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Paving a Path Toward Healing in Communities of Color Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

-Audre Lorde

I love my work. For more than 20 years, I have been passionate about my work. I wanted to get up and get to work- to see and be seen, to engage and be engaged; to dream, innovate, and realize what it means to live a purpose-driven life.

As the director for The Center for Trauma & Resilience (CTR), we provide culturally and linguistically responsive services to people who have suffered a plethora of crime-related or life -generated traumatic experiences. Black people of the Americas, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and beyond, are acutely familiar with the pain points of crime, exploitation, marginalization, neglect, oppression, and discrimination. Now, we have language for a portion of our suffering: historical and intergenerational trauma.

We recognize the feelings of disappointment, distress, disillusion, bone-weary fatigue, and all its discontents, and too often believe it’s just our burden to bear. We try to stay steady, strong and embrace our inner survivor. We struggle and then struggle some more. We are wary of asking for help.

Why? We were labeled when we attempted to flee bondage. We were deemed to be suffering from a mental illness called Drapetomania. We have been lied to. We have been discouraged from seeking support.

Scientific Racism. It was not real science but it was real racism. Examples include: the involuntary, unethical practice of operating on Black bodies without anesthesia; forced sterilization of Black women in exchange for public benefits; withholding treatment, as in the case of The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, or the theft and use of cancer cells from a woman named Henrietta Lacks.

As a result of these behaviors along with beliefs that deemed Black people as ¾ human, why would mental health matter – when physical health was all that was required? The ability to labor in the home or field.

Still, we remember with our minds and our bodies. We remember the barbarism, betrayal, bullies, beatings, and the broken hearts. Who do we trust? Who do we talk to? Who offers balm for the mind and the body?

In the book, My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies, the author, Resmaa Menakem, illustrates historical and contemporary trauma. He shares the complex mind-body connection and the role racism and white privilege have played in thwarting Black people from seeking support. And he cautions us on the role of clinicians, who use a white lens with people of color to determine health.

Menakem shares complementary and alternative sources for emotional support. As a social worker and practitioner for over 15 years, I have learned that Black and indigenous clients may benefit from talk therapy, but also: humming, tapping, rocking, acupuncture, massage, reiki, trauma-sensitive yoga, chanting, drumming, dancing, coloring mandalas, gardening, aromatherapy, herbal/homeopathic remedies, detoxifying baths, spiritual and/or shamanic practices.

It’s time to demystify Black iatrophobia (the fear of medicine including mental health support) and seek both the physical and emotional support from the scathing that both pandemics have revealed.

Black people pursuing emotional support or therapeutic interventions depend on confidentiality (the Denver community is small) transparency, and trust with their provider. We want to know our practitioner. How profound is their experience with the Black community? What is the cost and length of the support? What complementary modalities are available?

The Center for Trauma & Resilience staff are prepared and eager to share our expertise with both clinical and somatic support for you and your loved ones, without cost.

Cathy Phelps, MA, LCSW

Executive Director

The Center for Trauma & Resilience

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