L-R, Rev. Ayakao Watkins, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Kayla Nembhard and Dr. LaDonna Butler at the Annual Grand Rounds at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital last year.
Let us explore, reflect on and ultimately engage in conversation around the current broader approach to understanding and healing from emotional and psychological distress— consideration for the community system/s.
This perhaps gets a little closer to a holistic healing, but somehow continues to miss the mark as the general approach still remains around alleviating symptoms (i.e., “mental illness,” poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence and other abuse, etc.) rather than actually addressing the root, where true and everlasting healing can occur.
Consequently, we all continue this cycle of trying to become a better version of ourselves within systems that are designed to keep us at low vibrations that are literally a threat to a healthy existence, or to take it a step further, even existing at all.
What about “epigenetics” in this conceptualization and conversation about how symptoms potentially manifest as a result of unhealthy family and community dynamics? Epigenetics, put very simply and within a relevant context, involves the study of how external stimuli (i.e., our relationships, environments, traumatic experiences and so on) impact the way in which our genes are expressed, which subsequently impacts not only countless health (psychological, emotional, relational, physical) outcomes of our own but of biological generations to come after us.
If we have already begun to cut and measure this notion in a manner that is acceptable to those contributing to and following western science, and even have seriously begun to accept this notion of epigenetics to be true as it relates to the manifestation of mental health symptoms, why have we yet to apply this profound perspective to multi- and intergenerational trauma within the field?
Now here is where the “cultural competence” comes in. Community interventionists in the mental/behavioral health field and wider share a particularly narrow view of what multi- and intergenerational trauma is. We generally limit our understanding to the passing down of problematic mental health and other maladaptive psychological and relational ways of being from generation to generation.
However, what is the link between historical trauma, epigenetics, and our current condition as a people? What are the links between the emotional, relational, psychological, physical, environmental trauma of our ancestors in this country and in the south, specifically, and the current symptoms we observe and experience in our community?
We have begun to accept that trauma can literally impact the evolution of our DNA. Why, then, do we continue to ignore what author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” (a must-read, by the way) and clinician Dr. Joy DeGruy, often refers to as “the preponderance of evidence” when it comes to developing a profound and most significantly, accurate, understanding (and perhaps most necessary in these times, innerstanding, because, no, all of the money in the world will not solve the root of our communities’ issues) of pervasive mental health issues and counterproductive behaviors of communities of people that remain prevalent over generations?
My fellow community warriors, we must address the “poison in the cookies,” as Dr. DeGruy puts it, or even the poison in the well water, as the inspiring pediatrician and ACEs champion (Adverse Childhood Experiences; it’s a movement that even Oprah is talking about…), Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, refers to it. What a revolution it would indeed be to collectively name that poison in the cookies and focus our collective efforts (research, dollars, and politics even) around the root of our community’s unacknowledged and therefore invisible experiences and aching.
Kayla Nembhard is a licensed psychotherapist, budding writer and community warrior. Her mission is to use words and narratives or stories through therapeutic practice and simple everyday conversation to remind people of their inherent magic and power to transform not only their individual lives but their communities as well. To contact Nembhard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.