Black Trauma: There are Gifts in the Darkness and Healing in the Light


We know what it is in the Black community. Whether it’s a physical injury or a deeply hurtful, lasting experience — personal trauma and collective pain are not new phenomena, unfortunately.


But what is a person to do when life keeps going but their world stops with, seemingly no outlet?


Detroit-based Marie Ganaway, of Autumn Experience Life & Spiritual Coaching, said that as a person who experienced trauma in the past, she is now at peace and able to help others deal with unresolved trauma that cuts deep and potentially stunts their growth.


“(When) making a decision to go into therapy or not, what I’ve found with a lot of the people I work with, the Achilles heel, is the fear of the unknown — that is number one,” she said, adding that people don’t always understand what might happen if they face their darkest fears and the things of the past.


Ganaway added that some soul searching and self-reflection can work wonders on their journey to healing, especially if therapy is not in the cards.


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Robert Warmack, Detroit-based counselor at L.E.C. Counseling (Love, Empathy & Compassion), said that unresolved secondary trauma can have a major impact, too.


Secondary trauma can occur when being exposed to people who themselves have been exposed to trauma.

“We know historically from [slavery] through Reconstruction, from Jim Crow through the Civil Rights movement — even up unto modern day with Rodney King and police brutality — when we are talking about secondary trauma, we, as African Americans, have read about all these things historically. We’ve seen interviews on television. We have experienced the trauma historically through our ancestors,” Warmack said. “We as Black folk can experience the trauma and actually have symptoms of PTSD based on secondary trauma. That is one thing that is unreported, [that,] and how it can impact us.”


He added that even pre-pandemic, with Black cultures, the gaps in healthcare and education have been there. And now there is firsthand trauma dealing with COVID-19 and potentially receiving the vaccine. “We have had such a storied history of mistreatment by the dominant culture we experience fear, apprehension, fear and anxiety from that trauma we experienced.


“That trauma has manifested itself in fear and apprehension in the Black community [concerning] the vaccination,” he said.


Warmack encourages people to take little steps and relax their minds and bodies. One suggestion to turn off the news well before going to bed so more negative and trauma-related information doesn’t go into their psyche before going to bed.


“Ultimately, it will allow you an opportunity to have a good night’s sleep,” he said.


Rev. Dr. Ronné Wingate Sims, an ordained Baptist minister, speaker, teacher and activist, develops “culturally relevant healing spaces” for individuals working through intergenerational and ongoing trauma. She is executive minister at Imani Community Church in her hometown of Oakland, Calif. She also has a Healing Trauma meditation on the free meditation app, HealthyMinds Program.

Rev. Dr. Ronné Wingate Sims Photo provided by Rev. Dr. Ronné Wingate Sims

The special meditation in honor of Black History Month focuses on healing intergenerational trauma. The meditation practice helps people make room for strong emotions by getting curious about them through insight and by leaning on gratitude.


Wingate Sims told The Michigan Chronicle that over time the wounds left behind from traumatic events can lead to issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction or other challenges to mental health and wellness.


“A person can begin to lean on unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms to soothe their pain but oftentimes find themselves feeling worse,” she said, adding that unresolved trauma can negatively impact the day-to-day with physical health implications.


“[It can reduce] the quality of our relationships, can hinder creativity and the ability to find joy in ordinary activities like work and play,” Wingate Sims said. “The shame around certain kinds of trauma can prevent people from engaging in daily life with their full selves in subtle and sometimes powerful ways.”


Wingate Sims added that as a pastor she’s seen unresolved trauma, particularly wounds suffered in childhood, “show up in the pews and even in the pulpit quite often.”


“Stigma around seeking mental health treatment is one of the greatest barriers to seeking help,” Wingate Sims said, echoing Warmack’s thoughts. “This persists largely because the American medical establishment has not always been a trustworthy institution for us. Additionally, [some religious people] believe seeking treatment is incongruent with their spiritual life even though the holy books of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other faiths indicate seeking counsel is not only acceptable but a godly endeavor.”


Unresolved Black trauma can transcend generations, but seeking help sends powerful messages intergenerationally.


“Wounds from traumatic events can get in the way of a parent fully showing up emotionally for their children,” she said. “But a parent who engages in mental health care sets a powerful example for their children and can demonstrate what healing can look like. When we take time to heal, we heal our, too.”


There’s help though, she said, when therapy is not always readily available including:

  • One-on-one talk therapy for working through trauma
  • Group therapy — talk therapy with a small group of others with similar concerns and led by a licensed therapist
  • Guided meditation
  • Making or listening to music, particularly African drum circles
  • Acupuncture can alleviate some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Regular physical activity — walking, running, dancing or other exercise.


She added that while “we are survivors,” people don’t have to stay in survival mode forever. “Caring for one’s mental health is a critical step to move from surviving to thriving,” she said. “Mental health is wealth.”



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