racing ACEs will convene selected representatives from the diverse and growing racial justice and trauma informed and resilience building movements in the Bay Area, where we will build relationships and commit to integrating racial justice as a central tenet and standard of trauma-informed approaches. Racing ACEs will hold and lift racial justice at and as a nexus of intersecting movements for liberation, including gender justice, LGBTQQ justice, economic justice, immigrant justice, movements for reparations and truth and reconciliation for state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence.

RYSE Youth Center Staff represents!


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Elizabeth Prewitt posted:

Alicia and Donielle, your stories about the Racial Trauma event were fantastic...short of being there, your reporting made me feel that I was part of it.  Thank you, Elizabeth 

Thanks Elizabeth! Your posts on the DC metro activities have been such an inspiration to me so I only hope I can provide the same to you...

Donielle Prince posted:

Alicia, I love this post- you captured so much of the detailed content that both speakers presented!  Reading your post gave me a second chance to reflect on the meaning and relevance of the presentations. I'm really excited to hear more about Racing ACEs- a great opportunity put into practice the powerful ideas planted by Drs. DeGruy and Hardy. 

Thanks so much Donielle! It really was so nice to spend time with you in the Bay and I am excited to build more collaborations between the Bay and Sac group via this area of our work.

Last edited by Alicia St. Andrews

Alicia, I love this post- you captured so much of the detailed content that both speakers presented!  Reading your post gave me a second chance to reflect on the meaning and relevance of the presentations. I'm really excited to hear more about Racing ACEs- a great opportunity put into practice the powerful ideas planted by Drs. DeGruy and Hardy. 

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