Community Conversation: Trauma’s Effect on District Children

Davon Harris, a senior at Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts. Photo: UDC Television Interview Photo: Ed Jones, Jr. UDC-TV

The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law), University of the District of Columbia Cable Television Station (UDC-TV) and Esther Productions Inc. present a community conversation to examine the issue of childhood trauma in DC.

Taking place Jan. 22, 2019, from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m., at the law school (4340 Connecticut Ave. NW—5th floor), the event brings together mental health practitioners, parents, students, lawyers and elected officials. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and At-large D.C. Councilmember David Grosso will both be present to discuss this critical issue.

The panel discussion will also feature Clinical Mental Health Therapist Rose Shelton, UDC Law Professor Lauren Onkeles-Klein, UDC Acting Dean of Law John C. Brittain and Student Ambassador Davon Harris. The conversation will be moderated by author, journalist and speaker Jonetta Rose Barras who has recently written on the topic.

Fifty percent of all District of Columbia children citywide have suffered two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The minds and memories of thousands of young people in the District are being severely damaged by various trauma-inducing experiences: abuse and neglect, parental abandonment or incarceration, bullying, living in a home where there is chronic unemployment and palpable poverty, living in a household where there is obvious substance abuse and witnessing domestic violence or general community violence. Collectively, they form an unhealed public wound that is felt in every ward of the city, without regard for race or class.

“Trauma is ubiquitous,” said Dr. Tanya Royster, former director of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. “Young people across this city are traumatized. And some of it is primary trauma. Some of it is secondary trauma, but it’s trauma nonetheless.”

Researchers have found that children age 6 to 17 who have suffered a number of traumas are not likely to perform well in school. Unquestionably, trauma continues to be a barrier to academic success. It is the primary reason many children in the city consistently score below proficient on standardized tests and why so many schools during the recent ratings report received only three out of five stars.

Despite acknowledging the breadth and depth of trauma, the District government has failed to provide robust consistent and coordinated response to what legitimately can be described as an epidemic, according to advocates.

The press and the public are invited to attend this free event, which is presented as part of a print and broadcast series on trauma conceived and produced as a 2018 fellowship project for the Fund for Journalism on Child Well-Being, a program of the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Learn more about this event by contacting Joe Libertelli at