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Roxbury Presbyterian Church offers trauma education program

Special Advertorial Health Section

Nancy Kilburn

A purple flyer asks, “CAN WE TALK? Are you experiencing trauma or loss? Come, share your voice, share your story.” Let’s heal together.

This is the invitation from Roxbury Presbyterian Church to community members to be part of The Cory Johnson Trauma Education Program. It is a new approach to healing from trauma by providing safe space in which people share their stories, learn about the impact of trauma, and give and receive support for all they are going through. Developed with the support of Partners Health Care, it helps counter disconnection and isolation, while providing a way to begin to integrate extreme experiences that challenge our ability to make sense of what we have endured. The program was named in honor of a beloved church member who was murdered five years ago and whose family has played a pivotal role in its creation.

The entry points are monthly gatherings called “Can We Talk?” on the last Thursday of every month. A simple dinner, opening remarks by Rev. Liz Walker, and then time for sharing begins with a saxophone solo by artist-in-residence Curtis Warren. Then one by one, people come to the front to share whatever is weighing on their hearts.

“One of the best things about this program is it gives people to opportunity to just sit and listen if that is all they want to do,” says licensed therapist Nichelle Thompson.

But more often than not, people start their sharing by saying that they hadn’t been planning to speak, but felt called to. The stories encompass a breadth of human experience such as such as loss of a loved one after a long illness, job loss, homelessness, addiction and recovery, trauma from gun violence, abuse, as well as stories of strength, inspiration and healing. The depth of honesty by those who speak and the compassionate attention with which the stories are received create a palpable spirit of mutual healing among those gathered. A participant recently shared that this was his “new family.” Because artistic expression is helpful to healing, during the evening two other artists-in-residence perform: Robin Lee, a singer and Wyatt Jackson, a dancer. The evening ends with a simple ritual as people are invited to light a candle and take a stone if they wish.

“The togetherness is very powerful in healing trauma,” says a participant who has been involved since the program started eighteen months ago, “You hear another person pressing on, and you realize, it can be done, it’s possible, so you don’t give up. When your story is out in the open, you can begin to heal.”

Every Thursday night there is some form of trauma support offered at Roxbury Presbyterian Church: a men’s support group; a mind-body healing night; a therapy support group for mothers who have lost children; and periodic “Trauma Education” nights on topics such as the impact of trauma on relationships or the Traumatic Legacy of Racism.

The Cory Johnson Trauma Education Program is just part of the programming offered by Roxbury Presbyterian Church’s non-profit, The Social Impact Center. Many children whose parents attend the trauma program now come to the Learning Out Loud tutoring on Saturday mornings, with plenty of one-on-one mentoring to help children learn and envision a brighter future.

“It’s really helped a lot of healing for our whole family; it’s like the missing pieces are being filled in,” said one mother.

Over the next few months, The Cory Johnson Trauma Education Program will be working to develop a component that is specifically for youth and young adults, with the aim of having the program in place for the warmer summer months.

Reverend Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church says, “Our work in trauma here at RPC has enlightened us to some of the real deep needs in this community around violence and mental health, but it has also shown us the resilience in this neighborhood. People are really building a community of care and that’s vitally important for our future.”