Racing ACEs gathering and reflection: If it’s not racially just, it’s not trauma-informed


The following memo was written by a group of people who participated in the Racing ACEs gathering. 

It’s 2016. Local and national protests rise against an ongoing stream of state-sanctioned murders. African-American lives are being lost at a frequency and in a manner that decry ethnic cleansing. Sacred Indigenous land is being desecrated for profit. African-American, Native American, Latino American, Asian American, and poor communities are facing dislocation, police violence, and a range of traumas that compose the frayed ends of America’s historically racist national fabric.

It’s August 2016. In the middle of an election season replete with racially charged rhetoric, immersed in Black Lives Matter actions and the rich local history of social justice movements, a group of practitioners, researchers, and community advocates come together in Richmond, California.

Who we are:  We are more than two-dozen carefully selected representatives engaged at the nexus of the trauma-informed and racial justice fields, forming a circle on behalf of our ancestors, our children, and ourselvesWhat brings us to the room, to the work? Colonialism brought us here. Imperialism brought us here. The spine of western civilization and plunder of nations brought us here. Slavery, ethnic cleansing, all things that made this country possible, that make possible the hoarding of wealth in the hands of a few, all the ramifications of those things, of race as a structure that cages us—that is what brings us here. Oscar Grant brings us here. Mike Brown brings us here. Tamar Rice and Sandra Bland bring us here. Eric Garner. Alex Nieto. Terence Crutcher Korryn Gaines Philando Castile Alton Sterling Anthony Nuñez Jessica Williams Loreal Tsingine … As kin of the murdered, we share an urgent and crucial need to speak. For them. For us.

On the agenda: An exploration of how racial justice – its values, investments, strategies and practices – can be centered at the heart of trauma-informed work. The meeting is called “Racing ACEs,” a reference to the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Our work, in a fundamental sense, is to race ACEs so that we can explicate the inequitable burden of racial oppression, as well as the intersections of oppression, privilege and liberation in all their forms.

The ambivalence of ACEs: The ACE Study is a valuable tool that brings a wider audience to what clinicians, researchers, and advocates working in the field of child and adolescent trauma have said for decades – confirming that experiences of violence, neglect, and trauma are harmful to a person’s long-term health. For those of us in the room, the opportunity and obligation to leverage the study and its implications is also matched by an ambivalence.  The ambivalence that fills the all too common absence of historical trauma and ongoing violence and harm aimed at people of color.  This absence has an atmospheric effect that conveys and compounds harmful pathologies surrounding people of color in the midst of ongoing trauma – pathologies that lead to misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and false assignments that render us as problematic and risk-laden. When they are translated into policies, practices, and investments, these inaccurate pathologies further perpetuate and codify racial oppression and the dehumanization of people of color.

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Police and Black Teens: “If I Get Pulled Over Today…”

By JJIE Staff
 At the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, Michael Gandy, now 28, draws from personal experience as a young black teen. He talks to his mentor and “big brother” Austin Scee, 44, about police, mentorship and the community’s responsibility in the nationwide conversation concerning youth and law enforcement.
Scee: So, Mike, I thought given everything that’s been going on in our country, now might be a good time to revisit something that happened to you and to me in 2008 when you drove up to our house. [My wife] and I met you at the end of the driveway. You were driving your mother’s car, which was a beat-up old car with, I think, fairly heavily tinted windows. You had a police car trailing you as you drove up our street. You made an illegal U-turn in a four-way stop to park in front of our house —

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False confessions make it harder to establish innocence for alleged juvenile offenders


Barry Krisberg

By Barry Krisberg

The national media has widely reported the story of Brendan Dassey, whose murder and sexual assault convictions were reversed by a federal court in Milwaukee on Aug. 12; he had served nearly nine years in prison. He was ordered released unless prosecutors wanted to file a new charge.

Dassey, who was 16 at the time of his arrest, was a central figure in a very popular Netflix documentary — “Making a Murderer.” The court found that the youth was mentally unfit and was coerced into confessing his involvement in the crime by false promises by investigators. The court held that his confession was involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments. His lawyer had not challenged the propriety of the confession.

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Too young to say ‘I do’

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last in New Jersey. Photo: Unchained at Last

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last

by Christie Renick,

This summer, Virginia lawmakers passed a law preventing anyone under the age of 16 from marrying in the state.

Some would call this progress, but advocates fighting to end child marriage in the United States see it as a sobering reminder that adults can legally marry children in all 50 states.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), child marriage is “perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls,” and “marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights.”

Fraidy Reiss is the founder of Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls leave or avoid forced marriages, and advocates to end the practice of child marriage. She lived in an arranged marriage for more than a decade.

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Teens lead way in teaching Camden, NJ, about ACEs and resilience

Hopeworks teens lead a workshop about ACEs science

Hopeworks teens lead a workshop about ACEs science


Two volunteers race against the clock to stack red Solo cups into the highest tower they can manage.

Queenie Smith keeps knocking them down.

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Over 450 diverse leaders gather in College Park, MD, to address health equity, prosperity and ACEs

abc2_TiffA young woman from North Carolina, Tiffany Shields (3rd in from the R), attended her first conference ever August 4-5 at the University of Maryland, College Park. She stood up and told the room that she was nervous about coming, didn’t expect people to be especially welcoming, and thought she’d probably be bored at least part of the time. Instead, it was clear from her beaming smile and enthusiasm that she loved the experience.

Of the hundreds of conferences I’ve planned and attended, this one—Historic Assembly on Health Equity and Prosperity— was far and away the most unusual and inspiring. There was poetry, music,

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Oregon psychiatrist testifies before Senate Finance Committee on the impact of childhood adversity and toxic stress on adult health


Appearing before the powerful Senate Finance Committee  in Washington, DC, recently, Dr. Maggie Bennington-Davis, psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Health Share Oregon, devoted a significant portion of her testimony to  the role of adversity and toxic stress during childhood on adult health, both physical and emotional. She explained how Health Share Oregon—that state’s largest Medicaid coordinated care organization—examined the people with the costliest health bills and found them to have experienced high levels of childhood adversity. She told the senators that the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), first published in 1998 by Drs. Vincent Felliti and Robert Anda, found exactly this correlation.

At the April 28 hearing titled “Mental Health in America: Where are we now?,”* Bennington-Davis addressed the need to look to people’s experiences in childhoods to improve health, knowing that mental illness and substance use disorders, along with other

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