March 26, 2024

Dr. Joy DeGruy – Dissolving the Barriers to Connection

Thomas is joined by internationally renowned researcher, educator, and author Dr. Joy DeGruy. They discuss how fear and ignorance impact our ability to recognize our fundamental oneness, and what’s needed for American society to come together to heal our collective wounds. Dr. DeGruy has spent a lengthy career in what she calls “heart work” – bringing people together to share their stories and generate a level of intimacy, empathy, and understanding that can only be gained through first-hand experience.

She and Thomas explore how trauma has been normalized for marginalized groups and the need for those with privilege to examine their biases, particularly anti-black racism, and use their power to advocate for what’s right. They discuss our collective tendency to try to avoid feelings and upsetting information, and how we must do the opposite and lean into these difficult learnings and conversations in order to stop repeating the harms that sow division.

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“No matter where we come from, we can be part of a collective healing space, and everybody’s needed.”

- Dr. Joy DeGruy

Guest Information

Dr. Joy DeGruy

Dr. Joy DeGruy is a nationally and internationally renowned researcher and educator. For over two decades, she served as an Assistant Professor at Portland State University’s School of Social Work and now serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Joy DeGruy Publications Inc. (JPD).

Dr. DeGruy’s research focuses on the intersection of racism, trauma, violence, and American chattel slavery. She has over thirty years of practical experience as a professional in the field of social work. She conducts workshops and trainings in the areas of intergenerational/ historical trauma, mental health, social justice, improvement strategies, and evidence-based model development.

Dr. DeGruy has published numerous refereed journal articles and book chapters and authored her seminal book entitled Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury & Healing. Through lectures, workshops, seminars, and special guest appearances, Dr. Joy has shined a light on the critical issues affecting society.

Learn more at joydegruy.com.

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • The need to recognize our basic fundamental oneness
  • Our collective responsibility to address the resurgence of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and other systemic harms
  • How being in close proximity to different people helps to mitigate fear and promote healing

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Welcome back to the Collective Trauma Summit. My name is Thomas Hübl. I’m the convener of the summit, and I have the real joy to welcome here, Dr. Joy DeGruy. Joy, a warm welcome here at the summit. So happy to be here with you.

Dr. Joy DeGruy: Thank you so much.

Thomas: I just said before, that every time I meet you, I’m fascinated by the positive quality you spread around yourself, and you are here in the room. And also, we had this recently, I think two, three months ago, a conversation which I deeply enjoyed. I think that there are many things that we are both passionate about, from maybe different paths, or different streams, but I think we are both interested in collective healing, how to deal with some of the big collective scars and wounds in our societies. And I think that we also resonate a lot, as I think that everybody can be part of, no matter where we come from, we can be part of a collective healing space, and everybody’s needed. So let’s speak a little bit, how can we create collective healing spaces? How can we approach collective scars? What’s needed? How can it be done also practically? Let’s start there.

Joy: I’m here in America and if you’ve been paying attention, you know that we are struggling as a country to recognize our collective anything. So I think, just based on my core belief, is the fundamental oneness of humanity. I believe that all humanity is one. And that’s just not a saying, it’s a reality. We are 99.99% the same. I mean, that’s the biology of it. I think that so much that impacts our ability to come together, is fear and ignorance. Part of that has to do with us being separated. So long as we buy into the reasons why I can’t talk to you, or be near you, or live near you, or give you freedom, or any of those things, are based upon a fear, it’s almost a pathological fear. What disperses the fear and the ignorance, is proximity. Whether that’s physical proximity or mental, emotional, physical, spiritual proximity to each other, being able to be present like we are right now, even if this is where we can meet one another.

The reason why I say that, I think part of the collective healing has to do with us coming to a fundamental agreement that we are intrinsically connected, that we are actually connected as human beings. As simple as that may seem, it’s difficult when we have generations of things going awry. Becoming accustomed to the haves and the have-nots, becoming accepting of the othering people. For whatever reason, you’re othering them, “They’re simply not me, and because they’re not me, I can’t …” So I think one, is to start to dispel that, by showing up. To start leaning into spaces that we maybe don’t necessarily feel comfortable with, or we have not been raised to be able to lean in. Like anything else, part of what I think is important is for us to tear the barriers down, and some of those are psychological barriers. And to allow ourselves to be present with each other. That can happen any number of ways. I’m sure we are going to dig deeper into that. But that, just on a basic fundamental level, people recognizing our essential oneness as a humanity.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. And so when we’re coming closer to feel again the proximity, we also feel the wounds of the past, that’s where we feel trauma, transgression, whatever happened, and hurt happened. So what are the ways how we as people, that on the one hand are connected as a biosphere, because we are the biosphere too. It’s not just around us, it’s through us, we are also biosphere. But often it feels like, as we are far apart, we are distant, we are othering each other. So what are ways, how we as communities can begin to presence those divides and work with them in a way as intelligent processes that protected us, but that we need to work with this. And how does this work? How do you see it in your work? What works? What doesn’t work?

Joy: Well, it’s interesting because that conversation that you’re talking about, now we’re having, in my world, consistently in all of the arenas that I show up in. Everyone’s saying it, which is a wonderful thing, they’re wanting to. So we’re talking about it, but there are people that are like, “I just don’t know how to. I don’t know. I don’t know you. I’m not familiar. How do we do that?” So part of it is creating the invitation, creating spaces where it can happen. And it doesn’t mean deep, it doesn’t have to go deep. It could be simply, “Hey, let’s break bread.” I do that with my neighbors. You’re talking about working and not working. I live in the South, which is generally speaking, an interesting place to be, because people are polite. They’re very nice. “Hi, how are you? I’m blessed.” People walking by, and they could be on the way to a Klan meeting. You know what I’m saying? They’re going to be nice about it. “Hi, how you doing? I was just only being neighborly to help you over here.”

So I think that the invitation, we can do it on a professional level. I do huge symposiums. I invite people to show up for that. I bring in people from different walks of life, to share and to talk about how they’re walking and moving through the world. Looking for those similarities, looking where folks need help, looking for where the barriers are that some of us can start breaking down. So one, on a very simple level, you talk about every individual has a role to play. Now people are familiar with it. So I’m going to tell a story. Is that okay?

Thomas: Yeah, perfect. Love stories.

Joy: Trying to illustrate it. And 35 million people actually heard me tell the story, and I didn’t put it out there, it wasn’t me. But anyway, one of my favorite things to do is go fishing. My sister-in-law, matter of fact, we’re getting ready to go on our yearly trip to Alaska to go fishing. I’m serious about it. All right, so my sister-in-law, Kathleen, is half Black, half white, but she looks white. She looks very white, she’s got blue eyes, right? Now Kathleen and I almost literally grew up together. I mean, we’re from Los Angeles. Well, we actually lived in very close proximity to each other, down the street, around the corner. This is many years ago. My daughter, for example, who is going to be 46 years-old, she was like 10. All right, so this is how long ago it was. So I tell the story of us being in a grocery store together.

Well, Kathleen is in line, and just is to show you how long ago it was, people wrote checks. So nobody writes checks anymore. So she’s in front of me. I am behind Kathleen, in line with my daughter next to me. Behind me are two elderly white women. The checker, the cashier is young, strawberry blonde, and she’s chatting it up with Kathleen, “Hey, how you doing? Isn’t it?” She’s going back and forth. Kathleen writes her check, she takes the check, says, “Have a good day.” So Kathleen goes, and she stands over to the side, because she’s waiting for me, we came together. So I come up, the checker looks at me, no hello, no smile, no chat. Now my daughter, she’s picking up on it, that’s her auntie, right? She’s seeing and feeling the difference. Of course, I noticed a difference. I’ve lived my whole life with that kind of changes, in terms of how people behave. So I write my check, absolutely nothing. She says absolutely nothing to me, and she takes the check and looks at it, and then she goes, “I’m going to need two pieces of ID.”
Now I have a decision to make at this point. I’m clearly being treated differently. It’s clear. My daughter is picking up on it. I’m going, but if I raise this issue, if I go, “Wow, this isn’t fair. You’re treating me differentially,” I’m going to become the angry Black woman, and the white women behind me, are also going to get angry with me. Because now I’m the angry Black woman, and I’m picking on the cashier. So I’m doing the math on this and going, “Now is this something I really want to do?” And I said, “Well, that’s okay. I just get the two pieces of ID.” So I get the two pieces of ID, hoping that we’ll settle things. And it doesn’t, it gets worse. She literally then, after I give her my ID, goes and gets this big, three-ring-notebook, opens it and begins to look for all the people that wrote bad checks, and to check it against my ID.

At this point, this is just humiliating. I’m just standing there, I’m humiliated, and my daughter is feeling my tension. So she’s tense and she’s becoming emotional. And just as I was trying to figure out how to navigate this, Kathleen steps over and she goes, “Excuse me. Why are you taking her through these changes?” And the cashier goes, “Well, what do you mean?” She goes, “Why are you going through all of this?” “Well, that’s our policy.” She says, “No, it’s not your policy, because you didn’t do it with me.” “Oh, well, I know you.” She goes, “That’s interesting, because she’s lived in this community longer than I have.” At which point the two white elderly ladies step in and go, “Oh, this is absolutely unacceptable. This is woman shouldn’t be treated this way.” These women are now …

And then the store manager sees the commotion, comes over, and says, “Is there a problem here?” Kathleen again steps in and says, “Yes, here is what happened.” Now as a result of Kathleen leaning in, now Kathleen is half Black, but she looks white. But she knew that if she, and they never had an inkling that we were together, because she was white and I’m Black. And what she did was, she changed everyone in that space. Kathleen did, and she knew she could. Now for us, we’re family. That wasn’t like an event. Kathleen would do that. I mean, we’re family, of course I’m not going to let you do this. But she also knew that her whiteness gave her a way to move in that it wasn’t going to be perceived as dangerous, or mean, or any of those things. I’m not certain that if I had done that, what Kathleen did, in my own defense, that it would’ve come out that way. Well, with Kathleen and I, it was like, “Yeah, it was another day in America.” We just got together and we left.

That particular video, my friend, Shakti Butler, did an interview with me and I tell the story. And it went viral. It got put on Uplift or Up-something, and the next thing I know, 35 million people watched it. And Kathleen and I talked about why was it so appealing? Because what we came to know, is that people want to do something, they don’t know how. And if you think about it, right after that happened, even though we had all the Karen-situations, all the Karens that were calling the police because somebody was selling water, or children were, just crazy stuff, it was often white women that would come behind them and videotape them, saying, “Why are you doing this?” They began to realize that they, there was a power that they had to make things right and fair.

It started happening. And as much as we saw the Karens, we also saw white women stand up and go, “No, you need to stop that.” Because they knew that they weren’t in harm’s way, but it would put other people in harm’s way. So I’m saying that sometimes, like for Kathleen, this is family, that’s the other thing. If you look at my family, we’re like the United Nations. I mean, we really do. We got pretty much everybody. I think it’s a normal piece for me. It’s normal for my kids to come in, and I have a niece who was married to a man who was Tongan. So there are a whole bunch of Tongans sitting in the living room. They’re coming home from school. “Hey, how you doing?” No, not tripping, because they know that that’s how we move through the world. So I think part of the way we get at it, is to help people see what they can do to make things better, to get the courage to step in, and to make a difference when you can.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s very powerful. First of all, I want to say, that it’s painful for me to listen to what you experienced. So I felt immediately a pain in my heart, listening to how you’ve been treated, and it makes me sad to hear that. Although of course, rationally I know that it’s happening, but when I feel you, it makes me sad. And at the same time, I find it very powerful what you said, is that when we step in, and I think every one of us can step in when we see something that’s not right. And that’s something that is relatively easy to do, and it makes a big difference. So everybody can participate in that. I think that’s a very powerful story that you shared with us, that shows something. But also, it needs our courage, and it needs to say, “Listen, every moment matters and we need to be present in the supermarket as much as when we are at work, or somewhere else.” You need to be present in society in order to notice, say something is, [inaudible], it needs us now. Yeah.

So yeah, thank you for sharing that. It touched me also because I felt like, “Wow, it’s painful to be treated like that.” And sometimes I think the trauma in our world is also represented in that when things are being shared that are painful, often we, because we are disconnected, we don’t feel each other, we gloss over it. And then instead of saying, “Wow, there’s something very meaningful being shared, let’s make a space for it, and see the importance, and feel the importance.” And I think that also makes it more likely that we care, that we step in because we feel, “Wow, when I feel the pain, of course I will step in, because it feels painful.”

Joy: I know for me, we live our lives. And I’ve worked in community for many, many years. I work in a particular case, adjudicated youth and their families. So I’m working with kids that have gotten into trouble, and we are trying, the organization, I was working with, POIC, out of Portland, Oregon, they were trying to stop these kids from getting into the adult criminal system. And the majority, this was a program for African-Americans, there was a complimentary one for Latinx community, or the Latino community. So I’m in this community with these parents and I said, “If you want me to help your children,” which I will do, I wrote a model that’s been very effective, I said, “I’m going to need you to show up too. We all have to heal together.” And so these parents were like … I said, “No, no, if I’m showing up, you’re showing up.”

I taught them a 10-week graduate level course, free. I said, “If I’m showing up, I’m going to need you to show up.” And on one of those occasions, during the break, there were two women that were talking. One of them had been shot, the other one had been stabbed. They were talking about, they grew up together, and they were going, “Yeah, remember when Ray-Ray got shot? And that was just before they strangled the woman.” This went on and on, and I’m standing there looking at them, and they turn around and one of them says, “Oh, this sounds bad, huh?” I said, “Yeah.”

Thomas: Right.
Joy: What they did, we talked about it in class, we normalized the trauma.

Thomas: Exactly.

Joy: We normalized the stress.

Thomas: Exactly.

Joy: Now, they grew up together, one woman said, “Well, sometimes you just got to do what you got to do.” Not an uncommon statement. But her friend said, “I don’t like living like this though. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night. Sometimes I’m so nervous.” She says, “I don’t like living like this.” And it was a moment that we all felt, that everybody was present. That, “Yeah, we’ve lived with it, but it doesn’t make it normal or okay, because I’ve survived it doesn’t mean that’s okay.” A gentleman, Bill Duke, who’s an actor, interviewed me some years ago, and he read my book. And in my book I tell a story of my father and he says, “Please tell me the story of your father.” Which I literally never do, because I become too emotional. It’s just very hard for me to tell the story.

As I’m telling the story, he starts crying. He’s off camera, but he’s crying, and I can see it. And it was such a powerful moment for me, because no one, and the story of my father is a pretty intense story, you could read it in the book, but he felt it. And he said, “That story affected me so much.” Not before or since, has anyone ever done that, but he was one who zeroed in and felt my father’s pain, and embraced my father’s trauma. It was just a moment of, I think, for me, release. It was a moment of release for me, because he got it. You hope that when you tell a story, or you’re reading something, or you’re writing something, you’re talking to someone, you’re hoping they get it. And he got it, spot on. What told me he did, was the emotion. He felt the emotion I felt. And he never knew my father, but there was love there.

Thomas: True, yeah.

Joy: So I think there’s power in our stories.

Thomas: Yeah, and it’s beautiful also what you said now, because this moment when he started to cry, you’ll never forget, because it’s the intimacy that’s needed to really be with each other in the trauma zone, where we got hurt. I think that’s exactly what we need. Also, as you said, that the, “Normalization,” that we talk about the death of a person like we talk about going to the grocery store, is our carrier, our words are carriers, but the meaning is so normalized, or so reduced, that it sounds like the same. Versus, “Wow, something major has been said and we cannot normalize that.” I think the normalization is part of its recreation. And I know, we all know why the defense mechanisms are important, I mean, they’re intelligent. But I think also societally, to create a healing movement, means that together, we de-normalize trauma again and we say, “This really matters. We need to be with each other here. We need to feel each other again.” And only that can create change, I believe.

Joy: The irony of what you’re saying is such a powerful thing, because in this country they’re running from feeling, “I don’t want you to speak your truth because you’re going to make me feel, and the fact that I feel is an assault to me.” Do you understand what I’m saying? It’s like, “Stop telling your truth, because I don’t want to have to feel it.” And again, shutting down, they’re banning books, they’ve banned me. They’ve banned so many of my colleagues, “Oh, no, that’s going to be upsetting.” I’m going like … “It’s going to be upsetting, we’re not going to talk about that.” And now the flip on slavery is that, “Oh, you all benefited and we taught you some skills.” You know what I’m saying? Let’s just change the narrative to 300 years of being beaten, raped, and sold a good thing. I look at that, and I’m going, when I think about it assaulted me when I heard that, when they said, “Oh, it was a good thing.”

I’m going, “We learned some skills?” I mean it was just so hurtful. It was such an assault to me. One of my very dearest friends, JR [inaudible] is Jewish, and we have been friends for many years. I remember our exchanges, his experience, his family, his understanding, his living as a Jewish man and what that looked like it meant, and the history, obviously Holocaust. And I’m going, “How dare anyone say, ‘Oh, well you know what? We don’t, that’s upsetting. I don’t want, we’re not going to talk about that. We’re not going to share that. We’re not going to put …” You know what I mean? I’m going, “These are the people who paid for us to be here. I’m standing on the shoulders of people who went through things so I could just be.” And I’m going, “And you’re telling me that we need to erase all that because it’s upsetting?”

And I’m saying, “If we see it, we’re going to ensure that it never happens again.” If we really understand the implications of a trauma that moves through generations, then there’s something that shows up that goes, “We’re not going to let that happen.” And I think that the opposite of what we’re talking about, is happening in America. Shut it down, let’s not talk about it. Remove it, eliminate it. It’s an unwillingness, and I have to appreciate the other side. I’ve got to appreciate what it must feel, because the narrative has been, “We’re benevolent. Yes, we’ve gone in and we basically committed genocide against the Natives, but look at how much nicer America is,” or whatever the conversation that people have. But I work with the Indigenous community. I have never, when I think about the wounds, when I think about these are friends and family, these aren’t just my work. And being present there, to be with them in a real way, to hold that space with them, as we all try to heal through it, the last thing I’m going to say is to deny your reality.

So for me, the pain, the trauma of what is going on in this country right now, I think, people have dangerously underestimated the impact it will have. That’s why these things are important, that we are able to be present with each other, and to just be listeners. Sometimes just to hold the space. But it’s difficult right now, to watch this dance that’s trying, and it’s so ridiculous. I mean it’s so ridiculous, because everything, when they banned my … Matter of fact, they banned, in Kansas City schools, that story I just told. The story I told [inaudible] ago, it’s been banned. A teacher had to apologize publicly, he had to apologize, he was getting ready to lose his job, because he showed it. And they said, “Absolutely were not to be shown.” And because of all the hoopla, I look at that, I said, “First of all, 35 million people have already seen it. And the other thing is, all those kids that you told, they can’t see it, hear it, they’re going to go beep-beep-beep.”

Thomas: Right away, exactly.

Joy: They’re definitely going to look at it now, because you told them they can’t. Tell any kid, “Oh no, you can’t see that.” “Really? No, that is the opening for me to look for it.” So in some ways, a lot of kids are creating banned book clubs. So the schools say, “Well, you can’t read these books, and you can’t have them, they can’t be taught.” So the kids themselves are starting banned book clubs. And I’m sure they’re trying to figure out a way to shut them down, but they haven’t been able to. These are young people that say, “Well I want to, yeah, we’re going to have a banned book club.” And probably like I said, things they wouldn’t even be looking for, they are looking at now.
Thomas: Yeah, that’s very powerful, Joy. First of all, I want to say again that I deeply enjoy the depth of the conversation and that we are opening Pandora’s box. Because when every society doesn’t want to look at the difficult feelings that are part of what we created here, then disease starts. I think that, and we know more and more how trauma, how emotional stagnation is part of our even physical health, or unwell-being, and societal unwell-being, but it affects everybody in the ecosystem. So we cannot live in the toxicity of a social ecosystem and try to be healthy. And I think also [inaudible] writes lovely about this, that, “What is healthy in an unhealthy system?”

Joy: [Inaudible].

Thomas: And that we’re breathing the non-feeling that, “Oh, this is really upsetting me.” Yeah, this is upsetting-

Joy: It is.

Thomas: … because a terrible pain has been inflicted.

Joy: And it should be painful.

Thomas: And it should be, it’s healthy that it’s painful.

Joy: [Inaudible].

Thomas: Because it’s supposed to be painful, because it is painful. And I love that you’re saying this, because I think it’s so important. And the other one, is you said something beautiful, because I believe that, and I think we all know that, but I think it’s good to not just see this, that the self-healing mechanism of our body, when somebody, when they cut themselves and their body heals. We all say, “Oh, that’s normal.” But the self-healing mechanism wants to heal social injuries too. And every time you bend something here, it’ll find a way to come out somewhere else anyway. You cannot bend this stuff because the body wants, the one body, the social body that you started with, wants to heal itself. The biosphere wants to heal.

So we cannot shut it down anyway. It’s just a temporary patch. I think that’s also hopeful what you said, that if the kids, if you say, “Don’t read it,” they will read it. Of course they should read it, and then they will somehow. I think there’s hope in that, that you cannot bend it. All the big regimes that all try to over-control society will at the end fail, or disintegrate, because life doesn’t work that way.

Joy: You know, made me think of something. This is what happens whenever we talk. All this stuff shows up and comes up. And I’m thinking about kids. I think one of the things, I was talking about, “How are the children.” Years ago there was a gentleman, who was a minister, I believe, who actually put this out there. But in Maasai society, the Maasai people, one of the ways they greet is, “And how are the children?” So everyone, even people without children will say, “And how are the children?” And the response is, “The children are well,” and if the children are well, that means all of us are well. I mean it’s a very interesting greeting.

And what he did, was he juxtaposed, he says, “What if we met every day we see someone with that greeting, ‘And how are the children?’” And, “The children are well,” means that the society has not forgotten its place, to protect and nurture the young. That we recognized the importance of our village. And it was such a powerful moment for me, having been to a number of places in Africa, seven countries in Africa. And feeling the normalcy of that healing, and that protection of the children. That’s really the focus of my life at this point. I have, I’m a grandmother, and I have a bunch of grandchildren, and I want them to love and embrace the world in a way that children should. That is becoming a challenge.

But there was a moment, and I wanted to talk about this from a professional, I gave you a personal experience, with how we deal with and we bring folks in to help them understand trauma, and how we all need to heal, and we all have a part. Well, I’m working with the same organization, this is years ago, not too many years ago though. But part of what happens with a private nonprofit, I have my own private nonprofit now, is you’re trying to get the money in. You’re trying to raise the money. So you have state funds, you have federal funds, you have city funds.

So in this particular instance, they are, it’s been a year, they’re coming back. This is a council, the city council. So the city council and members of the city council, they’re looking at pockets of money going to different organizations in the city. So this was at the end of year, I am now, because I’m the coach and I wrote the model for the program, I’m like the closer. So, “We’re going to bring her in to close.” So the young woman that I’ve worked with, Kim [inaudible], who’s Asian, she had a PowerPoint she’s showing, “And here’s the pie chart, and this is a number of families we’ve served, and here is a distribution.” I mean, she got all the charts, basically saying, “We’ve done well.” Which means, “We’ve served this many families, these people have matriculated through the program.”

And so I’m being brought in as a closer. And this is a program that’s working with families. It’s an interesting program, because that’s the same program where I did the, I just did the 10-week course for the parents. So I’m standing there, and one of the council members looks at me and says, “So Dr. DeGruy, how do you feel the families are doing?” Because this is a program for families. So there’s this pregnant pause, and Kim looks at me like, “What are you doing? Okay, reel it in, Joy.” So I’m standing there, I’m sitting there, and what I’m feeling, let me tell you what at the moment I’m feeling. We’re begging for money to try to serve people who have been put upon, and that have been harmed.

And I’m looking at these people. First of all, they’re all sitting, seated on the dais. They’re high, and they’re big round desks, and they got the microphones. It’s us and them, and that’s what it felt like. I felt no connection. So I stopped, and Kim was sitting there, freaking out. And I said, “I’m going to answer that question, ‘How are these families?’ But I’m going to tell you this, I’m willing to bet my life that when I say, ‘Family,’ and we say, ‘Family,’ and you say, ‘Family,’ we’re not talking about the same thing.” So Kim looks at me like, “Have you lost your mind?” So I said, “Let me tell you a family. The young man that’s in the program, adjudicated, has violated a restraining order.” That’s what brought him into the program. Right, remember we are here trying to work with these kids to steer them straight.

“Young African American male, 18 years-old violated restraining order.” I said, “That’s why he’s in the program.” I said, “But he lives in the cold house. Let me explain. His mother is there until about maybe Tuesday or Wednesday. Then she leaves and goes and stays with her boyfriend in the warm apartment, while he’s there with his younger siblings in the cold house. And what happened was, there was no food in the house. Not only was there no heat, but there was no food. And so he went to where his mother was to ask her if she can give him some funds to feed his siblings. And the boyfriend who didn’t like him coming around put a restraining order on him. And once he violated it, he was arrested.”

I said, “So tell me where family is here? Tell me that’s the family you were thinking about? Because before you can ask me how the families are doing, they have to first become family. And I don’t think you were thinking about that. So I may not be able to show you how this kid went from point A to point B, but before he can get to point B, we’ve got to help heal that family. You following me?” So there’s silence, and they gave us even more money. Part of that, and I know that’s the end game for the nonprofit world.

But what I wanted them to do, was to feel this, “These aren’t people like parts on a board that we’re moving around. These are real lives and real people. And if you saw that young Black youth, and you heard that he had violated a restraining order, I don’t think you would’ve thought he violated it trying to save his siblings. I think you would’ve looked at him like we look at every other young, Black male in America, because we don’t hear or see him, but we think we do. Because whoever’s putting the narrative out there doesn’t allow you to see him in his wholeness. And in this situation when we have to figure out where is the mature adult that can parent, it is not his mother, it was him.”

So those are moments that I’m like … I mean, and I took a chance on it. I just said, because I was feeling some kind of way. I said, “I’m not, I can’t do this, I can’t go, ‘Oh yes, and I really believe based on the model, and cross the T’s and dot the I’s.’ I need you to understand these are real human beings, in real time, trying to do their lives, and we’re just trying to help them. And we shouldn’t have to beg for that.”

Thomas: That’s right, and amazing because you did something, the crucial point was that you didn’t follow the protocol, you just followed what you felt. And that’s powerful. That’s again, the same thing that we said before, that the healing work that we are looking for, because you for sure felt that also in your body, that something is off. We feel this through the way we feel spaces, we feel ourselves, we feel other people, we feel the gaps in the rooms. And coming back to, because in our scientifically-driven world, feeling is a secondary function, when in fact the synchronization between cognition and sensing is sense-making, it’s so that makes sense. That’s what you just showed us.

Because you followed what you felt, it actually, that was the thing of the moment, nothing else. And that’s powerful. I think that’s very powerful, that we all have often a felt-sense that we sometimes might override, not listen to, disregard, not believe in, and override with our mental, “We shoulds or shouldn’ts.” Yeah, that’s very powerful. So thank you for sharing that. That’s very tangible. So also the first example you brought for me, was very tangible. And also when you speak to the family, because once the reality becomes so obvious, then we drop out of our mental associations with what we have, “Restraining orders, violation,” immediately puts all kinds of images into our minds, versus a relationship to the specific situation.

Joy: Did you hear about the Harvard study?

Thomas: About relating 75 years? Yeah.

Joy: 85, it was an 85-year study. And at the end, it’s who you love and who loves you. It’s relationships. Relationships are the key, remember proximity. And it’s that when you build a relationship with people. I remember going through this whole thing where people talk about allies and stuff. And I’m like, “Yeah, I think, let’s just spend some time. You don’t have to have a title, you don’t have to have …” You know what I mean? Just be present with me. And people, they’ve even shown with a virtual reality, they were able to reduce bias, something like 47% in one sitting with virtual reality.

Now what is virtual reality? Which is interesting, because I’m with you, but then I’m not. I still get to hide. I still get to be apart. But it forces you to be in a space with a person, or feel like it. Which amazing, in the study that they did, that showed that they could reduce this bias, they said, and there was one sentence that hit me, “People were induced to feel.” And it was a sentence, “They were induced to feel as though this person that they normally feel negative, was someone that cared about them, that’s someone that saved them, that’s someone that protected them, they were induced to feel.” And through the whole thing, I’m sitting there going, “Wow, that’s the key,” is feeling.

Thomas: Exactly.

Joy: And even though I’m in this virtual reality with you, I’m closer than I would ever possibly be to you, or your kind, or your people, or whatever the other is. And because of it, they’re induced to feel.

Thomas: Beautiful.

Joy: And it destroys the bias.

Thomas: That’s right.

Joy: It’s amazing. So I’m going, “How about this? Let’s not do it virtually. I’ll see you tomorrow, coffee, how about we actually, it don’t have to be virtual. Let’s go and let’s actually do it.” So that is really the key, is really being with each other and spending time.

Thomas: That’s right, and I also feel this with you, when we are sitting here, the closeness and the sensing, and feeling that happens here is beautiful. It makes me feel very close to you, and to your experiences. I think you’re saying something else that’s very profound, is that also nonprofit work, or philanthropy, when it’s impersonalized, when it’s, “The people, we are helping them without the relationship, it’s empty.” So how can we create those spaces? And also technology, when we look at reach, when reach and trauma are connected, we have an impersonal reach, that will have to collapse in a certain moment, because it doesn’t sustain the relationship to all the people that are connected. But we can grow our capacity to relate to a lot of people, and to feel spaces, social spaces. But it’s a training that we have to have, and one is to integrate the trauma that prevents us from feeling each other.

Joy: Right, as a professor, when I was teaching, I taught at Portland State University for many years. I worked with folks with persistent mental illness. That was part of the information we shared. And at one point we were talking about violence, which is kind of my area, right? So in the classroom, the majority, these are graduate students. So the majority of my students are white. In social work, it would be dominated by females, white females, and sprinkling of white males, but really dominated by white people. So we were dealing with the subject of violence, and particularly urban violence. Of course that’s when the images that pop up in your mind is, “Who’s violent.” Boy, if they looked at history, they would really see who’s violent. So they would talk about, “Well, I think that …” There’s purely intellectual conversations, “In the article we read, I think a lot of these young people that involved with gangs.” And they’re people who have not been raised what, I mean, I’m listening to all these things that students are doing.

So the next week I invite a gang into the classroom. Now the reason, because I live in the community, and these are folks who are all, every single one of the young people I brought in, was gang-affiliated. Meaning they might not be banging, but their brother or their sister, or somebody else is involved. Or they just, if you live in a community, you’re gang-involved almost. So I brought them in, and I sat them right next to all the students.

You should have seen them. I said, “Now that little thing you were saying last week, ask him. You asked [inaudible], but I thought it would might be good if we just …” And the guy kept going, one of the, the main kid who tends to, the young white male who was distancing himself and very intellectual, he goes, “Oh, should I move?” I said, “No, stay where you are.” He kept wanting to move. I said, “No, student, gang-affiliated youth, student, gang-affiliated youth.” They were sitting right next to them. And if you could see the red faces, they were like, “[Inaudible].”

I said, “What we do is we make people objects?” And I said, “And I’m giving you an opportunity to interface with the very people we’ve talked about.” Now you got to know later on, I got written up. I know one of the, it got out, got to other professors. Now all the other students in the other classes that are teaching the very same core, we’re like, “How come we don’t have that?” So I was really in trouble for doing those kinds of things. Because I’m going, “If we’re going to talk about people who have schizophrenia,” I brought in a young man who lives with schizophrenia, to talk to people about it. And it was like, that just seems real for me, because when we’re just looking in the book, then what we’ve done, is we’ve objectified people. We don’t see them as real people.

One of the, she was 20 years-old, and I’ll never forget it, very bright young woman, they showed deference. The rest of the gang-affiliate showed deference to this young woman who was 20. She’s sitting there, and she said, “Whenever there’s a drive-by, they’re going to report on it. It’s going to be on the front page of the newspaper. Whenever there’s something horrible that happens in our community, that’s what is reported.” She goes, “One day there was a shooting, and a little kid got shot, and I held this kid for 45 minutes that it took the ambulance to come.” And she starts crying. She says, “I held his head in my lap for 45 minutes, but you didn’t report that.” I’ll never forget it. She goes, “You never report that. You look at us as these horrible people. And that’s just not true.” So it was such a moment for me, first of all, I mean I couldn’t have predicted any of what happened, but my students were changed forever.

Thomas: Forever. Exactly.

Joy: Forever. Because again, it’s like the sky is falling. Nobody has a grip on the reality. Because what dispels it, is once again our collective normalization of our humanity. I refuse to just let it be between the ears. I tell everyone that I speak with, I said, “I’ve done a lot of work.” Matter of fact, I just received an award, I literally just saw it yesterday, from the American Psychological Association, the president talks about my book being cited 1,700 times. And I had, first of all, I didn’t know that.

But what I realize about how we are trying to achieve what we’re talking about, is this sensibility about what’s in your heart. So I tell people, “My work, I’ve done a lot of stuff. I’ve been a lot of places, I lecture, but this is heart-work. It’s really heart-work. It’s not cerebral.” Now again, I’ve written the articles, crossed the T’s dotted the I’s, done all of those things that I had to do, to show up in the spaces. But in reality, I said, “This is heart-work. It’s heart. It’s not between your ears, it’s in your heart.” And of course you can’t start that way, or people never get, you’ll never get hired. But it’s the truth. At the end of the day, it is. It’s heart-work.

Thomas: And maybe, first of all, I love it. I love what you did at the university, it sounds to me so right, because I think it dispels the objectification, but it also dispels the numbness that we have, and this cerebral ideas we hold about life, is instead of feeling life. And I think if you want to, I think exactly because of teachers like yourself that show the next generation a more felt-experience of what we learn about, I think that’s what makes it more possible for the next generation not to have to go down the same route, and write tons of papers in order to be acknowledged.

But yes, let’s write those papers, but let’s write them with the heart in connection to the mental capacity that writes these papers. I think, that’s what we want. Because also when you read such a paper and it’s also felt, then you feel the whole wisdom that person carries. And I think that’s amazing. I love it. I love your, that it’s radical and that you risk something, because we have to risk something in normalized systems of not feeling, and not getting upset. Of course we don’t want to get upset, and we need people that risk it. And I love it. For me, it makes me very alive. I think exactly that’s what we need, to dispel the ghost of the past, and make it more real, make life real.

Joy: I taught undergraduate school at one point, and me and Jay taught it. My friend Jay, we both taught together. This was so cool. I can’t remember what the name of the class is. And neither can he. But everyone had to have an elective. So it was an elective class for undergraduate students. So it was something like Culture And Community, or something like that. So all the athletes that have to fulfill this, these are football players, basketball players, they got to take an elective. So they looked at it, and they took it. So our class was mainly made up of all these big, buff guys. And at one point, there was a guy from Iowa, I’ll never forget this kid. Young, white, male, big, he was short actually, but he was thick, buff.

And we got to a point, and we had Samoans, African American. Very diverse class. And one time this guy from Iowa says, “Well, I just don’t believe that this whole stuff about racism, this is America, and if you just work hard.” So I’m looking at Jay, Jay’s looking at me, and I’m looking at the athletes, the other athlete, Black and the Samoan athletes over here. There was almost a fight. It almost, like, “You don’t know what you’re talking …” I mean, it got crazy in the classroom. So I’m looking at Jay. I said, “Jay, we’ve got to do something.” So I told them, I said, “What we’re going to do, is we’re going to pair up, and we’re going to go to the mall next week.” I know, Lord, I will not confirm nor denied that I did this. So we take the class, Jay and I take the class to a mall that’s located in the Black community. So it was, Lloyd Center Mall is what it’s called.

So we’re at Lloyd Center Mall, and I said, “I just want, we’re going to do an experiment. I’m going to pair you up, and you can just walk around the mall.” And my thought was, I wanted them to observe how people were engaging. And, “Again, come back and say what was that experience like?” So we’re going to meet in the food court at the end, a certain time. We’re going to all meet there.

Well, the Iowa kid is paired up with one of the Samoan individuals who had broken his leg, had a cast from the knee down. So every now and then he would have to rest, because he was on crutches. So they were walking, and they were together. I paired him up deliberately. So they’re walking. The Samoan kid is big. I mean, he’s tall, big and big, and he’s got a broken leg. So every time he would stop to lean, to rest his leg, the store security would go, “You’re loitering, please move along. Move along.” And the guy would go, “Okay.” So they would go, start walking. And every single time he would stop to rest.

Until the guy from Iowa goes, “He’s got a broken leg, okay! He can’t …” He just rages at this mall security guy. And he goes, “He’s just resting.” “People can’t, we have a policy, no one can loiter.” “He’s not loitering!” So he comes back. Now we are all meeting in the food court. I don’t know what’s happened when any of the pairs that have gone around. I don’t even remember what happened to anyone else. I just remember it, that young man. He said, “I would never have believed it.” But he experienced it. And from that point on, if no matter where I was, I could be walking down the street, he would run and just hug me. This kid from Iowa, he said, he just would hug me. He said, “I just, I didn’t know.”

So again, here was this moment where I’m going, “Hey, I was hoping …” It was really going out, because they’re volatile. I’m going, “What are we going to do?” So I said, “Jay, you if it comes down, we going to have to deal with this.” He said, “I’m with you.” So that’s just how Jay and I ever, always ride or die. But that young man, I remember years later, I was walking down the street, he goes, “Miss,” and he runs and he would just hug me. I realized that so many times when we hear what people say, and of course it almost, a fight almost broke out from this man saying, “No, basically you people just need to work harder,” kind of thing. This was his fellow football, and he couldn’t believe what he was experiencing with this [inaudible]. And I couldn’t have, I don’t even know in my own body, sometimes I stop and I go, “That was a spiritual experience. How did that happen?”

Thomas: Exactly.

Joy: And I wouldn’t have made a more perfect, but in my heart, I wanted him to get it. I didn’t want them to beat him up and say, “Look, you’re wrong.” Or I didn’t want it to become an intellectual battle. I wanted him to feel it. I wanted him to understand that he only had part of the story, and he could not experience it until he said, “I would never have believed it, that, that’s what …” And the guy, the Samoan guy, every single time, he didn’t get upset, because he’s used to it. He’s like, “Oh man, okay, let me get …” And so he would start walking. He never complained. He never barked at the guy. He never said, “Look, I’m just resting.” He just would get up and go. And until this guy was enraged to the point of tears. He couldn’t believe it. But we’re people. And I think that when people know better, they can do better.

Thomas: I think that’s amazing. It’s very touching. It’s very true. I love that you’re teaching that way. I think this is the true teaching, that teaches us about life and real life. That’s amazing. But I would love to let this story be the resting point, because I think it’s tells a lot about how we can learn and how we can engage. I think that we need to go into places where we feel the real thing. It’s a message that I hear from you over and over again. So thank you so much. I’m so sorry it’s already, I don’t know, I could go on for hours and still listen to you.

Joy: We need hours.

Thomas: We need another conversation, Joy. This was a very rich, I walk away with such a gratitude, and I feel you deeply. And I’m so grateful we had this conversation, and I think many people did listen to us, will love this, and are loving this. So thank you.

Joy: Good, I’m so happy. And I’m sure I will see, I can’t wait until we’re actually in the same space.

Thomas: In the same space once, right. But we’ll make it happen. Let’s stay in touch.

Joy: Absolutely.

Thomas: And I’m so happy you’re here, and I feel so enriched. Thank you so much.

Joy: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.