COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — When considering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many often think of the impact on an individual level. However, trauma also has the potential to impact people on a collective or communal level.
According to Pastoral Institute CEO Thomas Waynick, evidence of collective trauma can easily be seen in communities which have been impacted by natural disasters, wars or other large-scale traumatic events. On a local level, he said, Columbus locals encounter this type of trauma as the community grapples with high rates of gang- and gun-related violence.
“There are lots of parts of Columbus where PTSD rates are high,” said Waynick. He said this type of data is collected by way of the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) questionnaire.
The ACEs survey is a 10-part questionnaire which gives a person a score of 0 to 10, depending on their answers to a series of “yes” or “no” questions about their childhood experience. It screens for depression in the household, violence, poverty and more.
On a national level, half of high school graduates scored high on the ACEs, indicating a significant portion of youth across the country have experienced significant trauma, according to Waynick.
“The reality is, we live in a world where there will always be trauma, there will always be an accident, there will always be a hurricane,” said Waynick. “There always will be a fire, there always will be someone who wants to hurt someone else.”
Despite the fact trauma will not disappear, Waynick explained, there are ways to help a community facing the aftermath of trauma. The most important way to do this is ensuring a sense of safety within the community, according to Waynick.
“I wish our community would be able to live so that every single person in this community would know that someone in the community cared about them,” said Waynick.
Scholarly research suggests community traumas can also “[culminate] in a system of meaning that allows groups to redefine who they are and where they are going.” On a local level, Waynick added one example of this is anti-gang, anti-teen violence initiatives.
One such program is Cure Violence Columbus, in which reformed former gang members reach out to local youth to dissuade them from gang activity. The initiative’s director is Jerome Lawson, who was imprisoned for 13 years at the age of 16 for armed robbery. He changed his mentality while in prison and now runs a successful soul food truck alongside his advocacy work.
Other organizations are also creating a sense of safety with community events designed to highlight the positives of Columbus.
During the summer, Gilberto Drummonds, also known as DJ Cahsflow of 98.3 the Beat, held the city’s first “706 Day,” a free community block party with music and vendors to give back to the community.
He said at the time, “One of the things that we need to do is get back to loving each other, coming together and celebrating each other.”
Mayor Skip Henderson, also in attendance at 706 Day said, “We’ve got so many amazing people out there that love this city and are focused on trying to create unity and try to cut down on some of the violence.”
Building this sense of safety in the community is exactly what Waynick explained is the first step to recovering from communal trauma and moving forward. He said humans are hardwired to prosper in safe and caring environments.
Waynick said, “We will do great things, if we have safety.”