Expert panel explores the roots of trauma and racism in DC | GW Today

know about Expert panel explores the roots of trauma and racism in DC | GW Today

By Kristen Mitchell

By examining the history and policies impacting black neighborhoods in Cincinnati, you can better understand the many ways inequality hurts residents at a system level, not just in Queen City, but across America.

Legal, public health, medical and community engagement experts gathered at George Washington University Wednesday to discuss the roots of multigenerational trauma and racism in the District of Columbia, following a screening of America’s Truth: Cincinnati. The documentary explores how more than 600 years of policies aimed at defending structural racism produced intentional disparities in four black communities in the city of Ohio.

The screening of the documentary and the panel of experts was the launch of a new School of Public Health of the Milken Institute Center for Community Resilience (CCR), Truth & Equity: Washington, DC, which aims to address systems-driven racial inequity with community-driven solutions in the nation’s capital. The Truth & Equity Initiative: Washington, DC is funded by the Equity Institute Initiative, an interdisciplinary GW project dedicated to supporting community research that reduces racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequality in the United States and around the world.

Lynn R. Goldman, Michael and Lori Milken Dean of the SPH Milken Institute, opened the event by highlighting the critical role of public health in advancing racial equity. The Equity Institute Initiative will support new collaborations and create opportunities for GW to use its resources to support the transformation of the DC community at large, through education, research, communication and direct support, she said.

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“We will never understand the full impacts of health inequality without first coming to terms with the systemic forces that negatively impact health,” Goldman said. “Equity cannot be embraced without discovering and understanding the truth.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the Equity Institute Initiative, located at GW Law. It was held at the Jack Morton Auditorium and broadcast for virtual viewers, which Goldman said included GW president Mark S. Wrighton.

Dayna Bowen Matthew, Dean and Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at GW Law, said the CCR-produced documentary highlighted for her how the health stories of individuals, communities and the nation are interconnected.

“This movie wasn’t just about Cincinnati,” he said. “This movie is about Washington, DC, and all of us who live here. All of us can speak the truth for restoration, reconciliation and resilience.”

Cincinnati native Wendy Ellis, Dr. PH ’19, director of the CCR and executive producer of the documentary, moderated the post-screening panel of experts. The film deliberately highlighted core community systems, including housing, public education and criminal justice that influence individual outcomes, he said.
“Those systems that give us the greatest opportunity to move forward, and the policies and practices of those systems, unfortunately create barriers, systematically, reliably, intentionally, and when you look at maps across the country, predictably, by race and by place. , ” she said.

The District faces systemic barriers when it comes to voting rights and disenfranchisement, Ellis said. DC has 700,000 residents, but does not have a voting member of Congress, and the local government has operated under home rule since 1973, giving Congress the ability to block any law passed by the DC Council.

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Affectionately called “Chocolate City,” the District became a majority black city in the 1950s. In recent years, demographics have changed, bringing the black population to under 50%.

“All of a sudden these discussions of self-government are becoming more possible, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” said Jehan “Gigi” El-Bayoumi, founding director of the GW Rodham Institute.

El-Bayoumi spoke about the importance of meeting with communities where they are, particularly in health care. Training health workers about the impacts of inequality and the challenges faced by people in different parts of the same city is critical, and community work must be done from a place of humility, inquiry and curiosity, he said.

Renee McPhatter, Associate Vice President of Government and Community Relations at GW, spoke about the importance of understanding history. The more you know about history, the less likely you are to make the same mistakes, she said.

“Democracy is fragile and will always be fragile, it cannot be taken for granted,” he said. “We have to keep working on it.”

More needs to be done to understand the history going on around us, Ellis said. While people know about slavery, Reconstruction, and the history of inequality in broad strokes, society has only dealt with those wounds in very generalized ways. Part of doing the kind of storytelling featured in America’s Truth: Cincinnati is “making it real in your backyard” and continuing to engage, even when it’s daunting, she said.

Panelists also included Roy L. Austin, Jr., vice president for civil rights and deputy general counsel for Meta, the parent organization of Facebook; Calvin Smith, senior director of government relations at BridgePoint Healthcare and former president of the District 8 Health Council; and Erin Saul, director of community engagement for Joining Forces for Children in Cincinnati.

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The discussion was the first in a series of community events and activities designed to promote racial healing and build the political will to foster policy and practice change that produces racial equity and community resilience.