School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Father Paul Abernathy: Video Recording, Quotes, Chat Resources & Personal Note from Cissy White

This blog post was first published on PACEs Connection (formerly ACEs Connection) on 3/19/21 and is written by my dear friend Cissy White. Cissy includes a personal note at the conclusion of this blog post. She is leaving her position at PACES Connection to focus on her health, beloved family, and joy-stalking. My heart and mind are fuller from knowing and learning from this brilliant woman.

Cissy has taught me the true meaning of the word “expert” and reminds all of us that it is not trauma-informed unless it is informed by trauma survivors.  Cissy has enriched my life in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I hold space in my heart for her as she moves through a new phase of her life. I know that we will continue to work, play and create together. My prayers for her healing endlessly flow from a deep well of gratitude and appreciation for all that Cissy has given to the world of trauma survivors. I am lifting up my dear Cissy today, and every day. Imagine such a deep friendship began with a Tweet, it’s true! 

Cissy and me in San Francisco Fall 2018

The following blog post was written by Cissy White, reprinted with permission:

On Tuesday, March 16th, 2021, the Transform Trauma with ACEs Science Film Festival community co-hosted a discussion with Father Paul Abernathy, who founded the  Neighborhood Resilience Project and created the Trauma-Informed Community Development (TICD) framework. Please find the Zoom video recording below, followed by select quotes, as well as resources shared in the chat during the event.

Recording of Father Paul Abernathy Zoom Appearance on March 16th, 2021

Select Quotes by Father Paul Abernathy during Zoom Discussion:

Trauma Is More than a Personal Experience
“I want to begin by acknowledging a certain reality for so many of our communities across these United States, trauma has been more than just a personal experience. We’ve got to acknowledge that for far too long we’ve talked about trauma as though it was something that just we experienced as individuals…. Some communities in our nation have had this collective experience of trauma going on for hundreds of years.”

“This Could be Me”
“…We remember certainly what had happened last summer with the experience of George Floyd and his murder as we watched on our street. Fascinatingly enough it reminded me of the murder of Emmett Till who of course was a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago visiting his relatives in Mississippi in 1955 not really understanding the norms of the deep south. At that particular time, Emmett Till was eventually kidnapped and he was murdered. Of course, we know this very famous incident his mother made the decision to have his body after he had been tortured thrown in the river after the murder – his bloated tortured body, she had made the decision to display him in an open casket for three days. We imagine such courage in those three days. John Lewis the late great John Lewis Lewis reflected that he is a young man at that time saw Emmett Till – that beautiful beaten and broken boy lying in the casket and thought to himself “that could have been me. This could be me.” And what struck me about the words of the late great John Lewis is that when George Floyd was murdered I heard people in my community saying the very same thing.”

Trauma as the Norm
“It’s not that everybody has lost someone to gun violence but everybody knows somebody who has. It’s not that everybody’s been evicted but everybody knows someone. It’s not that everybody’s been incarcerated but everybody knows someone who has. This is no gross exaggeration. This is the reality for life in our community this this this trauma that is disproportionate it is so widespread that whether we have direct experiences or indirect experiences of trauma – it is all around us. It seems as though it really is the norm – that’s a very serious issue.”

“I would say in my lifetime 250 000 black men have died from gun violence. Now if this was another country in the world we’d be saying this is genocide but this is our own country. We have to understand that there is a deep impact that this has on our community that this is shaping the worldview of our community.”

Replacing Trauma Experts
“I would challenge those of us who are doing this work, those of us who are deeply engaged and embedded in this, in this cause to really beg the question – is it always just about being a trauma expert? There are so many of our communities have now many trauma experts in our community – but really – where are the resilience experts?”

Honoring Community Expertise
“Some of the wisest some of the strongest some of the most powerful beautiful and profound things that I’ve ever seen in my life have come from immense suffering.”

“If we have a chance to organize in a way that is bent on building resilient healing and healthy community there is a chance to lay a new foundation and reset the culture and narrative of our community. There is a chance to find those who have that strength of wisdom as a result of the trauma and train them and equip them and empower them and send them forth to really do this work as they themselves become empowered healers, community builders, and change-makers.”

Trauma Affected Communities & Injustice
“I would argue there are trauma-affected communities. We have the inequities, the injustice, the pain, the impact that all of this trauma has on health and well-being in our communities has been exposed – and I say thank god for that. Because now, brothers and sisters, we know, and now that we know we must be about this great healing work our communities need.”

Undermining Resilience & Do-Gooders Doing Bad
“There is a great temptation to come into the communities and always seek to introduce something new when in reality our cultures, as was indicated in the series (Whole People), our culture so many of our cultures have a very rich history and healing. Our cultures have had processes for healing our cultures, have traditions around healing that give us resilience and sometimes when we try to bring other traditions or other kinds of interventions into the community it’s done in a way that undermines the resilience that’s actually there.”

More than the Clinical / Medical Model
“We have a tendency to emphasize a clinical model…. we also know that although these clinical interventions are important, and they are valid, and they have extreme value, – that there are other kinds of interventions that help us heal from trauma as we say in the trauma form realm you don’t have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.”

“I’m not a clinician. I don’t have that clinical background. You know I was a soldier and then went to graduate school in seminary and now I was a priest. I’m not really quote-unquote “qualified” to do that except that I love. I’ve learned that love is such a powerful qualification and that love makes a remarkable feature of us all because how did you learn this stuff about trauma? Well, if you love these people you’ll learn it that’s kind of how it goes well.”

“Who Qualified You to Work in Our Community?”
“When I started talking about this we want to talk about trauma-informed community development there were some people who they’re saying well you know who qualified you to do this? I heard all the very same things from the funding community especially. …they were saying to me, “Who qualified you to work in your own community?” and my response was, ‘Who qualified you to work in our community?” I mean – you qualified yourselves to work in our community.”

Setting the Table
“We understood there’s value in coming together with people who have different particular expertise but here really was the difference. The difference was this: Usually it was us going to sit at their table but really in our case what happened was they came to sit at our table. The best way to ensure that you have a place at the table is to set the table yourself.”

More about Father Paul Abernathy:
See brief profile of Father Abernathy including biographical information, in this post.

Select Resources & Quotes Shared by Members and Co-hosts in the Chat at Event:

More about the documentary series, Whole People & the Companion Study Guide:
Whole People is a five-part documentary series produced by Twin Cities PBS and CentraCare Health “spotlighting the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) through personal and community stories. It explores the long-term costs to personal well-being and our society. While much work needs to be done, there are many innovative developments to prevent and treat ACES. We all play a role in becoming a whole people,” per the website. In addition, this series comes with an excellent and extensive study guide to help with processing and group facilitation for those who watch this film in community settings. The study guide is co-written by Resmaa Menakem MSW, LICSW, S.E.P. of Justice Leadership Solutions, who is the author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies) and Pam Beckering, MS, LPCC, of CentraCare Health.

More about the Transform Trauma with ACEs Science Film Festival Community
This series is co-hosted by PACEs Connection (formerly ACEsConnection), the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy & Practice (CTIPP), and The Relentless School Nurse. Our next virtual viewing will be of the documentary Wrestling Ghosts. Our follow-up discussion where we will explore and discuss parenting with ACEs and healing. Find details below:

Cissy’s Note: This was the last event I will be hosting as an employee of ACEs Connection. It was, for me, perfect. I continued to learn so much and enjoyed working with the Transform Trauma with ACEs Science Film Festival team. That is the one thing I will continue with as a volunteer. But, two weeks from today is my last day of work as I will be on full-time disability to continue managing my #ovariancancer which can’t be cured. I will focus on health, love, family, learning, and passion projects only.

I am grateful that I have learned so much about anti-racism and equity from my former and current peers and I have so much to learn still. I’m embarrassed by how often I’ve conflated racism and classism, though I am glad to have been outspoken about class). I am embarrassed by how much I’ve relied on people of color to educate me and to end racism without realizing my responsibility. I am embarrassed that like many in the trauma-informed/responsive and #ACEs/PACEs community, I often failed to prioritize equity, or to listen to community members, or to center those most affected and most often by historical and generational, and systemic (system-induced) trauma. What I am grateful for though is so much. I’m grateful to white allies like @Dana Brown (PACEs Connection Staff), @Alicia Doktor, and @Maggie Litgenwho supported my growth and are examples of how I want to show up. I’m grateful to and astounded by all the people of color in this movement who have been screaming for years and years and years, and were rarely heard, including by me, who kept showing up and speaking up despite the pain of doing so.

So many, on our team, such as @Donielle Prince (PACEs Connection Staff)and @Morgan Vien have shared resources, insights, training materials, and been more graceful than anyone has a right to expect, and who have shared the genius of Ken Hardy, Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, @Wendy Ellis, @Renee Boynton-Jarrett, Ben Duncan, Flojaune Cofer, and Father Paul Abernathy to my attention. I’m grateful for the training I was able to attend help by our fiscal sponsor, Third Sector New England, MissionWorks, and through the Mass Essentials for Childhood community having training by the Racial Equity Institute. I’ve learned so much. And I continue to learn from my co-workers, @Rafael Maravilla(PACEs Connection Staff)and @Ingrid Cockhren (PACEs Connection Staff)who write and lead workshops to help everyone better understand past and present history. And I’m grateful to the entire team I work with and how we have supported each other to acknowledge and address our privilege and channel it into anti-racism work and action.

When I joined ACEs Connection soon after I learned about the ACE study, it was as a trauma survivor in agony, and struggling to parent as well as my daughter deserved. I was one of the few on our team without an advanced degree. I often felt stupid and out of my depth, and often didn’t understand the lingo, jargon, and terminology not only in the ACEs/TI movement but in the public health sector. I didn’t even know what sectors were, what epidemiology was, and I was out of my intellectual depth and my comfort zone. And I lost my voice, confidence, and ability to express myself in the simple and emotional ways I had done for most of my life. I got quieter and quieter, online. And that is part of the reason I am happy I can return I can return to who and what I was when I became a member in January of 2015 – simply and only a member of this community.

It’s six years later and I have learned so much, continue to learn, and have been able to get paid for leading the Parenting with ACEs Community community, and becoming a Northeast Regional Facilitator. My boss, now friend, @Gail Kennedy (PACEs Connection Staff)always encouraged me to be honest, to speak up, to advocate, and to share and listened when I shared when and why I wasn’t sure I could or should. Despite being undereducated for the job, I was allowed to learn while on the job, and I will forever be grateful to @Gail Kennedy (PACEs Connection Staff)and @Jane Stevens (PACEs Connection Staff)for that and for being extraordinarily kind, patient, and generous when cancer meant my work hours needed to change.

Now, more than six years later, I am less physically healthy but emotionally happier than I have ever been. And from here, I return to where I started and will once again be a member, a mother, a writer who shares questions and keeps learning with and from this huge network.


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