UK professor focuses on healing mental health impact of racist attacks

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Posted at 11:00 PM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 10:09:41-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma in Lexington said members of the Black community across the country feel the impact of racist incidents like the shooting in Buffalo.

"The vicarious racist stressors, the ones people might experience by hearing or seeing a racist assault happen to someone of their racial group can cause race-based stress reactions, things like increased heart rate, tension, shaking, anger, fear, sometimes even a sense of apathy. These are all things that I've experienced and help people work through," said Dr. Candice Hargons.

Dr. Hargons is the founding director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma and an associate professor at the University of Kentucky. She said a lot of people have sought out help at the center over the last couple of years.

"There were certainly a number of people who reached out for our services, whether it was our intervention services, where they wanted to do healing circles or receive individual therapy, but also, our prevention services. A lot of organizations found their voice and they were ready to really unpack some of the anti-racism work that they aspired to do but needed some real, practical steps," she said.

Dr. Hargons said allies are important to the Black community in moments of pain, but that the foundations need to be laid far before that support is needed.

"If there's an event where we're raising money for schools or if there's an event where we're working with people in our community who might be experiencing housing insecurity, be present for all of those components, and then naturally, you'll already be in relationships so that when something like this happens, it isn't jarring or like 'What do I do?' It's like, 'Hey, do what you've been doing,' Show up and be in community with us," she said.

Dr. Hargons also worked to increase mental health awareness in the Black community beyond the center through the Neighborhood Healers Project.

"We've trained 20 Black community leaders in Lexington in mental health first aid. They're poised to assist all over the community. They're helping de-stigmatize mental health for Black community members, increase mental health literacy, and increase the way we utilize mental health services," she said.

She also emphasized the importance of speaking up and having potentially uncomfortable conversations when you see friends or family exhibit racist behavior.

"I think that's a great place for white allies to come in. I don't believe in abandoning your family when you can't have a Thanksgiving conversation about racism. I believe in staying in there with them and showing them why it's important, why it matters to everyone," she said.

She has a vision for a better world and she says violence like what happened in Buffalo will not dim it.

"It absolutely makes the resolve firmer. It's infuriating and sometimes fury can be a great catalyst and so, for me, when I'm angry, that's when I get stuff done," she said.