Processing Trauma in Community

Ian North

I was on my way to the Presencia apartment to prepare the space for our staff and students when I saw this message from Katie: 

“hey guys we’re on a level 3 lockdown due to a shooting. we’ve received emails that we won’t be released until further notice. I’m not sure if we’ll be arriving at Presencia on time.”

Over the next hour, we read and responded to messages and decided what to do about our program for the afternoon. We called friends, checked news networks, and tried to piece together what was going on.

The only news story on the shooting said that there was no evidence for a shooting and no one was injured. As our students learned more, they told us that one girl was killed and three shooters were arrested. 

After we heard that the lockdown was over and students were gradually being released, Wanda and Ruthie decided that we would open our program for younger students, but give our high school staff the option of staying home. We would meet with all our high school aged students and staff later.

In the end, all three of our staff who were at school that day decided to come to Presencia. They wanted to be in healthy community right away. That evening after spending time with the younger students, we processed the events of the day with all of the high schoolers over dinner.

The shooting came from an apartment complex near the school. Because the school is overcrowded, one student was in a trailer near the source and heard the shots. During lockdown, the doorknob to his trailer began rattling. It turned out to be police officers trying to check for safety, but the students inside thought it was the shooter.

Some were scared to go to school the next day. Some weren’t feeling the effects of events. Some judged the way others reacted. Some didn’t want to talk about it. This morning, some of our students stayed home because their parents didn’t want them going back to school.

Our world traumatizes children. Particularly the children of immigrants, who we crowd into more dangerous neighborhoods, district into less-resourced schools, and who are more vulnerable to our violence and abuse. Their stories are less likely to make it to us through our media. In this context, trauma takes root and travels.

The key to recovery from trauma and resilience against it is healthy relationships. It is having healthy peer relationships where trauma can be opened and processed. It’s having mentors who validate pain and create context for healing. And healthy survivors spread health.

Today, I’m thankful that our students are all alive. I’m thankful that they have the Presencia family around them to share their pain, and provide what they need to heal and grow, and equip them to spread health wherever they go.

Thank you for being a part of this deeply healing work. 



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