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What 44th Street Can Teach Us About Trauma

Residents on this block decided 18-year-old Rickquese McCoy would be the last of their teenagers lost. They had never been brought to the table before to talk about how to help their kids. Now, they're taking seats next to volunteers and police officers to find solutions, on their own terms.

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Photo by Sam Hodgson

Ricky McCoy Sr. is coping with his grandson's murder by leading an effort on his block to curb youth violence.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

When I first met Ricky McCoy Sr. in August, I wasn’t sure if he was Rickquese’s grandfather. Rickquese had died in a horrific shooting on 44th Street just one month earlier. McCoy was energetic. His browline glasses moved with his smile, bouncing up every time his teeth showed.

The more I got to know him, the more I realized he was grieving — intensely. Keeping busy and helping the community as a leader on his block was how McCoy coped.

Trauma can be a tricky thing to spot, it turns out.

That was the subject of a KPBS radio and TV segment yesterday. Hosts Maureen Cavanaugh and Peggy Pico spoke with Dana Brown, a grief counselor who appeared in my story on 44th Street, and Audrey Hokoda, a San Diego State University professor who specializes in youth violence.

The pair work together in City Heights and are pushing for more training in trauma-informed care. They said first responders, teachers, police officers — even you and I — need to understand the different ways people react to traumatic events.

“There isn’t a personal life that doesn’t experience a traumatic event,” Brown told Cavanaugh.

Hokoda added that situations related to adversity can amount to “cumulative trauma.”

“This neighborhood has poverty, racism, immigration problems, domestic violence, child abuse, gang violence, high crime,” Hokoda said. “You put all that together and that’s a lot of stressors.”

Trauma isn’t just being depressed or scared temporarily, they said. It can impact classroom behavior, prevent the sufferer from forming healthy relationships and make regulating stress and anger difficult. Brown said trauma is also a biological reaction meant to keep the body safe.

During the course of my reporting on 44th Street, McCoy suffered a mild heart attack. I reluctantly scheduled an interview with him shortly after he had recovered. He told me it was his “body’s way of telling him to slow down.”

You can donate to 44th Street's efforts to curb youth violence by sending checks to their fiscal agent Harmonium, a 501(c)(3) organization, at 9245 Activity Rd., San Diego, CA 92126.


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