The Burden of Trauma

Dear Friends,

During a discussion about race last year, a peer pointed out to me how people of marginalized communities were often expected to recall their trauma to justify their place “at the table.” I sat in silence, reflecting on my graduate school application in which I spoke about the Vietnam War and the attachment of its violent conflict to my identity that had only experienced peace.

In March of this year, two violent shootings in Georgia and Colorado stole 18 innocent lives. I was living in Atlanta when the massacre at the spas took place, two of which were 20 minutes from my home. Six out of the eight victims looked like me; they laughed, loved, and lived like the rest of us. For the following days, I canceled my meetings, turned off my camera during classes on Zoom, and stopped reading the news, hoping that it would alleviate my guilt for surviving, if not thriving, on American soil. Could I have done something, anything, to prevent such a tragedy?

I saw the same burden in the children and youth who gave testimony during the trial of Derek Chauvin. My heart broke when they questioned whether they could have acted differently to save George Floyd, as if they were responsible for his death. Could we, collectively as a society, could have done something, anything, to prevent such a tragedy?

For the past few weeks, I have worked alongside a team of inspiring individuals as part of the Millions of Conversations Truth and Reconciliation (T&R) project. Learning from past T&R efforts both within and outside the U.S., we reflected on storytelling and the centrality of narratives to our identity. When we speak our truths, we lay our beings bare, vulnerable, but courageous. Our experiences are both personal and systemic; thus, the process of unraveling our realities and examining how they intertwine with others’ can be painful yet empowering.      

Fast forward a year from my conversation at the beginning of this letter, I am currently a first-year student in the graduate program I wrote my statement of purpose for. In a way, my trauma informed where and who I am today, yet I refuse to let it define my identity. Seeking collective strength, I invite you to join me with courage and faith in the practice of profound re-learning and co-creation.

I hear you. I hear your pain. This is my story. This is my pain.

And this is our truth.  

To letting go, growing, and loving radically,

Lan Phan
Research Intern
Millions of Conversations

Millions in the News


“The civic campaign Millions of Conversations, founded by the Tennessee attorney and former White House fellow Samar Ali, seeks to foster dialogue across party lines and social divisions. In November 2020, it sponsored a ‘depolarization summit,’ which sought to proactively address potential violence following the 2020 election… Beyond the moral imperative underlying such work, the documented correlation between racial and political identities in the United States means that healing the country’s racial wounds will have an important effect on governance.”

Read Foreign Affairs Article

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