To Connect or Disconnect: Steps to Connect and Change

To Connect or Disconnect: Steps to Connect and Change

My African American mother, aunts and uncle lived through the Jim Crow laws and experienced racial violence throughout much of their childhood.  My Congolese father and aunts experienced the trauma of war in DRC. The recent killings have touched trauma wounds in some members of my family.

I imagine that many survivors of intergenerational trauma are recalling warnings from their elders who communicated that this world is unsafe for Black people –that Black people do not really fit in American society.  The painful and harsh reality lingers as a backdrop for daily life.  When another Black person is killed, the pain rushes to the forefront and the weight of the truth of who we are in America slaps us once again. This is what trauma can feel like.  For those experiencing intergenerational trauma, these killings are painful as we understand that the person killed could have been one of our close friends or a family member.

How do survivors navigate intergenerational trauma in an environment so reminiscent of the events that impacted their parents and grandparents? How we connect with each other across races in a climate of vast disconnection remains a conundrum.  I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few ideas.

Survivors of intergenerational trauma can work with a therapist to recognize and unlearn patterns that help prevent transmitting the trauma to younger generations.  Understanding the cycle in our family history and working to stop it matters.  It can change the future. Considering attachment styles and doing work within our parent-child relationships are also be beneficial.

As individuals, we can learn and accept the truth about our American history and find a safe space to connect with each other anyway… one person at a time.  We can speak truthfully both about our history and love our country.  We can show up for tough conversations about race, racism, and our shame about institutionalized slavery.

I draw some inspiration from an unlikely source, a story involving an ex-member of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), Scott Shepherd who was a member of the Klan for 20 years, since he was age 19.  Shepherd’s family and friends had long histories with the KKK.  Some were connected to the murders of the three Civil Rights activists whose life stories are featured in the movie, Mississippi Burning.  Some were also involved in the lynching and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.  Shepherd’s godfather murdered Medgar Evers.

One day Shepherd met a Black blues pianist, Darrell Davis, who connected with white supremacist group members hoping to help them recognize the humanity in people of all races.  Davis was the catalyst for Shepherd’s growth and his change of heart about being a Klansman. It’s a fascinating story of the power of connection, and I hope it inspires others to take more steps towards each other.  We are indeed in this together.

Bapuamoyo Kambeya, APC, is a therapist at CHRIS Counseling Center-Gwinnett.

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Bapuamoyo Kambeya, APC
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