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Coppin and Morgan universities to address healing Baltimore’s collective trauma at conference this weekend | COMMENTARY

Bryonna Harris, a senior at Frederick Douglass High School, reacts to the standing ovation she received after delivering a speech about the trauma that she's lived with during a forum on preventing, treating and healing childhood trauma in Baltimore in August.
Bryonna Harris, a senior at Frederick Douglass High School, reacts to the standing ovation she received after delivering a speech about the trauma that she's lived with during a forum on preventing, treating and healing childhood trauma in Baltimore in August.(Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

I have been a social worker for many years and have worked with children and families who were torn apart as a result of trauma. I have seen these same children and families rise with unshakable resilience in spite of systematic oppression and minimal support. I see that resilience every day in my newly adopted city of Baltimore.

Baltimore welcomed me with open arms when I moved here from Prince George’s County. Despite an unkind media narrative, I’ve found the city to be friendly, quirky, painful, inspiring and beautiful all at once. People often wonder why I am so excited about being a member of this community and my response is,"it’s the people."

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But Baltimore is far from a utopia. As much as I love my new city that I now call home, I have seen its dark side. I’ve seen trauma that is almost unimaginable. I have heard gunshots and police helicopters. I’ve heard from students who have first-hand traumatic experiences. Bryonna Harris, Jaionna Santos and Damani Thomas were at lunch period last February when shots rang out at Frederick Douglass High School. A staff member was shot, and although no students were physically harmed, the traumatic effects were profound.

Instead of surrendering to hopelessness, they bravely testified about their experience at a City Hall hearing. They spoke about the seemingly endless cycle of trauma they face. Damani referred to it as “loss of opportunity and violence that the youth must endure everyday.” Bryonna described what it is like to pass through a metal detector every day at the point of entry at school, comparing the practice to the prison system. Trauma knocked at Bryonna’s door when her father’s life was violently taken prior to her junior year. Jaionna was her father’s primary care giver until he died from complications of his illness. In her testimony, she described the impact of the toxic scenes young people encounter on their way to school each morning.

The students challenged the City Council to advance legislation focused on trauma. Councilman Zeke Cohen answered the call, and drafted the Trauma Responsive Care Act. The students and the councilman spent the next year working on the bill and building an unlikely coalition of supporters. Councilman Cohen listened to students, parents, educators, librarians, coaches, clinicians and barbers across Baltimore to ensure the bill reflected the voices of all Baltimoreans. The legislation seeks to fundamentally change how Baltimore City government does business. It forces agencies to adopt a “trauma responsive lens,” and it invites communities to be part of a city-wide task force.

To further advance the cause, hundreds of youth and adults will come together this weekend for Healing City Baltimore. The three-day event is a call to action for our city. It is an opportunity for us to work across lines of difference and hear from each other. On Sunday, The Trauma Responsive Care Act will be signed into law at Frederick Douglass High School, just one year and one day after the school shooting. The events will be hosted by the two historically black universities in Baltimore city, Morgan State University and Coppin State University, both of which are partners in this movement.

Morgan State University’s School of Social Work has a demonstrated track record of engaging the community in various social justice efforts, making their campus the ideal location to host the Youth and Young Adult Day on Friday. Coppin State University’s social work program will host Helping Everyone Affirm Life (H.E.A.L) Day, a community resource fair with free haircuts and hair care services on Feb. 9. Coppin, referred to in a recent city council resolution as “the jewel of West Baltimore,” is walking distance from Frederick Douglass High School.

The proximity of Coppin to many of the traumatic violent incidents that have taken place in the city, makes it an appropriate location for HEAL Day. At the conclusion of the resource fair, the Frederick Douglass High School band will lead a march from Coppin to Frederick for the signing of the Trauma-Responsive Care Act, which will be officially named the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act after the late congressman. History will be made on Healing City Baltimore weekend,not merely because of the signing of the bill, but because of the joint citywide effort to “face trauma and move forward together.”

We will honor the legacy of Frederick Douglass, Elijah Cummings, Bryonna Harris, Jaionna Santos and Damani Thomas and the many others who have committed their efforts to healing our city.

Melissa Buckley (mbuckley@coppin.edu) is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at Coppin State University.

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