Listening sessions address the intersection of race, poverty and trauma

BJC BEHAVIORAL HEALTH | Don’t ask, “What’s wrong with that person?” Ask, “What happened to that person?”

That was one of the takeaways from two listening sessions offered for BJC Behavioral Health staff. More than 180 staff joined Khatib Waheed, Joe Yancey and Teresa Brandon on

Feb. 12 and Feb. 19 in the lower level of the BJC Learning Institute.

Waheed, a national presenter for Racial Equity Learning Exchange Sessions who also works as director of community engagement and strategic partnerships for the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office, explained that while we’d like to think we’re living in a post-racial society, we are, in fact, not.

From left, Khatib Waheed, BJC Behavioral Health vice president Barbi Berrong, Teresa Brandon

and Joe Yancey at a recent BJC Behavioral Health listening session. | Courtesy photo

“When outcomes are predictable by race, when outcomes are not random,” Waheed stressed, “there is not equality.”

Whether it’s graduation rates, housing, legal issues or health issues, there is still a racial divide in the United States, Waheed said. In the St. Louis region, many of the causes of this divide date to before anyone in the audience or presenting was even born. Still, the effects of segregation and discriminatory housing practices make themselves felt today and are the challenges that must be faced together, he said.

Yancey, CEO of Places for People and chief of the St. Louis Health Commission, presented on trauma and toxic stress. “Are you alive?” he asked the audience. Being alive carries the risk of experiencing trauma, he explained. While a single traumatic incident can overwhelm the ability to cope, an ongoing environment of trauma creates toxic stress that stretches the ability to cope over a long term. Ultimately, access to resources and being around people who care are the two things most necessary to combating toxic stress, he said.

Brandon, BJC Behavioral Health clinical director, shared an experience that illustrated that you may never know how you have changed someone’s life by helping them. She stressed the importance of listening without judgment, listening to really hear the other person. In fact, “listening is your most powerful tool” in working with clients or co-workers, she said.

The group then watched a video, later breaking into pairs to discuss several questions supplied by Waheed. The intensity of these discussions was reflected in the steady buzz and the intent faces in the room.

Waheed ended the day encouraging attendees that they, and others like them, will be the ones who will come up with the answers to the issues facing the community.

Additional listening sessions are planned.

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