The Importance of Resilience in Black Communities
Rev. Doretha Williams-Flournoy
This past weekend, I participated in a conference about the mental health needs of Black Americans. During the conference there was a presentation on The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Chronic Toxic Stress. ACEs were described as abuse, neglect, and family/household challenges. ACEs are strongly related to the development of risk factors for disease, and well-being throughout the life course.
Toxic stress response
can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. When toxic stress response occurs continually, or is triggered by multiple sources, it can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health—for a lifetime. The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression. As I sat through the presentation, I became aware of the multiple indices in which Black people demonstrated the poorest health outcomes: heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide. When racism and discrimination was described as toxic stressor, the reason for the physical and mental health disparities demonstrated within Black communities became evident. Black people bear a disproportionate burden of disease, injury, death, and disability.
Toward the end, the presenter described the impact of community resilience as a mitigator of ACEs and toxic stress. Community Resilience is the ability of a community to use its assets to strengthen and improve the community’s physical, behavioral, and social health to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity. Building community resilience is a key to mitigating disease progression and generational dysfunctions stimulated by ACEs and toxic stress. At the center of community resilience and possibly the most powerful is social connectedness, communication, collaboration and engaging those most at-risk among us.
By now you must be asking, “What does this have to do with Black History Month?” As I listened to the presentation, I reflected on the strategies Black people used over the years to overcome racism and discrimination. I thought about the marches, the bus boycotts - the use of individually owned cars to get each other to work, the sit-ins, the community meetings, the songs - “We Shall Overcome, Someday…” Although Black History is so much more than Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, the ACEs and Toxic Stressors over the course of history were enough to kill us; but, the social connectedness, the strong collaboration, the passionate communication and the caring for the least among us, bound us together and strengthened us. These factors helped us to survive.
As we celebrate Black History Month, in all our activities and interaction be mindful of building community resilience. Let us set our intention to create community that is centered on social connectedness, communication, collaboration and engaging those most at-risk among us. Our ancestors demonstrated the power of community resilience; we are a testament to their efforts. Together, we can continue the mission and build an even stronger future generation.
For more information on these mental health topics you can visit these websites.