Community Empowerment Association has an ambitious goal: to heal the African-American community. With this objective in mind, the organization recently brought in experimental social psychologist Wade Nobles for a two-day brainstorming session on education, criminal justice, mental health and economic justice.


“Our humanity is something that’s been damaged and how do you repair that damage,” Nobles said in his opening remarks during the workshop. “This may take four or five years to really get thought out well.”

The workshop on June 21 and 22 focused on creating a “Train the Trainer” series, which would train providers that work within traditional service systems, such as educators, social workers, and psychologists, on how to serve the African-American population. CEA also plans to train community residents to become self-sufficient and self-determined, as well as train them on how to build institutions in response to the challenges and services in their communities.

“This notion of healing is really an issue of restoration, not recovery. We do a lot of recovery—drug and alcohol recovery,” Nobles said. “Too often we talk about treatment.”

Instead, Nobles wants to take an approach that is strategic, not reactionary. As the executive director of The Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life & Culture, Inc., Nobles said African-Americans are suffering from “spirit illness” as opposed to mental illness.

“We’re talking about a very sophisticated kind of healing. We have experienced a catastrophe in our psyche; our psyche has been damaged,” Nobles said. “When I sit down and talk to my grandchildren, the same dehumanization that happens to my grandchildren in the classroom, is the dehumanization that has happened to all of us.”

The idea for the “Train the Trainer” sessions was born out of CEA’s October 2011 conference on “Mitigating the Impact of Social and Psychological Trauma to the Social Fabric of the African American.” In the time since the conference, they have also hosted a series of town hall meetings to address their four key subject areas of education, criminal justice, mental health, and economic justice.

“We not only have to address the social and cultural determinants that have led to trauma, but also to holistically move towards the well-being of the African-American community,” said CEA President T. Rashad Byrdsong in an address to participants in the brainstorming sessions. “Specifically we will be talking about how we can develop training modules that will educate providers on how to culturally provide services to African-Americans, i.e. culturally based seminars on trauma training and healing, social and cultural determinants that lead to trauma, the impact of historical trauma, how to develop and conduct healing circles in order to promote healing, etc.”

Moving forward, CEA’s goal is to generate a plan for a solution-focused human service system, which includes support from local and national scholars, policy makers, community leaders, grass-roots organizations and faith-based service providers. Those who attended the workshop said they were committed to seeing the initiative through to completion.

“There’s activity happening everywhere at different stages,” Nobles said. “There’s work being done, but this is exciting to me because it’s independent. The exciting part is there are diverse members of the community who are coming together. The next step is to see if we can really stay together.”

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