In all of my twenty-three years, there has never been an instance where I have questioned the source of my stern character, until now. I have always grounded myself in integrity while exercising three of my most prominent attributes: audacity, authenticity, and determination. Now, following a retrospective daze, I have concluded that one element holistically captures and characterizes the origin of my stern character: trauma. Three noteworthy experiences have led me to reach this irrefutable conclusion.
One. One of my earliest memories with my father is not the typical cinematic scene where the cute kindergarten boy runs into the arms of his beloved dad after a long school day. Conversely, as a five-year-old, my earliest memory is waking up on the cold leather backseat of my father’s golden two-door Chevy Nova. Perhaps it was the brisk Chicago evening wind-chill that forced my eyes open. Truthfully, I believe it was the close proximity to danger that stirred my consciousness. A two-minute segment on WGN news alongside Tribune newspaper clippings should have been the memorabilia that represented the final moments of my relationship with my father. However, my father was lucky. I awoke just in time to peer out the rear window and make eye contact with the six policemen who surrounded my father and the golden two-door Chevy Nova, guns drawn, shouting, “On the ground, NOW!” As a five-year-old boy, I had barley possessed the capacity to articulate my emotions in addition to the complexity of the experience I endured. Now, following a retrospective daze, I am confident that this situation remains one of my most vivid earliest memories because it was far from joyous; it was undoubtedly traumatic.
Two. For most Midwestern families, Sunday mornings and early afternoons include religious fellowship, praise, and worship. My father and I faithfully attended Sunday morning praise and worship services; this was our primary ritual. Interestingly enough, we had equally developed a secondary ritual of our own: adventuring to the Cook County Jail to visit my eldest brother. This ritual extended from my early childhood days until I was old enough to drive myself to our secondary ritual appointments. Though I am unfamiliar with the details of my brother’s case, I am certain that he was facing execution for being allegedly accused and convicted of various criminal offenses. I should have been deemed a world-class traveler, I had grown so accustomed to the security inspections that I ultimately developed a routine of my own: shoes first, belt second, hopefully authentic silver chain third and, finally, my belt. Although I had enjoyed a few out-of-state family excursions, these experiences were far from the adventures afforded by world travel. Unknowingly, I was growing to become a knowledgeable stakeholder in one of Illinois’ most profitable customs: mass incarceration. Regrettably, a time came when I broke the secondary ritual and just stopped going. At the time, I was unable to articulate my reasoning to my father. Now, following a retrospective daze, I confess that the decade I spent traveling to the Cook County Jail to visit my eldest brother, who would soon be executed, was certainly traumatic.
Three. Death is a natural part of life but a complex experience for humans to endure. Following the loss of a loved one, people seldom recover; arguably, they remain broken and soon transition into a state of numbness due to their inability to reconcile the tragedy. As a twenty-year-old college sophomore, I grew quite familiar with this state of being. The day was September 24th, 2011. I received news that cemented my heart. In this paralyzing state, I was tasked with the responsibility to call my father and inform him that my second eldest brother would soon be remembered by memorabilia resembling a two-minute segment on WGN news alongside Tribune newspaper clippings from the obituary section. Despite every experience that afforded us the status of strong men, simultaneously, we similarly transitioned into an inexplicable state of numbness. Now, following a retrospective daze, I accept the fact that, together, my father and I suffered, surely, as we mourned the loss of my brother. Undeniably so, for us both, this experience was unforgettably, and disturbingly, traumatic.
Stern character is typically praised because it yields honorable academic and professional opportunities plus commendable accomplishments. Rarely is stern character praised for its origin; rarely is stern character praised as a result of trauma. Today, I take the road less traveled. The roots of my most prominent attributes were nourished by traumatic experiences. As a young boy, I developed audacity as I saved my father’s life by making eye contact. As a young teenager, I developed authenticity as I rejected making visits to the Cook County Jail a life-long ritual. As a young man, I developed a keen sense of determination following the loss of my brother; this was the day I consciously decided to be great despite any negative encounter. Trauma is the origin of my stern character. My narrative is complex. My story is part of a collective narrative. My narrative is not my own. My narrative is an invitation to you, an invitation to recount the steps of your lived experiences and identify positive ways forward to heal. Consciously, we recognize fear. Consciously, we recognize pain. Yet, in my experience, rare is the occasion where people recognize and practice healthy coping habits, which support themselves and others as they navigate traumatic experiences. ProjectHEAL Inc. was inspired by trauma and will be forever driven by the necessity to heal--within ourselves and one to another.
Charles Hunt delivers a noteworthy presentation on his experience with Trauma.
Watch this video to learn more about Resilience.
My name is Johnny Bernard Reed and I grew up on Chicago's South Side where one word, frequently perpetuated by the media, typically captures the experience of young people in communities of color: savage. Truthfully, these experiences are the result of gross inequities--ranging from redlining housing laws, food deserts, limited healthcare facilities to public schools being robbed of the funds necessary to serve all students, equitably. Inevitably, such inequities create inequitable systems that brings about traumatic lived experiences in various communities of color throughout the Chicagoland area. It is important to recognize the root cause and existence of the daily trauma. Why? It is quite simple. Today's lived trauma is simply the result of the previous generation. The lived experiences of tomorrow's generation depends upon how we decide to respond to the trauma of today: How will we decide to cope? How do we Heal ourselves? How do we Heal one another? How will we decide to Heal, collectively? ProjectHEAL is one step towards enriching Mental Health in communities of color.
Johnny B. Reed