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Last month, I attended an all-day symposium sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition, “VPC Making Connections: Exploring opportunities, actions and strategies to address the impact of gang culture and gang violence on mental health and community well-being in LA County.”

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The Hope of Post-Traumatic Growth—Hannah Petrie

What’s a white girl in Altadena doing at an event about gangs? Hustling hope, that’s what! It’s like what Pastor Kerwin Manning, a prominent African American pastor in Pasadena (and current president of the Community Clergy Coalition) has said time and again, “until enough people care, even when the violence is not in their neighborhood, real change is elusive.”

In my case, my entrée to this issue was a result of tragic gang murder in my neighborhood. I saw that I might have a role to play. In 2014, after ex-Crip gang member Christopher Walker was shot four times in the back in front of Fair Oaks Burger in Altadena, just blocks from my residence, I arranged for a 6-month anniversary event of the murder in the parking lot of the burger restaurant – something I finagled because the Korean-American owner is an acquaintance of mine (btw, they have great burgers). It took some hustling, but in the end, Christy Lee concluded that “only good could come of it.”

She was right. In the process, I got to know Christopher’s parents, Ursula and Richard Walker. Like they say in the Youtube video, Christopher had turned his life around, even after many years of active gang-affiliation, largely due to their parental guidance. After the Walk for Christopher, the Walkers were encouraged to speak out about their experience, at churches and in the media.

Interestingly, they decry the Black Lives Matter movement, insisting all lives matter, and that too much emphasis is placed on police killings of black people when well over 90% of black murders are committed by other blacks. Yes, I know that’s a conservative meme, meant to counter the justified scrutiny of too many police killings of people of color. But it also seems a heartless dismissal of the modern phenomenon of black and brown gangs – just over 45 years old, if you consider that urban gangs like Crips and Bloods began in 1969 and 1971 respectively, soon after so many prominent and forward-moving black leaders were murdered, among other conditions of racist indignity and exclusion (see films Bastards of the Party and Crips and Bloods: Made in America for further education). Unnecessary police killings must be addressed and rectified, it’s true, but so must the tragedy of gangs.

In the video, Richard Walker refers to gangs as the new slavery. I consider that the institution of African slavery on American soil lasted about 250 years, and with enough hustle and moral indignation, we (whites and non-whites) abolished it. Surely we can also address an institution not even 50 years old. Until enough “abolitionists” care about the destruction of life that gangs cause (non-white or white gangs), gangs will continue to prosper. Gangs are in part a symptom of an unjust economy, where the poor and under-educated are left behind, with little legit opportunity. Like Father Boyle of Homeboy Industries coined, “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

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We now have a “faithful 8” of trainees, a diverse group of community members including the Walkers (and their daughter Nicole) who will soon be able to facilitate inter-generational councils in our community, welcoming anyone ten years and older affected by gang affiliation.

The Walkers wanted to continue our work together so in fall of 2015, I applied for a grant from the Center for Council, a non-profit that has trained dozens of non-profits in the method of “council,” a practice which nurtures community and healing through the sharing of life experiences in non-judgmental settings. Even though our effort (the Altadena Pasadena Council for Reconciliation) is not a non-profit (yet?), the funders of C4C care about mitigating gangs in LA county, and we received the grant.

We now have a “faithful 8” of trainees, a diverse group of community members including the Walkers (and their daughter Nicole) who will soon be able to facilitate inter-generational councils in our community, welcoming anyone ten years and older affected by gang affiliation.

So that was the hope I was hustling at the symposium – yet another new program wishing to reach out and make a difference. There are many, many non-profit organizations in LA county tackling this issue, in varying and important ways. They all make a dent, but the need is so very great that more innovative and committed efforts are needed.

That morning, I learned a lot about the damaging public health effects of trauma, as so many young boys and girls are susceptible to gangs because of trauma due to community or domestic violence. It was sobering, but one of the afternoon presentations inspired the heck out of me because of the hope it offered: the concept of post-traumatic growth beyond resilience, which examines the phenomenon in which suffering and grief can co-exist with enlightenment and growth. This was presented by the dynamic Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, Founder/Executive Director of the Social Justice Learning Institute. The main gist here is that research has shown that, with the right supports, so called “damaged” children and youth can actually transcend resilience, becoming more happy and mature people as a result of their trauma. This refutes and pushes back against the deficit-analyses we often hear: that due to trauma, youth are destined for hopeless and deviant futures.

Violence Prevention Coalition

The strategies proven effective for post-traumatic growth are skill-building, professional counseling, healing circles, civic engagement and social justice, academic success, and work with policy makers on a local level. These are all things that schools, non-profits and individuals who work to counter gang-affiliation are doing. The results are remarkable: when children and youth transform trauma into learning and growth, 40 – 70% experience some positive benefits as a result of their trauma.

Most of us, no matter our walk of life or background, experience trauma at some point in our life, myself no exception. Learning about the potential of post-traumatic growth personally gave me much faith and a renewed determination. The work, the hustle, the time we bring to the world to bring healing and hope to others, and ultimately ourselves, is always worth doing.

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So until next time, Do the Hustle!

Hannah Petrie
The Justice Hustle