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Minimizing the Negative Impact of Historical Trauma due to Systemic Racism on Gert Town, New Orleans, LA.

Build awareness of & minimize the impact of systemic racism & trauma on Gert Town, and build a community where residents coexist in peace.

Photo of Dominican Sisters  of Peace New Orleans Peace Center
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Our idea was initially conceived by the Peace Center. The Center itself and all its programming come from deep listening and perpetual engagement of the Gert Town neighborhood. Sisters live at the Center and work as fellow neighbors to transform the lives of those marginalized and oppressed by racism helping to build capacity to minimize the resulting economic/class disparities. They also communicate about racial division and oppression highlighting the resiliency of those they serve.

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

According to our beneficiary feedback, racism in Gert Town causes numerous interrelated problems including: lack of health care; reduced access to food & housing; poor educational options; greatly reduced job opportunities; limited access to justice via the legal system, generational poverty, violence, crime and abuse. Feedback also illustrated severely limited societal inclusion and access to community assets; this was corroborated by community assessment. To minimize racism’s impact on Gert Town’s potential to thrive and prosper we will leverage: existing community trust in project partners (DSoP & Xavier U); demonstrated resiliency of neighbors; existing relationships & programming; creativity & professional credentials of partners, and robust engagement in Bridge Builder process to help bring the undercurrents of racial inequity to the surface and build lasting communication/feedback channels so that healing and transformation can take place.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

New Orleans and Gert Town suffer from racial disparity rooted in slavery. Racial attitudes cross generations & powerful influential forces resist change to the status quo. 67% of New Orleans residents are people of color; 11% 18+ do not have a HS diploma. African American unemployment is triple that of Caucasians. Low education employment opportunities are decreasing while regional jobs requiring at least an Associate’s Degree increase. Inclusion would result in widespread economic benefit.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

Shaking the deep entrenchment of racism in individual & community life will help to create a healthier, more peaceful & prosperous Gert Town by building racial awareness/understanding and communication/navigation skills in areas including: cultural competency; hidden rules of economic class and generationally-held beliefs. Change will impact all facets of life in the community by empowering people, contributing to the prosperity & peace of the family/neighborhood for generations. edited 8/15/18

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

Initial impact will be improved effectiveness/participation in existing programming helping neighbors magnify resiliency & build capacity to lead more prosperous, healthy lives. Strengthened partnerships/alliances will lead to new offerings/opportunities for all. The effect on individual lives will be seen immediately; family & neighborhood transformation is a long term goal. Central to our design is built skills and widening perspectives, which can be not only lasting but multiplied.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

The core of our project remained unchanged – helping our Gert Town neighbors heal from the trauma of systematic racism through dialogue that could also inform service delivery. Our thinking around the how we would plan, pilot, implement and evaluate evolved considerably as a result of the entire Bridge Builder process which significantly widened our field of vision and opened doors for new partnerships. At times we were pushed out of our comfort zone but were always ultimately satisfied with the chance to employ new thinking and creativity to solving the problem of systematic racism which is deeply entrenched in our neighborhood. All the feedback (Beneficiary, Expert, Comments on Profile) not only inspired us but moved us to ever increasing clarity. As we finalize our submission we find ourselves thinking about methods to share the fruits of our efforts to advance the work of others. More details about how our idea evolved are provided in the additional information section.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

Proposed is a 24 month project. The chart attached shows project activities that will occur by project month. Actual dates and people responsible will be added as process continues.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

The Dominican Sisters of Peace and Xavier University have initiated the initial design of this idea in concert with the Gert Town neighborhood. Additional partners have been uncovered through the BB process to date and the potential exists to involve other community stakeholders and those dedicated to minimizing the grip of racism especially in economically challenged communities. Other potential partners include those interested in a healthy, prosperous, peaceful New Orleans. Edited 8/9/18

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

A $97,000 Bridge Builder investment would provide 24 months of planning & activity aimed at loosening racism’s grip on Gert Town. Helping to fund 3 main areas: project coordination/evaluation($47,000); neighborhood outreach/gatherings & volunteer recruitment/training($15,000); Racial dialogue curriculum and program services including neighbor skill and resiliency building($35,000). It is estimated that partners would invest $200,000 in services/materials to build and initiate this idea.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

What are some evidence based translational methodologies we could consider using to integrate feedback from our dialogues into programming toward the end of the process? Help us understand better how our project translates to other forms of oppression globally? Can you provide us insight how we might better integrate the Bridge Builders process to ensure project success and impact sustainability?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Our team watched the 2017 BridgeBuilder cohort closely & was impressed by the results. During both the Beneficiary phases, our team evolved our idea by working through the steps necessary to launch it in Gert Town. The new feedback we received from those that would benefit from our project fit with that garnered from our neighbors, and the results of surveys conducted via social media mirrored feedback we gained from in-person interactions in Gert Town. People overwhelmingly were positive, expressing escalating need for this project and offering suggestions that confirmed our thinking about possible approaches. Expert Feedback helped us think through our strategies to ensure our interracial dialogue phase is able to transfer into magnified service delivery; identification/closure of service gaps, and a framework to ensure the sustainability of this program’s impact to help Gert Town neighbors advocate for themselves and their families. Edited 8/9/18

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

While the Peace Center has employed a human centered design approach to initiating and carrying out all its programming, the BridgeBuilder Challenge provided an opportunity to cast our net even wider. Project partners considered new strategies to meaningfully connect with their neighbors to deepen understanding of their needs as well as garnering input in the design of solutions. Expert Feedback helped us to outline our translational methodologies during the Improve Phase to frame a process to magnify service delivery from the dialogues about race. We will employ culturally centered research practices to engage Gert Town residents collaborating with them on the outcomes of the racial dialogue and empowerment programming. We are in the process of considering new ways to test efficacy of service delivery programs particularly in terms of building resiliency against the trauma of racism. During this challenge we also considered new ways to work together as partners and uncovered potential new collaborators (Propeller, Mike Niconchuk – brain/body response to trauma neuroscience research ) and new methods to engage in dialogue (theater tools – Dr. Marnie Glazier). Having gained so much through interacting with our fellow BridgeBuilder applicants we began to think about ways we could share not only the results of our dialogues and how we used them to magnify impact but also make available the curriculum we develop/adopt to frame the dialogues on race on how we customized them by audience (age, gender, single race groups, multi-race groups etc.). While we did not specifically design our project around building bridges in the area of planet, comments pointed out that there were areas of our project that could produce results to inform others working in this area. Climate change negatively impacts those on the margins most harshly. As repeatedly indicated throughout our application this is true in Gert Town whose residents have suffered disproportionately from hurricane Katrina. As climate change produces more severe weather events the techniques and processes around dialoguing and service delivery this project seeks to develop and implement could serve others working with marginalized groups traumatized by natural disaster. Through the application process we also realized the importance of building a working language around the trauma racism and extreme poverty causes. The academic and medical studies around this kind of trauma are well documented. Indeed other BridgeBuilder projects and commenters on our application illustrated the traumatic results of marginalization in many settings, countries and cultures. Practiced skills in burying the impact of this trauma can make it difficult to articulate its role especially for older generations who may also feel greater social stigma around psychological factors/mental health. We appreciate the chance to comment here about the strong emotions talking about race can illicit from people from all backgrounds. People have different racial realities which can clash when dialoguing or encountering one another in everyday life. Unintentional microaggressions can cause roadblocks as can denial, avoidance and powerful social norms. Generations of oppression and even dire consequences for discussing race in interracial groups often make people of color wary. The value of trust project partners have built over decades cannot be underestimated in the ability for this project to create a safe space for dialogues about race. Lastly, we are glad to have the opportunity to express our gratitude for our assigned expert’s direction to strengthen the spirituality/faith dimension as a component of our project planning. Both of the main project partners are faith based organizations making this a valuable capacity to capitalize on to drive outcomes. This could be especially helpful given the courage required to engage in authentic, productive dialogue about race aimed at building resilience against the very harsh conditionals politically and socially. As was noted in our response in the comments section, along with the staff expertise at the Peace Center and Xavier University existing relationships with faith based organizations exist that can strengthen our work. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the shortlist

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

As stated early we did not have any big final changes that caused any major course corrections. We did, however, significantly broaden our view, employ new levels of creativity and take a giant step out of our comfort zone. Along with forging a solid foundation this process allowed us to build various capacities that could be employed to not only implement this project but also evaluate it and share strategies with others to magnify their efforts to forge bridges of inclusion for those that are marginalized.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

1. To build awareness & understanding through interracial dialogue. 2. To create/deepen relationships. 3. To evolve services that build resiliency and reduce the negative effects of systemic racism, including interpersonal/community violence, generational poverty, education inequity, substance abuse & health disparities, in Gert Town (pop. 90% African American). Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina, Gert Town is still in recovery. Statistics indicate that 54% of people in Gert Town live below the US Census-defined poverty line: 35% do not own a car, 19% do not have a high school diploma, 71% do not have a post-secondary degree. These factors limit employment & opportunities to rise above poverty. Project partners The Peace Center and XUCOC have collected data identifying community needs from Gert Town residents, & are working to serve those needs & to drive resources into the neighborhood. The Dominican Sisters of Peace operate & live at the Peace Center in Gert Town. The XUCOC is located on the other side of the neighborhood, benefiting from its proximity to those served & the research & resources of Xavier University. Outcomes: •By engaging Gert Town residents and service delivery partners in trust driven interracial dialogue addressing internalized oppression and chronic stress, increase community participation by 30%. • By providing safe spaces to dialogue about race to inform related resiliency-building programs, empower those served with tools to understand, unravel and heal the trauma that racism causes, enabling Gert Town neighbors to cross the bridge from poverty to prosperity. • By surfacing the root cause of documented neighborhood needs, deepen relationships and evolve/expand resiliency-building programming to effectively empower residents to lead community-wide change through activism & action including: addressing blighted properties; holding town hall gatherings; staging neighborhood cleanup or safety programs. Edited 8/7/18.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

This program will benefit Gert Town residents of all races & ages, today & in the future, as a more peaceful community is created through interracial understanding. Schools, churches, government entities, businesses, employers, service providers & volunteers that serve Gert Town residents will be encouraged to participate in customized dialogues on race. Through enhanced understanding & strengthened relationships, these groups will be able to more effectively support residents working to free themselves from the cycle of poverty by providing programming that helps them overcome long odds. By involving many & diverse groups, from schools to public services, faith groups & government, of all ages & races, we believe that we can bring about inclusive community healing that recognizes the value of every person. This stronger, more confident community will be one where all voices are heard & peacebuilding is engaged for a brighter future. Edited 8/7/18/

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

The goal of healing the impact of systemic racism & historical trauma over generations is not new. What makes Gert Town unique is that the community has suffered the compounded trauma of long-term institutional racism, generational poverty & the lasting effects of Hurricane Katrina - one of the nation’s worst natural disasters. In a society increasingly divided among race & class lines, there is rising awareness of its insidious nature & a desire among people of good will to undo the damage & to build peace in the face of brokenness. While work to dismantle racism is often directed toward individuals & organizations, this effort seeks to involve an entire community and multiple generations. The project partners seek to build bridges through racial dialogue and healing, develop skills, and provide support & guidance for ongoing success. Project partners involved are trusted by their Gert Town neighbors & have a stake in the results as long-time members of the community. Edtd 8/7/18

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Working with local partners, the Peace Center provides afterschool care & homework help to younger children, basic computer training & a job readiness program for adults, and socialization opportunities & food assistance to local seniors; the Xavier University Community Outreach Center provides food relief and monthly utility assistance as well as outreach services, such as art programs, homework assistance, literacy programs, and health assessments.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Dominican Sisters have been part of New Orleans since the 1860’s. Sisters at the Peace Center live & work in Gert Town, have observed the damage that racism has caused in the city, & try to bridge the gap between poverty & prosperity. After Hurricane Katrina, we saw the inequity of recovery efforts & watched families struggle to overcome long-term systemic racism & recent trauma. We were moved to meet immediate needs & to help empower others to build skills for a more just & successful future.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

If peace is defined as “freedom from violence,” racism is literally the opposite of peace: it is a daily fear of personal, educational, health and economic violence suffered every day by the African-American residents of Gert Town. The long-term systemic racism in place in this community has created the related challenge of systemic poverty. Many residents work several low-wage jobs to “just get by.” Prosperity is unknown. A true examination of implicit bias by persons on both sides of the racial divide can lead to implementation of steps to cope with and eliminate that bias - creating an opportunity for peace. Even incremental steps towards a reduction of the negative effects of racism in Gert Town would assist in the first steps toward the attainment of peace and prosperity for all residents by reducing race-related violence and creating more just educational and economic opportunities.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

The Dominican Sisters of Peace have a broad network of groups to act as partners in this effort, including Dr. Cirecie A. West-Olatunji, Ph. D., associate professor at Xavier University of Louisiana and Director of the Center for Traumatic Stress Research, Xavier University; students at St. Mary’s High School; Mayor LaToya Cantrell; New Orleans City Councilperson J. Banks; New Orleans Community Foundation; New Orleans Police Department; Peace Center and local churches of all denominations. There are numerous like-minded groups in the city as well that could be tapped for their expertise. Gert Town residents are engaged and all ages are active in programming at the Peace Center. We have had small success with our homework help, job skills, summer camp and senior programs. A new focus would be programming aimed at implicit racism and bias.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The greatest strength of this idea is the African American community in Gert Town. Residents are exceptional in resilience, even after centuries of institutionalized racism and institutional neglect. By focusing on Gert Town, the effects on peace and community/personal prosperity could be dramatic. There are quite a few people willing to work but unemployment is high because of lack of opportunity and skills.

Geographic Focus

Gert Town is a neighborhood in Orleans Parish, which is a ward in the city of New Orleans, LA, USA.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The Peace Center and the Xavier University Community Outreach Center are blessed with numerous community partners with a wide range of abilities and expertise. Planning, coordination, and creation of materials to raise awareness of implicit bias will be an early phase of this project, as will be the expansion of existing programs. We expect this initial phase to require about 24 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Anubha Sharma

Racism can exist in many forms, reading your project report made me realize that the poor in India suffer from the same problems of exclusion even though they may be technically of the same race. However we have realized that in every community well intentioned people exist who are willing to work for social good and we are using this to foster inclusiveness in society, see if our idea appeals to you in any way, we are happy to share details

Photo of Dominican Sisters  of Peace New Orleans Peace Center

Anubha -
Thank you for your comment. Our team has also seen exclusion take place between people of the same race in our service area often around economic and social class though other factors are sometimes in play. Like you we are looking to leverage neighborhood "influencers" especially those dedicated to fostering inclusiveness. We would be interested in learning more about how you have used dialogue between and within groups.

Photo of Anubha Sharma

I am happy to answer any questions you may have. You can write to me at or we could do a Skype meeting. Let me know. My I'd is anubha.sharma91

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