By: Molly Knowles, Research & Communications Manager
On December 4 and 5, several Center for Hunger-Free Communities staff members attended theMobilizing Action for Resilient CommunitiesConference here in Philadelphia. This conference brought together health care providers, community organizations, researchers, government representatives, and others interested in addressing trauma through multi-sector action.
One important and insightful presentation was from Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, co-founder and Assistant Director of RYSE Youth Center in Richmond, California. Her presentation challenged the audience to think beyond the individual model of trauma and its effects, and to name – and put resources toward addressing – historical, structural, and institutional trauma that communities of color face. Many researchers and practitioners who focus on trauma have seen the Adverse Childhood Experiences pyramid, which shows how traumatic experiences in childhood – such as poverty, abuse, neglect, and household instability – can lead to negative health outcomes and unnecessary death. In 2015, after a listening session with the youth from RYSE, Dhaliwal and her colleagues adapted the pyramid to include additional contextual layers: generational embodiment of historical trauma, and the social conditions and local context in which children are growing up.
In addition to recognizing the effects of historical and structural trauma and oppression, this pyramid re-conceives some of the pathways between childhood adversity and early death – for instance, renaming “social, emotional, and cognitive impairment” as “allostatic load, disrupted neurological development” and “adoption of health-risk behaviors” as “coping.” These changes in language move away from victim-blaming or stigmatization of individuals and communities affected by trauma. The reframed pathway identifies the embodiment of oppressive systems, explaining that what clinicians may see as “risk behaviors” are in fact ways that marginalized people cope with the structural and interpersonal violence of racism and other forms of oppression.
This presentation calls upon all of us working to address and prevent trauma to move beyond individual or interpersonal models and interventions. We must think more expansively and critically about our participation and implicit support for the institutions that generate trauma and harm. This means looking beyond promoting individual or even community “resilience” to trauma – which accepts that trauma will continue to be perpetrated and experienced – to healing and liberation that eradicates the oppressive structures that enact trauma. Thank you to Kanwarpal Dhaliwal and the RYSE youth and staff for these important calls to action!