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A 'Cycle Of Healing': Neighborhood Trauma Team Helps Boston Residents Confront Violence, Pandemic, Racism07:23
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Boston Police examine the evidence on the ground in front of the Colonnade Hotel on Huntington Ave. following a shooting that claimed the life of Boston taxi driver Luckinson Oruma in June, 2019. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Police examine the evidence on the ground in front of the Colonnade Hotel on Huntington Ave. following a shooting that claimed the life of Boston taxi driver Luckinson Oruma in June, 2019. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It's an underreported side of community violence. When a person experiences violence — as a victim, a family member of a victim, or a loved one of a perpetrator — it can leave long-lasting trauma.

Parts of Boston are experiencing a crush of trauma — not just from an uptick in violence recently, but also the coronavirus pandemic and issues around systemic racism and police brutality.

To try to ease some of that pain, the city deploys trauma teams. Started in 2017, the teams are made up of people from the community who are trained to reach out to those affected by violence and connect them to resources including mental health care providers, regardless of whether they have insurance. The trauma response network has 19 community partners, including community health centers and homicide survivor-led organizations, that provide those services.

WBUR's Jack Lepiarz spoke with Mark Scott, program director for trauma response and recovery services with the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), and Lavell Fulks, a member of the neighborhood trauma team, which is administered by Justice Resource Institute under contract with BPHC.

Interview Highlights

Mark Scott: "I'd have to say that the level of trauma that our community is experiencing is fairly high ... We were already dealing with poverty. We were already dealing with struggling around education and access to work, and then the violence that appears and manifests itself all too frequently in many of our neighborhoods.

"And then all of a sudden, you come into this year and we're in a pandemic. And then a little bit later on, you realize that the pandemic is impacting our neighbors disproportionately and we're suffering from that. And then white supremacy, structural racism manifests itself, certainly in the case of George Floyd, but then really again and again. And then you have the uprisings in response to that.

"So it's been kind of a wave of one thing after the other, and then the violence itself has increased. So we're seeing more violence in our neighborhoods in 2020 than we did this time last year, although I should note, it's on par with what we experienced two years ago. So violence is very uneven, unfair and has a randomness to it."

On what the Neighborhood Trauma Team members do when they respond to a homicide:

Lavell Fulks: "Our first duty at the scene is to get there, to make sure that everything is safe at the scene and engage with any community members who may be experiencing trauma, who may be experiencing any highly emotional ... feelings because of the incident.

Neighborhood Trauma Team member Lavell Fulks (Courtesy Boston Public Health Commission)
Neighborhood Trauma Team member Lavell Fulks (Courtesy Boston Public Health Commission)

"We administer psychological first aid — that's engaging with individuals, trying to calm them down ...  You add COVID to it, it exacerbates it, because people can't connect with those who can be supports. And so it's really, really important at this time that when we go out, we do try to build as many bridges as possible to be able to connect people [to] resources and just begin the phase of healing."

On whether members of the team now ask people about mental and financial strain from the pandemic:

Lavell Fulks: "On the initial scene, I would say that some of those things may not come up in terms of food security, some of the more deeper issues. But ... once we connect them to the rest of the network, people in their roles, you know, help families get food, help families find resources for fuel assistance and other things such as that.

"But sometimes a scene will have no people. So we go out and we take our pamphlets, our literature, we distribute it on the doors, on cars, and we make sure that we pass out the number and give this information ... It's 617-431-0125.  That's the trauma support line ... and we tell them if they need connections to therapeutic supports, definitely to reach out to this line."

Mark Scott: "Some of the partners that we work with ... include community health centers, community based organizations like Project R.I.G.H.T. and Madison Park Development Corporation and includes hospitals — Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital ... But then probably one of the most important partners in all of this, other survivor created Survivor led organizations, the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, Mothers for Justice and Equality. Without their creativity, their leadership, we wouldn't exist.

"The violence is shattering. It it shatters your sense of who you are. It shatters your sense of safety. You don't feel safe because you're not safe. And so we're trying to work together to ... create communities that are that are healthier and safer, where a lot of the violence that we're seeing decreases."

Lavell Fulks: "My hope is that through the work that we do, we create this this this cycle of healing, this space where, you know, healing and dealing with your trauma and talking about your trauma is not taboo."

Pallbearers carry the casket of 17-year-old Raekwon Brown, who was murdered near his high school in Dorchester in 2016. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Pallbearers carry the casket of 17-year-old Raekwon Brown, who was murdered near his high school in Dorchester in 2016. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

On barriers to people seeking help for trauma-related mental health issues:

Mark Scott: "I think a lot of the challenge for people who are seeking the service is to know we're here ... But really it's somebody you trust ... and if we can get them connected to somebody where they can create a relationship, then it works. But it is not like push a button and it works. It takes trusted relationships and it takes repetition to create the new relationships we need in order for the healing process to really begin and be sustained."

Lavell Fulks: "One of the primary reasons that we need to, you know, create this high level of trust, this high level of transparency, this sense of accessibility is a lot due to [the] historical relationship that our community has — Black and brown community has had — with mental health — with the ideas of accessing mental health and just health services in general, right?

"With us being, you know, hopefully more accessible, more visible ... just more on the scene for the community to see us and know that we're there, that will hopefully knock down some of the barriers ... and just create more of a pipeline to get to healing."

On how the pandemic, systemic racism and police killings are interwoven with or contribute to community violence:

Lavell Fulks: "A lot of what we're talking about — pandemic police violence, community violence — we always talk about access to resources, equity, equality, you know, a lot of these buzz words that get used all at a time. And, you know, the stats don't lie. When you see the number of police shootings of Black men in comparison to white men in this country, the statistics don't lie. When you see the number of black males incarcerated in this country compared to white males, the statistics don't lie. The educational system, the graduation rate ... the statistics don't lie. So I would say with all of those things being interconnected ... we can't attack everything. We just have to understand from the lane that we come in, the healing space."

Mark Scott: "Part of what is a motivator for this is ... I have seen our community do it before ... I mean, I've seen us make progress against all of those complicated forces that are pushing against us, including the violence ... Even, say, with the Boston Police Department. I remember what policing looked like in this city in the late [1980s], early [1990s]. And I've seen the work that the community has done in partnership with the police to bring progress, you know, real, noticeable progress ... And that's what's going to be our way of resisting all of that complicated, historical, interconnected, reinforcing, oppressive white supremacy, structural racism that we see manifesting itself in our communities.

This segment aired on July 30, 2020.

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Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.

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