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Adverse Childhood Experiences: Life in Black Face – Struggling With A Few Answers
By Paul B. Simms, M.P.H.

Cancer InCytes Magazine - Volume 4, Issue 2, Winter 2015

Published December 18th, 2015



Managing Editor: Arvin Gouw, Ph.D.





Since November 2012, San Diego Black Health Associates, Inc. (SDBHA) has been pursuing a conversation with community members and advocates about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). After reflecting on case after case, our belief has now been affirmed that adverse childhood experiences stimulate diminished health and contribute to shorter lifespans among African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. For the families who experience premature loss of lives and heightened pain from children snatched from this life, it is important for them to have as complete a perspective as possible on the elements that trigger the health status gap. Thus, we stand this post and try to point in the direction we all should be headed.


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For statisticians and health policy analysts, the numbers that comprise “health disparities” are numerical and statistical in nature.  For people of color,  these losses take on a personal reality.  The growth of diabetes, obesity, congestive heart failure & strokes among African American people has expanded with radical leaps.  The spiraling number of amputations and kidney failures are real.  Our ACES forum with Dr. Vince Felitti and Dr. Cheryl Grills, two months ago (September 12, 2015) was a reflection of our duty to fully inform the people who we represent and for whom we advocate.  The title of the gathering was “Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Impact on Adult Health”.  Our venue was the Jacobs Community Center in Southeast San Diego. Over 125 residents attended the session.  A broad cross-section of local residents and employees from the San Diego Unified School District, the County Probation Department, the Health and Human Services Agency of the County, and the University of California at San Diego participated.


Convening the forum in the community also provided young people of color the opportunity to express their concerns and to be witness to their own realities. The shift of health access stimulated by the Affordable Care Act MAY trigger actions where the government withdraws support for “entitlement” programs, especially Medicare. We have monitored the debates about possible candidates for Presidency with anxiety – (we can hear the chains coming, again).  Our commitment is to provide information about ACEs to our community and reach out to our neighboring communities.  We wish more outreach had been done to ensure Native American health partners from Sycuan, Barona, Viejas and Kumeyaay were encouraged to attend.  Next time! 


Our vision is to prepare and promote health advocates to assume management and leadership roles, to integrate this ACE-awareness framework into the systems design and make sure that we bear witness to the conflicts of interest that can coerce advocates to chase their own tails in frustration. One important question is why would it have taken this long for the ACE research to become noticed to the public health advocates or the general public?


We promote prevention and acknowledge the weight which many physicians and observers feel, finding themselves conflicted by “clashing rocks” (e.g. a screening strategy to test for abuse, neglect, incest, rape, and physical abuse among children) and the absence of a safe space to confess the acts of parents in urban and rural communities.  The vision we see should articulate the force which gets us realigned and centered, and which provides support for parental systems from which we have been led astray.  We reach out for the botanical gardens of our lives – places where we can hear flowers grow – and where we ourselves become the flowers that we seek are grown in others – the sweet inspirations. The jewels of value – let’s hand those down.  The gold and silver trinkets, they will wash away.


In the mid 1970’s, I found transcendental meditation (TM) of great value for calmness and clarity – a stillness that helped reshape visions of madness and depression I brought with me from Harlem, to San Diego...and this was 45 years ago. My blood pressure is low today, in part, because of the TM techniques I adopted and still use. Treating patients who faced addictions of substance or alcohol were built around supporting each other as a village. There were people who used acupuncture to detoxify heroin addicts – techniques that were very successful, then but not able to be controlled effectively. Medication and pharmaceutical manufacturers couldn’t teach the lessons that spanned 2,000 years – more eastern than western; took a holy man for that.

Paul B. Simms, M.P.H.

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There are MANY useful strategies that emerged from those who knew the value of running – and who “got high” on the endorphins of life.  Teaching our community the importance of taking vitamins is essential. “Things don’t go better with COKE”, despite its commercial appeal.  There is greater value in drinking water – although more costly. Smoking cigarettes will kill you – period.   There is great value in the creativity of small support groups – to help manage our fears and stress, not just for the anxiety of prostate cancer or congestive heart failure, or the depression from diabetes and for persons who struggle with all types of adverse childhood experiences. It's O.K. for a man to write poetry, or to feel uplifted by fresh flowers.  It's O.K. to cry.  We are Renaissance people and these are Renaissance times.  A number of us are familiar with front-line issues.  They are grappling with continuous grief of children who carry the burden of their incarcerated parents. The front line can see the forces and factors from the foster care systems, where children are counted, but ignored.  I am pained for those who have lost children due to acts of violence. Earlier this week, it was acknowledged that Congress has prevented funding of violence research, at the request of the National Rifle Association.  Can anyone spell “acting in anyone’s best interest”?


The world is stratified and through segmentation only limited progress can be accomplished. There are four corners that define the perimeter of health disparities – culture, community, context, and history. From slavery, Black men showed the world their fear and anguish – afraid of the consequences felt and frustrated that not much credible action had been taken. One may be victimized by bad choices and mis-guided youth (hung) – then another bad choice (hung) – then another (hung).  The Deacons for Defense (1964) will tell their story when a Black Network comes back.  The only thing missing was the Internet. Then, in two decades, from Selma to Washington, DC and down to Greensboro, Mississippi and back - the students were non-violent in their message but committed to a belief that better was necessary.  The Black Panther Party, a voter registration effort, arose in Lowndes County, Georgia. This was the real threat – a Black man who could stand up straight and read the Queen’s English – the attack on the Jim Crow mentality of slumped over, which so many Black men (and fewer Black women) continue to suffer.  To J. Edgar – these Deacons were Negroes with guns and they had to be chased back into the bushes – and they were – white crosses and all. These were more than combat soldiers and  did more than simply wash trucks. 


The seventies brought us the war on poverty while the eighties brought us drugs and more drugs. Marijuana, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, were, indeed, the drugs of choice.  And those who found themselves susceptible, television and that other white powder became the great narcotizing agents of the civil rights struggle. So you think the C.I.A. wouldn’t sell cocaine in North America to finance their guerilla war in Central America?  Rick Ross will tell you a different tale ( Sadly, however, were it not for this digital universe, we wouldn’t have these nightmares of new murders – low hanging fruit – bodies swaying in the “trees” at the speed of light. Black Lives Matter.  The truth is that ALL LIVES MATTEROne size does not fit all. Who would have thought that two decades later, the country would find itself best served by electing an African American for President….twice!


Stand the post.   The work must be done. Advocacy needs numbers. Plant our resources back into the villages which raised us. Grow fruits and vegetables like before. The Elders now ignite the fire which calls Vince Felitti, Nadine Burke Harris and Cheryl Grills to ACE-awareness – in different languages.  There won't be a special pill that separates our spirits from this mess. It will only be by trial and error, by the freedom to examine what works in which context of our culture. And the special skills it takes to monitor the changing of the guard.   In other words, it will be arroz con pollo – chicken and rice – that becomes the breakfast of our champions. 


A Luta Continua...

About The Author

Paul B. Simms, M.P.H. is Vice President of San Diego Black Health Associates, Inc. He is also a Visiting Scholar at Claremont Graduate University. He serves as an editorial adviser in the Department of Culture, Policy, and Law Enforcement for Cancer InCytes Magazine.

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