Healing the Community: How Health Centers Can Address Community Violence

Feb 14, 2023 | Social Determinants of Health |

This podcast and blog post is presented by the National Nurse-led Care Consortium (NNCC) and describes the unique needs of residents of public housing, underserved racial and ethnic communities, and other special and vulnerable populations and the role community health centers can play in addressing healing and trauma recovery. The below blog post will detail the examples presented in the podcast and provide additional resources for health centers.

What is community violence, and how does it manifest?

In this episode, our speakers deliver a meaningful and powerful discussion about community violence and its manifestation. Our speakers remind us that no one is innately violent, but cycles of trauma within communities and unhealed historical agony generate violence within communities. These generational traumas and systemic issues, such as poverty and poor living conditions, stratify vulnerabilities manifesting to violence. The four main contributing factors to community violence include societal, individual, community, and relationships. Community violence can reveal itself in various ways, such as firearm violence, gang activity, and bullying. America’s youth and young adults are disproportionately impacted by violence in their communities, including firearm injuries and death. Community violence can produce adverse childhood experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic stress. 

Cycles of violence and its impact

During the podcast, Wayne challenges listeners to reflect on the root of community violence and how it’s a continuing cycle. Wayne leads us into a discussion of family dynamics, home life, and the impact home visiting has on getting a clearer picture of one’s life. As a way to overcome and intervene in unhealed generational trauma, mentorship provides opportunities for family healing. While recognizing that it is hard to be vulnerable and ask for help, it is important to note that not doing so enables the cycle of violence to continue. Cycles of violence contribute to heightened fears of feeling unsafe, causing individuals to feel like they are in constant “survival mode” and a fight or flight state. Being in a constant fight or flight state has paramount health impacts such as prolonged elevated stress hormones in the body, sleep deprivation, high blood pressure, and increased risk for cardiovascular diseases. Community violence also prevents families and children from utilizing community recreational areas, walking, and biking and hinders community growth.

What can health centers do to address community violence?

Community violence can be addressed by community leaders working collaboratively with community residents impacted by violence for prevention efforts. Speakers Cheryl and Wayne share the power of mentorship and empowerment with young people. Our speakers encouraged mentees to know their history, voting processes, and their overall role in society. Health centers should focus on whole-person care for holistic healing, concentrating on health's mental, physical, and social aspects. Health centers can utilize health navigators to liaise between patients and healing services. To heal those most impacted by community violence often requires therapy which includes connecting clients to social services, including getting an ID, finding a job, etc., to access the needed therapy.

Health systems and the workforce

While recognizing burnout proceeding from violence, it is important to note the impact this has on the workforce's health. This serves as a reminder that community violence is essentially a universal trauma. Wayne spotlights the significance of the healer getting healed for the sustainability of their practice. Cheryl highlights cultural competency training as an ongoing requirement for professionals and not a one-time thing. Society and communities are constantly evolving, so the need to understand the population they serve is continuously changing. Understanding the community and its determinants is vital, and it is best to avoid making assumptions; this is where partnerships with community organizations can come in for additional support. Finally, Cheryl reminds us that as time goes on, community violence starts at younger ages and stresses the importance of working with schools to address these issues.

Listen at 27:10 for strategies to mitigate trauma as a health professional. 

Listen at 36:05, where Wayne shares what can go wrong when the healer does not take care of themself.

Listen at 39:00 to hear Cheryl and Wayne talk about ways their organizations build a culture in response to burnout. 

Meet the Speakers 

Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Cheryl Seay is the Program Manager for the Center for Community Health Workers at Penn Medicine at Home and is the Founder of the Jarell Christopher Seay Love and Laughter Foundation; a nonprofit focused on addressing gun violence and community health. 

Based in Oakland, California, Wayne Clark is a Health Navigator at Roots Community Health Center, Inc. He is also the Founder and Executive Director at Oakland Impact Center, which provides innovative counseling, mentoring, skill building, violence prevention training, and more.

Additional Resources

For more information on treating those suffering from chronic stress stemming from community violence, check out our podcast episode, How Compassion and Relationships Reduce Chronic Stress.

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry shares best practices for treating those suffering from community violence. Each practice coincides with each factor that contributes to community violence.


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Support for this episode comes from the Health Resources and Services Administration (or HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It is part of an award totaling $550,000 with zero percentage financed with non-governmental sources. The contents of this podcast are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.


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About The Author

Kyra Cummings

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