Black in America: Generational Healing

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In the same way families pass down advice from generation to generation, pain and even fear are passed down in black families.

It’s a generational pain that 71-year-old Roby Williams said won’t end his life.

“I don’t know about healing. We cannot unring those bells, and there’s been a whole lot of bells that we’ve heard over the years of black men beaten. I don’t know how we heal that, but I’m hoping that we can grow to a place where this stop,” said Williams.

But 16-year-old Drake Coakieanos believes this pain will end one day.

“I feel like healing for everybody is actually seeing the change happen and not having history repeat itself again,” said Coakieanos.

Sitting inside the National Civil Rights Museum, just a few feet from the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life, four generations of Black men talked with FOX13′s Kirstin Garriss about their promised land.

“We can’t confuse activity with progress. As many marches can happen as we want. As many protests can happen as we want, but that activity doesn’t necessarily equate progress. It doesn’t equate to things getting better,” said Patrick Hillard.

Part 1: Watch Being Black in America: Generational Pain

Hillard said healing must come from a place of understanding and a place of love.

“A 4-year-old can tell you as a parent that they don’t feel comfortable in their room because there’s a boogie man under the bed, and you as the parent know full well there’s no one under the bed. There’s no monster in the closet, but you immediately run to the room, and the understanding between you and your child is if I found the boogie man I’m going to whoop him to save you, and that’s from a level of love,” said Hillard. “Everyone has a boogie man that they’re dealing with in America right now. They just do and when I tell you, my boogie man, you can’t dismiss it. You need to treat my boogie man like the 4-year-old’s. You need to say if you love your man like you love yourself, I’m willing to go fight your boogie man. I may not be able to see it, understand it, but I can help you.”

Native Memphian Jason Farmer said healing starts with small conversations in every household, and some of these conversations may begin with children helping their parents with the healing.

“When those kids speak up and say, ‘Hey, Dad, you know what you’re doing is considered racism because my friend, Drake and I, we talk about and that’s how his family views this, and we understand this may be historically something that’s been done in our family,’ but that’s how the healing process in my mind, it happens,” said Farmer. “It’s small. It’s incremental, and it’s beyond the marches. It’s what happens after the march is over. You know in those moments in between. That’s where the real opportunities for healing are.”

But therapists say some of these same uncomfortable conversations must happen in the Black community, too.

“There’s a great stigma not only in mental health but especially the Black community. We don’t seek treatment or we don’t think these things are affecting us in negative way, but they are, so we have to be aware of what are these signs and symptoms that we’re seeing and that we’re feeling,” said Will Voss, TN Voices Director of Contracts, Corporate Compliance Officer, and Chair of the TN Voices Cultural Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Will Voss works for TN Voices, a statewide mental health and counseling agency. He said black men suffer from higher rates of depression, suicide and other mental health illness.

Voss said part of the healing process is recognizing that hurt does exist, but that healing is possible.

“It’s the courage that it takes to seek that treatment, and we have so much hope that we give people and you have to realize that you embody a lot of that hope yourself, and it’s important to recognize it’s possible, and it’s ok to not be ok. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength in recognizing that I need some assistance. I need some help,” said Voss.

He said the next step is learning how to pass down generational hope.

“The same hope that we look back on and recognize that we’re past segregation, we’re past slavery but there’s still a lot that needs to be done as far as systemic change that occurs but we need to be able to pass down that hope to different generations and the skills to learn how to endure the certain things when they do come along as we’ve learned growing up all of our lives but being able to recognize so much resiliency that we do possess and that can occur,” said Voss.

TN Voices is offering FREE counseling services to anyone who cannot afford it. You can call their helpline at 1.800.670.9882 or visit their website