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Helping Young Black Men Move Past Histories of Trauma and Violence

April 30, 2019

In a video, a young African American man named David narrates the story of his life over a series of portraits and images of his Philadelphia neighborhood. He describes the trauma of watching loved ones die from gun violence, and the fear that he would be next. In photos, he adopts a protective posture, hunched over to save his brain and heart.

John Rich, MPH ’90, told the audience at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Yerby Diversity Lecture in Public Health, held April 18, 2019 in Kresge G-3, that he chose to begin his talk with David’s story to bring a human face and voice to the gun violence statistics that would follow, and to demonstrate how trauma can become “imprinted under the skin.”

Each year, the Yerby lecture brings minority scientists and scholars to the Harvard Chan School to speak on important health topics. It was named for the late Alonzo Smythe Yerby, MPH ’48, an African American pioneer in public health who from 1966–1975 was chair of the School’s former Department of Health Services Administration (forerunner to the Department of Health Policy and Management).

This year’s lecture was introduced by Dean Michelle Williams, who said that it was a pleasure to welcome home an alum of the School who is a “truly tremendous scholar.” Rich, a physician, is the author of the book Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship.

David was a participant in a program Rich founded called Healing Hurt People. Sponsored by the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice at Drexel University School of Public Health—where Rich is a professor and chair of the Department of Health Management and Policy—the program works with young men of color who come to area emergency departments for gunshot or other assault wounds. With the help of peer health workers, it provides participants with counseling and training. The goal is to foster their healing from emotional wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder, and to help them start to rewrite the stories of their lives in more hopeful directions.

Read the full blog post, Helping Young Black Men Move Past Histories of Trauma and Violence, on the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s website.