Is Organizing a Pathway for Wellbeing and Post-Traumatic Growth for Black Youth in New York City? Exploring Recovery from Historical Trauma and Systemic Violence

Anna Ortega-Williams, Fordham University

Abstract

The systemic violence Black youth encounter in NYC is pervasive, interlocking and disproportionately exposes them to trauma. Current-day systemic violence impacting Black youth is rooted in historical trauma as well. The response of some Black youth to systemic violence is to be at the forefront of organizing efforts to transform the systems that traumatize them, to increase their wellbeing. In social work, there is a dominant thrust to develop intrapsychic coping mechanisms among Black youth to address the harm correlated with social disparities, such as trauma-informed practice and positive youth development strategies. Organizing to interrupt systemic violence, heal historical mass group trauma, and promote post-traumatic growth are not often addressed in these modalities. The aim of this study was to better understand the meaning, features and role of organizing to Black youth standing up for racial and economic justice in New York City. The purpose was to investigate if and how organizing was a pathway to post-traumatic growth, wellbeing, healing, and recovery from systemic violence in the context of historical trauma. ^ In this study using a phenomenological and critical qualitative research approach, 20 semi-structured interviews 45-90min in length were conducted, in addition to three participant observations of an organizing meeting and two social actions. Interviewees were Black youth organizers ages 18-31, with an average age of 24. Gender identity categories were inclusive of 2 gender non-conforming, 10 cis-gender female, and 8 cis-gender male youth, two identified as fathers of 1 child (both under 5 years old). Experience in organizing ranged from 6 months to over 12 years as an activist or organizer, with the average experience level being 5 years. ^ Key findings: 1) The meaning of organizing is to redefine destiny, 2) organizing heals as a spiritual/energetic experience of connecting with ancestors and a healed Black future, and 3) a pathway to post-traumatic growth is through collective action. Participants did identify some risks to their wellbeing while organizing, such as 1) pain from inescapable awareness of social injustice, 2) the physical and emotional drain of organizing work, 3) toxicity and violence in some organizing spaces and communities, and 4) value-clashes at work. The risks appeared to be mitigated by access to collective self-care efforts. ^

Subject Area

Social work

Recommended Citation

Ortega-Williams, Anna, "Is Organizing a Pathway for Wellbeing and Post-Traumatic Growth for Black Youth in New York City? Exploring Recovery from Historical Trauma and Systemic Violence" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10279034.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI10279034

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