Dr. April Bee
Community Restoration - It First Starts With Us.
So, this week’s blog will be a little different, as I will be integrating some of my thoughts from my Doctoral Program. Currently, I am taking a class on Public Discourse within the Social Work Program. This class is so innovative in finding ways to address our Grand Challenges, as well as present ways that will persuade others to get involved with our social problem.
As you know, my platform is promoting holistic wellness in communities whose voices are silenced, providing unity and education from those who have endured trauma, and advocating for justice and liberation for those who have been oppressed. As I have used this platform to discuss identity, mental health, and community healing, I am privileged that my Doctoral Work aligns with this!
Thus, our prompt was to discuss if there are other ways of influencing public discourse that hasn’t been discussed in the course. I think this a perfect question for a lot of the topics that are currently arising within society.
I have noticed that even though we have multiple channels of communication (social media has truly grown), it can sometimes be abused if activists and advocates do not understand how to use it for empowerment and education, not for slander and battle. I think this is an important skill to address because, if used correctly, it can truly cause such a positive transformation in the movement.
Along with this, in community settings, there needs to be more conversation on how to bring up taboo topics. Let’s face it. It is very hard to tell an at-risk minority community that the system that perpetuates their situation is trauma. Many don’t understand what that looks like, nor ready to accept that their experiences are not normal. It takes unique and specific skills to understand how to bring up delicate, but necessary topics. With this notion, I would like to bring up five points that may help with initiatives around taboo topics in minority communities, as well as how to successfully address public discourse.
Work through personal trauma before talking about our community trauma. This is a very hard and humbling thing to do, but this is needed when moving forward with restoration. When we come from a healthy place and a sound mind, we are able to promote healthiness to others. By not working on our own trauma, we speak division, hurt, and lack of clarity into others, which in turn can be triggering, violent, and more harmful. It is difficult to accept, but the initiation of the current hardships and injustices in our community are stemmed from traumatic things being forced upon us. Therefore, the physiological ramifications of this needs to be addressed to experience liberation in the body, mind, spirit, and then through the system (Please read the book, My Grandmother's Hands, to learn more!) How can you preach something that you are not willing to practice?
Build relationships—talk with, not at, people. Even as the in-group, we cannot come in to just tell people what they do wrong within the community. We must come together and build understanding with each other to form connections. Take time to submerge in the community and the daily challenges that they face. Building relationships build trust. Don’t come in over others. Join in beside your community.
Practice Empathy. PRACTICE. Empathy does not naturally come to us. It is often difficult to step outside of our personal experiences and step into the experiences of others. It is an active choice to do so, in fact. Thus, we can practice empathy in continuous situations so that we can connect with others and be with them for what they need. As we are restoring communities that have endured severe trauma, we must remember to take off the lens that we see their situation, and instead put on the lens of their reality. It is presence, patience, and gratitude. Remind people that they are not alone.
Recognize that is an extended process. This is a humbling statement—you are a piece to a larger puzzle. Your impact will be powerful, but a piece to a larger movement. Therefore, you may not see the fruits of the labor, and you may not see the results that you want in the time that you wanted. Once you understand and accept this, believe me, you will be so much more dedicated and useful to the greater cause, and you will also be more fulfilled in your purpose. Chasing after results sometimes leads you to missing the beautiful blessings along the journey.
Do not let it become defeating the enemy. Remain it being about empowering the community. Sometimes, in this line of work, we get caught up in proving the “wrongers” wrong. When this happens, we miss the opportunity of building relationships and unity throughout the community, and instead focus on attacking and slandering the opposing side. As anxious as we are to do this, it causes even more division and misdirection. Now, don’t misquote me—it is quite important to challenge the tactics of oppressors and advocate for justice. But, if that becomes our focus over empowering the wounded community, we miss a huge opportunity for healing, collaboration, education, and growth. Maintain the goal of strengthening the community. This way you have more people battling, healthily, for justice.
Community Restoration is challenging, yet rewarding work. By becoming aware of our tactics towards addressing these issues, it will truly help us all focus on a healthy and collective opportunity for change and justice. I hope that together, we can work towards the greater cause, while preserving our healthiest selves, and empower wounded communities into being more successful than they once imagined being. Bee the change.