YA!’s Nicky MacCallum’s Assembly testimony: the affects of gun violence on youth mental health

Posted: December 17, 2019

Expert Testimony

In December, Youth ALIVE!’s Counseling Services Director Nicky MacCallum testified at a State Assembly hearing on the impact of gun violence on youth mental health. Nicky is a healer and an internationally-recognized expert in trauma. Here’s what she had to say and her recommendations:

Counseling Director Nicky MacCallum is on the far right.

“Thank you for this opportunity.

Before talking about the specifics of the work of Youth ALIVE! It is important to acknowledge that much of our work occurs, “downstream.”  For long-term sustainable change to occur there is much work to be done “upstream,” in addressing the issues of trauma as a public health and social justice issue.  Long term, sustained healing requires a safe, equitable, culturally responsive, healing environment; and that requires change at the highest levels of institutional power. Change that recognizes youth are not bad, sick, or crazy, but hurt and in need of healing.  Systems and institutions that talk of using a trauma informed healing centered lens, need to, first turn that lens into a mirror and hold themselves accountable for their actions and the way in which those actions contribute to ongoing further traumatization of communities of color.

The terms Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and trauma are often used interchangeably.  PTSD is a clinical diagnosis and many people exposed to trauma may not meet the diagnostic requirements for PTSD but this doesn’t mean the trauma they have experienced is any less impactful.  “Post Trauma” does not apply in a community that is constantly being re-traumatized. PTSD fails to take into account the accumulation of stress brought on by poverty, racism/ discrimination and victimization at the hands of those who are supposed to be in the position to help, specifically police, schools, health care and social services. Too often youth who are dealing with trauma are misdiagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiance, and other disorders, resulting in mistreatment, frustration, and hopelessness. Youth themselves who lack an understanding of trauma and its consequences often internalize their own stress and conclude that violence is inevitable or is their “destiny.”

Too often youth who are dealing with trauma are misdiagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiance, and other disorders, resulting in mistreatment, frustration, and hopelessness.

One statistic we are very clear on is that when left unaddressed trauma that involves violence is highly likely to result in further violence. Hurt people hurt people.  40% of people who get shot are shot again within two years. Through trauma informed, healing centered, culturally responsive service delivery, of those served by Youth Alive’s Caught in the Crossfire Program, fewer than 1% are shot again.

At Youth ALIVE! We believe that healing is possible. We believe that healing prevents violence and saves lives.  We believe we all have a role to play in addressing violence as a public health and social justice issue.

Youth ALIVE! Is an Oakland based organization that began in 1991. To prevent violence and create young leaders through programs focusing on Prevention, Intervention, & Healing. Our frontline staff includes individuals who grew up in the communities they serve. We value real life experience as much as degrees, and certifications.  All staff receive extensive training in trauma and violence as issues of public health and social justice, trauma informed, healing centered engagement, and the importance of provider wellness. We empower clients by offering information about the signs and symptoms of trauma to help people recognize they are not “crazy,” “sick,” or “bad.”  For many learning about trauma symptoms helps them to recognize they are experiencing normal reactions to what should be a very abnormal experience. While our community deals with violence every day, it is important that we never accept violence as “normal” And acceptable.

We work collaboratively with our clients, and their support systems, always recognizing that they are the experts on their own experience, and we serve them where they feel most comfortable.

When looking at statistical information related to trauma, it is important to consider what metric was used to measure trauma.  If meeting the diagnosis of PTSD was part of the statistical analysis, the results are inherently biased.  The same is true of assuming every evidence-based practice that has worked in one environment will work in another.  Listening to the community, utilizing culturally responsive interventions, and gathering practice based evidence as a result of this collaboration is essential in effective trauma intervention.


      • Invest in trauma informed, healing centered education and support that recognizes trauma and violence as public health and social justice issues for all engaged in decision making regarding the wellbeing of youth. Training and support for school staff, medical and behavioral health care service providers, child and family services, law enforcement and juvenile justice, and public officials in order to support their ability to effectively serve trauma survivors.
      • Recognize that the community and the individuals within it are the experts on their experience. Collaborate with community in identifying needs and ways to effectively address those needs. Then follow through utilizing their input at all stages of development and implementation
      • Recognize that evidence based practices are only helpful if they have been proven to help the community we are serving. Practiced based evidence that comes by and from the community, and that meets people where they are at, is an essential component on the path to healing.
      • Increase funding that is not tied to a diagnosis of “PTSD,” and that recognizes and respects a broader range of trauma experience.
      • Support services shaped around actual need rather than trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
      • More engagement with community leaders and indigenous healers, mentors, and when needed, therapy services available to those who want them.
      • Support opportunities for education and training that increase the number of mentors, life coaches, therapists, and other providers from underrepresented communities
      • When therapy is necessary, bring therapy out of the clinic and into the community to increase engagement and success.
      • Support expressive arts, sports, community gardens, mindfulness practices, restorative practices.
      • Support the work of organizations like Youth ALIVE!, RYSE, and others with more funding for staff, and more discretionary funds that can be used to meet the unique needs of those we serve.
      • Be Humble, open and willing to learn from community experts, and willing to use your power and privilege to challenge and dismantle oppressive systems and institutions that contribute to trauma impact”