Black Men Describe Overcoming Geographical Trauma Through Travel

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When chiropractic and wellness coach Dr. Glenn Miller visited Canada as a kid, his perspective on travel changed forever. He was a child dancer and, although he’d be competing against dancers from all over the world, his reality was shaped on the southside of Chicago.

“It’s because of my ability to travel when I was young that I was able to not fall into the same pitfalls as a lot of people I grew up with,” Dr. Miller said.

The experience slowly molded his view of the world. Miller created a bucket list of places he wanted to visit. In his free time, he started researching different countries and became pen pals with other dancers living on international shores. As an adult, he used travel not only to learn about different cultures but also as a form of wellness. However, he noticed that upon returning from trips, he’d experience a little bit of anxiety and sadness on the way back home to the Midwest.

“There’s no place like home but home is attached with so much pressure and anxiety, less freedom and stressful situations,” he said. “And we happen to normalize it because this is where we come from.”

Geotrauma In America

In a Sage Journal article titled “Geotrauma: Violence, Place and Repossession,” writer Rachel Pain described geotrauma as “multiscalar, intersecting and mutual relations between trauma and place.” According to the National Institutes of Health, responses to trauma can include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and avoidance of emotions associated with the trauma.

While the geotrauma theory is still growing in psychological research, Miller believes African-Americans and other disenfranchised communities experience anxiety at a higher rate when they live in urban neighborhoods. For Miller, travel has played a major role in overcoming geotrauma from growing up on the southside of Chicago. However, he realizes many Black men have been unable to see the world the way they’d like to.

“When you’re coming up in a neighborhood like this and you don’t have a lot of opportunity and all you see is what’s in front of you, you kind of just repeat it,” he said.

A Different Norm

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Photo credit: Pavel Danilyuk

Despite splitting his time between Chicago and St. Louis, the chiropractor noticed a stark contrast between life at home and being abroad. While visiting Europe, he felt a sense of relief that was unmatched.

“I could actually relax and actually breathe,” he said. “People were outside on the corner and they’re having tea and conversations and you’re not worried about someone coming up to you with a gun. That’s not their norm.”

When it was time to return to Chicago, however, Miller knew he had to go back to his norm. He felt anxious on the plane ride home. It was bittersweet. As much as he loved Chicago, the pressure and trauma associated with home was heavy.

“That’s still your home,” Miller said. “You still have an emotional attachment towards your upbringing and value there. But there is a level of stress associated with living there.”

Shifting Perspectives Through Exposure

Brad Edwards, community organizer for digital storytelling platform Dear Fathers, said traveling gives Black men exposure to things outside of their norm. He remembers his father taking him out of town as a child. The experiences helped to mold and shift his reality beyond life at home.

“It helped me to develop and see different things and understand there’s more to this world than what exists on my neighborhood street or in my city or municipality,” Edwards said.

Edwards said travel helps to shift the perspective of Black men beyond the perception of them that is portrayed to the world and in their communities. In addition to using travel to overcome trauma at home, he also believes it’s important for Black men to travel so the world can see who they truly are.

“We’re not all athletes, rappers, or criminals,” he said. “The more that you have the successful Black man in the world, traveling and doing different things, the more the world sees that the image they often see in the media is not the true essence of who the Black man is.”

Miller also encourages more Black men to see the world and to open up to the world seeing them. He says wellness is the strength of the Black man and that sometimes they have to leave home to find refuge from triggers and trauma.

“You have to get away from things that are triggering to heal from it,” he said.