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The trauma of racism and how one local social worker is helping the black community cope

They’re exhausted. 

They feel numb, scared, angry, anxious and stressed, which in many cases has crept into their dreams and kept them awake at night.

That’s just a sampling of what Janelle Posey-Green, a licensed clinical social worker who co-owns Magnolia Wellness LLC in New London, has heard from her black clients in recent weeks. 

The black community is facing what she called “a multi-faceted pandemic”: the novel coronavirus and continued incidents of police brutality, both of which are disproportionately affecting people of color and taking a psychological toll.

“We have a crisis right now, a mental health crisis, and we need to mobilize, make (mental health care) accessible, make it free, and make it easy for people to join in if they want to,” Posey-Green said. 

The 37-year-old from Norwich is black and noticed that other black people in her community were struggling to cope with the pandemic and the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and ensuing protests across the country.

Increasingly, incidents of police brutality are being captured on cellphones and dash and body cameras worn by police and “people are being traumatized through these images, through these videos, and honestly, it started before we started seeing the live-action videos,” Posey-Green said.

She cited the book "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing” by Joy Degruy. On her website, DeGruy describes P.T.S.S. as “a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. A form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalized racism which continues to perpetuate injury.”

When generations of people have experienced so much trauma, Posey-Green said, “it impacts your thinking, your way of life.”

In response to current incidents of racism and the coronavirus pandemic, she created the CT Black Mental Health & Wellness Initiative, "a safe space for people of color to grieve, rage, vent, and nurture one another” and “to discuss and unpack what appears to be a mass attack on our culture.”  

Through the initiative, a range of professionals including doctors, clinicians, a doula — a woman who offers guidance to a pregnant woman in labor — and a probation officer, are leading free, virtual forums through Facebook on racial trauma, a form of race-based stress, and providing strategies on how to manage that stress. 

In addition to focusing on mental health, some of the virtual forums have focused on physical symptoms brought on by trauma. Samantha Nebiolo of Plantsville, a birth and postpartum doula, walked participants through an exercise to reduce stress at moments when it is felt in the body. This practice can be used when someone “is feeling overwhelmed by whatever they’re seeing, whether its an image or someone invalidating their experience,” Posey-Green said. 

Racial trauma manifests from any number of experiences of racism that the black community faces in their daily lives, such as workplace discrimination, hate speech or acts of violence against them.

“The micro-aggressions can hurt you just as much, especially cumulatively over time, as the bigger overt things that we’re seeing right now where people are actually seeing someone who looks just like them, someone who looks like their father, someone who looks like their brother, being killed right in front of them,” Posey-Green said.  

In addition to clear, visual examples of racism and daily micro-aggressions, Posey-Green said people of color also may experience a lack of validation for what they are experiencing, particularly by groups of people who feel that racial violence no longer exists, or that racially motivated killings are warranted based on a victim’s actions.  

“That lack of validation like ‘it’s the year 2020, we don’t have racism anymore’ or ‘What was the person wearing? What was the person doing?’ ‘Well if they would just stay silent or be respectful, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘People don’t just do things like that, they had to be doing something,’” she said. 

“The constant invalidation that our stories aren’t true and not feeling like you could really tell your truth in a way that will actually matter is stressful,” she said. 

Posey-Green, a mother of two and the only sister among five siblings, said what’s happening is affecting her personally and she’s experienced stress and anxiety just like her clients. 

“I want my brothers and my husband and my son to be safe. I want to live in a world that includes us. I want my daughter to grow up and be confident that if she is going for a job that they’re not going to tell her she didn’t get it because she doesn’t fit their criteria of what they think a black person should be, that she genuinely either didn’t get it because she didn’t qualify or that job just may not have been for her,” she said. "I’m hopeful that one day, with all this organization, not just mine but other people, my peers, that we will live in that world.”

j.bergman@theday.com

Racial trauma resources

Janelle Posey-Green said the forums are not intended as a substitute for therapy and has compiled a list of therapists and healing practitioners of color around the state, which can be found at bit.ly/cttahpoc.               

Her list of healing resources can be found at bit.ly/ctcomres.

Times and dates for the virtual Facebook forums:

June 4 at 6 p.m.

June 7 at 2 p.m.

June 8 at 6 p.m.

June 10 at 6 p.m.

June 11 at 6 p.m.

June 13 at 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.

June 14 at 2 p.m.

June 15 at 6 p.m. This session is for men only.

For more information contact Janelle Posey-Green at magnoliawellness83@gmail.com or visit her Facebook page, facebook.com/CreolejBelle.

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