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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

‘High Hanging Fruit’ Conference Aims To Help Lawndale Unpack Community Trauma

"We've all been affected by trauma," says a therapist and conference organizer.

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NORTH LAWNDALE — Local leaders are opening up about some of their most vulnerable moments at a conference this month designed to develop trauma-informed care practices in North Lawndale.

The I Am Able Center for Family Development will host the daylong event on Thursday, June 13 at the Sinai Community Institute, 2653 W. Ogden Avenue.

The trauma conference is called “Reaching for High Hanging Fruit’’ to emphasize the idea of helping people understand and move above circumstances that have normalized trauma across Chicago.

“Trauma has become a normal day-to-day, even as you watch the news,” said Kim Reuter, a therapist working with I Am Able who helped organize the conference. “Our goal of the conference is to talk a little bit about trauma and to understand that this isn’t normal. And I think that’s where we start with it, is to understand that everyone has been affected by trauma. Some to more or lesser degrees, but we’ve all been affected by trauma.”

Dr. Kimberly Lewis, who is also helping to produce the conference, says the “high hanging fruit” refers to opportunities, goals and achievements that people should reach for, past systemic circumstances that normalize trauma across Chicago.

“What high hanging fruit can look like is equitable housing, just the antithesis of the low hanging fruit,” she said. “Having communities that have substantial resources for foods that are healthy. Being involved in school systems that are not substandard.”

Programming at the conference will focus not only on acute trauma, but also on the kinds of daily traumas that Dr. Lewis says are inherited from generation to generation since slave times.

“One of the most important things about the conference and about understanding trauma in general, is promoting the insight… of how did we get here? What are the systematic things that have been in place historically, that have been transmitted, that have resulted in us falling prey to adverse life experiences? Falling prey to what we’re calling low hanging fruit, such as mass incarceration, inequitable housing, community violence.”

The conference workshops and speakers are also intended to help professionals build skills for working in trauma-informed care. Clinical social workers and other health care providers attending the event can earn continuing education units granted by the state.

The schedule for the conference, which runs from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, includes keynote speakers David Stovall, Professor of African American Studies at UIC; Carol Adams of Urban Prescriptives, and Yolanda J.W. Spencer, co-founder of the Alternative Education Research Institute. The speakers will address topics like self-care, social equity, surviving and thriving beyond trauma.

The day will also include a panel discussion with local leaders sharing their stories and presenting strategies for overcoming traumatic experiences.

Lawndale-based visual artist Haman Cross will lead a session exploring how trauma in his life has influenced his creative expression, and how his art has allowed him to come to terms with the origins of his trauma.

“It’s definitely going to pull a lot together based on the historical piece,” said Lewis.”How he has a better understanding of the trauma, how trauma has impacted him from the brain just holistically; he has an understanding that is so profound.”

In a bid to encourage trauma-informed care work among community members, the conference will also celebrate exemplary work on the West Side. Two individuals will be presented the inaugural Dr. Carl C. Bell Community Wellness Award and Scholarship, recognizing achievements in improving mental wellness in Lawndale.

The award will be presented to one college-bound student and one resident by Dr. Bell, a practicing clinical psychiatrist and professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Illinois School of Medicine.

Standard tickets are $20, but Lawndale residents receive a discounted rate of $5. For more information on how to register for the conference, click here.

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