Mental health professionals learn about the need to address historical trauma
By Dwight Hobbes
“Trauma Informed Approach: Engaging African American Men” examines the social dilemma of what, perceptibly, is wrong with Black men. In an enlightening, three-hour session, Samuel Simmons, LADC, looked at chronic problems and proposed viable solutions.
Cultural competence. It’s one of those psychobabble catch phrases psychologists, social workers and others in the business of behavioral counseling love to throw around to sound up to date on cutting-edge concepts dealing with people of color, right before they launch into a litany of five-dollar words to legitimize fancy notions that would sail right over the heads of the clients whose interests they claim to be invested in serving.
Enter Samuel Simmons, who provides expert counseling, education and advocacy at The Family Partnership, presented a down-to-earth, comprehensive talk at the event Community Empowerment Through Black Men Healing Wellness Conference on June 21. The conference convened through June 22 at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. “Trauma Informed Approach…” launched a two-day gathering of learned professionals attending lectures by respected peers.
“Historical, intergenerational trauma,” Simmons noted, “is…from our ancestors, our past, from the shores of Virginia. That original trauma still shows up today and [is] perpetuated, continued [because] we haven’t had a chance to heal. “It’s passed on from generation to generation.”
Fifty-one points of information covered broad ground in fine detail. “Why African American Men?” divided into subjects, raised issues that long are common knowledge yet persist. That, for instance, Black men’s life expectancy is second lowest to Native Americans. They suffer the nation’s highest death rate from cancer, heart disease and homicide. They are the most imprisoned and contract sexually transmitted infections more than any other social group. Simmons drove home the troubling fact that this has not improved and shows no signs of improving.
“Historical Trauma’s Effects” was among the categories delving into the murky no-man’s land of dealing with institutionalized racism. Simmons addressed, among other work-related issues, the mental sleight of hand by which White supervisors and coworkers subtly discriminate, then, when a Black man reacts, blithely say things like, “Oh, you’re imagining things,” or the quintessential comeback, “You have an attitude problem.”
“Current Example” confronted mainstream media’s sustained stereotype of the Black man as Bad N—–. Beneath the skin of society’s gangsta poster boy, the modern day Stagger Lee, Simmons illumines, is a scared kid afraid of his emotions. He is socialized, nearly from birth, to see girls and women as objects by which to verify himself and a sense of entitlement. He also is programmed to lethally self-destruct. It is, after all, not uncommon to read about young Black men racing into a gun battle, be it with an enemy on this block or across town or a high-noon showdown with the police.
“Diagnosis and Treatment” and “Affordable and Accessible Care” gave hope for solving critical problems. Depression, Simmons asserts, often is misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. He also states that White clinicians frequently fail to understand the enduring impact of slavery on Black men and, for that matter, Black women. Improving clinicians’ clarity on what troubles their clients is a strong positive step.
Simmons also laid at the doorstep of Black communities the responsibility to stop stigmatizing those who need or seek mental health therapy. It is, after all, hard to get well when family, friends and neighbors give you a hard time about you trying to cure your illness.
Among roughly a hundred attendees, females easily outnumbered males in an audience largely comprised of clinicians and social workers. Asked after the session the value of Black women professionals taking in “Trauma Informed Approach: Engaging African American Men,” Simmons answered, “If we look at the Black community, if we go back and look at the slave quarters, they didn’t say ‘Big Daddy’; they said ‘Big Mama.’
“Black women have been given the responsibility for their Black men and for the community even though they didn’t ask for that responsibility. Their trauma is they don’t know how to give it up, how to [relinquish] that, so there ends up being love-hate. Black women coming in here and permitting themselves to let go of that and deal with their own stuff, getting an understanding of Black men and how to hold them accountable for how they treat [women], it lets Black women hold themselves accountable at the same time.”
Simmons gives a practical example for Black women, period, professional or not. “If I’m in a battered relationship as a woman [who] feels responsible for Black men, I might not [make him accountable] because I don’t want to add to his trauma. Who loses? The children.”
Samuel Simmons organized and engineered the two-day conference, realizing, four years running, a concept he hashed out with a bit of help. “Brother James Muhammed [is] well known in the Nation of Islam. We used to interact. He’s into holding the system accountable. I’m into holding the community accountable.
“We had a conversation — we had [an] argument is what we had — the doors was rattlin’. When we got done, the conclusion was this and that. We both talked about our [experiencing] pain and how confronting that helped us move forward. We decided to put this together.” Fortuitous circumstance to say the least.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.