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Mental health summit aims to help young black men, boys cope with trauma

From elected leaders to neighbors chatting across the fence, conversations in Chicago about solving poverty and violence often focus on what can be measured — the number of murders and shootings, the unemployment rate, the dropout rate.

But those numbers fail to capture the psychological toll that violence and poverty take on people living in troubled communities.

To address that issue, a veteran social worker is bringing together mental health professionals, youth advocates and activists on Saturday to discuss trauma and mental health, with a particular focus on young African-American men and boys.

Numerous studies have linked childhood trauma and exposure to violence in poor communities with post-traumatic stress disorder and increased risk of mental health problems in adulthood.

Tiana Jorman, who has counseled gang members and at-risk youths for nearly a decade, is hoping to start a frank discussion about the long-term impact of physical or psychological trauma on young people. Too often, she said, a “toxic masculinity” is fostered among black boys and men, leading to more violence.

These traumas — which can range from being homeless and living on the street, enduring domestic abuse or sexual assault, or being a victim of gun violence — are pervasive in Chicago, where years of surging violence in predominantly black communities have left a scarred generation, she said.

Making matters worse, Jorman said, is the resistance to talking about the subject. Mental health in the black community, Jorman said, remains a taboo topic.

“There’s a stigma when it comes to how much (black men) can share,” said Jorman, 32, who grew up on the city’s West Side and who started her own community organization, Breaking Through Breaking Beyond.

“I think we do ourselves a disservice, especially in the black community, because it’s oftentimes this stigma of ‘Oh, you’re telling family secrets. You shouldn’t talk about that in public,’” she said. “No, these are the things we need to talk about so we can really begin to heal and see what normal relationships look like.”

The four-hour summit, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Connect Gallery in Hyde Park, will also address the effects of social media on fueling the trauma on black youths and adults.

“With social media, I feel like we’ve normalized so many abnormal behaviors. At any given point you can log on Facebook and … you can see a picture of someone dead in the street,” she said.

The summit, called Healing and Transcendence: The Importance of Black Male Identity and Mental Health in Trump Times, will also explore how the Donald Trump presidency has left many African-Americans and Latinos feeling marginalized and how people can cope with that, she said.

Having grown up in the Homan Square neighborhood in the late 1990s and after years of working in social services, Jorman said she knows firsthand the scarring effect a severely broken home can have on its children.

She hopes her summit reaches teens with shattered backgrounds to let them know there are others out there like them and that there’s help available. At the same time, Jorman hopes the summit will bring about a candid discussion about accountability and encourage young men of color to take responsibility for their actions, while women must discipline themselves from enabling poor behavior in men.

She quoted former first lady Michelle Obama, who during the recent Obama Foundation Summit commented: “We love our boys and we raise our girls. We raise them to be strong, and sometimes we take care not to hurt men. And I think we pay for that a little bit.”

Obari Cartman, a therapist and wellness expert who will serve as a panelist, said while the mental health of black youths is often left out of the public conversations about the violence plaguing Chicago, he believes there’s enough knowledge within these communities to change hearts and minds to shatter the cycle of trauma.

“The world is always full of big problems, but we have a lot of power and talent and gifts in the communities that we’re talking about that just really needs to be redirected, refocused and repurposed to be organized in a way to solve these problems,” he said.

Twitter @MidNoirCowboy

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