Genealogy, Storytelling and Racial Healing – Detroit

The project sessions were led by New Detroit staff and journey guides in the fields of genealogy, history and mental health:
Robert Smith, Founder, HistoryRemake – Historian
Shaun Thomas, President, Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society – Genealogist
Leslie C. Strong Williams, Lead Genealogical Research Journey Guide, Fred Williams Genealogical Society – Genealogist
Dr. Rose Moten, LP – Founder & Director, BLOOM Transformation Center
Jodi Luster, LMSW, CPCM, Mental Health Specialist
Bethany Hedden, LLMSW, Lecturer, Wayne State University, UofM-Dearborn
Janet Ray, LMSW, President, Mission Lift – Evaluator
Satori Shakoor, Executive Director, The Society for the Re-Institutionalization of Storytelling
Joy D. Calloway, MBA, MHSA, Public Speaker, Corporate Trainer – Mental Health Specialist

Participants were representatives from:
New Detroit’s Board
Warrior Women Against Poverty
Multicultural Leadership Series
Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers
Plante Moran Communications Media Arts High School
Coalition On Temporary Shelter
Oak Park High School
Communications Media Arts High School
CHW Museum of African American History
The community at large

Partner Organizations:
BLOOM Transformation Center
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
InsideOut Literary Arts

The Experience:
DNA testing was encouraged (but not required) to improve participants understanding of their individual genetic background. Shaun Thomas and Leslie Strong Williams (president and past president respectively) of the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society introduced participants to the eleven basic steps and research methodologies one takes to conduct genealogical research.

Participants learned how to navigate genealogical websites, online tools and resources, including:, and; learn about the importance of visiting local and national research facilities, i.e., libraries, archives, repositories, historical and genealogical societies, federal, state and county records departments to view documents firsthand; conduct oral history interviews; to compile and organize their research while facilitating the construction of their family tree. Participants left the session(s) equipped with instructions on how to interview their family members as part of their ancestry research and shape their family story.

Historian and author Robert Smith, Founder of HistoryRemake unravel some of the myths about race through the study of the History of the Creation and Use of Race as a Concept. Attendees covered when, how, and why the concept of race was created and its role in contemporary society. Dr. Robert Smith’s lecture entitled The Evolution of Race: The Origins and Impact of Race within the contexts of the History of Detroit traced human history, described the emergence of the creation of race as a part of European colonization, and the dehumanization of black persons. Dr. Smith described racism as a social disease as he traced the last 5,000 years of written human history, articulating that the construct of race emerged in the 1500s, within the last 500 years of our written historical account. He connected the creation of race and negative images of black individuals as integral to the expansion of Europe and the processes of colonization. Because black persons were/are viewed as animals, this dehumanization process, allow(ed) whites to treat people of color poorly without any feelings of guilt. Noting that the Civil War was the most important moment as it is the beginning of this nation, Dr. Smith stated that Amendments added to the U.S. Constitution (13, 14, and 15) have not been upheld and as a result Black Americans have fought and still are fighting to activate, realize, and defend. His session covered the history of the slave trade, Civil War, Great Migration, and blacks in Detroit. During the session, participants discussed colonization, race vs. ethnicity, family, home, inter-generational trauma, resilience of people of color self-identity, the need for racial healing and empowerment.

Addressing topics about race and racism are sensitive and sometimes painful, therefore we involved mental health specialists to lead the racial healing sessions to mitigate the difficult emotions that arose during the project. NDI hosted a Racial Healing session at Detroit’s BLOOM Transformation Center, a full-service wellness center founded by Detroit native Dr. Rose Moten. BLOOM Transformation Center features a host of healing modalities such as Ancient Gong (Sound) Meditation Therapy, Revolutionary Trauma, and Stress Release Exercises. NDI’s Marshalle Montgomery-Favors opened the session with a few videos to contextualize the overall arch of the project for participants and then asked, “How has race impacted you personally? Several responses were provided that touched on racism as a cognitive disorder— people doing it [engaging in racist behaviors] and believing in it [racist ideology] but do not think of themselves as racist. Another participant spoke to the effects of generational racism within the African American community. During this session the participants shared their experiences with race and ways to heal from them. Some participants stated race has not affected their mental health because they believe they are as good as everyone else or because they are comfortable with who they are. Others believe their mental health is altered because of suppression and judgement of people of color.

Participants were led through a series of six Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) to tax the body in order to encourage its natural tremor response. TRE is a simple yet innovative series of exercises that assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma. Tremors discharge stress chemicals which otherwise get frozen in the body. Trauma release discharges this frozen/stuck tension that is affecting you emotionally and physically and is effective even decades after the trauma occurred. Participants reported learning physical exercises to release stress, especially related to racial healing was helpful.

After partaking in the Genealogy and Storytelling Racial Healing Project, participants believed race is socially constructed. Participants reported having a greater understanding of their racial identity, felt empowered by clarifying their own racial history and more informed about how race and classism has impacted people throughout history. Some participants felt awareness, learning, and sharing experiences promoted the racial healing process. Though some felt the conversations could be traumatic, they agreed that NDI created a safe space in which to have them.