University of Minnesota

The Trauma Recovery Project


Trauma that’s related to issues like gun and family violence, out-of-home placement of children, mass imprisonment and general lost human potential disproportionately impacts Minneapolis’ Northside community. In 2013, as part of its mission to improve the quality of life in urban communities, the University of Minnesota Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) embarked on a multi-year project to develop a strategy for addressing such trauma. The strategy was to rely on both community expertise and University research and be grounded in the belief that a community’s assets, strength, and wisdom can provide a foundation for healing.

To launch the project, UROC hosted two public events featuring internationally recognized peace and reconciliation leaders, Nontombi Naomi Tutu and Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe who spoke on “Trauma, Faith, and Healing in the Community.” The sisters urged the University and North Minneapolis communities to explore healing through “dangerous conversations” — the term they used for uncomfortable but necessary conversations in any quest for truth. With support from community leaders, the Tutus’ challenge turned into UROC-facilitated conversations with workgroups made up of Minneapolis faith and cultural leaders, behavioral health practitioners, residents, and University researchers and staff.

The project—named the Trauma Recovery Project—was awarded a Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant for its innovative approach to tackling issues of trauma. By 2017, the project had grown to more than 1,000 participants and had resulted in more than 2,200 volunteer hours of trainings, presentations, community gatherings, work sessions, and professional development. More significant than the resulting toolkits, training sessions, and conversations highlighted in this website, are the connections made and the trust built between the workgroup participants toward the larger goal of healing trauma and rebuilding strength and resilience in North Minneapolis.

The Behavior Health Practitioners Workgroup

Members of the Trauma Recovery Project’s Behavior Health Practitioners Workgroup were no strangers to the devastating effects of trauma. As licensed counselors and healers, the practitioners’ approach to the project was both action-based and reflective.

Galvanized by the November 16th shooting of North Minnesota resident Jamar Clark just blocks from UROC, and the subsequent demonstrations outside of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct, the Behavioral Health Practitioners used UROC as a basecamp for healing.

The team created a triage space which offered a respite, as well as counseling for bystanders and demonstrators. They held healing and listening sessions at UROC and workshops on self care for the public, as well as for fellow Trauma Recovery Project workgroup participants.

Realizing that practicing self care and learning how to reach out to other practitioners were keys in helping clients and patients, the team examined their profession’s approach to trauma through workshops like the “Addressing Historical and Complex Trauma in the African American Community: Clinical Perspectives on What Works.” They adopted a Psychological First Aid Training Module that provides tools to trauma-informed community members. And they provided a space for the professional black male perspective in conversations around law enforcement and violence/excessive force through a two-part conversation series titled: “In the Wake of Violence: Perspectives of Black Men Who Are Therapists.”

“Learning how to practice self care and learning how to reach out to other practitioners helps you better meet the needs of your clients and patients.” — Stella Whitney-West, chief executive officer,
Northpoint Health & Wellness

The Culture, Families, and Learning Workgroup

“Healing happens when people recognize and accept the wisdom within themselves and their elders and tap into the life-affirming ceremonies, rituals, practices, disciplines, and philosophies from their cultural traditions.” — Atum Azzahir, founder and executive director,
Cultural Wellness Center

Because culture is vital to health and healing, the UROC Staff Workgroup reached out to Atum Azzahir, executive director and elder consultant in African ways of knowing with the Minneapolis-based Cultural Wellness Center, for her thoughts on how to bring the voices of families to the project.

Azzahir, who had served as a moderator for the Tutu sisters event, was particularly interested in pursuing conversations about trauma through truth telling and speaking candidly from the heart about pain and loss. Before formally partnering with UROC, Azzahir sought approval from elders in the North Minneapolis community about the possible involvement of the Cultural Wellness Center in the project.

The resulting workgroup — named Culture, Families, and Learning — focused its energy and resources on working independently through weekly truth telling and community circles. Events included truth telling and community healing ceremonies and discussion events primarily focused on people of Black and African heritage. The workgroup also produced a number of print materials, which explored healing through truth telling circles and self study.

The Faith Leaders Workgroup

With encouragement from North Minneapolis spiritual leaders Pastor Alika Galloway of Kwanzaa Community Church and Bishop Howell of Shiloh Temple, UROC staff facilitated the formation of the Trauma Recovery Project’s Faith Leaders Workgroup

As caregivers on the front lines of trauma, the faith leaders began their work with a half-day retreat entitled, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Responding to the Invisible Wounds of African Americans’ Trauma” that aimed to help lay leaders and clergy understand how trauma is manifested in the lives and relationships of African Americans. Over the next three years, the group hosted more than 30 workshops and training sessions for fellow clergy, as well as lay people, on such topics as “Let‘s Look at Trauma” and “Trauma, Faith, and Healing in the Community: Let‘s Go Deeper.”

As an outreach effort and self-reflection exercise, the faith leaders compiled presentations, resources, poems, images, prayers, scripture, and songs into the Trauma, Faith and Healing in the Community Resource Packet. To sustain the work, a Trauma Recovery Project/Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant helped the Faith Leaders Workgroup hire a part-time assistant to aid in outreach to children suffering from trauma and expand its work into the Latino community.

“For anybody to heal from trauma, they have to have a community that cares….I don’t want people to think we always want to pray things away. I want people to know that in prayer we trust God and he can do everything and that prayer is important. Yet, I also think it’s important that we walk alongside our children and adults.” —Reverend Darrell Gillespie, founder,
Proverbs Christian Fellowship

The University Researchers Workgroup

Just as academic research doesn‘t easily translate to day-to-day life, community knowledge often doesn’t lend itself to bar graphs and pie charts. Instead, the goal of the Trauma Recovery Project‘s University Researchers Workgroup was focused on repairing and building trust—trust between the University and the community, and trust between the researchers and other Trauma Recovery Project workgroup members.

Their first charge came from the Culture, Families, and Learning Workgroup in the form of questions: Why are you interested in working on issues of trauma and why are you interested in working in North Minneapolis? The researchers took up these questions, discussing issues of relationships and trust-building, ways of recognizing and embracing knowledge, researcher identity and motivations, and strategies for healing rifts between the University and Minneapolis‘ Northside community.

In the conversations that followed, researchers reflected on their personal and professional identities. They valued the opportunity to bring their “whole selves” to the discussions and appreciated the “vulnerability” of their voices in the project. They expressed excitement about the impact of seeing “research as practice” while conducting trauma-informed work.

“The learning that I’ve taken from this process will be with me in every project that I do for the rest of my career as a researcher. It challenged how I think about research, it caused me to investigate new lines of thinking about what research means and what it can mean ....” — Lauren Martin, director of research,
Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center

The Youth Workgroups

Because the voices of youth were critical to the Trauma Recovery Project, UROC allocated two Trauma Recovery Project/Bush Community Innovation Grants to University of Minnesota Assistant Professor Katie Johnston-Goodstar, an expert in the practice of Youth Participatory Action Research, and Pastor Alika Galloway of Kwanzaa Community Church who oversees the North Minneapolis-based 21st Century Academy.

Johnston-Goodstar’s work focuses on the factors that affect the education and development of urban and Native American youth. With a Trauma Recovery Project/Bush Foundation Community Innovation grant, she was able to hire two adult leaders and to pay the youth participants in her Native Youth School Climate Study. “It may look different, but it’s still trauma,” writes Johnson-Goodstar in the Trauma Recovery Project report when giving examples as to why Native children may become depressed, quiet and disengaged, or angry and resistant after experiencing school-induced trauma.

Galloway works with University Associate Professor Ross VeLure Roholt to uncover youths’ own understanding and experiences of trauma through the use of open-ended questions about the effects of trauma and strategies for healing. Their most recent project makes use of spoken word and storytelling formats, including digital recordings and live performances.

“Trauma is a universal experience and we know statistically through research, that urban youth have high levels caused by a multitude of factors.” — Reverend Alika Galloway, co-pastor
Kwanzaa Community Church
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“The Trauma Recovery Project has offered University faculty and staff a chance to connect, explore solutions, and learn from a deep well of urban community knowledge.” — Heidi Barajas, executive director,
Robert J. Jones Urban Research and
Outreach-Engagement Center
Minneapolis street

The UROC Staff Workgroup

For more than two years, UROC staffers assigned to the Trauma Recovery Project worked as schedulers, facilitators, and support staff to the Trauma Recovery Project’s six workgroups. Staffers often thought of their work as a “bridge” between the University and community members, a “spark” that lit each new phase of the project, and the “spine” of the project.

It wasn’t until after the Trauma Recovery Project was awarded a Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant and events related to the 2015 protester-led occupation of the neighboring Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct unfolded, that staffers began to think of their role differently. Over the course of the project they had become more than just administrators of grants and schedulers of meetings — they became active participants, a workgroup unto itself, and one that had been deeply transformed.

The newly named UROC Staff Workgroup sought out ways to both reflect on the process and benchmark its progress. They worked with University of Minnesota Extension to develop a ripple-effect map which identified connections across workgroups and gave participants a deeper understanding of how their work related to the broader project. They presented on the Trauma Recovery Project in University classes and at conferences throughout the country and hosted more than 50 professional development opportunities and training sessions to support participatory leadership among project members.

“As a staff we needed to understand what the project meant to us in terms of how we work with each other—we had to do our own self study in order to move the project forward and make decisions.” — Heidi Barajas, executive director,
Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center


The Trauma Recovery Project relied on bold and dangerous conversations to break down barriers in order to forge authentic connections. It demanded self study, required self awareness, and challenged faith leaders, health practitioners, University researchers and community members to seek out alliances, pursue connections, and initiate difficult conversations.

As much process as project, the Trauma Recovery Project followed an unpredictable, yet transformative path that rewarded its participants with a trauma-informed lens through which they do their work. It also offers a new model of how academic faculty and staff can work with communities on issues of complexity and sensitivity toward mutually beneficial goals.

The complete story of the Trauma Recovery Project is documented in the attached Pathways to Healing: The University of Minnesota Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center’s Trauma Recovery Project Report. The report also includes recommendations on how universities and communities can transform how they work together using a new model — one that begins with building trust. For an ongoing list of workshops, events, and other resources related to the Trauma Recovery Poject, visit UROC’s Trauma Recovery Project web page.

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TRP Report