Helping kids through toxic stress is one step toward ‘Unleashing North Philly’

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    Participants wait to ask the panelists questions at Unleashing North Philly's second event

    Participants wait to ask the panelists questions at Unleashing North Philly's second event

    A series of events is aimed at changing the narrative about North Philadelphia.

    Instead of focusing on poverty and crime, the events are are telling stories about potential, about cultural resilience.

    Organized by community advocate Malcolm Kenyatta, Unleashing North Philly recently held an event focusing on childhood trauma.

    Children in neighborhoods there are vulnerable to what mental health professionals call toxic stress. It refers to prolonged and constant exposure to adversity, including poverty and violence.

    Over time, it can change how people respond to stress, and it can cause anxiety and depression.

    Educators, civil servants, community members, social workers and others came to the event to better understand and meet the needs of children at risk of toxic stress.

    Among them was Alia Hatch, she works with middle school kids in North Philly. After the panel, she said she wants to approach her students with more empathy.

    “From my end of things, just constantly making sure that the space is safe for them to process, to consider their trauma, but be able to move through it, too,” Hatch said.

    Honoring a child’s emotional process is important, said panelist Reggie Jones, director of counseling at Bryn Mawr College.

    Some students who come from poor neighborhoods and are succeeding in college use a coping strategy that worries her.

    “For many young people in these communities, you just sort of put the trauma on a shelf and you move forward. And it works for a while, but the disservice that we end up doing to folks is that we don’t allow them to have other coping strategies available to them,” she said. “So when that breaks down, they’re stuck.”

    The cumulative social effect of widespread trauma, she said, is hopelessness.

    But focusing on small achievements or personal changes, such as employing mindfulness in daily life, can make a huge difference, she said.

    The next Unleashing North Philly event will focus on voter turnout.

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