Speaker: A resilient community must be trauma-informed

  • Larry Thomas, 49, speaks at the first “Building Resilient Community” event hosted by the Opioid Task Force at Greenfield Community College Monday. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/25/2018 9:32:34 PM

GREENFIELD — Larry Thomas, 49, began his talk with a vivid memory from when he was 5 years old.

“When they started the busing thing, I was in first grade,” Thomas said, talking about the attempts to desegregate Boston’s public schools. “I remember experiencing that. It was very difficult. It brought up a lot of fear. It made me not want to go to school.”

He continued to share his story, speaking before 50 or so people at Greenfield Community College during the first “Building a Resilient Community” event, hosted by the Opioid Task Force Monday.

Thomas remembers being a child that school administrators saw as a problem. “I remember being put in this box as a kid,” he said. Doctors suggested different medications. There were other struggles. There were gunshots he heard around him. Things that made him super alert and changed his way of thinking. It was the 1970s and ’80s and the opioid epidemic was a big issue in the city.

“A lot of things happened,” Thomas said, pausing at the podium, before saying, more to himself than to the audience, “Jesus, a lot of things happened.”

Thomas ended up in jail at a fairly young age, finding himself stuck in a world of incarceration.

After 18 years of jail and prison, Thomas was 46 and on the day he got out, he went over to The RECOVER Project in Greenfield.

A peer told him there was a community meeting in a couple days and he should go to it. When he got to the meeting, he saw community members sitting in a circle, talking, in turn, and sharing ideas without fear of repercussions.

“I never in my life seen a democracy. Forty-six years old. I never seen a democracy,” Thomas said. “I was like, ‘Wow’ — I was blown away.”

“I come from a dictatorship,” he continued. “I come from a place that, if you don’t comply, you’re kicked out. You’re shunned. You’re the bad guy. You’re the guy with mental illness. You’re the guy who hangs out in front of the package store.”

At The RECOVER Project, Thomas, who turns 50 in a couple of weeks, found a trauma-informed community, something he had really never found before.

Monday morning outgoing Greenfield Community College President Bob Pura and co-chair of the Task Force Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan also spoke about community and being trauma informed. Pura talked about the fundamental need for a community, that it takes a village to raise you; with Donelan acknowledging the college’s efforts to always be trauma-informed in its approach to the education of its students.

It motivated the Opioid Task Force and others to present a morning of workshops on how Franklin County and the North Quabbin can be more mindful and to meet people where they are.

And it presented Thomas with a chance to speak and share his story on the values of a trauma-informed community.

“When people walk through the door at The RECOVER Project, we assume everyone has experienced trauma so we treat everyone with respect,” said Thomas, who works their as a peer coordinator and recovery coach.

He explained that’s where he started to experience compassion again, “to be what my mother taught me to be as a kid” and “not to be those things I learned to be conditioned to be in society.”

“The RECOVER Project gave me an opportunity to see myself, to be me,” Thomas said. “I can be myself. I ain’t got to be nobody else. I don’t got to get all flashy.” Choking up, looking out at peers and community members, he started again, “I can be myself.

“Saturday morning I woke up and I had calls from everywhere. In fact, multiple calls from my little brother,” he continued. “So I called back and found out my best friend, my childhood friend, OD’d and died.”

Thomas, who people might recognize riding around Greenfield on his bike with a big smile, went to The RECOVER Project. “I was grateful to have that, you know, to be there, and to have this group of people be around and to talk with — trauma informed.”

Thomas concluded with what he saw as the further, more true goal of the event that the Task Force plans to hold more times during the coming year.

He explained: When he goes to the state Department of Transitional Assistance for food stamps, the first person he encounters is a security guard, a “dude with a Glock on his waist,” who oftentimes is not smiling. Then he sees someone behind a glass window who is focused on the work below them and not looking and engaging with him.

They are the ones who need to be at the table next, Thomas said.

“That’s what this ultimate goal is to build a trauma-informed, resilient community,” Thomas said. “This is a big, big conversation and I’m really grateful to be a part of that.”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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