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By: Nathaniel J. Greene, Community & Culture Reporter

On Friday, May 31, Ethnic Media Services hosted a briefing to discuss an innovative program spearheaded by the AAPI Equity Alliance, aimed at helping Asian American communities heal from the trauma of racism and hate crimes. The program, known as Healing Our People Through Engagement (HOPE), is rooted in the Radical Healing Framework developed by Black Liberation psychologists. This pilot program focuses on creating culturally-centered, community-based groups as healing spaces for five distinct Asian American communities: Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean.

Addressing the Trauma of Racism

Michelle Sewrathan Wong, Managing Director of Programs at AAPI Equity Alliance, provided an overview of the HOPE program. She highlighted the severe impact of racism on Asian American communities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Asian American community endured episodes of brutality on a scale not seen for generations in this country,” Wong said. She noted that the community was scapegoated by politicians for the transmission of COVID-19, leading to violent physical attacks and a pervasive sense of fear and isolation.

The Radical Healing Framework, which the HOPE program is based on, was developed by a team of scholars of color to address the generational trauma experienced by communities of color. Wong emphasized the importance of this approach, stating, “This innovative pilot is grounded in a healing and hope framework that encourages ethnic pride and community empowerment and reinforces that racism doesn’t just occur on an individual level; it happens to communities.”

Anne Saw, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at DePaul University and a key figure in developing the HOPE curriculum, explained the significance of the Radical Healing Framework.

“Radical healing is about becoming whole in the face of ongoing racism through connecting with others in our communities, drawing strength from our community, our culture, our families, and engaging in actions that promote our collective well-being,” Saw said. She noted that many Asian Americans underutilize Western-based mental health services due to stigma and lack of culturally appropriate care, making programs like HOPE crucial.

Xueyou Wang, a HOPE Program Facilitator and Social Services Program Assistant at Little Tokyo Service Center, shared insights from her experience working with Japanese and Japanese American participants.

“At the beginning of this project, there were doubts about whether this program was needed in the Japanese and Japanese American community. However, once we actually launched the program and gathered our participants, it became clear that this program was very much needed,” Wang said. She highlighted how participants felt validated and empowered by sharing their experiences and addressing issues like gentrification collectively.

Yu Wang, another HOPE Program Facilitator and Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Center, discussed the challenges and successes of the program with Chinese and Chinese American participants.

“Given the significant trauma and discrimination our community faced during the pandemic, a space for healing is critically needed,” Yu Wang said. She noted that cultural factors often make it difficult for participants to share their vulnerabilities. However, through the program, participants learned to express and validate their feelings, leading to a sense of acceptance and empowerment.

Joann Won, Program Facilitator at the Korean Youth and Community Center, emphasized the transformative impact of the HOPE program on Korean American participants. She recounted how one participant, a first-generation immigrant, had an emotional and cathartic moment sharing her experiences with racism for the first time. “This feeling of connectedness that the participants felt just from sharing their stories was incredible,” Won said. She noted that the program helped participants feel less isolated and more empowered to address racism in their community.

Moving Forward

The HOPE program represents a significant step forward in addressing the mental health impacts of racism on Asian American communities. As Michelle Wong aptly summarized, “This exploration led us to the Radical Healing Framework, a psychological framework developed by a team of BIPOC scholars that moves beyond individual-level approaches to coping with racial trauma and instead uses the strength of communities to deepen their resilience in the face of hate.”

The success of the pilot program has sparked hopes for its expansion to other Asian American communities and potentially other racialized groups. However, this requires further support and funding from policymakers and funders. As Anne Saw put it, “We hope to be able to offer this program to any Asian Americans who want and need it. We are just gathering more information to figure out how to make that happen.”

In conclusion, the HOPE program not only provides a critical space for healing and empowerment but also sets a precedent for community-centered approaches to mental health and resilience. As the program continues to grow and evolve, it holds the promise of fostering stronger, more connected, and resilient communities in the face of ongoing racism and discrimination.