Take Charge of Your Health Today: Racial Trauma


This month, Take Charge of Your Health Today is focusing on intergenerational and racial trauma, it’s impact on the Black community, and ways to help people break the trauma cycle and begin the healing process. We asked Carlos Carter, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, to share his thoughts on how trauma manifests in UL clients and what he believes can help alleviate it.

How do you see race-based trauma affecting the folks you serve

 In this country, race-based trauma is a daily struggle for our clients — and has a clear impact on their health and sense of security. It’s played a central role in relegating many of our clients to low-paying jobs, leading to a greater likelihood of poverty and justice-related turmoil for their children. 

Through our youth programs, our young people have shared their fears about interacting with police — citing the fates of Eric Garner and George Floyd. This trauma robs them of their freedom, safety, security, and diminishes their quality of life.  Isn’t this the land of the free?

 In our housing department, our Black clients are not able to use Section 8 vouchers in communities that have higher property values and excellent schools — even after the reimbursement rate was raised to accommodate market rent. Our Black clients who are seeking mortgages for the first time have a rejection rate almost 30% higher than comparable white applicants.  

 In our Family Support Centers, we’ve witnessed racial trauma impact the mental health of families with few or no resources. These families are more reluctant to reach out for help due to historical and current breaches of trust.

 Finally, in our senior workforce development programs, such as the Urban Senior Jobs Program (USJP), our seniors suffer PTSD-like symptoms, such as hopelessness, depression, and anxiety, resulting from decades of racial trauma. Every-day occurrences of injustice and discrimination are often triggers for them. 

As you can see, racial trauma is a serious challenge for our clients, and we work hard to connect them to resources. We are committed to removing barriers that impact their ability to realize their full potential and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

 We know trauma has the ability to affect families across generations. What advice do you have for parents, guardians, and elders who want to help their families heal?

 The first steps are recognition and acknowledgment. We have seen many cases where dysfunctional situations are normalized and familiar. This dysfunction is passed down from generation to generation negatively impacting the quality of life and mental health of our children and families.  It impacts how they react to and with one another and others outside their families. 

To begin the process of healing, we need to encourage our community to embrace therapy. This can be an opportunity to discover and address the root causes of behavior. More importantly, therapy can be an opportunity to discover the power of healing.  We must make mental health a priority in our community and normalize the idea that we all need to heal from something.  This “healing” mindset will help families break toxic cycles and rewrite unhealthy narratives that have not allowed our families to thrive.  We deserve to be healed and move from barely surviving to thriving!

 How are the concepts of identity, ancestry, and art important to the Black community? How can they be used to address trauma?

 These concepts are important to the Black community because our identity has been shaped in a big way by the negative impacts of slavery. Those who enslaved us have demeaned and robbed us of our culture and identity. We must realize the negative aspects of our history — exploitation and condemnation — are only part of who we are, not entirely who we are.  It’s time to reclaim our identity and value. We must shun the lies that we’re not good enough! We descend from kings and queens and have been great contributors to this world and culture. We are responsible for making this one of the wealthiest countries in the world though our free labor, blood, sweat, and tears.  To find healing, we must rediscover our African Culture and allow this pride and culture to move us to healing.  We need to sing, dance, and connect within our community, as our ancestors did before us. We are strong, beautiful, peaceful, intelligent, creative, and worthy of honor and celebration!

Carlos T. Carter is President and CEO of Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.


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