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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) —  When you hear the term post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, you may associate that with veterans battling memories of war, but many situations can induce that reaction, including racism.

Researchers say finding oneself in racist situations or expecting bias not to be called out and punished because it hasn’t been in the past can be overwhelming.

Born out of the community’s need to share its fears and frustrations after Stephon Clark was killed by police in Sacramento, Safe Black Space is still embracing people four years later.

The birthing process can be chaotic, but on the other side of all that, there’s something beautiful, according to those who find healing in this circle.

 “I didn’t know I could be around folks like this, who are loving and who I could be in community with,  intelligent and pouring into me,” said Trajan Robinson, a Folsom Lake College student and Safe Black Space volunteer.

That pouring in is about filling up the psyches and the spirits that many African Americans say are repeatedly hollowed out by racism – some of it latent, much of it not so.

An example is when Safe Black Space board member Dr. Jacquelyn Ollison, who also happens to be the only instructor of color at her school, is challenged by her subordinates about leading her department because of the color of her skin.

“To question your competency: ‘Oh, you’re a math teacher? You really have the skills to do that?’ I actually do. And when you say it’s traumatizing … it feels like who you are, and everything about your essence is questioned,” Ollison explained. “Like a thousand paper cuts. Over time, it’s just very very painful.”

It’s repeated instances like that and having to press on in the face of it that leave many people wondering what to do with their anger and dismay that so much has yet to change after the supposed achievement of equality in this society.

 “There’s such a way that the Black experience has been demonized. We do have challenges. Oftentimes, when we think of the different symptoms, mental health – how it looks – people will determine that as a bad behavior. That person is violent or threatening in so many ways, when really that person is going through a crisis, a mental health crisis, that they can’t often articulate and understand,” explained policy advocate and Safe Black Space organizer Ryan McClinton.

 “There’s things that still haven’t been repaired, and there’s been an incident, and we say it happened, but we do nothing to repair it. We do nothing for those folks who went through it, and then we say, ‘Oh, that was the past.’ That lingers on, and that lingers on for generations in families,” he continued.

Through acknowledgment of what people have experienced and affirmation of the feelings those moments create, Safe Black Space works to translate it all into positive steps forward.

 “And to know, … you’re not alone, feels like, ‘Oh, I’m not crazy.’ This does happen, and it helps to relieve the anxiety, but also shines a light on stuff I didn’t actually know I was feeling,”

People outside of the circle may be confused as to why a group so focused on being respected as equals in society would self-separate into a color-coded environment.

Safe Black Space founder Dr. Kristee Haggins likens it to people who might be in a support group for domestic violence victims.

“Those women who’ve been abused by men, you wouldn’t question the idea that that abuser would be in that group, potentially re-traumatizing those women,” Haggins explained.

But, she also wants everyone to understand that uplifting Black people doesn’t detract from anyone else.

“We love everybody,” Haggins said. “It’s about living and supporting our people without detriment or the devaluation of anybody else. And if folks can understand that, we should all be good.”

“It’s actually meant to bring in a sense of unification as we all experience the healing that’s so necessary because of the racial divide that has been part of our history,” she continued.

Safe Black Space has been expanding locally over the last four years and internationally online during the height of the pandemic, with all volunteer help.

Thanks to a recent grant from the MacArthur Foundation, this healing initiative will be able to hire staff and create the full-time organization members have dreamt of. They also hope to expand their healing efforts and curriculum onto school campuses.