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Bright Promises Announces New Initiative to Address Youth Trauma Caused by Racism

Healing, Leading, Changing:

Supporting Youth to Address Trauma Caused by Racism In All Of Its Forms & Creating Healing Spaces for Youth

Executive Summary

In recent years, both child-serving agencies and the general public have come to recognize that children affected by trauma experience many negative responses, which, if left untreated, can cause life-long damage. What is less known is that racism, when experienced either personally or vicariously, can cause traumatic stress that impacts the physical and psychological health and wellbeing of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and communities. These factors coupled with inequity in education, economic opportunities, and numerous other systemic barriers are causing widespread distress, especially for BIPOC children and youth.

The issue of race-based trauma was brought to Bright Promises’ attention through our unique Focus Panel process. We convened panels of experts from diverse fields, backgrounds, and expertise in children’s services to identify an urgent, under-recognized and under-funded need of children and youth in the Metropolitan Chicago Area. To address the impact of race-based stress and racial trauma on children and youth, Bright Promises Foundation is launching a new, multi-year initiative called Healing, Leading, Changing.   

Currently, many youth serving organizations recognize that racism affects the children and youth they serve, but they lack the resources and knowledge to create healing environments for youth that directly address racially based traumatic stress and help mitigate its effects on young people.  Every organization that serves youth should be aware of and acknowledge the impacts of racial trauma on children and youth and have the knowledge and tools to create healing environments where children can become more resilient. Organizations need resources and support to achieve this goal. 

Research shows that an important aspect of healing from trauma caused by racism is to engage in empowerment through resistance as racism often causes helplessness, hopelessness, avoidance and fatigue. Helping youth to exercise their own agency and supporting youth to feel empowered to bring about equity are important and effective ways to both support healing from racially based traumatic stress and to give rise to the change we need as a society. 

Through this new program, Bright Promises is working with youth and youth-serving organizations. The Healing, Leading, Changing program will provide:

(1) Multi-year financial and capacity building support for youth-serving organizations to create environments of understanding and healing from race-based trauma which intentionally incorporate specific strategies for youth engagement; and

(2) An opportunity for youth representatives from these organizations to participate on a Youth Council where they will lead the effort to create effective and culturally relevant tools that youth-serving organizations can utilize to acknowledge race-based stress and help address racial trauma in ways that support healing and resiliency.

Through our recent initiatives focused on childhood trauma and social emotional learning, Bright Promises has developed the skills, knowledge, and partnerships to lay a strong foundation for the Healing, Leading Changing initiative. Now, we are partnering with youth-serving organizations and young people who are most impacted by and best able to address race-based stress to mitigate the impact of ongoing trauma caused by racism and promote healing, so that children and youth can live better lives and have brighter futures.

Section 1 - The Issue: Racial Trauma and Race-Based Stress

Racism, in all its forms, has been ingrained in our society and culture since the inception of our country and is the root cause of many of the challenges that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities face. Racism can cause emotional distress and trauma, sometimes referred to as racial trauma, or race-based stress.

Trauma caused by racism affects BIPOC children and youth in much the same way that general trauma does – research has linked racism to physical and psychological symptoms including fear and hypervigilance, headaches, insomnia, body aches, memory difficulty, self-blame, confusion, shame, and guilt after experiencing racism (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005; Carter, 2007; Helms,  Nicolas, & Green, 2010). In children and youth, trauma can also be expressed through 

adverse behavior, retreating inwards, inability to concentrate, or “fight or flight” responses.  

Racism-related experiences can range from frequent ambiguous “microaggressions” to blatant hate crimes and physical assault, whether experienced personally or vicariously (Williams, 2015). When BIPOC children and youth are exposed and re-exposed to race-based stress more frequently, their symptoms tend to intensify (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005).  Furthermore, these racism-related experiences never exist in isolation; racial trauma is a cumulative experience, where every personal or vicarious encounter with racism contributes to a more insidious, chronic stress (Carter, 2007). 

Healing racial trauma is challenging because racial wounds occur within a sociopolitical context and on a continuing basis. Yet, and still, children and youth who are oppressed by racism can develop coping skills, heal and become resilient. The emerging body of work on race-informed therapeutic approaches draws on the resilience of individual children and youth and groups as they work to transform their environments to promote individual and interpersonal healing and wellness.  

Section 2 - The Approach: How Bright Promises is Helping Effect Change

Healing, Leading, Changing is a new initiative launched by Bright Promises Foundation in 2021 to provide multi-year investment and institutional support to youth-serving organizations addressing the stress and trauma caused by racism. Through this program, we are working directly with youth and youth-serving organizations to support healing among youth impacted by racial trauma and to promote the agency of young people to create positive community change through youth activism. 

There are two core components to the Healing, Leading, Changing program:

  1. Grants will be made to organizations that serve youth to intentionally incorporate specific strategies that contextualize racism and how it impacts youth, while creating environments of understanding and healing.

    Bright Promises will provide grants to organizations to sustain and improve efforts to address trauma caused by racism by helping youth understand how trauma caused by racism affects them and their communities and, as a strategy to help youth heal, promote youth leadership, advocacy, and/or activism. Organizations will: (1) ensure that within their ongoing youth work, they are intentionally assisting youth to learn about the impact of racism on their mental health and their communities; (2) offer activities that help mitigate the effects of trauma caused by racism, including opportunities for youth leadership and activism; (3) compile and share resources, activities, and strategies that they have found useful to reduce racially based trauma and its effects; and (4) participate in a joint evaluation of the impact of the grants.

  2. A Youth Council composed of youth representatives from each grantee organization will be established to develop tools that can be used by other youth-serving agencies to understand trauma caused by racism and to support the healing process in ways that are relevant to youth.

    Bright Promises recognizes the power of youth and their ability to effect real change in our communities. The Youth Council will be charged with the creation of a series of tools (such as videos, on-line resources, self-assessment materials for organizations, activities, etc.) that can be a resource for youth serving organizations/sites to understand racism-based trauma and how to successfully implement programming to counter racism-based trauma. Youth Council members will receive a $1,000 annual stipend for their work. 

Through the Healing, Leading, Changing initiative, Bright Promises will:

  • Increase the capacity of youth-serving organizations to understand how racism can affect youth and to incorporate nurturing environments where adults are knowledgeable about racism-based stressors and support healing and resiliency;
  • Support youth healing by empowering youth to address community issues of importance to them (such as transportation, education, housing, and the environment) with a deeper understanding of how racism impacts their concerns;
  • Support sharing of information and strategies among staff of youth-serving organizations for reducing racially-based traumatic stress;
  • Facilitate a cross-organization collaboration of youth and pilot, evaluate, and expand the use of tools for youth-serving organizations so that they can incorporate a racism-based, trauma-informed lens using materials developed by youth themselves.


Building capacity and sustainability are core drivers of Bright Promises’ mission; therefore evaluation is a critical part of our approach. Because we are often among the first funders focused on a particular issue in Metropolitan Chicago, evaluation helps us to identify what “success” means for different organizations serving diverse populations. External evaluation will continue to play a critical role in the Healing, Leading, Changing initiative. External evaluation is used to track program metrics, gather data, share findings, engage other funders, and increase Bright Promises’ capacity to generate lasting, sustainable change for Chicago area youth. Bright Promises has contracted with PIE Org, a team of expert evaluators who practice responsive evaluation that intentionally promotes social justice and the dignity of every person. 

Section 3 – Method: Description of Bright Promises’ Focus Panel Process

To develop this initiative, Bright Promises employed an innovative approach that involved convening a panel comprised of a diverse group of leading experts from a broad range of fields related to children’s services and research. Together with these experts, Bright Promises considered several issues that significantly impact children’s health and wellbeing, and which are currently under-recognized and under-funded in Illinois. Based on the recommendations of these experts, the issue of racially based traumatic stress was selected as the focus for Bright Promises’ next grantmaking initiative. 

A second group of experts were convened who specialize in fields related to racial-trauma and race-based stress. It was Bright Promises goal to bring together experts who represent the communities most impacted by racism and who are best able to help address race-based stress. These experts provided recommendations for the structure of this new initiative, ensuring that Bright Promises is contributing to the creation of long-term solutions that address racial trauma and race-based stress in young people while increasing equity and access to quality programs and services for children and youth.

List of 2020 Focus Panel Experts:

  • Christine Achre, Chief Executive Officer, Primo Center for Women and Children
  • Clinton Boyd, Postdoctoral Associate at Duke University, Power of Fathers Program
  • Tim Carpenter, State Director, Council for a Strong America/ Fight Crime: Invest in Kids
  • Candace Coleman, Community Organizer – Racial Justice, Access Living
  • Christian Diaz, Director of Housing, Logan Square Neighborhood Association
  • Maricela Garcia, Chief Executive Officer, Gads Hill Center
  • Dr. Linda Gilkerson, Professor, Erikson Institute
  • Jacqulyn Hamilton, Wellness Coordinator, Chicago Freedom School
  • Rachel Hauben-Combs, Director of Development, Storycatchers Theatre
  • Aimee Hilado, Wellness Program Senior Manager, RefugeeOne
  • Ryan Keesling, Founder and Executive Director, FreeWrite Arts and Media
  • Bela Mote, CEO, Carole Robertson Center
  • Curtis Peace, Executive Director, Illinois After School Network
  • Jenny Pinkwater, Executive Director, Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Alec Ross, Director of Clinical Operations, Juvenile Protective Association
  • Scherezade Tillet, Executive Director, A Long Walk Home
  • Marlita White, Director, Office of Violence Prevention, City of Chicago

Section 4 – Resources and Citations

Suggested Reading:


Bryant-Davis, T., & Ocampo, C. (2005). Racist-incident-based trauma. The Counseling Psychologist, 33(4),  479-500.

Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019). Racial trauma: Theory, research, and healing: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74(1), 1-5. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/amp0000442

Carter, R. T. (2007). Racism and psychological emotional injury: Recognizing and assessing race-based traumatic stress. Counseling Psychologist, 35, 13–105. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000006292033

Helms, J., Nicolas, G., & Green, C. E. (2012). Racism and ethnoviolence as trauma: Enhancing professional and research training. Traumatology, 18, 65–74. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534765610396728

Wexler, L. (2014). Looking across three generations of Alaska Natives to explore how culture fosters Indigenous resilience. Transcultural Psychiatry, 51, 73–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363461513497417

Williams, M. (2015, September 06). The link between racism and ptsd. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201509/the-link-between-racism-and-ptsd

Download the Full Healing, Leading, Changing White Paper