My (Veronica) lived experience over the last twelve years confirms what studies repeatedly show: trauma disproportionately impacts low-income, minority communities. When my family lived in southwest Atlanta, we were struck early on by the frequency of heartache, and the way it seemed to happen at a higher, more intense frequency for our neighbors than the middle class communities where we grew up. All of our neighbors were living in poverty, and research confirms that even existing in impoverished conditions over the long-term has the same impact on the brain as a traumatic event. Further, many of the neighborhood kids were growing up in single parent homes, and the stories associated with the absent parent were often that they were abusive, incarcerated, died young of chronic illness, or were violently harmed. A good number of the kids had also lost a sibling, and many of the young women experienced miscarriages at an early age. Most could tell at least one story of dealing with a predatory landlord, or getting evicted. Pets didn’t last long. Jobs were terminated. Arrests were common. In our old neighborhood, bad news was intense and frequent: concentrated trauma.
Two things happened last week that put this heavy on my heart. First, one of Good Sam’s board members (who lives and ministers in the low-income neighborhood near our clinic) sent me a link to this powerful conversation between notable music industry professionals who share openly about their experiences with loss, mental illness, and suffering. As they open up the conversation, they mention that there is a lot of trauma represented in the room. You can watch the conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZCt-cnKz-8
The second thing happened last Tuesday morning on my way to work. As I was driving I saw an older African-American woman in a wheelchair stranded on the side of the road. A young man was trying to help her, but she was obviously struggling to wheel uphill. As I approached her I could see she had only one leg and her wheelchair was broken – one wheel was laying on the ground. It was a very sad situation so I pulled over to assist.
I came to find out she had just been released from the nearby jail and, according to her, had been given the faulty wheelchair upon her exit. I also learned that she is diabetic and normally requires dialysis three times per week – but was not given dialysis while in jail and was trying to get to a dialysis center that day. I called 911 and had to press them hard to send assistance, since she was technically not having a medical emergency. They finally sent EMS who assessed her and confirmed they would take her to the local hospital where they believed she could possibly get a working wheelchair and dialysis. As we hoisted her onto the stretcher she stroked her hair with a shaking hand and said numbly, “Well, this is a bad way to start the morning.”
I was struck by her description. If I spill coffee on my shirt I complain about having a bad morning. This woman was in an almost impossible permanent situation and on top of that, had not been treated with compassion upon her exit from jail. She was just trying to get home so she could clean up and go in for dialysis, but instead would now spend the day in the hospital with no working wheelchair – and that was her best possible scenario.
Trauma impacts all of us, but it is not equally distributed. But what can any one of us do about that? I’d like to suggest two things:
- Consider the possibility that trauma is concentrated in poor communities. If this is the case, are our current interventions enough?
- Identify an issue and become an advocate. In the case of the woman I mentioned above, this interaction led me to visit the local jail later the same day. I learned a lot about the processes they have (and don’t have) and have since followed up with my city council representative.
If trauma is concentrated, then it’s going to be a heavy lift to heal these communities. But all of us working together can truly make a difference.