A framework for developing organizational structures and cultures that can sustain comprehensive, long-term healing care for young men of color.
Gathered from our membership, HealingWorks has compiled a set of critical components for working with young men of color survivors. The components are intended to be far more than a check-list for effective practice. Taken together, they create a framework for developing organizational structures and cultures that can sustain comprehensive, long-term healing care for young men of color.
Additionally, the components can be used to increase culturally-appropriate practice when working with young men of color during specific short-term services, such as certain court-based or hospital-based programs. Even in these instances, practice-experts stress the need to work in community rather than isolation, drawing wisdom and leadership for those who have sustained the work to date, while offering new ideas and insights to the broader community.
Hurt and healing occur in a cultural context, and so the process of providing care to young men of color must be informed by and anchored in culture and context. The elements we describe below are not meant to replace any of the key tenets of trauma-informed care, but to amplify the impact of trauma-informed work by situating it in a cultural, social, racial, and economic context.
The framework will evolve over time through exploration, listening, discussion, debate, research, collaboration, practice, and hard work.
The HealingWorks framework includes five key principles:
Principle 1: Embracing Self Leadership
Young men, the adults they become, and those who live with and love them are the best people to develop, implement, and lead the solutions to their own and their loved ones’ pain. This especially includes young men of color who have been harmed themselves. By introducing survivors to the skills necessary to overcome feelings of weakness, subordination and dependence, they gain inner strength and self-determination. While outside forces—such as, therapy and other victim services—can have a profoundly positive effect on healing, survivors must gain a sense of self-empowerment and embrace their ability to lead themselves back to a greater sense of normalcy and self-confidence.
By stepping into leadership roles, young men of color who have been harmed will not only contribute to others’ healing, they will also advance their own. When survivors of crime lead, they can experience power, meaning, and hope. And they can steer us into solutions that are viable, visionary, and effective.
It is essential that those directly impacted be engaged not just as front-line professionals, but also as people with power to define standards of practice, develop new interventions, lead programs and organizations, shape the field and movement, command resources, and hold others accountable to high standards of practice. It is the role of others to commit to fostering and participating in an arrangement with those directly impacted at both the center and the top.
Principle 2: Using cultural and spiritual components in healing
Culture profoundly affects how people internalize, process, and deal with violence, victimization, and the resulting trauma. It is not just a factor that shapes people’s experience of harm; it can also be a profound support to healing. Knowing your history, accessing lessons from ancestors, connecting to music and art, gathering in community, and practicing rituals can serve as profound supports to healing.
Spiritual Healing can take many forms including (but not limited to) meditation, yoga, sweat lodges, dance and music, rites of passage, pipe ceremonies, and prayer. Such practices can combat the isolation that can both come from and contribute to post-traumatic stress. They can help those harmed understand what happened to them in ways that support healing and help them to overcome feelings of powerlessness by connecting to things larger and older than themselves. These practices can be compatible with other mainstream approaches and can enhance their impact.
Cultural and spiritual work is most effective when people who share the culture of those harmed support them in their healing.
Principle 3: Addressing Racial Trauma Head On
To be most effective, healing processes with young men of color must embrace the very real trauma inflicted on them in society.
Racial oppression is a traumatic form of interpersonal violence which has a psychological and emotional impact on young men of color. The impact of racial trauma may not always present in obvious ways. However, the hidden wounds can produce a very detrimental effect on the psyche of those who suffer racial trauma. These wounds—whether the product of acute harm, micro-aggressions, or the cumulative impact of inequity— can manifest as anger, hyper-vigilance, self-segregation, and hopelessness. Furthermore, they can undoubtedly exacerbate acute trauma.
Any and all of these manifestations undermine the healing process and distort people’s ability to function healthily and feel safe and normal in their lives. If racial trauma is not addressed, young men of color may experience barriers to developing a healthy sense of dignity, self-love, hope, deservedness of care, and identity. A distorted or diminished sense of these things leaves those harmed unable, and sometimes even unwilling, to engage fully in healing.
On the other hand, addressing racial trauma head on can help those harmed to understand the violence they survive in a larger context, feel recognized and validated, and experience a sense of deservedness and dignity.
Principle 4: Ensuring a strengths-based approach
It takes a great deal of strength to address the trauma survivors live with every day. When working with young men of color, practitioners must not only address their wounds; they must also acknowledge the strengths they exhibit and bring to bear in the healing process. Reaffirming people’s coping strategies instead of solely recognizing areas of struggle can have a profound effect.
While some negative behaviors, particularly self-destructive ones, cannot be encouraged or ignored, we must recognize that these actions can be a person’s way of fighting back, surviving, and overcoming the harm. If the root cause of the behavior—the trauma—is acknowledged and properly addressed, the strength of that behavior can then be recognized, harnessed, and redirected into more productive avenues.
In a culture in which men are supposed to be “strong,” using strength-based language can be particularly important. For example, it can make a real difference to refer to people as survivors rather than victims. A comprehensive strength-based approach must also include helping young men redefine their ideas of masculinity to include emotions, expressiveness, and vulnerability. Helping young men see and practice different forms of strength (including effective self-protection and the ability to face and talk about hurt head on) can provide a critical support to their healing process.
Principle 5: Building skills and capacity
For all survivors of crime, capacity building is important for their continuous healing. For some young men of color, capacity building can entail not only increasing physical and emotional capacity (physical therapy or other healing treatment and coping skills) but also life skills such as independent living or employment skills. These services can make a difference in how a young man continues to engage in the healing process. For example, a person can’t meaningfully attend their counseling sessions if they are constantly thinking about their lights being cut off due to the fact that they have not been able to obtain or sustain a job. The instability associated with poverty and economic stress exacerbates trauma symptoms, heightens a sense of powerlessness, and can drive people into situations in which they are in harm’s way.
Having the means to meet one’s needs can provide the practical basis for engagement in healing, but it can also be transformative in its own right by supporting a survivor’s sense of self-determination, mobility, and security. Employment and education programs should therefore be understood as essential dimensions of trauma healing work, and healing practitioners should include cultivating skill and capacity in the process of moving through trauma.