Implementing Cultural Competence in a Trauma Informed Setting for African-American Emerging Adults with Co-occurring Disorders

by Fred Dyer, PhD, CADC

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The aforementioned title of this post reminds those of us who are working with African American Emerging Adults with Co-occurring Disorders, and/or those who desire to, that due to the early exposure of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE'S) and their impact psychiactrically, behaviorally and developmentally, when working with African Emerging adults it is necessary to be able to respond to the trauma in their lives in a culturally competent/sensitive manner.

 Laura Brown{2008} reminds us of the importance of cultural competence  in trauma informed care by stating that "Healthcare delivery of services for emerging adults  cannot be all inclusive without embracing, the need  for cultural competence/sensitivity, and even the best practices lack efficacy when culture is not incorporated as a trauma-informed solution. Additionally failure to bring cultural competence to the table can lead to missteps in genuinely helping African American emerging Adult trauma survivors or worse can result in deepening the wounds of trauma, creating secondary and tertiary traumas that are more painful than the original because they are appraised by victims and survivors as unnecessary wounds.

 As with other important topics time nor space affords the appropriate amount of time to discuss. However any discussion/treatment of trauma must and should include: Historical trauma and culturally competent/ sensitive practice parameters for healing historical trauma.

The following are a few principles for implementing culturally competent/sensitive trauma informed -care with African- American emerging adults with co-occurring disorders. 1. connect clients with resources they trust including types of professionals and traditional healers, 2. help clients to restore a sense of safety, 3. connect clients with elders who lived thru traumatic events and who managed trauma, discrimination, and setbacks, 4. remember it is important to ask clients "what the event means to them. It is clear that addressing cultural competency and utilizing cultural sensitivity in a trauma -informed setting with African - American emerging adults with co-occurring disorders is no longer an exception, but rather an expectation.

Recovered Or Recovering?

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The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous uses the word Recovered 28 times. There has been a debate the past half century as to whether or not persons in recovery are recovered or recovering. I have posed this question in seminars and participants never  unanimously agree. All agree that if a person dies while in recovery, they are recovered!  

This blog post is dedicated to 5 African American Addictions counselors who spent years in service to others both professionally and personally prior to their death. I knew each of them personally. This is my tribute to them.

Richard Black---Died last week. In the August 2017 story of the month in this museum I introduced him as my brother in law. The last 3 decades of his life were dedicated to helping facilitate recovery in his role as an addictions counselor and volunteer service work.

"Brother" Earl Cannamore---An elder in the addictions field and mentor to many. Earl use to say, "I'm the greatest substance abuse counselor in the world!" He took pride in his work. The word enthusiasm comes from a Greek word which means, "the God within." Brother Earl was the most enthusiastic person I ever met. His clients were fortunate. Earl's legacy includes the multiple recovery videos he created which have outlived him. Earl died in 1995.

Rasheed Akbar---I owe my families recovery to Rasheed Akbar! He was my uncle Isaac's counselor whom was first in our family to recover. He was also my brother's counselor. Just as addiction runs in families, so does recovery! Numerous family members are now in recovery. We no longer have "drunk parties" as a family. We have sober parties. Thank you Rasheed! Rest in peace.

Reverend Elliott Lyons--I met Elliot when I was a young addictions counselor. He was in the winter of his career. I remember hearing scores of persons in recovery credit Elliott with helping to facilitate their recovery. I remember him responding to this feedback with such humility. 32 years ago my wife and I married. We were in different religions and wanted to select a minister to officiate our wedding ceremony who would be non-judgmental of religious differences. We selected Reverend Elliott Lyons, a man who demonstrated an awareness of Gods "bigness" by helping people from all walks of life, secular and religious with their recovery.

Greg Yarborough-- Greg counseled with a rhythm! James Brumley and I as newer counselors marveled at how Greg charismatically  counseled 4 or 5 clients at the same time in the milieu. The magic of how he worked is difficult to explain. I am sorry that counselors today never witnessed this. It was something to see!

Education As Substance Abuse Prevention and a Recovery Tool for African Americans

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In the 1960's activist, religious and civil rights leader Malcolm X stated, “When you live in a poor neighborhood, you are living in an area where you have poor schools. When you have poor schools you have poor teachers. When you have poor teachers, you get a poor education, you can only work in a poor- paying job. And that poor-paying job enables you to again live in a poor neighborhood. It’s a very vicious cycle."

Malcolm echoed the sentiment of African American Elders who made the migration from the Southern States to the Northern states In search of occupational opportunities and to escape Jim Crow Laws and lynchings in the south. It is estimated that between 1916 to 1970, 6 million African Americans migrated north and secured work in the steel mills, railroads, meat packing and auto industries. The message that these elders/pioneers delivered to young African American children and adolescents who were born in the North is that education is the key to freedom. Many of these elders had parents and grandparents who during slavery were not allowed to attend school or learn to read. A slave owner’s wife was teaching Frederick Douglass to read when Douglass was enslaved. The slave owner told his wife, “If you teach him to read, it will be impossible to keep him a slave.” It was common for Black parents of the Great Migration to tell their children, “No matter how sick you are, you have to go to school.”

At the time of this writing most of the jobs African Americans secured during the Great Migration have either disappeared or have been shipped abroad. Studies indicate that African Americans have twice the unemployment rate as Whites and are still lagging behind on standardized test scores, which can determine the quality of your education. Many are also miseducated in elementary schools increasing the risks of dropping out of high school, drug use, drug selling (for income) drug related arrests felony arrests which makes it even more difficult to qualify for financial Aid for college and secure employment. Thus for many, a feeling of hopelessness can set in leading to a return to drug use  and in some instances drug selling (for income) and a return to prison. To quote Malcolm X, “A very vicious cycle.” Education is also important for African Americans seeking addictions recovery. According to Dr. William Cloud, as educational recovery capital increases, recovery rates also increase.

There is good news. Urban Prep High School, located on the South Side of Chicago has a 100% African American Male Graduation rate and 100% of these young men have gone on to college, over the course of the past decade. Nearly 90% of African Americans who attend North Lawndale Prep High school on the West Side of Chicago go on to College. The average income in the communities where these two schools are located are beneath the poverty line. These schools prove that when a school has a great mission, (Urban Prep expects every student to go to college and the students recite a daily pledge that they plan to go to college) and dedicated faculty who are able to motivate students, all things are possible!

During the Great Migration the manufacturing industry was the largest employer of African Americans. Today, the future of employment in America is STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). These jobs require a good education. The elders were right. Education is a key to success. In spite of the struggles described in this blog post, the great majority of African Americans are high school graduates. Many have also graduated from the finest colleges in the nation and the majority are middle class economically.