Clergy and Mental Health Professionals Create ‘Safe Black Space’ in Hopes of Healing a Traumatized Community

SACRAMENTO – An event focusing on mental health took place Saturday at Unity of Sacramento that gave members of the African-American community a space to heal after the death of Stephon Clark.

Trauma has been apparent following the weeks since Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento police. Through the protests, the rallies, the anxiety and rage, there lies what can be identified as symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for many in the community.

“We recognize that we were seeing something that other people were feeling but they just didn’t get to express it that way or wouldn’t express it that way,” said Reverend Kevin Ross of Unity of Sacramento.

Clergy and mental health professionals created what they called, Safe Black Space, in direct connection to a plea from Clark’s aunt.

Their first meeting worked to promote healing and call attention to symptoms of PTSD that many may be experiencing but are unable or unwilling to seek help for.

“You can be impacted whether you were there or not,” said Kristee Haggins who has a doctorate in psychology. “So witnessing, watching the live feeds of the shooting over and over again or the news media coverage, everything can be very triggering for many people,” she said.

Safe Black Space is a chance for African-Americans faced with PTSD to express themselves and be understood. It is a chance for healing to begin in a family-like atmosphere.

“Part of that safety is saying ‘for us, by us’,” said Haggins.

Dozens of people attended the Black Safe Space event, opening up to others who share a desire to heal and shed the stigma that is associated with PTSD and mental health issues.

“It felt like a really great way to release a lot of emotions and pain and sadness that I’ve been feeling,” said attendee Jacquelyn Ollison.

Event organizers said they were encouraged by the amount of people who came seeking healing and plan to have more opportunities soon.

“I think we’ve been taught to fear each other, but we haven’t been taught how to hear each other. Said Ross. “If we are taught how to hear each other, we can heal each other,” he said.

Everyone agrees that the fight will continue, but now the fight will include taking on trauma together instead of holding it in.

“Being able to be in this space where you are allowed to deal with that trauma in a safe productive way, I think that gives you even more momentum to continue to fight,” said attendee Guy Ollison.

Ross also stresses that, though people are “focused on justice for Stephon Clark,” it is important to practice self-care. He says, “you can’t give from an empty well.”

If you feel you might be suffering from PTSD, Haggins said to pay attention to how you are feeling. If you are anxious, if you are constantly thinking about the shooting or if it brings you back to traumatic situations in your own life, it could be a sign that it is time to seek help for PTSD.