Amanda Lynch

@amanda-lynch | contributor
Super Contributor
Amanda Lynch is an educator who specializes in instructional coaching, student engagement, and trauma informed practices in the classroom.
Amanda Lynch

Death of 'The Wire' Actor Michael K. Williams and Community Trauma

“Omar comin…”— The Wire Emmy-nominated Michael K. Williams, most famously known by his iconic role — shotgun slinging, unapologetically gay, stickup man, Omar Little — on HBO’s “The Wire,” lost his life to an apparent overdose in early September. His portrayal of Robin Hood-esque Omar was arguably one of the greatest performances in television history. Like many in my generation, I’ve watched friends and family members be swallowed alive by crack and opioid addiction and mental health disorders. Unfortunately, Michael K. Williams was not immune to the disease of addiction or its lingering affects. A native of East Flatbush (Brooklyn), New York, Williams was a rare and raw talent. The loss of Williams to an apparent drug overdose sent yet another wave of collective grief throughout the Black community, who have barely recovered from the deaths of Prince, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, DMX, all who lost their lives to addiction during the past decade. Williams grew up in a community that was devastated by the crack epidemic. Although he was able to bring light and give a voice to the most marginalized of us, even as he struggled, he was unable to escape his lifelong struggle with addiction. The sheer brilliance in his portrayal of Omar Little in “The Wire,” has been referenced across entertainment and pop-culture genres over 20 years after its initial television premiere. The duality and complexity of Omar Little’s character changed our cultural consciousness about how we view Black masculinity. We accepted and didn’t challenge Omar’s sexual orientation, even as some in the Black community continue to wrestle with homophobia nearly 20 years later, as evident by recent visceral reactions to Lil Nas X coming out as gay. Much like Omar, Williams struggled with lifelong addiction. In the early 2000’s recovery programs weren’t an option and it became hard to see where the line between where Omar and Michael began and ended. Our community was not told that recovery was possible; instead America drew a line in the sand for Black communities and responded through over-policing and by incarcerating Black men in record numbers. Treatment wasn’t viewed as an option. Family members of those struggling with addiction weren’t told to find their own recovery through programs like Nar-Anon. Instead, we silently prayed for and distanced ourselves from the root cause of loved ones struggles, further pushing them into isolation. In a recent podcast, Williams stated that “Drugs are the symptom of a lot of the problem,” Williams said. “You know, once we put the drugs down, that’s when the work begins because we’ve got to clean up this house, all this garbage.” Barriers to adequate recovery programs continue to exist in communities where addiction is viewed as a choice instead of brain disorder and as a symptom of a larger issue. As many as two-thirds of all individuals with addictions experienced some form of trauma during their childhood. Williams was not immune to the community violence that surrounded him. In fact, he received the scar on his face after being slashed with a razor blade during a barroom fight on his 25th birthday. Williams was not immune to community violence and abuse. Shortly thereafter, he made his acting debut; his life spiraled further out of control after he rose to prominence on “The Wire.” He fell further into addiction, before discovering a faith-based recovery program which helped him to find years of sobriety. In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70 percent of patients had a history of trauma exposure. Trauma also reshapes our brains, leaving many vulnerable to drug abuse. Money and fame don’t make one immune to relapse nor do they ensure recovery. As a Black community, we must learn how to embrace our community members struggling through addiction. The opposite of addiction is connection and while setting healthy boundaries and finding our own recovery, we must continue to promote resilience and find our own healthy coping skills in an attempt to help heal the affects of our loved one’s disease. More often than not, substance use disorder is an extension of childhood trauma. In, DMX’s Legacy and the Connection between Childhood Trauma and Addiction, I offer the following: “as a society, we’ve allowed Reagan’s War on Drugs and Clinton’s failed drug policies to create a generation of Black youth who’ve been incarcerated and dismissed, rather than providing them the treatment that they so desperately needed.” This mindset has to shift. By all accounts, Michael K. Williams was kind and compassionate, a rare and raw talent, who showed up fully for others, even as he struggled to show up for himself.

Amanda Lynch

Thanks to Simone Biles for Showing Self-Care to Young Black Athletes

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde. Dear Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka: thank you. I am writing to express my gratitude to you both for being radical about your mental health and self-care. It takes courage to be unafraid to set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and to heal from traumas, both known and unknown, while on the world’s stage. Thank you for giving yourselves permission to be vulnerable and for prioritizing your mental and physical well-being over trophies, medals, endorsements and your athletic success. For far too long, Black athletes have been forced to choose between their sport and their physical and mental well-being. You’ve been told to win at all costs and penalized when you’ve questioned the status quo. You’re told to “ shut up and dribble ” even in the face of being denied basic human rights. Society has shown you that you have a duty to perform even in the face of racism, moral conflict, and when you are struggling to maintain your overall health. In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the Army after the Army changed its standards making him eligible for the draft, and he was fined, sentenced to prison and banned from boxing for three years. Nearly 30 years later, a flu-stricken Michael Jordan led the Bulls to a Finals win in 1997. More recently, former Seattle Seahawks Marshawn Lynch was a frequent critic of the media because he believed that they didn’t care about the mental health of athletes. Time and time again, Black athletes have been expected to disregard their overall well-being for the sake of capitalism and the win. It’s time for this practice to end. Black female athletes in particular must navigate the intersectionality of both patriarchy and white supremacy, which often devalues your place in the world of athletics. Both in your early 20s, it is refreshing to see you saying enough is enough, “I choose me, first.” The decision to withdraw from the French Open and Olympics respectively could come at a great professional cost to you, but thank you for being willing to take that risk anyway. We see you and we support you. Thank you for boldly proclaiming and showing the next generation of Black female athletes that it is OK (and necessary) to share and stand firm in your truth. Black women and girls are taught from an early age that we must forfeit our own physical and mental well-being for others. On the cusp of a pandemic, we are facing a mental health crisis in our community and the subject of mental health care is often taboo. Thank you for being at the forefront of shifting this narrative and for affirming for our community that it is OK to walk away from things that are unhealthy and toxic for you. While it’s easy to talk about your trophies and wins, it can take courage to share your struggles and losses. Understand that neither of you owes us anything. You only owe yourself the opportunity to heal. Thank you for giving a voice to sexual abuse survivors, those who struggle with depression , and for refusing to allow your experiences to be marginalized and swept away. I am thankful that you each had the wisdom to know when to step back and save yourself from further harm. I have worked myself to my breaking point on a far smaller stage than you and now in my 40s, I wish I’d had the wisdom in my 20s to truly understand the ministry of rest and setting healthy boundaries. Thank you for helping me to feel more empowered in proclaiming my space and for normalizing the need for each of us to assess our own self-care and self-compassion (or lack thereof), and to step away when needed. No medal or trophy is worth more than your inner peace.

Amanda Lynch

Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka Are Showing Good Mental Health Boundaries

Black girls are magic. But, we are human too. This past Tuesday morning, alongside my daughters, I watched Hoda Kotb tearfully break the news that Simone Biles was withdrawing from USA Olympics gymnastics team completion. My youngest daughters, ages 4 and 7, are gymnasts. We stand for Simone Biles. She is a leader both on and off the mat. I wept as along with Hoda, praying that Simone had not sustained a physical injury. As more information was released, we learned that Biles had withdrawn from competition in an effort to prioritize and preserve her mental health. At 24, Biles is the senior athlete on the USA Women’s gymnastics team and an international phenomenon. By all accounts, she is the greatest gymnast in our lifetime. During her press conference, she stated that Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open had given her the courage to focus on her own mental health. She continued by saying she had withdrawn from the gymnastics team final at the Summer Olympics to “focus on my mental health” and “not jeopardize my health and well-being.” My therapist told me once that if something costs me my mental or physical health, it’s simply not worth it. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves permission to walk away from things that are not serving our physical or mental health. USA Gymnastics has been rocked by sex abuse scandals in recent years. It’s been five years since hundreds of women publicly came forward to accuse former National team doctor, Larry Nassar, of sexual assault. Biles is among his survivors and she has openly discussed how this abuse impacted her mental health. In 2017, Nassar pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography and other charges. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an additional 40 to 175 years for multiple counts of sexual assault of minors. Although his predatory behavior had been reported for many years to authorities, his abuse of power went back decades. Biles is the last Nassar sexual abuse survivor on the USA Gymnastics team. She is committed to creating safe spaces for future gymnasts. As a parent and Black woman living with anxiety, I am so proud of Biles and Osaka for prioritizing their mental health and for their continued calls for accountability within their respective sports. The emotional labor of being a Black woman can be taxing as we are expected to simply push through. We are sometimes expected to be superhuman. For many years, the discussion of one’s mental health in the Black community has been taboo. This generation of Black athletes are holding healthy boundaries for themselves and for their respective sports. They are boldly proclaiming their space and it’s beautiful to see athletes like Naomi and Simone saying “enough is enough” and choosing their health first. Simone and Naomi are Black girl magic. I believe Simone is undisputedly the greatest gymnast of all time. But, she is also human. Thank you, Simone and Naomi, for continuing to lead and continuing to be advocates for change. My hope is that you are creating a safer atmosphere for future athletes like my daughters. If you find that you are struggling with your mental health, I recommend the following: 1. Set healthy boundaries. Remember that “no” is a complete sentence. 2. Give yourself permission to prioritize your own needs first. You can’t pour from an empty cup. 3. Seek therapy. This is a game-changer. Therapy has helped me to process my thoughts and to identify areas of my life that have been out of balance. It’s also a judgment-free zone. 4. Ask for help when you need it. 5. Walk away and release things that don’t serve you well.

Amanda Lynch

Read This if You Struggle With Independence Day and Racial Trauma

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.” — Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” July 5, 1852 Independence Day felt heavy and conflicted this year. As the daughter and stepdaughter of Vietnam War veterans and granddaughter of World War II veterans, I’ve always felt a sense of civic responsibility to my country. I fly the American flag on my front porch, because I, too, am America . The blood of free Africans, enslaved Black Americans, and their white enslavers runs freely through my veins and I’ve struggled with the intersectionality of these truths. As Caroline Randall Williams so eloquently stated in her opinion piece in the NY Times last year, “ My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.” As a Black woman living through race-based traumatic stress, I am left to wonder what July Fourth means to me in a country where my life is often devalued because of my race. Where resources for adequate education, mental, physical, and maternal health can often feel so far away for the Black community. What does the Fourth of July mean for those of us who grapple with our place in our country of origin? I was raised to believe that it was my duty to make my community better than I found it, yet I’ve witnessed the inequities that exist in Black and Brown communities throughout the Nation. From touring schools in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina studying socio-politics as a Yale National Fellow to working as a classroom teacher in my own community, I’ve wrestled with America’s broken promise to her Black and Brown sons and daughters. As a Black woman struggling from the effects of anxiety and racial trauma , I’ve felt that my Blackness has been on display my entire life. Growing up in a predominantly white community, I quickly learned how to code-switch as a means of survival. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been a voice at the center of our Nation’s reckoning with race. As the mother of social justice teen activist Ava Holloway , and as a writer and activist myself, I discuss racism as trauma on a near-daily basis guiding white community members through their often discomfort during conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion. I’ve wrestled with what it means to be Black in the United States and while Independence Day celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, it took the 13th Amendment, signed December 6, 1865, to abolish American chattel slavery ( except as punishment for a crime ). Even after the enacting of the 13th Amendment, poll taxes, Jim Crow laws, redlining, segregation, gentrification, the housing crisis, rising student loan debt in the Black community, and our Nation’s failed War on Drugs, have all made the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness feel like an uphill battle for Black America. Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of sadness, hopelessness and feeling like everything is an effort. SAMHSA reports, only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it. There are glaring disparities and barriers to mental health care. How do we honor the true meaning of July Fourth when there are so many lingering inequalities in our community? Previously , I noted that brain research has suggested for years that racism and poverty are toxic to a developing brain , similar to the impact of alcohol and drugs. Persistent (and historic) oppression, harassment and racial trauma can cause a sense of helplessness and fear among those who experience it. This year, my extended family and I gathered for July Fourth as a time to reflect on life post-pandemic and as an opportunity to celebrate our multigenerational family. July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month which provides an opportunity to discuss the unique challenges facing Black and brown communities and to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental healthcare. Many Black Americans have been left feeling free-ish, but not free over the past year during a great deal of racial civil unrest. We are left grappling with hard truths as we ask ourselves: how do we celebrate the true meaning of Independence Day as we continue to fight for our birthright, our freedom? From the insurrection at our Nation’s Capitol to the endless coverage of police shootings, this year’s Independence Day felt different. It felt complicated. If not now, when is it time to examine the implicit and explicit bias that is intrinsically woven into our Nations’ fabric and in many of our holidays? How do we engage in conversations surrounding the racial trauma and implicit bias rooted in holidays such as Robert E. Lee Day (which is celebrated across the South), Independence Day and Thanksgiving. For those of us who struggle with anxiety  and inner conflict during these holidays, do we move reclaim them in an attempt to celebrate our collective resilience? BIPOC community members — What are your reflections about July Fourth? Do you celebrate our Nation’s freedom or is it just another day to barbecue and spend time with your friends and family? White community members — How can you support members of the BIPOC community who may be struggling with celebrate many of these holidays? As you navigate through your post-July Fourth feelings and Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some additional resources if you find that you are struggling with your mental health . Coping with Stress from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers strategies and resources to help people cope with feelings of isolation, loneliness , stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, while still observing safety measures to help prevent and reduce the spread of the virus. This online resource from mentalhealth.gov provides information on how different groups may discuss mental health and find support. Behavioral Health Equity Resources from samhsa.gov includes data on health disparities and health care quality among diverse populations, and information for improving health literacy and policy as well as cultural and linguistic competency. Coronavirus Guidance and Resources offers guidance to assist individuals, providers, and communities. NAMI has also put together a comprehensive list of Black Mental Health resources.

Amanda Lynch

Reflections on the Derek Chauvin Sentencing and Racial Trauma

As I listened to the judge sentence Derek Chauvin to 270 months in prison, I thought I would feel relieved. Instead I simply feel numb. I feel empty. I think that my brain has gone into freeze mode after so many months of feeling as if I’ve been holding my breath. Last summer, millions of Americans watched George Floyd plead for his life for nine minutes and 29 seconds before finally succumbing to his injuries at the hands of Chauvin. The day of his sentencing, Chauvin’s mother passionately pleaded to spare her son’s life. She stated that her son was not racist and that he was a good person. But it isn’t enough to not be racist. One must be anti-racist and being anti-racist starts with the ability to have empathy for another human being. Where was his empathy for George Floyd on May 25, 2020? Racism is pervasive and it isn’t always overt. It’s not just a Klansmen dressed in hoods and burning crosses in the yard of a Black family. It’s not just neo-Nazis marching through the streets of Charlottesville holding tiki torches. Instead, racism is structural and woven into America’s fabric. Opportunity, freedom and upward mobility have largely been reserved for white Americans. Black Americans have largely been denied America’s promise of freedom and justice for all. Systemic racism shows up across nearly every system in our democracy. Its effects show up in our bodies through toxic stress and mirror PTSD-like symptoms. Studies have shown that those who experience racism have biological changes to their genetic makeup and are at higher risk for strokes, heart disease and a host of other social and medical problems. Structural racism makes it difficult for Black Americans to access resources to attain equitable healthcare, housing, adequately funded schools and mental health supports. “According to a new Morning Consult survey conducted April 20-22 after the decision was revealed, 77 percent of U.S. adults — including 91 percent of Black and 3 in 4 white Americans — approve of the verdict that Chauvin was guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd, while 14 percent disapprove.” Although Chauvin received nearly the maximum sentence recommended, we must not stop now. There are actions that you can take today to ensure that what happened to George Floyd does not happen to anyone else. First, you can contact your Senator and request that they vote to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This act would ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants — which took the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner — at the federal level. Many states have already passed similar legislation at the state level. Next, you can challenge the idea that we have reached a post-racial America. We have not. The collective community grief that is experienced by Black Americans each time we view images of an unarmed Black or Brown community member being killed by the police can be triggering for African Americans living with mental illness and those who have experienced racial trauma. Black Americans today took a collective sigh. Our Nation believes the judge got it right in this case, but there is so much more work left to be done. Here are some resources for self-care: Resource for People of Color: Four Ways People of Color Can Foster Mental Health and Practice Restorative Healing Resource for Allies: How to Use Mindfulness to Stand in Solidarity With the Black Community Things you can do to make a difference Meditations: Black Lives Matter Meditations Contemplative Practices for Anti-Oppression Pedagogy Black folks in our community: How do you feel after the verdict? Let us know in the comments below. Non-Black members of color in our community: We recognize and see you and the pain that you may also be experiencing. Keep showing up in the fight against white supremacy. Learn, reflect and continue to dismiss anti-Black narratives. White folk in our community: Keep showing up. Keep doing work to decenter whiteness and to learn, reflect and readjust.

Amanda Lynch

Sha'Carri Richardson Needs Understanding, Not Retribution

A few weeks ago, Sha’Carri Richardson burst onto the international track and field scene with vibrant hair, long colorful nails and a radiating personality, she quickly became a household name. For some, Sha’Carri was labeled as brash and “too much,” but for Black women like me, it was refreshing to see a young Black woman so full of purpose, talent and grace and one who was unafraid to show up as her full self for herself.  After the race, Sha’Carri rushed into the stands and fell into the arms of her grandmother. She attributes her success to her grandmother who raised her from infancy and it was important for her to share in that moment of resilience with her biggest supporter. Sha’Carri quickly drew comparisons to Flo’ Jo, the world record holder for the 100 meter race both in style and speed. Sha’Carri dominated the 100-meter heat, becoming the fastest woman in the world, days after learning from a reporter that her biological mother passed away. You read that correctly, she learned during an interview just a week prior to her historic race that her mother passed away. This morning, we learned that Sha’Carri tested positive for marijuana use following that historic race. Marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug and despite being legal in many states and countries throughout the world, it is prohibited by Olympic officials. Sha’Carri knew this prior to using and she has accepted responsibility for her decision to use marijuana to mask her grief. In our early 20s our brains aren’t fully developed and in the midst of grief and trauma , we aren’t always able to make responsible decisions in the moment. Like Micheal Phelps, Sha’Carri stated that she turned to marijuana due to her struggles with her mental health . In spite of her struggles, Sha’Carri’s journey has been remarkable. She is extraordinary and as a community we must show up for her, and countless others like her, so that she doesn’t forget that. In an interview on the Today Show this morning, she took responsibility for her actions offering apologies to everyone who has helped her ascend to the international stage.  At 21-years-old, she has been suspended from the Olympic team, as required by their governing body. She said that she’d smoked marijuana after learning from the reporter about her mother’s death in Oregon where the drug is legal. She was unprepared for the information about her mother and I believe the way that it was delivered to her was irresponsible. She spoke candidly with Savannah Guthrie about her tumultuous relationship with her mother and the pain that she was in when she learned of her death. Trauma alters our ability to think clearly and without a solid support system, healthy experiences and resources, Sha’Carri was left in an extremely vulnerable state. She, in her own words, is human. I am human— Sha’Carri Richardson (@itskerrii) July 1, 2021 This brings up many issues for me. Just yesterday, Virginia (my home state) became the first state in the South to decriminalize marijuana use. In Oregon, where the trials are being held, marijuana use is also legal. Nearly twenty states and D.C. have legalized marijuana. But without federal legislation to decriminalize marijuana, Black and Brown people and our communities will continue to be harmed by laws and policies that disproportionately impact communities of color. In a previous article, I wrote “In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse , more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure. What would have happened if one caring adult had taken notice that these misbehaviors were actually cries for help? As a Black community, we must learn how to embrace our community members struggling through addiction , physical and sexual abuse . We must open the door to allow our children to develop healthy coping skills through adverse trauma . The more trauma you pour into someone, the more likely they are to be pushed into the margins of society and to retreat into the solace of at-risk behaviors.” As someone who has watched countless friends and family members struggle with addiction , we must understand that what Sha’Carri needs in this moment is connection and understanding and not retribution and chastisement from her community. I suggest that we start by asking ourselves and our collective community the following questions: What are we pouring back into our communities and into our youth? How are we expected to show up as our best selves when they lack the resources to do so? Let’s be clear, Sha’Carri did not break any laws in the state of Oregon. She did however violate a policy instituted by US Track and Field and Olympic officials and for that she has been sanctioned. I hope that she finds healing. I also hope this opens up a larger conversation about self-healing practices and the lack of mental health resources available to the BIPOC community. Sha’Carri doesn’t owe any of us an apology. She owes it to herself an opportunity to heal from this, her childhood and the recent loss of her mother. If you find that you are struggling to maintain emotional balance or to unpack your emotional labor, I offer the following: 1. State your intention Start the week by setting goals and intentions. Start off small to create quick wins. 2. Make time for yourself Carve out five to 10 minutes a day to focus on your own needs. Take a quick walk around the block, do breath work or make a favorite meal. 3. Self-care Create an emergency self-care plan that you can draw from in a crisis situation. 4. Find opportunities to care for your spirit For me, this requires bi-weekly therapy and meditation.    

Amanda Lynch

Intergenerational Trauma: What Juneteenth Means to Me

As I watched President Biden sign the bill to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday, my mind immediately was drawn to stories about Mary Jane Harris Palmore, my Granny’s grandmother. Born into slavery on the Palmore plantation in Powhatan, Virginia and daughter of Amanda Liggon and Richard Harris. At some point Mary Jane’s mother, Amanda, was sold to a plantation in another state. I can’t fathom the heartache, depression and anxiety that this must have caused Mary Jane, as she later would name one of her own daughters (my great-grandfather’s sister) Amanda. I, too, carry this name. Mary Jane attempted to escape over and over again, only to be captured and severely punished and returned to MB Palmore, the plantation owner’s son. Research suggests that the men in the Palmore family were brutal. They forced the enslaved persons on the plantation to eat from troughs and physically, sexually and emotionally ravaged the enslaved community on the grounds. Mary Jane was unable to escape the brutality of the Palmore Plantation until 1890, long after the end of the Civil War. When I think about what Juneteenth means to me, I wonder how this intergenerational trauma has impacted me genetically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. What survival instincts exist inside of me because of the experiences of my ancestors? Through the study of epigenetics, I understand that trauma can be passed down through our genes. But if trauma can be passed down and rewire our neural pathways, can intergenerational resilience do the same? The women in my family survived then and we survive now. Black Americans survived enslavement, Jim Crow and we continue to survive systematic and systemic racism and oppression day in and day out. Folk will have you to believe that we are light-years removed from slavery, but we are not. I bear the name of Mary Jane’s mother and daughter, Amanda Liggon and Amanda Brown. As long as I live, so does she. So do they. We may bend, but we will never break. We are Juneteenth.

Amanda Lynch

The Derek Chauvin Verdict and the Effects of Collective Grief

Last summer, I wrote an article about managing anxiety associated with racial trauma after the death of George Floyd. At the time, I was struggling with the impact of collective grief and trying to process the constant barrage of images and videos of George Floyd’s death. Yesterday, jurors found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd last May. Millions of people across the globe watched Floyd plead for his life for nine minutes and 29 seconds before finally succumbing to his injuries. He was a son, father, partner and friend. Floyd’s death sparked international outcry across the globe. This doesn’t feel like justice, but it does feel like accountability. I hadn’t realized how I’d been impacted by Floyd’s death until I began to cry uncontrollably as the verdict was read. Racism is a public health crisis. It shows up in our bodies through toxic stress and if we aren’t careful, we will hold on to me. Its effects mimic PTSD-like systems and the emotional labor of social justice work can sometimes feel too heavy to bear. Although Chauvin was found guilty, we must continue to teach others that racism is a pervasive public health crisis in America. We must speak the names of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Sandra Bland, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and countless other Black and Brown lives violently taken at the hands of police. We must continue to fight for an end to qualified immunity, transparency and accountability in these cases. In “Facing Racial Trauma – Again and Again – as a Black Woman With Anxiety,” I noted that in 2019, police officers killed over 1,000 people. In developing further into the statistics, it was noted that of that number, 23% of those murdered were Black, despite being 13% of the population. In fact, according to research, there were only 27 days in 2019 where police did not kill someone. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. They are also 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. In 99% of these cases, officers have not been charged with a crime, even when there is video evidence. (See more at Mapping Police Violence.) These statistics, paired with the near daily images from police body cams and cell phone images from helpless bystanders, can be triggering for those of us struggling with anxiety and collective grief. They can also be debilitating for African Americans living with mental illness. Every time a Black of Brown community member is violently killed by those who are charged with protecting and serving, we are retraumatized. We must hold space for ourselves and for our community. As a Black woman living with anxiety, I’ve found I have to step away from the constant replay of these images on social media for my own self-care. Self-care for me looks like engaging in inner work with my therapist, meditation, building breaks in my workday and establishing healthy physical and emotional boundaries to ensure that I am not becoming overwhelmed by my social justice work. Here are some resources for self-care: Resource for People of Color: Four Ways People of Color Can Foster Mental Health and Practice Restorative Healing Resource for Allies: How to Use Mindfulness to Stand in Solidarity With the Black Community Meditations: Black Lives Matter Meditations Contemplative Practices for Anti-Oppression Pedagogy Black folks in our community: How are you taking care of yourself right now? Let us know in the comments below. Non-Black members of color in our community: We recognize and see you and the pain that you may also be experiencing. Keep showing up in the fight against white supremacy. Learn, reflect and continue to dismiss anti-Black narratives. White folk in our community: Keep showing up. Keep doing work to decenter whiteness and to learn, reflect and readjust.

Amanda Lynch

What DMX's Life Can Teach Us About Trauma and Addiction

“All I know is pain, all I feel is rain / How can I maintain with that shit on my brain…”— “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem,” DMX Earl Simmons, known by his stage name DMX, showed up as his full, authentic self in an exceptional way not displayed by many artists. Whether it was to pray with and for our collective community, or to spit lyrics that challenged societal norms, DMX was going to show up and show out. By interweaving his personal traumas with grit and a strong beat, DMX became one of the most prolific and relatable rappers of our time. Through his gift of storytelling and use of vivid imagery, DMX was a true wordsmith; able to express the heartache of a generation of Black and Brown youth that had been failed by systemic racism and failed drug policies. The loss of DMX on Friday sent a ripple throughout the Black community. Many of us grew up in the 1990’s-2000’s rapping along to songs like “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” and “Get At Me Dog” from “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.” It was clear that music became an escape for DMX, who was struggling with his own personal demons. It was as if he sought to reclaim his pain and transform it into an opportunity to heal himself and others. In the end he couldn’t escape it though. Recently DMX revealed that at age 14 he was introduced to crack cocaine by a father figure, someone he trusted who had betrayed him. This man laced a marijuana cigarette with crack, effectively stripping him of his consent. This was the perfect storm for a life-long addiction. Crack became a way for him to silence the pain that continued to plague him throughout his lifetime. According to the Department of Justice, crack cocaine is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant that is derived from powdered cocaine using a simple conversion process. Crack emerged as a drug of abuse in the mid-1980s. DMX grew up in a community that was devastated by the crack epidemic. Black addicts in the 80’s and 90’s weren’t offered treatment, instead America responded by over-policing Black communities and by incarcerating Black men in record numbers. Although their relationship had reportedly been mended over the years, DMX’s mother physically beat him so badly with a broom when he was 6 years old, the impact knocked out his two front teeth. He’d spend the next few years in and out of juvenile detention centers. Many of our schools are prep schools for prison and this was just another system that failed him as a child. He spent much of his youth roaming the streets trying to flee his mother and her boyfriends, which led to multiple incarcerations. For DMX, his art often imitated his life. By the time he was 10, he’d been expelled from school for a series of misbehaviors. Traumatic life experiences such as physical, verbal and sexual abuse in early adolescence significantly increases the risk for a number of at-risk behaviors. In short, trauma often leads to addiction. As many as two-thirds of all individuals with addictions experienced some form of trauma during their childhood. Trauma and adverse childhood experiences, reshape our brain. In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure. What would have happened if one caring adult had taken notice that these misbehaviors were actually cries for help? As a Black community, we must learn how to embrace our community members struggling through addiction, physical and sexual abuse. We must open the door to allow our children to develop healthy coping skills through adverse trauma. The more trauma you pour into someone, the more likely they are to be pushed into the margins of society and to retreat into the solace of at-risk behaviors. Although the Black community isn’t monolithic, and we must stop treating our community members struggling with substance use like they have some kind of moral failing. More often than not, substance use disorder is an extension of childhood trauma. As a society, we’ve allowed Reagan’s War on Drugs and Clinton’s failed drug policies to create a generation of Black youth who’ve been incarcerated and dismissed, rather than providing them the treatment that they so desperately needed. This is one of the greatest health crises of our time. Rest well Mr. Simmons. May your experiences help another to heal.

Amanda Lynch

George Floyd Protests and the Effects of Continued Racial Trauma

Philando Castille. Sandra Bland. Yvette Smith. Malissa Williams. Timothy Russell. Tamir Rice. Akai Gurley. Jonathan Ferrell. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. John Crawford. Rakia Boyd. George Floyd. Terrance Crutcher. Samuel DuBose. Freddie Gray. Walter L. Scott. Breonna Taylor. Say their names. They were each killed by the police. Last year, police officers killed over 1,000 people. According to the Washington Post, of that number, 23% of those murdered were black, despite being 13% of the population. In fact, according to research, there were only 27 days in 2019 where police did not kill someone. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. They are also 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. In 99% of these cases, officers have not been charged with a crime, even when there is video evidence. (See more at Mapping Police Violence.) In communities where police departments have put limits and tighter restrictions on “use of force” and increased mental health training, the number of officer shootings have declined. Videos of these shootings tend to spread like wildfire. Calls for police reform and community policing ring loudly, die down and then cycle back through the news months or weeks later when another shooting captures the nation’s attention. These statistics are not only troubling, they are triggering. They can also be debilitating for African Americans living with mental illness. This data coupled with the increased media attention, debates on social media and the release of the videos showing police violence can be detrimental to one’s mental health. Every time this happens, the racial trauma is real. It is also systemic and systematic. We simply can not ignore it. As a black woman living with anxiety, I’ve found that I have to step away from the constant replay of these images on social media for my own self-care. In a previous article, “We Can’t Undermine the Effects of Racial Trauma“), I offer the following: If you find that you are experiencing the following symptoms due to the increasing accessibility to these images: intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, irritability and jumpiness, then you may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I would encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional, find support within your community with civic associations and groups who promote social justice and volunteer to bridge the gap that may exist between your community and area officers. Further, if you find you are struggling to maintain your self-care during this time, find ways to build in breaks by unplugging from social media and the news, set healthy boundaries and reach out for support when needed. It is very easy to be triggered by the constant barrage of racial trauma we are faced with both online and in our day-to-day lives. Black folks in our community: how are you taking care of yourself right now? Let us know in the comments below.