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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Trauma Conference Aims To 'Promote Healing & Systematic Change'

Teran Powell
Panelists discuss their perspectives on race and trauma. (Left to right) Rev. Jim Wallis, Dr. Harold Koplewicz, Dr. Fran Kaplan, Alejandra Gonzalez, Dr. Howard Fuller and Sumaiyah Clark

Hundreds of people came together at new the Fiserv Forum this week to discuss ways to heal the Milwaukee community from the effects of trauma.

The three-day Healing Trauma, Healthy Communities Conference kicked off Wednesday night with a community gathering. 

The sold-out event introduced the audience to what trauma is, its effects, and how to heal going forward.

A panel of leaders in social justice and advocacy also discussed how they see trauma and race from their individual perspectives.

A choir opened the event with a rendition of Speak To My Heart.

The conference is hosted by Saint A, a nonprofit agency at the forefront of trauma-informed care, and sponsored by Scaling Wellness In Milwaukee (SWIM). SWIM is a coalition of people working to address the impacts of generational trauma in Milwaukee and how the community today can still be affected from violence and other trauma that occurred years ago.

Marquette University president, Dr. Michael Lovell, is SWIM’s co-founder and on the coalition’s steering committee. He explained what attendees could expect from the conference: “Over the next three days, we will learn from national and local experts about recent breakthroughs and advances in trauma-informed care. But this week’s conference is only a small step in a long journey to addressing the challenges facing Milwaukee. At the conclusion of this conference, we must continue to have dialogue, build trust, and collaboratively promote healing and systematic change in our city.”

Lovell also presented a two-part challenge to conference attendees: Get to know someone that comes from a different background and commit to working with that person to make a positive change in Milwaukee.

Organizers of the event concede that talking about the connection between race and trauma can be a challenge and could probably make some people uncomfortable.

Speaking to the gathering, the president of CEO of Saint A, Ann Leinfelder-Grove, said in the past numerous events and trainings have been held to promote trauma-informed care. However, she said, people were saying something was missing.

“You are missing historical and generational trauma, and racism, and systemic racism. Slavery, boarding schools, genocide, the Holocaust. Implicit Bias. White privilege. These are things that help define trauma and a trauma response. They said, 'You really need to add these to what you’re talking about,' and so we did.” 

Leinfelder-Grove said race and trauma are perhaps “the most burning issue we face" in the city, the state, and throughout the country.

LISTEN: National Expert Considers Intersection Of Racism & Trauma In Milwaukee

Guest speakers followed, sharing their expertise. Among them was Dr. Bruce Perry, a fellow at the Child Trauma Academyin Houston, who discussed trauma, race, recovery and healing.

“When people talk about ACES or adversity, it turns out that the timing of adversity makes a difference," he said. "Adversity in the first couple months of life, have a much more powerful impact on the long-term functioning of the child, than adversity that taked place when you’re 12.”

Then there was the Reverend Jim Wallis, the president and founder of Sojourners. He said, “When you get to trauma and race and recovery and healing there is a spiritual reality I would say, which is this: There is no healing without the truth.”

A panel discussion had leaders share their perspectives about race and trauma.

One panelist, Dr. Howard Fuller of the Institute for Transformative Learning, had a passionate response: “Ya’ll say you want truth. I’ll just tell you this. I just feel like we’re having this polite conversation in a community where people have deep problems. And so, when ya’ll start talking about race and trauma, like I respect all of you all who are trying to deal with trauma-informed care, I really do, but I believe that we don’t have no commitment to ending the reason why people got the trauma in the first place.”

When it comes to what’s being done that’s working or needs improvement, panelists and organizers said, a lot of progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.

Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.

Do you have a question about race in Milwaukee? Submit it below.


Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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