Emotional Emancipation Circles Help People of Color to Process Racial Trauma


July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and a new study shows that police killings of people of color can affect their mental health in untold ways. The study, published in The Lancet, found that these mental health impacts “include heightened perceptions of systemic racism and lack of fairness, diminished trust in social institutions, activation of prior traumas, communal bereavement,” and more.


What can concerned advocates, peers, and other providers do about this, especially with a documented and projected continued shortage of mental health professionals in California, and even a greater underrepresentation of mental health professionals of color?


Here is one hopeful possibility. In 2009, the Association of Black Psychologists created a form of peer support designed to address the impacts of historical and current racial trauma in communities of color: the Emotional Emancipation Circle (EEC). The purpose of EECs is to “create a worldwide movement for the emotional emancipation, healing, wellness, and empowerment of Black people. We are working to spark the creation of a global grassroots network of self-help groups focused on overcoming the lie of Black inferiority and the emotional legacies of enslavement and racism.”


According to Capital Public Radio’s recent coverage of new circles created in the wake of the police killing of Stephon Clark in Sacramento last March, “Supporters of emancipation circles say it’s crucial for black people to talk about their experiences with someone who has endured the same struggles. They say hearing other people’s stories can be empowering, and can stave off depression, stress and other feelings that can spring from racial discrimination.”


While Emotional Emancipation Circles, we all have to find a way to help reduce these traumatic incidents affecting Black mental health. As Mama Ayanna Mashama Oakland-area activist was quoted as saying in The New York times, “We have to find ways of de-escalating police response to black people,” she said. “It has to become policy. It has to become part of how it’s implemented from the top down. We have to have trauma-informed practices everywhere: in the schools, in families, in workplaces.”


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