Jamil Stamschror-Lott, Sara Stamschror-Lott and Asha Williams are three trauma-informed therapists at Creative Kuponya, a community health and healing collective based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Credit: Courtesy: Sara Stamschror-Lott

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The murder trial for former police officer Derek Chauvin is barreling toward the jury. And demonstrations are ramping up in response to the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright on April 11. It’s a lot of grief, anger, and pain to take in. 

Recognizing that strain, Sahan Journal is checking in with local community organizations to get a sense of how people living in the Twin Cities area are thinking, feeling, and coping. 

We’re also compiling recommendations for resources, practices, and methods you can use to promote healing for yourself: at home, work, school, and in the larger community. 

We check in first with Creative Kuponya, a collective focused on community mental health and healing from a culturally sensitive and trauma-informed perspective. The collective is funded in large part by the St. Paul–based nonprofit The Resiliency Project Foundation. And it works in tandem with AllSquare, a nonprofit directed toward individuals impacted by the justice system.

We spoke with therapist Sara Stamschror-Lott, who founded Creative Kuponya in 2017 with her partner, therapist Jamil Stamschror-Lott. The pair have experience treating trauma and providing care within the framework of restorative justice. Asha Williams is the third, trauma-informed therapist on staff. 

What communities does Creative Kuponya serve? 

We view Creative Kuponya as a mental health practice that is at the intersection of diversity, equity, inclusion; and mental-health, trauma-informed care. We like to think of our work as therapy without barriers. We don’t bill insurance simply because insurance has strictly forced practitioners, such as myself, to search for a diagnosis. And we know that–at least in the American medical model–that misdiagnoses happen predominantly to people of color and women. 

Though our community and group-healing sessions are open to the public, we work with predominantly Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the Twin Cities area.

In BIPOC communities, especially right now in Minneapolis, people are being re-traumatized on a daily basis. If you’re watching the trial, if you just were watching the news yesterday, or on social media with what happened with Mr. Wright… it’s never ending. It’s a revolving door of re-traumatization.

Sara Stamschror-Lott

What are you hearing and seeing from community members right now? 

The first thing that popped into my head is just overwhelmed. I don’t know how else to describe it. Just a full-body overwhelmed: ‘I don’t know how to respond.’ ‘This is really hard for me to relive watching this trial.’ 

And now, with what happened last night with Mr. Wright, more trauma, trauma, trauma. Like it’s never ending, and so you get into this permanent state of exhaustion, like what do I do? 

You’re feeling hopeless, and I know some people are often feeling helpless. These responses are all very typical and traditional trauma responses. So anybody, regardless of who they are and where they come from, if they’re a trauma survivor, they might have those same feelings. 

Specifically in BIPOC communities, especially right now in Minneapolis, people are being re-traumatized on a daily basis. If you’re watching the trial, if you just were watching the news yesterday, or on social media with what happened with Mr. Wright… it’s never ending. It’s a revolving door of re-traumatization.

So it’s a constant race to try your best to heal in between in the best way that you can. But really, there’s no break. There’s no reprieve from it.

What do you tell community members when it comes to preparing themselves for these tragedies, as they happen over and over again? What does that look like?

Firstly, mindfulness. Just simple, deep breathing; trying to take moments of quiet. For some, deep breathing may make them more anxious, and so instead of that, maybe it’s better to go for a 10-minute walk. It doesn’t have to be long, but setting the cell phone down. Removing yourself from the TV. Taking space. 

We are also pretty invested in somatic healing practices. Things like deep humming or singing in a group can oftentimes be very helpful; that’s actually attached back to Black history, when slaves would be in the field and they would sing to hold themselves together as a community. So, we are recreating that. 

Jamil, our co-founder and mental health provider, at times actually hums and sings to a beat during our community healing sessions. I think people initially feel like that’s an uncomfortable thing to do. But it is very, very healing and they almost always end up doing it.

I’d also like to take a moment to mention bilateral brain stimulation. That’s actually the tenet of Eye Movement Desensitization Re-stabilization (EMDR). Basically, all that’s happening is your brain–when it’s traumatized–it’ll stay in one hemisphere of your brain, and trauma can actually get stuck there. And so we try to get the brain to activate between the left and right hemispheres. 

You can do that by tapping your left shoulder, then your right shoulder, your left shoulder, then your right shoulder. As long as you’re moving the left side of your body, to the right side of your body, it’s activating the brain to jump back and forth between the hemispheres, which is proven to be a very healing process

Jamil, our co-founder, at times actually hums and sings to a beat during our community healing sessions. I think people initially feel like that’s an uncomfortable thing to do. But it is very, very healing and they almost always end up doing it.

SARA STAMSCHROR-LOTT

Many community members may not be feeling hopeful right now—with the ongoing murder trial for former police officer Derek Chauvin, and the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Is hope necessary to move forward in healing? Do people need to see or feel resolution before they can really heal? 

The act of healing is a rollercoaster, so this is a pretty complicated question. I do think hope is a component of personal healing. But it is also paired with things like resiliency and community for someone. 

If you can have hope, it’s extremely helpful, but it isn’t always fully necessary for at least partial healing. 

Healing is different for each person: It’s different based on where you live, who your community is, if you’re employed, if you’ve been impacted by the justice system. We all have our own individual traumas, but I do believe as a community—regardless of what happens with this trial—there is so much systemic work that needs to happen. I think that the fight for justice goes even beyond this trial; it goes into all of our subsystems. 

Things like simple vocabulary—I know it sounds so simple. But we need to change the way we speak. We need to change the way that we develop policies, so that they are inclusive. So, regardless of what happens with this trial, we can continue to move forward in our subsystems.

What would you say to community members who are feeling a lot and want to do something about it? What are some avenues to work toward community healing, beyond joining protests? 

I think, overall, everybody does their best with this type of justice work. It’s probably a little bit different across the board. Jamil, my co-founder, and I—we were always boots to the ground. Like lying on Lake Street, and, you know, making signs and marching. And we have a daughter now. 

We thought, “What do we do best and how can we give that back to the community at no cost?” And so our version of protesting, I guess, is the community healing sessions. We’re just doing different justice work now than we were at 25. 

I still think building community is just so crucial. We know that community is one of the number one things that heals trauma, through feeling connected to a group of other humans. Reaching out to loved ones, reaching out to an elder, reaching out to a friend that you know might be struggling with what’s happening in our world today. So building community, even if it’s just two people connecting, it’s still human connection. It’s still spreading the word about why justice is important. 

I also think educating the younger people in your community. Beyond educating, it’s also asking, How do we work together to keep our communities safe, and grow? I think one thing that I hear all the time is the incredible resilience of people of color in our society. It’s unbelievably powerful, and I think that it all routes back to connecting with your community.

We know that community is one of the number one things that heals trauma, through feeling connected to a group of other humans.

SARA STAMSCHROR-LOTT

The term ‘triggering’ has become something we see on our social media feeds. How does that manifest for our bodies, our minds, and our spirits? 

So, you get triggered and that triggers the trauma response, and the trauma response in a body is always fight, flight, or freeze. What that might manifest as is actually fighting with somebody, or being really angry all the time. Or, sometimes, being tired all the time. 

Even when you’re sleeping, sometimes trauma can manifest in a way where you’re doing too much of something for so long. Maybe too much exercising, too much shopping, too much cannabis use—like too much of something that is impacting your ability to function. You can counteract that by using those skill-sets that I talked about previously. But in a nutshell, community healing sessions would be crucial. Therapy would be crucial. 

Family systems therapy, too—so it’s not just you, but you bring your siblings or your partner or your kids to therapy. You’re healing as a system, so that when you go home at night, the people that you’re with in your space are also going through a healing process.

Can you walk us through what a Creative Kuponya session might look like right now?

Our primary programming is community healing sessions, which is essentially group therapy. Anybody in the community that wants to come can join and sit in a safe space. We focus on mental health. 

I usually start us off with a mindfulness practice. And then Jamil, will facilitate a conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion and how it specifically impacts mental health. We then break off into small groups, so that people can actually communicate more one-on-one with their specific community members. And then we connect together as a whole to wrap things up, usually by doing some sort of somatic healing. The point is to do something as a community.

We always have a listening ear to the ground to the community. Last summer, we did 13 community healing sessions in a row. Every week, like, the more people got comfortable in that space, the more they would say: “Hey, we want to talk about this next week.” 

And so we would listen. The community healing sessions are a community-led effort versus Creative Kuponya–led effort. I think the short answer is: We listen to what the community wants, and we start from there.

Ultimately, we want the community to come together every week, talk, and take something with them—whether that was a new learned guided meditation, a new practice to infuse into their life for healing. We want them to take a tangible skill home every week, so that they can take care of themselves while they’re out in the world—while they’re in this traumatized community.

FIVE PLACES FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR TO START HEALING—NOW.

Sara Stamschror-Lott, who co-founded the Minneapolis the mental health and therapy practice Creative Kuponya, offers a quick list of some favorite community resources:

“Currently, our community healing sessions are taking place at Hope Center, which is only open to high school students due to COVID-19. But we plan to offer more sessions in the summertime. You can keep up to date with upcoming community events via our Instagram or through our website.

If you’re looking for a culturally competent therapist, freeblacktherapy.org is a good starting point. It’s a resource that lists black therapists across the country.

I also love @therapyforblackgirls, both the Instagram account and the online resource.  

There’s also 612 Jungle, which is owned by Gabrielle Roberts, a local yoga instructor that I highly recommend. They offer virtual classes, so it’s accessible for most people.

If you’re an artist and you’re looking for community, I also recommend Black Table Arts. They often have open community sessions where people can come, artists or not, and receive community health and healing, oftentimes through art.”

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Aala Abdullahi is the innovation and community engagement editor at Sahan Journal.