Chronic Trauma in Urban Underserved Areas

Chronic community-level trauma in the context of urban poverty has been well documented (SAMHSA, 2014). Moreover, structural barriers to improve socioeconomic status and achieve gainful employment persist for Black communities in the U.S. More specifically, the 2013 U.S. Census notes that in Baltimore, Maryland, Black men ages 20-24 are about four times more likely to be unemployed compared to their White male counterparts (37% vs. 10%; Harris, 2013).

To address this pressing public health and social challenge, I am working with Holistic Life Foundation, Inc. (HLF) on a community-academic research collaboration entitled, “Advancing the Mental Well-Being of Baltimore through a Trauma-Informed Workforce Development Program” with funding provided by the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute. For over 14 years, HLF has been addressing community-level trauma through a strengths-based approach focused on enhancing community members’ resilience through yoga and mindfulness. HLF also serves as a workforce developer for urban young people. Started in 2011, the trauma-informed Workforce Development Program trains emerging adults—many of them former youth participants in HLF’s programming—to become HLF yoga and mindfulness facilitators. The Workforce Development Program helps ensure sustainability of HLF by preparing future generations of facilitators who are dedicated to working with underserved populations. 

The GSS 2016 theme, ‘Spaces in Between: Innovation, Insight and Progress at the Intersection’ reflects the spirit behind this partnership. We are interested in developing effective, innovative solutions for addressing the chronic trauma that exists in Baltimore and in other urban underserved cities across the U.S. We use an inter-sectional approach to address trauma by drawing on our respective strengths as community leaders and public health researchers. Prior research on HLF’s yoga and mindfulness school-based programming suggests that it enhances adaptive responses to stress among disadvantaged urban students (Mendelson, 2010). There has been no research, however, on the organization’s Workforce Development Program. HLF is poised to expand its programming in additional Baltimore City Public Schools and in other U.S. school settings. The HLF founders are therefore interested in assessing whether the Workforce Development Program is adequately preparing its participants to meet the demands for expanded HLF programming, and if the trainees are personally benefiting from their participation. The aims of the current community-academic research endeavor are to evaluate the psychosocial impact of HLF’s Workforce Development Program on trainees and assess trainees’ perceived readiness to serve as instructors. This project utilizes in-depth individual interviews with trainees, as well as brief surveys on stress and resilience factors at the start and end of the training program. 

The challenge of using an inter-sectional approach to addressing trauma is that both parties, the community and academia, must enter a vulnerable space, the ‘space in between.’ This work forces us to pull away from what we already know, our comfort zone, and have an open mind that perhaps a better, more effective solution can be created at the intersection than in our respective silos. Thus, the benefit of a community-academic partnership is that the field of public health can develop a more nuanced understanding of the community’s identified needs, and in turn, public health research methodologies and tools can be applied to strengthen community capacity and to promote the sustainability of community-based programs.

The intersection between community and academia is important and hold great potential for catalyzing positive social change locally and nationally. Many trainees in the Workforce Development Program are emerging adults raised in low-income areas of Baltimore, where they were exposed to chronic stress and trauma, including community violence. HLF’s trauma-informed training program aims to provide these young people with skills that enhance their personal resilience and capacity for working effectively in low-resource settings. The program is thus anticipated to have positive effects on both the trainees and more broadly, on the trauma-exposed communities they serve. HLF will use research findings to refine the Workforce Development Program and subsequently, be better positioned to meet the ongoing need and growing demand for HLF programming in high-risk neighborhoods throughout Baltimore. More specifically, HLF will be able to expand its longstanding partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools and promote more trauma-informed schools, thereby facilitating the healing of Baltimore City youth dealing with chronic stress and trauma. At the national level, there is an established Federal investment to address the persistent opportunity gaps facing young men of color. Thus, our partnership will also have broader relevance because the Workforce Development Program has potential to serve as a model for how local and national nonprofit organizations can offer urban young people employment options that enhance resources in trauma-affected communities nationwide.

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April Joy would like to thank Dr. Tamar Mendelson, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Mental Health, for her mentorship and support of the research collaboration with Holistic Life Foundation, Inc. April Joy also expresses her deepest gratitude to Mr. Ali Smith, Mr. Atman Smith, and Mr. Andres Gonzalez, Founders of HLF, for their openness to forge a community-academic partnership as a means of effecting positive social change, and to the Hopkins Urban Health Institute, for their generosity and belief in the significance of this joint endeavour to building healthy, resilient youth and communities.

References

Harris, L. (2013). Feel the Heat! The Unrelenting Challenge of Young Black Male Unemployment. Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Washington, DC. Accessed on 21 May 2015 from http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/files/Feel-the-Heat_Web.pdf

 

Liu, D. and Witter, D. (23 Apr 2015). Young Black Males’ Well-Being Harmed More by Unemployment. Gallup, Inc. Accessed on 21 May 2015 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/182507/young-black-males-harmed-unemployment.aspx

 

Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M.T., Dariotis, J., Feagans Gould, L., Rhoades, B., & Leaf, P.J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 985-994.

 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Rockville, MD. Accessed on 14 June 2015 from http://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions

April Joy Damian

About this blog contributor | April Joy Damian, MSc | Twitter: @apriljoydamian

April Joy is from San Francisco. She received a B.A in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and Master of Medical Science from Harvard Medical School. She is currently a NIH/NIMH Psychiatric Epidemiology Training Predoctoral Fellow pursuing a PhD in the Department of Mental Health with a Certificate in Health Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also a Truman Scholar, Class of 2005.