In-home and in-family violence affect children’s brain development  

In examining our Black community’s expressions of pain and suffering, abuse, neglect and abandonment, we are finding that these expressions (which show up as impatience, intolerance, being short-fused, not being able to listen, slapping, name calling, hearing about and seeing murders or other killings) are affecting our children. We are unconscious that these behaviors and habits we now have are what is traumatizing our children. In-home and in-family violent acts are a threat to our community’s children.

A 2010 article on early childhood trauma from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network talks about protective factors that increase resilience in children and families. The article encourages us to pay attention to the “competencies, psychological resources and resilience” that we already have that hold the potential to protect our children from long-term impacts of harm.

The article points to “the reliable presence of a positive, caring and protective parent or other caregiver who can shield their children against adverse experiences” as one of the most important resources we can provide our children. It is a reminder of the value of reassuring our children while we are working to keep them safe and listening to what they are experiencing.

This resiliency is a built-in core of our culture, in particular the core that has been disrupted by the horrific experiences of our elders at the hands of Europeans. These are also the core pieces we do not teach as necessary for survival.

In my last article [“African Americans are trapped in the artificial identity of the Negro,” Nov. 17], I highlighted culture as a resource for healing, building, and creating intellectual and financial prosperity among African American people. The central message expressed was the importance of a return to an intellectual heritage and ancient self, which I see as the first step in moving toward community healing.

Randall Robinson opens his book The Debt: What America Owes Blacks with a revealing description of himself as having been born in 1941, but having his Black soul born eons ago on another continent. “Somewhere in the mists of prehistory,” he writes, “I am the new self and the ancient self, I need both to be whole, yet there is a war within and I feel a great wanting of spirit.”

In my work of establishing cultural wellness as a field of study and an approach to healing the African mind, I am lifting up the potential and power that culture provides to feed the wanting spirit. In Black America, if we reckon with and heal ourselves from generations of abuse, under-development and benign neglect, we will be able to reverse the forces which have impeded our collective thriving.

The 400 years (25 generations) of systematic enslavement will cease to have a hold on our development when we restore our consciousness of this ancient self. I realize many may think this is Utopian thinking, but I am asking Black America to indulge in some serious Utopian thinking even if there is a slender but precious hope that today’s Utopia will become tomorrow’s society.

 In this article, I would like to build on the previous central message by lifting out and examining the role of Black women in our healing and rebuilding process. Please join me by acknowledging that Black womanhood and motherhood represent a sacred and feminine principle in creation, a principle that was first observed as a law of nature by our ancient ancestors in Kemet, who named this principle “Ma’at.”

As these ancestors expressed in their writings, Ma’at is a spiritual concept expressed by humans as harmony, balance, order, justice, truth, reciprocity and propriety. When Ma’at is present, the community organizes itself in a way that ensures that its members are taken care of — the concept of Ma’at and the concept of community are synonymous.

According to our ancient ancestors, the Black woman serves as the channel through which Ma’at is communicated and protected. As channels of balance and deep love, women shape and influence the family kinship network and the foundation of Black life. Therefore, according to the ancients, the role of the Black woman was viewed as a container for the spirit of Black people.

In-home and family acts of violence affect children’s brain development. Mothers’ experiences during and after pregnancy will grow the brain and assure its development. The brain does not develop strongly without intentionally doing that which nurtures its growth instead of its non-growth.

To correct and to rebuild our place in bringing genius to humanity, let’s get together and learn the cultural wisdom of our ancestors. Let’s employ parenting, both community and biological, to act in ways that assure our children’s self-worth, stable living, and good cooked food. Let’s show love by being loving toward each other. Let’s support and learn, live and learn, and each one teach one.

As the previously cited 2010 article states, “Cognitive development can also be affected [by violence]: Children exposed to high levels of domestic violence in early childhood have IQs at age 5 that are up to 8 points lower than those of other children.” But culture has the power to turn this around.


Atum Azzahir is the elder and founder of the Cultural Wellness Center in Minneapolis.