The words hope, connection and collaboration were repeated often on evaluation forms from the recent Hope in Action conference presented by No Whispers. More than 150 educators, social workers, nonprofit directors and faith-based leaders gathered at the University of Memphis for a daylong conference. “We are providing a trauma-informed lens through which to view Memphis,” said Jesse Johnson, No Whispers Program Director. “This new way of seeing opens us up to greater empathy toward others and healing for ourselves.”
Attendees participated in one of four trauma tracks—focused on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), poverty, criminal justice or prevention—taught by experts in those fields. In the afternoon, attendees were asked to find solutions in their communities using their newly acquired trauma knowledge. “There is a wealth of collective experience and wisdom in our communities,” Jesse said. “I’m always impressed with the ideas they come up with.”
The goal of the conference was to cast a wider net in thinking about mental health. When we add Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) into the equation, we begin to see a significant link between childhood trauma and mental illness. In a highly publicized study on white, middle-class Americans, Kaiser Permanente found that the higher a child’s ACE score, the higher the rate of depression, risky behaviors and suicide attempts.
“Many people minimize the traumatic experiences of their childhood because they think, ‘I should have been tougher’ or ‘My parents did the best they could.’ Naturally, we want to protect the people who fed and clothed us,” Jesse said. “None of us had a choice in our parents, whether good or bad. Yet the trauma experienced in childhood can have physical and psychological health effects that last a lifetime.”
The goal is not to point fingers but to build greater understanding and compassion. It shifts the conversation from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” We stop judging people and begin to listen more. We are all broken in some way. We are all cracked image-bearers of God.
The good news of the Gospel is that no matter what trauma we have experienced, God promises that it can all be redeemed for His purpose (Romans 8:28). Hardship can build resilience and reliance on God. Brokenness can give birth to restoration, healing and forgiveness. “As dispensers of everlasting hope, I believe the Church needs to be at the forefront of this conversation,” Jesse said. “No Whispers, through the Hope in Action conference, is helping lead this conversation.”