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Greater Kansas City, MO

2016: Sharing the Stories that Matter

In a video on the Resilient KC website, police officer Mikki Cassidy notes that “my regular day is everybody else’s worst day.” Then she describes how mindfulness training has helped her find peace amid the clamor: “This moment, right here, I’m okay.”

Later in the clip, Sonia Warshawski, a Holocaust survivor, recalls being shoved onto a train to Treblinka and, later, losing her mother to the gas chamber. “One of my highest points is when I speak in schools, when students tell me, ‘You changed my life,’” she says.

And Josiah Hoskins, a youth raised in foster care, talks about the mantra that helped him survive: “Even if all you have is yourself, with a wall behind you and the world coming at you, you can make peace with yourself.”

The video concludes with four words—“Stories Matter. What’s yours?”—and an invitation for others to share experiences of adversity and healing.

Awareness on Both Sides of the State Line

The campaign is just one prong of Kansas City’s multi-sector effort to raise awareness about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and build resilience on both sides of the state line. In the first year of the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) grant, Resilient KC—a partnership between the pre-existing Trauma Matters Kansas City (TMKC) network and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce—has worked to cultivate “ambassadors” who can bring the ACEs message to colleagues, clients and community members in business, the armed services, education, justice and health care.

“We’ve always had people who are interested,” said Marsha Morgan, who helped launch TMKC while working as chief operating officer of Truman Medical Center’s department of behavioral health. “But now we’re seeing real levels of commitment.”

The MARC grant, she said, prodded TMKC to clarify its focus and establish a 20-member steering committee, with work groups focused on each of the network’s target audiences.

This fall, the network launched a learning collaborative. The goal was to find ten organizations that would pledge to be part of a year-long learning process; they got commitments from fourteen. A local television station recently agreed to promote stories of resilience. “And we have foundations now saying, ‘This is a priority,’” Morgan said.

A Growing Network

Resilient KC’s website, which includes a calendar of community events such as a dinner with Shaka Senghor, author of Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison, also has links to an ACE survey (the questions from the Anda/Felitti study with additional queries about racism, bullying and neighborhood violence, borrowed from the Philadelphia Expanded ACE Study) and a resilience questionnaire. So far, more than 1,000 people have taken the survey; Morgan hopes that number will grow to several thousand before TMKC analyzes the results in May. 

The network has welcomed the first glimmers of interest from members of the faith community, Morgan said, along with unexpected partners such as the Kansas City Royals and first responders: police, emergency workers and 911 dispatchers. Police Captain Darren Ivey, who leads the department’s office of diversity affairs, has become a tireless champion, helping to design a training on vicarious trauma and mindfulness that has reached 850 people so far.

The local arts community, including ArtsTech, an enterprise and education center for at-risk urban youth, has also yielded uncommon partners. At Resilient KC’s kick-off event in April 2016, ArtsTech students were hired to design chalkboards on which attendees could complete the phrase, “What makes me resilient is…”

Continuing Outreach

Other sectors, including the armed services and regional health centers, have proven harder to reach. Health care providers sometimes protest that “we’re too busy” or “if we open this up, where is it going to take us?” Morgan said. And while Jasmin Williams, program coordinator for Resilient KC, has reached out to large corporations (purposefully using business-friendly terms such as “chronic stress” rather than “trauma”), the initiative has yet to bring small businesses into the fold.

“How do we talk to the restaurant owners, the beauticians and barbers, the hotel people? How do we bring healing habits to them?” Morgan wonders. She’d like to see universities incorporate ACEs and self-care practices into their freshman-year courses on effective study habits; ideally, ACEs and resilience would be woven into the curricula of graduate schools in education, social work and health care.

“One of the biggest challenges is time. People’s busy-ness,” she says, along with the logistics of a Chamber of Commerce partnership that, while enthusiastic and dedicated, also calls for deft navigation of a longstanding bureaucracy.

Moving Forward

As the first year of the MARC grant winds down, Morgan is looking to the future: not only year two, but beyond, when TMKC will need to decide whether to become its own non-profit organization, institute membership dues or partner with another group that shares its vision.

“What matters is that we stay focused on the vision and mission of what we’re trying to do,” Morgan said—which includes connecting interested audiences with regional experts in ACEs/resilience, advocating for trauma-informed policy at the local, state and national levels, remaining a presence at community events and health fairs and continuing to share stories that embody Resilient KC’s motto of “Thriving Through Adversity.”

She tells of visiting her granddaughter’s elementary school classroom, which houses a “comfort corner,” a table with four exercise balls for kids who need repetitive movement as they work and a rug where children can gather. “When I hear schools say that they’ve named their in-school detention teachers ‘empowerment coaches’ and are working with students so they can recognize what triggers them and practice different ways to respond, I know this work is important.

“What we want to convey to people is: You can move forward. You’re not sentenced to a life of doom because you’ve had these things happen to you…I found a quote recently: Data persuades and stories inspire. People want data, and I remind them that we need it, but we also need to remember our stories.”       

Read 2015: Learning to Listen