Police violence against black folks of all ages and classes occurs daily in the US. In turn, this feature of American society spurs resistance. We turn to a path of resisting police violence. Kristee Haggins, Ph.D., is a Sacramento-based psychologist involved with healing a community under such attack in ways big and small. According to the political agenda of Black Lives Matter, survivors of police violence can experience a vexing sense of loss. This in turn has spurred mental health professionals to design “culturally responsive” approaches for survivors. Haggins is an African-centered psychologist who facilitates Sacramento’s Safe Black Space: A Healing Circle by and for People of African Ancestry. She and I conducted the interview below by email and phone.
Seth Sandronsky: When did you begin Safe Black Space?
Kristee Haggins: Myself and other mental health providers, faith leaders, educators, and community members, began Safe Black Space in April 2018 after Stephon Clark’s murder to provide “a space specifically for Black people to address the traumatic responses they were experiencing because of the killing.” Since police particularly target people of color, it is important to design healing spaces with this in mind.
SS: What is a specific condition of people of African-ancestry surviving police violence?
KH: We can think of incidents like these as triggering racial or cultural stress and trauma. A form of “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” can be reframed as “Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder or Syndrome.” Many black people are feeling the impact of racial trauma after the recent police killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento. His violent death could have easily been that of a family member or friend. Seeing and witnessing such violence whether or not it has happened directly to you can trigger trauma reactions.
SS: What is your professional background?
KH: I am an African-centered psychologist by training and a member of the Association of Black Psychologists. I am a professor and teach doctoral clinical psychology courses on cultural diversity training and introduction to psychotherapy, among others.
SS: What is your take on traditional mental health services?
KH: Traditional services can be helpful and effective but they must be provided in a culturally competent manner. There is another layer of awareness needed and necessary to treat people of African ancestry successfully. In addition, offering culturally relevant strategies can complement mainstream services.
Given the current racial climate, being able to talk about cultural dynamics and experiences and what it means to be black, is important. Having a safe place to process what is happening in and to the black community, in our country and in our world around race and racism is healing in its own right. One specific strategy for addressing racial trauma is providing healing circles — such as Safe Black Spaces and Emotional Emancipation Circles. In these circles people of African ancestry come together in community, make connections, begin to understand the history of racism, and learn strategies for coping.
SS: There have been two Safe Black Space events and planning for a third is underway. Explain what the Emotional Emancipation Circle Facilitator Training is and plans to implement it in Sacramento.
KH: There has been interest in continuing to offer Safe Black Space — Community Healing Circles (SBS-CHCs) in various black communities across the Sacramento region. They serve as example of the EEC healing circle experience (see below) and offer an immediate response to racial stress and trauma. The original workgroup is making plans for our next SBS-CHC and general information can be found at safeblackspace.org.
We are excited to train approximately 30 individuals to become Emotional Emancipation Circle (EEC) Facilitators May 18th and 19th and expect they will offer 8-10 EECs throughout the Sacramento region over the next six to twelve months. EECs are the next level of healing, from which the SBS-CHS’s were developed. They explicitly address racial stress and trauma over a series of circle meetings and are described below.
Emotional Emancipation Circles℠ (EEC) are a community-defined evidence practice developed to address the lack of African American focused mental health service models. EECs are support groups designed for African American people to “work together to overcome, heal from, and overturn the lies of white superiority and black inferiority.” In the circles, participants share their stories and feelings, learn about historical forces that have shaped their experiences, develop a healing and validating relationship with each other, learn wellness skills for living in a racist society, and learn to value themselves as African American individuals and as a people. EECs are a unique tool for supporting the development of racial and ethnic identity for African Americans as valued members of a community.
In addition, the workgroup members who have been providing SBS-CHCs and many of whom are getting trained as EEC Facilitators, are also developing other services and related workshops. These include cultural competence training focused on appropriately serving people of African ancestry, as well as Grandma’s Backyard, creating safe green spaces within the community.
Although the impetus of this work is tragic, the time to provide culturally competent and trauma informed care and support to the black community is now.
SS: Thank you for your time, Kristee.
KH: Thank you, Seth.