Open with Ctrl + K | Press Esc to exit

Confronting Trauma in The Black Community: An Interview With Dr. Coralanne Griffith-Hunte

Confronting Trauma in The Black Community: An Interview With Dr. Coralanne Griffith-Hunte

Coralanne Griffith-Hunte, Psy.D. is a Black Human, Industrial and Trauma Psychologist. Her work stretches across the fields of education, human rights, political advocacy. She has been a Queens community advocate since 2000. 

In 2010, she was elected to govern over 60 schools and was the adviser to the Mayor and Chancellor of New York City. In addition, she was appointed as the educational and community representative for the President of the Borough of Queens for the late, Honorable Helen Marshall.  

Dr. Griffith-Hunte’s is also Senior Legislative Advisor who works with important government officials to advocate for beneficial legislation regarding education, human rights, mental health, anti-domestic violence, anti-human trafficking, etc. 

In 2020, Dr. Griffith-Hunte joined the United Nations 58th Commission to eradicate homelessness around the globe. Recently, Dr. Griffith-Hunte was appointed to the Senior and Veterans committee under the newly elected borough president Donovan Richards. 

Dr.Griffith-Hunte is a proud esteemed member of the African American Clergy and Elected Officials Organization. She is also the first Trauma Psychologist to serve on the New York Recovery Community Coalition.  She has received a multitude of awards; at her core Dr. Griffith Hunte is a humanitarian. 

Every breath she has is given to works that directly benefit or inspire humanity at large. We connected over the phone to have a candid conversation about trauma in relation to the Black community.

Trauma Informed Care

In her work as a humanitarian her ability to connect and advocate for others is rooted in what she calls a trauma informed perspective. When asked about the definition for trauma, Dr Griffith-Hunte started with the definition given by Dr. Bruce Perry: 

“A psychologically distressing event that is outside the range of the usual Human Experience often involving a sense of intense fear, terror or helplessness.” She felt that this was the best definition available because it allows for interpretation as trauma itself is open for interpretation. 

For Dr. Griffith-Hunte in order to get a firm grasp of trauma one should look at the Pair of ACEs. First, the adverse childhood experiences, this includes but is not limited to domestic violence, divorce, incarceration, and poor mental health. When looking at trauma from a collective standpoint she refers to the second ACEs, the adverse community environment

This includes poverty, poor housing quality and affordability, discrimination, violence, racism, community disruptions, lack of opportunity, lack of economic mobility and social capital. With this knowledge she believes that anyone could see why generations have been stagnated in some communities.

Dr. Griffith-Hunte addressed the denial of trauma in the Black community as well when discussing trauma. “It’s time to address us. It’s time to stop pretending as though my uncle did not molest me. It’s time for us to stop sending our young girls down south or to the Caribbean when someone impregnates them. 

It’s time for us to stop acting as though we’re okay when our daddy isn’t in the house. Mothers do a fantastic job at being Mom, but our children still desperately need a father figure, and we have to face that.”

Trauma in Black Communities

Acknowledging trauma is the first step to recovery. Dr. Griffith-Hunte also speaks on acknowledging the roots of trauma. “Can we think about what happened to the family unit during slavery? Can we talk about the practices that we still see in our household today and within our community? 

We have to face that there are practices that didn’t originate with us. How did we get here? It came from slave masters using our men to impregnate the enslaved women even though he was married to one woman. 

They would use him like a buck to impregnate other women on the Plantation and then send him away. So, this historic process of dismantling the Black family has pervaded in the subconscious of Black men. This conditioning has manifested in Black fathers abandoning their families. That’s a part of historical trauma because trauma is passed through generations.  

There’s very specific evidence that trauma can be passed through semen. So, when you start to look at the functionality of some of our men they have been conditioned to believe that is who they are.”

Everyone has family secrets but the damage they do is usually not explored in-depth in the  Black community. The usual motive is to keep some semblance of peace in the family, but the burden of the bearer is heavy. Dr. Griffith-Hunte tackles childhood sexual abuse and the weight of keeping those kinds of secrets. “When our daughters and sons are raped, no one wants to talk about it because we haven’t always created a safe space for this type of conversation.”  

She also addresses issues surrounding toxic masculinity. “Why can’t our little boys come to us and tell us somebody did something to them that was wrong. Why are we telling them that they’re not manly?” 

Masculinity and its definitions in the Black community have  been fueled by old stereotypes of aggression, strength and most importantly invulnerability. Being a victim is seen as a point of weakness contradictory to traditional ideas of masculinity. Due to desperate attempts at salvaging a masculine image, these traumatic events will go unaddressed for years.  

In the past, Dr. Griffith-Hunte has been questioned for how deep she dives into these topics, however, she firmly believes it is necessary to address trauma honestly. “Well, this is where I have to go to bring healing to the land. I have to be the voice for those boys who people point out and call them derogatory names. They’re inside saying ‘See I can’t tell anybody what happened. It’s because the minute I do I’m called all of these names.’ 

That’s ridiculous. I need to create a safe place for those boys to show up and those boys are 30, 40 and 50 years old now. They’re saying to me, ‘Dr. Griffith-Hunte why didn’t anyone listen? If this happened to me… I was told that I’d be weak if I said anything…Well, I thought you don’t tell the family secret…’ You know what happens when we don’t tell these family secrets? What happens is you may not verbalize it outwardly to someone but the secret was told to your kidney and so you have diabetes today. 

 

The secret is told to your heart and so you’re dealing with cholesterol and cardiological issues the secret is told to your system. Do you know that when trauma occurs it affects every system in your body? Our bodies become sick because unresolved traumas can grow to cause illness and diseases”

In the Black community there are very few outlets for negative emotions fueled by the traumas that we face. This leads to a cycle of mental and physical pain that grows from generation to generation. Most are aware of doctors and therapy but the stigma surrounding seeking medical help stops a lot of people from getting the help they need. 

The question of how to bring the Black community and health professionals closer is one that is still being explored but as both a Black woman and a health professional Dr. Griffith-Hunte has a dual perspective.

“We have to unpack our biases. We’ve been trained not to tell the family business. If you go to a psychologist you are crazy, so the person lives with their trauma. Consider a person who experienced some form of trauma at five years old, lived to 95 years old. For 90 years, they lived in their trauma. So, we got to unpack that. We have to realize that we’re only hurting each other by not releasing these things. We have high rates of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We have all of these illnesses  and diseases in our community because we have not allowed ourselves to heal.” 

The effects of unresolved traumas are seen daily but often go unrecognized because the average person will dismiss it as a normal occurrence. Dr. Coralanne gives some examples of common effects of trauma seen in our community.

“The truth of the matter is no one wakes up in the morning ready to fight unless they have experienced trauma. Have you ever experienced a person who just has an attitude all the time? That person needs to be relieved of the attitude, that’s the fight mechanism from trauma. Have you ever experienced someone where the minute something happens they are ready to flee? 

They say they can’t handle anything and you think what’s wrong with her, what’s wrong with him, they can’t handle anything? That’s the flight attitude from trauma. That’s in our community. We have to wake up and realize that the individual that we’ve been waiting on to come and save us is actually us. 

Our culture needs to allow our community to be a safe space for our souls to show up. A space for us to actually say ‘Hey I’m going to the doctor because I want to be better. I want to be a better husband, a better mom, a better daughter, a better son, a better godmother. Whomever.” 

Healing Trauma in Black Communities: Psychologists and Health Professionals

Dr. Griffith-Hunte also has words for health professionals to help them build stronger bonds with the communities they serve. 

“The psychologist has to stop treating our clients that are African-American and minority through a lens that is one size fits all. We need to respect and appreciate the various cultures that make up the Black community. There is a reason why they don’t trust us health professionals. 

We need to get down to unpacking our own biases as well. I called out a lot of psychologists. I call them out, I’ll tell them in their faces.  If you are not here to do due diligence for the individual that comes in front of you find another career. 

“They have to know that they can trust us when they show up. They have to know that we’re not in this for treatment, but in this for their healing. If I treat you you’re going to keep coming, but if I get you to a place of healing you’ll be self-reliant. 

We have to stop seeing our people’s trauma as a way to build our personal wealth and start seeing it as though we are the real super heroes of our community. We are the ones saying ‘Come here, I have a safe space for you to come in unload and go live your better life now.’ Some of it will entail them having to take medication, but if they trust me enough, they will continue to take it. 

Then the roles will change from them having to just trust me, but guess what they’ll trust themselves. When you do that, you have a healthier community. In trauma informed care, we implement strategies for people to really live their lives and cope with the stressors of life and we don’t re-traumatize.” 

Incarceration and Trauma

“Recently I was made aware that there is a community of people who believe that those who commit crimes are unworthy of rehabilitation, as they have made a choice and understood the consequences.Rehabilitation is seen as a luxury that criminals have forfeited alongside the rest of their rights.” 

When asked what she thinks about that perspective she responded by speaking to the direct relationship between the trauma one has endured and their actions. She used the example of a man who has lost his job due to extenuating circumstances. 

Unable to feed his family after countless denied job applications, he resorts to theft. He steals a loaf of bread from 7-Eleven to feed his family. The aforementioned community may want to lock him up. For  Dr. Griffith-Hunte, this does nothing. 

“A good man is put into an evil situation and has done an evil act. So now they would say well lock him up. Okay, so we lock him up and we know that the average African American who gets locked up for something frivolous can spend 10 years in jail, right?  What did we do to him?

Did we solve his problem? Not at all. It got worse. We removed him from the home. His children are still hungry, so is his wife and who knows what the children might do just to survive. So now it’s a repeat process. Do we punish pain for pain?  Because a lot of times it’s what we have done. We haven’t catered to the needs of individuals.”

2020 Presidential Election

This presidential election of 2020 was unavoidable; with so much news coverage it seemed as if everyone had an opinion on the candidates and the results. As someone who deals with the incarcerated and with politicians on a regular basis, I was interested in what her thoughts were given Joe Biden and Kamala’s history regarding crime. 

“Knowing the history can make individuals uncomfortable. but I think that part of what we need to do moving forward is hold people accountable. I think that some people think that because they are the individuals that won, now all is well. 

We cannot afford to sleep. Don’t get comfortable. I am one to believe a rocking chair moves, but it does not get anywhere so it’s not about latching on to the movement or to a party as it is making sure that we are holding the individuals in that seat accountable for our community, our state and our country.  

I have friends on both sides of the aisle, because it affords me the opportunity to advocate and get laws passed from a trauma-informed perspective. Both sides are necessary to create a trauma-informed community.”

The topic of politics brought us to reform. It seems that there is a consensus agreement within the Black community that the prison system needs a major overhaul. How to go about that overhaul has been a point of contention. 

“If we don’t learn from the past, we repeat it. Right now I hear a lot of conversation, but I don’t see a lot of implementation. I’m not seeing enough action plans put in place as it relates to the prison system. Where it needs to go is a true trauma-informed perspective as I explained with all the different areas of trauma.  

Moving Past Racism and Discrimination

Racism and discrimination are the main pillars of the prison system. So if those are the main pillars and those are not removed then we’re just having a conversation and we’ve been having a whole lot of conversation for too long.” 

To Dr. Griffith-Hunte, the conversation surrounding the prison system does not end with prisons. The conversation pertains to the community as well. “It’s about implementation and creating a strategy. What is it that we need to see?  What is it that they did not have access to?  Individuals in prison need access to trauma informed services. 

We need action plans, identification and implementation. Why did this crime occur? How do we strengthen community and family? How do we strengthen housing, education, employment, mental health and transportation? What plan can be put in place to treat the individuals that are in need? There has to be an alternative because the prison system is not working.” 

In the eyes of Dr. Griffith-Hunte these are the questions that need to be answered in the community as a sufficient community will have less crime. 

Dr. Griffith-Hunte’s perspective as a  Black woman with experience in so many different areas of life allow her to have thoughtful and passionate commentary on pertinent issues in the Black community and society in general. 

Her time in her fields has made her a source of knowledge and understanding. Every move she makes arises from a  genuine concern for others’ physical, mental, and spiritual state. Her words for the  Black community come from a place of familiarity. In that familiarity the goal is always the betterment of her people.