On a recent Thursday morning, about 500 employees of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system logged on to Zoom for a history lesson on redlining in the early 20th century. Lawrence Brown, author of The Black Butterfly: The Nefarious Politics of Race and Space in Americadelivered an hour-long lecture that detailed how segregation and white flight have led to divestment and systemic struggles for black communities.
“The historic trauma is that root cause, that fundamental factor that plagues Baltimore to this day,” he said. “This is where we end up: Baltimore was a city that destroyed black neighborhoods. It is a trauma inflicted on people, on populations.
Brown’s lecture was part of the first-ever Healing City Act training for a city agency. The law requires that service workers who interact with young people and families receive training to become trauma reactive, that is, to learn to understand, recognize and respond to trauma, an emotional reaction to a distressing experience and disturbing.
Numerous studies have shown that trauma can alter a person’s brain structure and contribute to long-term physical and mental health problems. Councilman Zeke Cohen, the architect of the legislation, opened the training by saying that if city officials want to reduce violence, they must address the trauma that fuels it.
“Our goal is for Baltimore to become a model city of healing by infusing trauma, responsive care and standard healing practices into all branches of our city government,” he said.
Zuleka Henderson is a lecturer at Columbia University School of Social Work and a community healer. Learning the history of a community’s trauma, such as slavery and redlining, is crucial to establishing care practices, she said.
“Often with trauma-informed approaches, we look at the individual or a group that was impacted at that time without really remembering the foundation, our social foundation, our social fabric, and how many factors that contributed to this trauma are really emerging from this legacy, from this history,” she said.
Brown’s History Lecture is just one part of the training: employees will also learn the science of trauma and how to heal on an individual and community level. Community members hold the key to what healing looks like, Henderson said.
“Whenever we come to a space where we’re trying to figure out what to do, the people who often have the answers to that question are in the room or in the community we’re trying to serve,” she said.
The Baltimoreans will lead every practice, Cohen said: “BandBecause we are the medicine. Baltimoreans are the key to our own healing.
And libraries are already a vehicle for healing, said Heidi Daniel, CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library System.
“We help, we guide and we provide a pathway for them to the resources they might need,” she said. “We’re just a place where people can come in and just be.”
She hopes the trainings will empower library workers to better serve Baltimoreans, as well as guide difficult conversations about practices that may re-traumatize them. She pointed to the system’s current policy that young children are not allowed to visit the library unsupervised.
“Our staff does not have the capacity to monitor children at all times. But conversely, if this child does not have a tutor who can accompany him, what do we do? Are we sending this child alone? ” she said. “Where is that middle ground, where we act in the best interest of our community and are still able to provide the services we are meant to provide as an institution?”
The city will form one agency at a time, Cohen said. Other agencies that need to receive training on trauma-informed care include Recreation and Parks, the Mayor’s Office of Social Services and the Department of Housing and Community Development.