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3 Health Professionals Shed Light on the Impact of Historical Trauma

By Bobby Edwards

On January 28, 2021, the Twin Cities PBS digital storytelling project Racism Unveiled hosted a live Zoom panel titled “Flight, Fight and Flow: Self Healing” aimed at examining the ways in which Black Minnesotans are affected by trauma, and how we can begin or continue our healing journey. The panel featured three health professionals: Rebeka Ndosi of Maji Ya Chai Land Sanctuary, Brandon Jones of Jegna Consulting and Aisha Mgeni of Therapeace Counseling. Packed with insight and guidance, the event illuminated six key takeaways, which you can glean in the quotes below or by watching a video of the event.



“Historical Trauma is an event or a situation or a time period where an individual or a collective group of people have experienced a traumatic event. Historical trauma is a piece of what we call intergenerational trauma because that’s how it shows up today. Many of the traumas that many different ethnicity groups have gone through, the people that are living today haven’t experienced those traumas, but they still have lingering effects from those traumas, whether those are epigenetic effects or even sometimes cultural habits and patterns and survival mechanisms from those time periods,” says Brandon Jones.


“There’re some things that are shared across the diaspora, right? Because we all are descendants of chattel slavery, but there’s also something that’s regional. Maybe your grandfather worked in a factory and maybe was exposed to asbestos, so now there’s a heavy cancer in your lineage. Maybe at the time of your birth, your mother was living in the Caribbean and she had a very different experience with her mind and her body, and so the genes that became dominant and recessive for you are very different from your siblings who were born down south or on the east coast. All of that plays a role in it. And seeing the patterns in the family and the context of it gives us a better understanding of why we are the way we are,” says Aisha Mgeni.


“The story that we might not say, but that we get all the time is that we are our trauma. A large part of healing is knowing, seeing what is true and not true about me and about us. So, what’s not true is trauma. Trauma is not our truth. I mean, it’s our truth in that it is a reality, right? But, it’s not who I am. So, asking that question, ‘Who am I? And who do I want to be? What choices to I want to make given what I have control over to make those changes to interrupt some patterns that were passed on to me that I can see and then make a different choice?’ And to really follow what we want the story to be in the future. That creates that healing journey that affects future generations,” says Rebeka Ndosi.


“I try to think of it as ‘process versus symptoms.’ We’re not just looking at after effects. So, one of the after effects of having systemic racism is that I’m angry a lot. Now, I present as angry. I’m seen as angry. I’m seen as aggressive. If we’re looking at the process behind it, what’s fueling that? Is anger the only emotion that I’m expressing? Am I feeling frustrated? Am I in a situation in which I’m doing everything I can. I’m buying into this American dream and I can’t advance. I can’t take care of my family. I can’t get access to good health care. I have poor insurance. And so there’s certain people who won’t even see me because of it. I’m living in an area that’s not a great school district. Or maybe it was at one point, but the redistricting of it has changed the dynamics of the school and the money that’s coming in. So I’m facing all of these different things and I need to put things into context. I’m not ‘just an angry individual who needs to go to anger management because I don’t know how to emotionally regulate.’ My anger is justified. My anger is righteous. My anger is a natural consequence of my environment. So, do we seek to change that or do we seek to understand the circumstances and validate it?” asks Aisha Mgeni.


“The teachers in schools and staff in schools need to be doing their own trauma work. Because you have folks that are in a position of power who are reacting to their own stress and their own trauma that’s not being worked on and healed. If they’re just gonna be reactive like that - If they’re working with their own racist tendencies or bias or whatever it is - it’s gonna affect the kids around them. Even if they’re dealing with trauma that’s outside the racial spectrum or whatever, trauma is going to affect everyone. Everybody is affected by trauma. But if we’re expecting teachers to care for our kids, they’re not going to be able to do that even if they’re trained in trauma informed work. They’re not going to be able to do that if they’re not also bringing in their own awareness and healing of what it is that’s hurt in them. Because we’re all human ultimately,” says Rebeka Ndosi.


“We live in a world that is extremely race focused, a society that is extremely race focused. So when we show up, we can’t show up without considering who we are. Sometimes we consider who we are before we even show up to places. We’re thinking about how I should wear my hair. Should I wear this shirt? Should I wear these shoes? We’re overcompensating on thought based on the racial interactions that we have, especially as Black folks. It’s very important for us [to understand] that that carries a load of toxic stress. When you break down health by ethnicity and race, and you look at stress-related health issues, Black folks and Indigenous folks are usually numbers one and two on the list. That’s not by accident. That’s due to that historical trauma and the epigenetics that I was talking about earlier. Not only are those stress hormones passed down and we have these high levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, but then those things are embedded in an environment that supports it and keeps us at a toxic stress level on a consistent basis. We have to fight these battles every day to go to school, to live in neighborhoods, to go to work, even virtually. And that is a hard thing for many people to deal with. The craziest part is, many of us, we’ve been doing it for so long and we’ve seen our parents do it; we don’t even realize it. So when we talk about toxic stress, when we talk about historical trauma, many of us don’t even realize the way we’ve developed culture has been from a position of responding to racism, white supremacy and structural institutional racism," says Brandon Jones.

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This story is part of the digital storytelling project Racism Unveiled, which is funded by a grant from the Otto Bremer Trust.

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