Stand Against Racism Becomes Movement to Heal Community

The Stand Against Racism is an annual YWCA event that focuses on educating, advocating, and promoting racial justice.  In April, over 100 community members gathered to discuss building a movement to transform New Britain from a trauma-affected community to a healing, resilient community.

Father Paul Abernathy, Director of Neighborhood Resilience Project in Pittsburgh, was the keynote speaker for the event. Father Abernathy has spearheaded the creation of programs to tackle poverty such as a backpack program for children, weekend meals, and a free medical and behavioral health clinic, among others.

Abernathy advised attendees that the movement to heal should begin neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block. He urged everyone to begin by inviting people to dinner, building relationships, and developing a sense of community. “Do this by seeing each other and not just hearing each other. You don’t have to be a therapist to be therapeutic!”

After Father Abernathy’s presentation, groups were formed to explore some of the themes he talked about. When discussion groups were asked how to create resiliency in New Britain, some of the top answers included improving education, identifying assets and strengths in neighborhoods, assisting young people with their challenges, gaining a better understanding of community needs, and building stronger relationships.

The passionate New Britain residents and professionals formulated action steps by identifying goals for the initiative. The many short-term and mid-term goals included block parties, clean-up efforts, youth leader development, conducting a community needs assessment, graduation assistance, and enhancing community police interactions. The long-term goal was to create a healing, resilient community with no gangs, lowered drug use, another public high school, and more functional gardens.

Following the event, YWCA Executive Director Tracey Madden-Hennessey attended the 2nd annual Trauma-Informed Community Development Institute sponsored by FOCUS Pittsburgh at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA in June.  Three dozen people attended the institute from Cleveland, Ohio; Titusville, Pennsylvania; New Britain, Connecticut; Sarasota, Florida; Wind River, Wyoming; and Woodland Hills, Pennsylvania.  The six attendees from New Britain included Daria Keyes of Neighborhood Housing Services, Tracey Madden-Hennessey of YWCA New Britain, Marie Bachand of North Oak NRZ, Manny Sandoval of North Oak NRZ, Kasandra Marbury, a clinical social worker, and Marie Spivey, System for Education Equity & Transition Consultant.

This week-long Institute provided the attendees with training to educate residents on trauma's protective and risk factors, and create solutions to violence in their neighborhood.  The group worked on a four-phase model to introduce and implement a community development plan to small sub-sets of the community at a time.

While the Stand Against Racism was a great kick-off event, there is still a lot of work to be done to create a healthier city for everyone living and working in New Britain.  The YWCA looks forward to being a leader of this work in our city and continuing to work with our partners to accomplish it.