It was on a chilly Fall day after a long, hot summer in Arizona that I boarded the plane to San Francisco attend the 2016 ACESCONNECTION conference. I think of this day and the day I first learned about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study as days that I will never forget- days that changed my life. I was (and continue to be) passionate about work in the trauma-informed space.
“Change culture and you change lives. You can also change the course of history. Many well-meaning social activists overlook this essential fact. They focus relentlessly on strategy, but strategy means nothing to our bodies and our lizard brains. When strategy competes with culture, culture wins–every time.”
~Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands No one can dispute Valorie Kondos Field’s record of winning.
At the Osborn Governing School District board meeting, on March 20, 2018, the Phoenix, AZ-located board approved a resolution supporting trauma-informed practices in their district. Over the past three years the board studied Adverse Childhood Experiences, reviewed discipline and achievement data, and heard first hand accounts from school leadership and teachers about the needs of students in their community.
My oldest graduated elementary school yesterday and I will admit that I shed more than a few tears at his end-of-year ceremony as the entire school community literally “clapped out” the sixth grade. Someone told me to make sure I bring my sunglasses and I am grateful for that advice. While elementary school graduation may not be as big of a deal as high school or college, it still felt like a pretty big milestone for him and our family. I think back to his first day of kindergarten in 2012 . His youngest sister was still in a baby backpack as we walked him half of a block to his first day of school with another toddler in tow. My wife and I spent a lot of time in that classroom–we eagerly volunteered to share a weekly volunteer spot in his class and attended the frequent performances and parties hosted by his amazing teacher. Almost seven years (and two cross-country moves) later, he biked himself to his last day of elementary school and I had to promise to make sure I hung out with the other parents (and not him) at the end-of-year BBQ celebration.
The recent appointment of Nadine Burke Harris as California’s first Surgeon General represents exciting opportunities for increased leadership and momentum around issues related to ACEs and toxic stress. But you don’t have to be a surgeon general to be a Resilience Champion. Anyone who is using (or who wants to use) trauma-informed principles and practices and to take a resilience-building approach to lead change can make a difference!
As one year comes to an end, the tradition of creating resolutions for ourselves in the next begins. How do you decide on what goal to work towards? This year, my 2019 resolution is going to come from looking back on 2018. I used the passion planner this year, a combined journal and organizer, so the highs and lows were easy to identify. The highlights include completing my coursework at school, setting clear boundaries with my time, exercising, and cutting back on some not helpful habits like too much wine and too many late nights. These goals give me concrete actions but why do I want to do them? What is my purpose? How do those “whats” fit into my “why”?
As she describes in her TED Talk from 2015, when Nadine Burke Harris stumbled into the world of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), it made her rethink her entire approach to practicing medicine. After finishing her residency, she went to work for California Pacific Medical Center and together they opened a clinic in Bayview-Hunter’s Point in San Francisco. As she began her work there, she focused on improving many of the traditional health disparity measures for underserved communities. But even though she was hitting her numbers, she noticed that many kids were being referred to her for symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For many of these kids, she did not feel like she could make a diagnosis of ADHD based on their histories. She felt like she was missing something. The dots connected for her when a colleague shared with her the findings from the original ACE study from the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente that showed strong epidemiological evidence for the link between childhood adversity and health outcomes and behaviors.