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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Suarez

Let Us Not Keep Them Waiting…

A pediatric surgeon at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, received a text letting him know it wasn’t a drill and to get ready.

An active shooter incident was taking place at a school in town. The school was a Pre-K through sixth grade. There could be mass casualties.

Doctors and nurses, technicians, and security guards, even administrators, prepared for what was coming.

And then they waited. And waited. And waited. No wounded children came. None survived long enough to make it to the pediatric emergency room. (To see click here.)

Trauma affects an entire community. For this reason, there must be a community response that repairs the tears in the fabric of our families, churches, schools, cities, states, and countries caused by violence.

In Tennessee, what started as one individual recognizing the effectiveness of trauma-informed care is now leading to a state-wide movement of religious communities helping to heal survivors of violence in all its forms.

Harper Hill Global (HHG), in partnership with the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, created the Triumph Over Trauma (TOT) training for faith-based communities, based on a curriculum that has been in use for over two decades. HHG condensed to it for seven weeks and translated it into Spanish. (Read here for more information on the unique partnership.)

Working with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Triumph Over Trauma training is meeting the needs of diverse communities across the state of Tennessee. The department believes in the peer counseling model that TOT uses to help survivors. “Get people from that specific community and get them trained on what trauma is,” said Monty Burks, with Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “Young people can talk to young people.”

In Memphis in July 2022, the murder of Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams, a regional and national faith leader in The United Methodist Church, has been a catalyst for bringing the Triumph Over Trauma (TOT) training to the city.

"At times, it feels like there's so little we can do after our communities are affected by violence," said Rev. Kimberlynn Alexander, Saint Matthews UMC, Memphis, who had been with Rev. Eason-Williams the day before she was killed. "Triumph Over Trauma resources help us help others understand the lasting damage of trauma. This program can be one key to an abundant life."

The Healing Center, in Memphis, Tennessee, which was scheduled to work with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, accepted an extension of help from Harper Hill Global to bring TOT training to their community in March.

The Healing Center in Oakhaven is a Full Gospel Baptist Church. On March 28, 2023, less than 24 hours after a school shooting in Nashville, Pastor Dianne Young welcomed a group to the center’s sanctuary to take part in a TOT training. “We decided to have ‘Triumph Over Trauma,’ something that is going to help us deal with what we are dealing with in our city and our country now.” Pastor Young said.

Harper Hill Global provides free TOT training for faith-based leaders to facilitate a 7-week program and begin peer support groups in their communities.

"Faith communities are often the first place someone turns to in times of crisis, yet leaders are ill-equipped to handle the depths and breadth of congregational mental health needs. Referrals to professional therapists go unanswered due to a lack of insurance. Triumph Over Trauma helps us stand in the gap by providing essential life skills that make a big difference," said Rev. N. Neelley Hicks, Harper Hill Global Executive Director, and Consultant, NASMHPD Faith-Based Initiatives.

On March 27, 2023, Vanderbilt Children’s hospital staff waited for casualties to arrive. Three nine-year-olds never made to the ER. Their bodies destroyed by one shooter’s weapons. Three adults at the school also died that day.

A perpetrator destroyed the lives of six individuals. And scarred the families and communities the victims were embedded within. Bullets killed six human beings, and they also fractured the psyche of a school, a church, families, a neighborhood, a city, a state, and a nation.

Triumph Over Trauma (TOT) offers to religious communities needed resources to provide trauma-informed training to survivor groups, who then minister to one another. Peer to peer counseling allows many hands to care for one another—not only the priest, pastor, director of counseling, Iman, or rabbi.

Healing from trauma cannot be delayed. We must reach perpetrators before they turn to violence, spreading more trauma in the world. TOT can reach people struggling with many issues in their lives—racism, homophobia, violence, domestic abuse, bullying, sexual assault, and others. The faith-based curriculum equips religious groups with the knowledge and skills needed to offer comfort to the hurting, hope to the hopeless, and healing to the brokenhearted before they use unhealthy or maladaptive ways to cope.

We must be prepared, like the pediatric doctors were. Survivors of trauma will come. Let us not keep them waiting when they come to our mosque, church, temple, community center doors.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

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