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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

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

We focus on the urgent need for the community to build peace by reducing the systemic racism which leads to interpersonal and community violence, generational poverty, education inequity, substance abuse, and health disparities. The project also encourages community and personal prosperity.

Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina, Gert Town is still in recovery. Nearly 90% of the town’s population is African American minority. Local statistics indicate 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, and 71% do not have a post-secondary degree. These factors limit employment and economic opportunity to rise above poverty.

Partners have collected data to identify community needs from residents of Gert Town as well as local service providers. The Dominican Sisters of Peace operate and live in the Gert Town Peace Center, and are intimately acquainted with life in the neighborhood. The XUCOC is located on the other side of the neighborhood, and benefits from both its proximity to those served and the research and resources of Xavier University.

This idea will:

• Engage program participants and partners to address internalized oppression and chronic stress. This will be done in a variety of ways, including education, group activities, and artistic approaches, including theater. (updated 5/30/2018)
• Provide space and programming to help those served understand, unravel and teach others about the crippling effects of trauma and poverty that racism causes.
• Expand needed services to Gert Town residents negatively impacted by racism to help build resiliency, career readiness, and the capacity to thrive, as well as hope for the future. This will lead to community-led change, prosperity, activism, and growth for community residents.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Primary beneficiaries are Gert Town minority neighbors of all ages and schools, churches, government entities, employers, and service providers. These groups will all work together to create a community where the cycle of poverty is broken through programming that helps community members overcome long odds.
By involving numerous groups, from schools to public services, faith groups and government, of all ages and races, we believe that we can bring about inclusive community healing, recognizing the value of every person to the success and prosperity of the neighborhood. This will result in a community where all voices are heard and peacebuilding is engaged for a brighter future. (Edited 5/21/2018)

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

The goal of healing the impact of systemic racism and 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, and the lasting effects of Hurricane Katrina - one of the nation’s worst natural disasters. In a society that is increasingly divided among race and class lines, there is a rising awareness of its insidious nature and a desire among people of good will to undo the damage. The desire to build peace in the face of brokenness. Often work to dismantle racism is directed toward individuals and organizations. This idea seeks to involve an entire community.

This idea builds bridges that create skills, provides support and guidance for ongoing success. The nonprofit organizations involved are trusted by their Gert Town neighbors and have a stake in the results as long-time members of the community.

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 Mike Niconchuk

Hello friends!

Mike here. I am a neuroscientist, and I study stress and trauma specifically, though most of my work is with young refugees in the Middle East. Obviously this project is timely, and filling a desperate need.

What is the actual intervention you are proposing? What will you be teaching people? Are they going to be following a trauma-healing curriculum? Learning about generational trauma as a concept? Doing healing work from a particular practice? And what is your working theory that links addressing trauma to a reduction in intergroup violence?

I ask because I think about these things all day and am always looking for good research collaborations to elevate good practices.

Many thanks, Mike

Photo of Dominican Sisters of Peace

Hello, Mike!
Up to now, much of our work has been "triage" - treating the results, such as financial inequity, disparities in educational opportunities, and localized violence. The work we do now, along with the discussions we have had with others in the area serving the same populations, has informed our desire to go deeper into this problem.
We wish to examine how long-term generational racism has created the trauma, how to identify and treat that trauma, and how to encourage resiliency among the populations that we serve.
As important, we see long-seated racism and implicit bias that is sadly, still prevalent in many parts of the country. How do we hold up a mirror to that issue, and illustrate the trauma inflicted on the community as a whole?
We know that violence in part of the trauma, as is limited propensity due to an unwillingness to acknowledge and utilize available talent due to racial bias.
We would be interested in your input on ways to overcome trauma and create a more equitable community.
To that end, we are adding you to our team. We look forward to your input.

Photo of Mike Niconchuk

Hello again!

I'm glad to be involved in your wonderful project in any way I can. At the moment, I'm working on a book about trauma. The book is called "The Field Guide for Barefoot Psychologists" and it is essentially a self-teaching and capacity building tool that summarizes, in an easy and accessible way, what 20 years of neuroscience research have taught us about how the brain and body respond to acute trauma, displacement, disaster, and adversity. It is also accompanied by a digital library of self-care resources, tested and validated scientifically, used for anxiety reduction and self-regulation. I'm happy to share the Guide with you when it is done, and involve you and your team in the process.

Photo of Dominican Sisters of Peace

Sounds very interesting! So many of the people that we work with have undergone multiple of the syndromes you discuss - disaster, displacement, societal adversity. etc. We look forward to learning more about this!

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