• Hawthorne Smith, PhD

Director's Corner - June 2020



Take a deep breath…


Hold it for a bit. Reflect upon it. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Recognize it as the blessing it is.


Realize that as human beings we will all eventually reach the point where the breath we take will be our last. This is no theatrical ploy. It is a simple, yet profound, human reality. No one is promised tomorrow.


Where does that leave us?


It leaves us with today. It leaves us with the breath currently coursing through our lungs. I guess the larger questions become, “What will we do with today?” “What shall we do with our next breath?”


Perhaps at no time within memory have the questions of agency, justice, and literally taking a breath, been as central to our collective and individual consciousness as they are now. The demons that have long existed in the murky depths of our society have been enticed to the surface, spilling blood, sowing discord, causing heartache, and roiling our waters.


For many, this may be the first time they are confronting these malevolent forces in such a visceral fashion. For others, who are well acquainted with their cruelty, it is all too familiar a story. In either case, the impact can be overwhelming.


For many of our clients, who sacrificed their wellbeing to grapple with the forces of racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, gender-based violence, and homophobia in their homelands; are feeling dismayed, betrayed, and re-traumatized, realizing that hatred knows no geographic limits. The US is not a paradise on earth, after all. Perhaps no safe haven exists. The dual menace of microbes and malice have conspired to make this the most tumultuous period many of us have ever known.


Yet, the occasion lays bare opportunities that would not exist in less tumultuous times. We tend to forget about the demons when they slumber far below the surface. It is only now, when we can directly confront them and expose them to the sunlight, that we have a chance to banish them for good.


Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” I see so many brilliant stars in our firmament.


I see the youth expressing an uncompromising sense of shared humanity that is awe-inspiring. I see small scenes, where police and community members take a reverential knee together. I see hugs. I see you helping marginalized immigrants remain food secure. I see members of oppressed communities standing up for their rights from oppressive forces, while actively insisting on better behavior by their own community members who might otherwise be side-tracked into petty and destructive behaviors.


I listen to our clients who have learned the harsh lessons of surviving trauma while maintaining their struggle for equality and dignity. I hear them when they explain that there is a huge difference between character and circumstances. We recognize that we are moving through painful and debased circumstances right now, but by maintaining our loving and humanistic character, we will be able to maintain ourselves and change the circumstances for the better.


When we started this year, our French-speaking clients taught us that “20/20” was what one would receive when they totally aced an exam, like “A+” or “100%.” They felt that it would mean that this is a year of victory. Others joked about “20/20” symbolizing perfect vision, and that this would be a year of vision, and plotting an improved way forward.


I firmly believe that these predictions can still be true, in what has already been a historically remarkable year – for seemingly all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the plague that we are trying to navigate, combined with the social and political turmoil we are experiencing, are the exams – the harsh, boot-camp hazing – that we are meant to overcome. I believe that the only way we can overcome these enormous challenges is by holding on to our shared vision for a better tomorrow.


Perhaps we can push past our limitations and realize the opportunities for change. It sounds daunting, but it is supremely possible.


Where to begin? Small steps.


We must accept that nothing we can do, as individuals or groups, will be sufficient to “solve the problems.” Our efforts may feel small and inadequate. That’s OK. We also need to hold onto the fact that each small step we make, though insufficient, is necessary and important.


Each kind word. Each helping hand. Each time we are there for someone in pain. Each time we help to shed light and understanding where it didn’t exist before. Every smile. Every tear. It’s all part of our collaborative journey. Exciting and terrifying.


We remain undeterred. Join with us. There is no comprehensive road map for our journey. The final result is not assured, and the final destination is wrapped in uncertainty. The only thing I’m certain of is that the journey starts today – with a single breath.


Let’s breathe for George Floyd. Let’s breathe for our children. Let’s breathe for justice and shared humanity.


Are you ready?


One love, Hawk


Untitled%20design%20(4)_edited.png

© 1995 - 2020

NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue

462 First Avenue, CD 732

New York, NY 10016

info@survivorsoftorture.org

  • 5279111-512
  • 5279123-512
  • 5279112-512
  • 5279120-512
  • 5279114-512
PSOT%20_%20Bellevue%20Logo_edited.png