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There’s a growing awareness of the impact of trauma on Milwaukee residents following a negative incident, such as the police shootings of Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park or Sylville Smith in the Sherman Park neighborhood, both of which sparked large-scale protests.
Yet, until now, there hasn’t been a focused response to community-wide trauma, whether it’s the result of distinct events such as the Hamilton or Smith shootings or is more pervasive and long lasting, such as the lingering trauma created by living in a segregated neighborhood with concentrated poverty and violence.
In 2016, the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention earned a five-year, $5 million Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is awarded to communities seeking to heal at-risk youth and families after civil unrest.
The ReCAST Milwaukee initiative is housed in the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s Office of Violence Prevention and includes a community coalition coordinated by Community Advocates Public Policy Institute.
PPI is home to two ReCAST members: Program Manager Sumaiyah Clark -- who juggles offices at PPI, the City of Milwaukee Health Department, and UW-Milwaukee’s Zilber School of Public Health -- and Resource Coordinator Jeremy Triblett.
“Milwaukee has a long history of trauma, if you think about the intergenerational trauma and how longstanding systems have influenced that,” Clark says. “One of the interesting things about the project is that we are actually able to look at the root causes of trauma and violence, even. The amazing thing about this project, and it being housed in the health department, is that we are able to look at violence and trauma from a public health perspective and really emphasize bolstering the protective factors and trying to reduce or mitigate the risk factors.”
The ReCAST initiative is closing its first year, during which it hired staff, built the project infrastructure and conducted a needs and community resources assessment. That information, Clark says, will drive the implementation of key strategies in the second year.
“I think about us being strength builders,” Clark says. “We need to be strength builders by building the capacity of assets in the community and some of the anchor institutions, whether they are formal or informal.”
She said it’s important to allow the community to guide the initiative, instead of imposing a top-down, cookie-cutter “solution” on residents.
“Marginalized people have always been resilient,” Clark explains. “We are looking at ways that systems can shift to be able to better support [residents] so that they don’t always have to be able to be resilient, but can grow and flourish without these things that are constantly causing harm. We need to be intentional about how not to cause harm, even when our intention might be to heal.”
Healing is the guiding theme of Jeremy Triblett’s work as ReCAST’s Resource Coordinator.
“A lot of my work will be working with youth- and family-servings organizations, identifying which ones are trauma informed, and helping their policies and practices become more trauma informed,” Triblett says.
He hopes to heal the healers in a sense by encouraging organizations to better support their employees who are working with traumatized children and families.
“It’s a big need,” Triblett says. “There are trainings on how to do your job well, how to represent people well, how to input data, but how many trainings have we had access to that talk about what to do when you’re triggered while you’re helping someone who is triggered? What to do when you go home and cry about the fact that three young people went to jail and you really tried to help them make better decisions? Is there support around that?”
Triblett will also be connecting youth and families who have experienced high levels of trauma, violence, or poverty to services and programs that can help them thrive in the long term.
“A big part of it will be working with organizations that serve youth and families and connecting them with resources and services that they may not offer but their families and youth need,” Triblett says.
Community Advocates is supported by ReCAST, a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Mental Health Services, under Grant No. 5H79SM063524.
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