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In the past few months organizations such as DefundCPD, STOP (Southside Together Organizing for Power) and UWF (United Working Families) worked in Chicago’s 20th, 6th and 33rd wards to build support for the Treatment Not Trauma (TNT) referendum, with a goal to allow city residents access to get a 24-hour-mental health crisis response. On the U.S. Midterm Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022, voters in those three Chicago wards (20th, 33rd & 6th) supported the Treatment Not Trauma referendum by more than 90 percent in each ward! Chicagoans like myself are in strong support of TNT and want to help those in need. With the conversations I’ve had in the community, I’ve learned that a large reason why Chicagoans are in support of TNT is because many have faced a mental health crisis and were afraid of what could have happened to them or their loved ones without adequate access to mental health professionals.

On July 19, 2022, my hand shook uncontrollably as I grabbed the door knob to leave my home. I tried to ignore it and continued my 20-minute walk to the gym, but it plagued my mind to the point where my music couldn’t drown out my thoughts. 

My body swelled with anxiety while asking myself “why is my hand shaking so much right now?” My question was answered by the sound of police sirens circling the third dead body I had seen in three weeks.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), something I may have always known but was too afraid of confirming. Many are under the assumption that PTSD is something only experienced by soldiers or those who faced a certain kind of abuse at a young age. I think that most Black people have undiagnosed PTSD, but the misconception is that the trauma is behind us. 

While in therapy I was asked about my experiences with violence while growing up. We had to pause as I described an instance of witnessing a man who was shot in the face across the street from me when I was in the third grade. They were arguing over money that neither of them seemed to have. I still went to school the next day. I ignored the experience for years. I thought that it meant nothing to me, but a decade later it was one of the first things to come to my mind when thinking of what trauma means to me. 

We may not know it at the time but moments like this, no matter how far we’ve removed ourselves from them, can haunt us for a very long time. Experiences like this one are not isolated incidents, but are ongoing side effects that occur in the context of structural violence and oppressive systems. In my case it was poverty, as a lack of resources leads to tensions between those who have and don’t have whatever little is left. There can be other factors such as violence or racism that can have the same effect. 

Trauma lives with us, both in our bodies and in our communities. It often feels hard for me to move around or even get out of bed in the morning as I constantly feel as if my heart weighs a thousand pounds. My bones feel brittle and I breathe as if I’ve been punched in the chest because trauma is as much of a physical hindrance as it is an emotional one. 

Two years ago in February, close to the end of my senior year of high school, I was lucky enough to be connected with a therapist at C4 Chicago, a mental health facility. Since then I’ve changed therapists twice and met with them almost every week for an hour. When I tell this to people who’ve been taught to believe that therapy is for the most mentally unhinged people of society, they seem frightened and struggle to rationalize this reality for me.


The most common comment I get is from older Black people who say something along the lines of “boy ain’t nothing wrong with you… You should get help if you think you need it though.”  They’re right, there isn’t anything “wrong” with me, any other person who holds trauma in their bodies or people struggling with mental illness. The idea that we need “fixing” paints traumatized people and people with mental-health needs as some kind of broken object. No matter how stressful switching therapists is or how intense our sessions get, I am not broken. 

Understanding that needing help with battles we face mentally isn’t something to be ashamed of. The stigma that comes with mental illness has largely come from a place of ignorance and fear that can be solved with proper access to care and taking power away from the harmful systems that cause us so much trauma to begin with. These are lessons I’ve learned from the community I’ve built while working on the fight for TNT, a campaign to fund and increase access to mental health services for everyone in communities like mine. 

Specifically, I learned from two of my leaders and coaches — Asha Ransby-Sporn and Delaine Powerful. Two people that if I met sooner would’ve given me the ability to fly by now with the ways they’ve been able to lift me up. As an organizer with DefundCPD, a Black-led grassroots effort with the goal of defunding the Chicago Police Department, I’ve come to understand the role of an organizer is both about supporting fellow community members taking action and about making sure we feel valued, respected and safe in ways the broader society doesn’t. 

With an emphasis on safety within the space of the campaign, my coaches have shown me care and compassion that has made advocating for TNT easier. The fight for TNT has not only been a political battle, but a place where we have modeled care in a new way. 

Currently DefundCPD is working with the TNT campaign with the goal of reopening closed mental health centers on the South and West sides of Chicago. Recently, we had a referendum put on the ballot in Chicago’s 20th Ward (which includes Woodlawn, Washington Park, Back of the Yards, Englewood and a bit of Hyde Park – working class neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago) that asks voters if the city of Chicago should send mental health professionals to deal with mental health crises instead of police officers. 

Asha and Delaine have worked as a guide for me so that I can better mobilize and coordinate with members of the community who agree with our campaign and would like to see change in their neighborhoods that doesn’t include the death of those who need help at the hands of CPD. Many of their best lessons exist outside of my job as an organizer: including careful reminders to take care of myself and how to create space for others with experiences I’ve never come across in my 19 years. Their guidance, modeling and leadership have allowed me to be the best version of myself while doing this work and beyond.

Organizers wave a "Defund The Police" flag at the #BreakthePiggyBank protest in Chicago in 2020. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE®

It sounds absurd, but I often forget that we as humans are always deserving of rest. I often treated a full eight hours of sleep as a reward for completing demanding tasks such as homework or take-home exams early enough to actually get rest. I was convinced that I’d be able to make up for those lost hours of rest some other time. This thinking led to very preventable and frequent moments of burnout. The understanding of the ones above me that I was a human that needed to take care of myself and granted me space to do that has prevented me from holding mountains of stress and harm.

I’ve begun to realize that the healing process can look very different for many people. For some it’s eight hours of sleep. For others it’s knowing they’ll be able to eat that day and the next, or having adequate access to mental health professionals, counselors in our children’s schools amongst other things. Trauma can vary greatly from physical, mental, emotional and financial strain. I think we often overlook that because treatment must vary as well. The closing of mental health centers has stripped people in Chicago and beyond of the opportunity to experiment with forms of treatment for whatever forms of trauma they may hold, ultimately leaving us to deal with it ourselves. With the overwhelming support of the TNT referendum it would be an egregious showing of neglect of the wants of the people to not reopen the closed mental health centers. 

Our ask is to redistribute unused funds from CPD to reopen them. Currently CPD gets 40 percent of the city’s budget that includes pay for unfilled positions within the department. If those funds were instead put into our communities to reopen the closed mental health centers, many people would be able to live fuller lives knowing they had access to mental health professionals for themselves and their families if needed. Instead of sending armed police officers to deal with people who need help, the city of Chicago should send a professional who is specifically trained in de-escalating a mental health crisis. 

If there was a 24-hour TNT crisis response line,  people could rest easier knowing there’s an easier way of taking care of themselves and their families that doesn’t involve an officer bringing a weapon to their house. We must press the city for this vision of a public mental health infrastructure because people deserve adequate access to mental health resources, mental health professionals not armed police officers, care not cops and treatment not trauma. Without proper access to mental health assistance we may crumble under the weight of the world.

is an organizer with DefundCPD, a Black-led grassroots effort with the goal of defunding the Chicago Police Department.