Last September, I wrote a blog on What Recovery Means to Me to share the lessons I have learned and am still learning in my recovery process. One of the promises I made and kept was to return to college and finish my undergraduate degree. By the grace of my Higher Power and with a lot of determination, I re-enrolled at Temple University.

The year was 2013, and I was back at TUUUUUUUU!!! However, I faced another roadblock. What will be my major? Do I finish my degree in African-American studies? Or do I listen to the suggestions I got while in rehab from my fellow 12-steppers, peers, and staff to pursue a degree in social work or psychology program?

I had the right attitude, awareness, and temperament for such an undertaking. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Ultimately, I felt it was important to give back as an African-American man and continue my bachelor’s degree in African-American studies. As we celebrate Black History Month, I wonder if accurate teachings of African-American history can help heal the mental well-being of the African-American community

In her book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, Dr. Joy DeGruy shares that post-traumatic slave syndrome is the cause of many of the “adaptive survival behaviors in African-American communities throughout the United States and the Diaspora … a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery.”

These “adaptive survival behaviors” at one point served us, kept us safe and, for some, proved beneficial. But I could argue these behaviors are now doing more harm than healing, leading African Americans into a kind of identity crisis within our community.

These behaviors were never intended to reflect who we are or reinforce our true identity; therefore, we have an incomplete view of ourselves.

I am not naïve. Disruptive practices will not magically disappear overnight from people learning accurate African-American history. However, the teaching of African-American history should be at the core of all transformative healing with the intention of firmly solidifying our sense of self and place in the world. 

In our attempts to survive and, in some cases, escape our enslaving history, we have adopted foreign, dysfunctional, and false narratives, identities, and mindsets. I truly believe this distorted identity heavily affects the mental health of the African-American community. Distorted identity grossly misrepresents the vast, diverse, invaluable, and impressive array of our past, present, and future capabilities and achievements in human history and global discourse.

Healing starts with applied knowledge!

About the Author: E. Bernard Alexander, MAC; Addictions Recovery Training Specialist, Behavioral Health Training and Education Network.  Bernard has served in several roles, including counselor and case manager, and has a particular passion and expertise with working with people looking to create substantial, holistic transformation and healing. Bernard is a foodie who loves the arts, culture, museums, literature and sports. Go Eagles!


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