Healing Through Research
By Shannon Simpson
I did not know there was healing in research until I heard Carl Baty share his story.
At the symposium, Community Agency & Health, Carl described how negative portrayals of black people, displayed as truth, not only harm black families today but also rob them of their futures. These portrayals have a long history that is part of the oppression of black communities. They have created a stigma that black people have to navigate to survive.
I believe that healing from oppression takes finding inner peace. It’s about self and social reflection, about acknowledging that oppressed people are set up to fail. This reflecting seldom takes place, perhaps because poor black people often have multiple jobs and no time to question the systems around them. Nor do they have time to heal from the anger and pain of exploitation. As James Baldwin said:
"To be black and conscious in America, is to be in a constant state rage".
While true, what matters is how we employ that rage. Rage employed to dismantle the hateful systems we live with can be positive. Rage employed as violence only hurts more people – and potentially perpetuates the systems of oppression we hope to reform. Without healing, the cycle of hurt can only continue.
Communities that have been oppressed need to be encouraged to share their stories; their struggles should be at the forefront of the dialog, the foundation of solution building. No one but us can make decisions about us. There is healing in telling one's story, in learning that many hardships are not our own fault. As Carl shared, he did not know he had a right to be angry until he shared his story aloud.
Within that sharing there is also expertise. Oppressed communities can create solutions. In fact, it is impossible to have sustainable solutions if those within the struggle are not a part of creating them.
There is more and more ‘social justice’ work using the methods of participatory action research (PAR). For oppressed communities, this work can be very eye-opening. Facilitators need to be prepared to handle the personal traumas that may be triggered when people talk about their lives. There needs to be willingness on both sides for learning and healing through transparent communication and empathy. Genuine relationship building is crucial to all social justice work. If we cannot learn and build together there is no healing. The healing process needs to be deeply ingrained in PAR and all research methods.
It takes agency to find inner peace, to heal. Exploring one’s past and questioning how it affects one’s present is a purposeful activity. However, agency is also needed to build the relationships necessary to sustain people in this work. It takes agency to create changes for the future, which also diminishes the power difference between the oppressors and the oppressed.
In my work, we use PAR. But it was only when I heard Carl share his story did I realize that we needed to be intentional about healing as a process. And that I, too, was healing through research.
Shannon Simpson deeply values infusing youth and resident voice into institutional decision making. She is a Resident Researcher in Roxbury, MA, with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. She specializes in youth development, participatory action research, community organizing, and building capacity for community and resident leadership. As a Resident Researcher, she works on finding and creating best practices for residents, youth and the community that center on housing and development. She enjoys traveling and is proud of her Jamaican-Irish culture. She hopes to inspire one person to inspire another person to inspire another person.