I have been a Public Health Nurse for three years now. I work with teenage youth in San Francisco suffering from abuse and trauma. Recently one of my coworkers, who happens to be a person of color, admitted that he was involved in my hiring process. When asked what was the most important quality for the next therapist or nurse who comes on board he decided to be blunt, “we need a person of color, preferably a black person.” Three years ago, I may have been slightly uncomfortable with that knowledge. I’ve already been pushed into every POC outreach event, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with my job description. I enjoy spending time with the youth, but it was beginning to get irritating being singled out simply because I’m the black employee in the overwhelmingly majority white school district. My white co-workers clearly were just too uncomfortable to step up to the challenge and no one was making the effort to actually hire more POC employees to fill the role. In turn, I found myself spending hours after work running Black Student Union meetings for teen youth, which I admit were thrilling, but had absolutely nothing to do with my role as nurse and therapist. My focus always has always been trauma therapy and I was eager to get to the work I considered my passion project.
Today, as I sit across from a patient and his mother both struggling with homelessness, suicide ideation, health conditions related to lack of access to quality foods, and the struggles of just being black in an increasingly white tech gentrified expensive AF city, I reflect. I needed to be in this role simply because I am black and am living the black experience. I needed to be in this role because I have survived trauma and am still experiencing trauma. Being able to identify, truly, with the experience your client is living is key to any type of healing work. Being black is an experience in itself. Walking into a room and understanding you are introducing yourself as not only, in my case, “Rachel” but as “Rachel the Black Nurse” is the reality and weight we carry yet rarely acknowledge. We then forget that when we need to connect and care for ourselves, being in POC spaces often times is the most healing environment. The same goes for individuals struggling with trauma; being in spaces with others who can identify with trauma is pivotal for any healing to occur between therapist and patient.
My role first and foremost is a nurse, however, over the years I have adopted the role of a therapist. Reason being, the population I work with consists of majority black teenage youth re-entering academia after time away in prison. I listen to my white co-workers, who have nothing but the best intentions in mind, yet are completely unable to understand what the root cause underneath so much of the poverty, trauma, and pain is. On top of that, when they do happen to understand, it’s too uncomfortable to say what it is, for both therapist and patient. So I find myself, more recently, willing and eager to be that point person for our youth of color and trauma who need a release. Just being able to hold space in that room with the patient when they need to vent about the white woman in the gym who smirked at them when their “black girl hair” was swimming around the drain yet all that “white girl hair” was all over the place and no one said a damn thing, mhmm (yeah, this just happened to me last week). I understand the struggle.
Written by Rachel Kigano, a Yoga Green Book team member