March 31, 2012

Hoodies & Health

Since Trayvon lost his life, his parents and family have joined his lawyers in pursuit of justice. Civil rights leaders and organizations are marching with people in numbers in the streets across America in pursuit of justice. Trayvon unwillingly left his family including young siblings, classmates and a community who nurtured, cared and loved him.  Millions across the nation are raising up their hoodies to declare injustice.

While the media moves a continuous stream of details and commentary for consideration. Our elders hold deeper memories of injustice embedded in the history of America. Today there continue to be assaults on black men, boys and their communities.  The injustices of the new Jim Crow era includes other minority groups. Everyday people feel the consequences of bias, stigma, and/or stereotyping. Racial and ethnic discrimination persists.

While diversity continues to grow in America so does our learning curve to understand difference in ways that are respectful. Trayvon’s death is a reminder of the lessons we still need to learn.

Research shows that many people have deep emotional hurts from incidents involving encounters with discrimination. Most often these encounters go unaddressed and become internalized. Over life course such unresolved emotional pain challenges the decisions we make, how we live and our health. This is true for minorities especially those who feel powerless and vulnerable. Historically, the plight of African Americans and women, but now also Latino, Indian and Asian communities in America and around the world share these challenges.

A national community response of a million hoodies speaks not only to the injustice of Trayvon Martin and others including Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Danroy Henry, and Ramarley Graham. Many families and communities have such experiences with these tragic injustices.

We all know that a gunshot wound is a medical emergency. Hospital staff see first hand the prevalence of injury and violence in communities. And funeral directors hold the statistics of mortality for far too many black men and boys.

The incidence of disease caused by a perpetual environment where such tragedies persist is another matter.  As a health advocate I know discrimination becomes a stress mediator for spikes in persistent high blood pressures in adults and young people and so cardiovascular health is at risk and mental health is so vulnerable. While many will take to the streets with their hoodies, here are a few other actionable steps to join the cause for justice and engage in healing practices:
  • Talk about your feelings, tell your stories share with those you trust include family and/or close friends Bear witness by listening closely to each other. 
  • Read and learn more about the history of racism in America.
  • Examine your own experiences and actions with regard to bias, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination.
  • Listen to the stories of champions for justice.
  • Keep a journal or diary to express your private feelings.
  • Pray. Involve yourself in a community of faith where you can connect and share. Developing a spiritual life can ground you during tough times and beyond. 
  • Plant a garden or a tree to memorialize past pain and suffering, but springs hope.
  • Become involved in civil rights organizations and with those who are working for justice.
  • Yes! Pull up your hoodie with all its powerful symbolism, it’s an empathic community response.

On a final note if all of this is wearing you out or bringing up unbearable or unresolved issues, check-in with your doctor, health or mental health professional. If you need help seek the advice of a professional counselor or minister.  You don’t have to bear these burdens alone.  You can find new ways of coping and for resilience. Repairing emotional wounds may leave scars, but healing is necessary for your health, wellbeing and the future of our beloved community.

Transcript of CNN iReport "Hoodies & Health"

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