As a young boy growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Rasheed Sami faced struggles that no child should.

Some days, there wasn’t food on his table. For weeks, he and his friends stayed inside after they witnessed police shoot a neighbor. At other times, he watched his father battle an addiction that rattled his household.

Today, Rasheed, who’s almost 30, uses those struggles to empower others who face similar circumstances. Most recently in his journey to healing, Rasheed attended an educational symposium designed to teach South Chicago residents about trauma, how it can manifest in your life and tips to better respond to its effects.   

The symposium, hosted by the South Chicago Neighborhood Network, is just one effort the collaborative group is taking to foster a trauma-informed community.

“Our Neighborhood Network wants to make sure people can identify trauma and find ways to heal from it,” said Tevonne Ellis, the South Chicago Neighborhood Network coordinator. “In general, people know Chicago for being a violent city and, often times, even the perception of violence can cause underlying trauma. It’s important for us to connect and understand how trauma shows up in our lives.”

Symposium teaches residents about trauma

On a windy Saturday in September, more than 100 South Chicago residents gathered at Compassion Baptist Church for a day of trauma education.

In workshops, some attendees learned first aid to respond to physical trauma and lessons about identifying and responding to domestic violence and sexual assault, while others explored how one’s spirituality can be impacted by trauma.

Though he was signed up for another workshop, when the time came, Rasheed felt called to attend the spirituality talk. “The speaker, a pastor, did an amazing job. He expressed his experience with trauma, his walk with trauma. I just felt like I was looking in the mirror because it felt like he understood exactly what I had been through,” Rasheed said. “It was refreshing to hear someone tell their story and be willing to be vulnerable and allow others to be vulnerable.”

The group concluded the day with community-building exercises that included brainstorming tangible ways to improve the culture of empathy and support in South Chicago.

“We really want people to see that we can heal together as a community,” Tevonne said.

The day of learning left an indelible impression on Ray Franklin, a youth pastor in the community. “Being a youth pastor, you deal with a lot of kids who deal with trauma, be it the shootings that go on or violence in schools. It was important for me to find out how we can deal with trauma and how we can relieve some of the pressures that kids go through,” he said.

“We really want people to see that we can heal together as a community."

More than awareness, network provides support

In a neighborhood that experiences disinvestment, high rates of violence and generational poverty, the South Chicago Neighborhood Network recognizes that one trauma training won’t single-handedly change those realities.

That’s why it offers robust programming year-round to support residents.

The Network, which is supported by United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative,  includes nearly two dozen community partners. They organize monthly conversations between neighbors on topics like childhood adverse experiences and domestic violence. They also provide survivors with connections to counseling and legal aid, and support youth after-school programs and employment services to help stymie cyclical violence.

Rasheed pays it forward

Once a shy, reserved kid, Rasheed struggled for years to find his place in the world and cope with the situations he was dealt. “I found myself trying to find hope in a situation that seemed hopeless.”

At the symposium, he said, the impact of all of his experiences hit him.“I knew it was pain. I knew it was hurt — I’d just never related it to trauma,” he said. “Because in society, when you think about trauma, you think it’s this severe, over-the-top kind of thing.”

Now, Rasheed sees trauma differently. “Trauma is something that made you. It’s one of those pieces, especially if you’re a youth, that you kind of build yourself within,” he said. “Trauma never leaves you. You just learn to be more aware of it and what triggers it. You learn to cope with it better.”

Rasheed shares these lessons with the next generation. A youth counselor with Becoming a Man and motivational speaker, he delivers a message of resilience with his community.

“My job is to empower through my story. Not to say ‘I know what you’re going through,’ but to express that others have experienced hardships and they can triumph over them,” Rasheed said.

“As a dad of two, a man of God, I feel so vindicated and free enough to be in a place where I can go, motivate, inspire and help change lives,” he said. “These things greatly challenged and affected me…but, now, I can sit back and sip the lemonade.”


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