Danielle Hairston-Green, Ph.D., CFCS-HDFS is the director of the University of Wisconsin – Madison Extension’s Human Development and Relationships Institute. The organization is working with the Urban League of Greater Madison to implement an innovative statewide fatherhood initiative in Wisconsin that has the potential to duplicated globally.

As the institute director, Hairston-Green works to meet the needs and save the lives of families across 72 counties. One of her team’s priority areas is to be more intentional in programming that targets the needs of fathers across the state. More specifically, non-custodial fathers who are dealing with a system not designed to be as supportive of fathers as they are with mothers.

“As a mother of three adults, two males and one female, I have seen first-hand the devastating affects my son endured while fighting against a system for custodial rights that wasn’t designed to help fathers. I’m excited about this collaboration,” says Hairston-Green. “Our goal is to implement an annual fatherhood resource fair in the city of Madison and a Fatherhood Leadership Institute, training fathers to become peer mentors and connecting them with resources to strengthen their knowledge and advocacy around supporting custodial and non-custodial fathers as they navigate through becoming stronger and present fathers.”

This ground-breaking effort is a unique collaboration between the Urban League and UW Madison Extension given the Extension has never had a partnership with the Urban League in the past. The agency is hopeful to benefit from the expertise and success of the League’ previous fatherhood programs.

Likewise, the Urban League has an opportunity to benefit from the Extension’s association with a tier one research institution (UW-Madison). This partnership will help both groups to not only implement a much-needed initiative across the state but also collect data necessary to support its sustainability.

Hairston-Green holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership (Higher Education Administration) from Prairie View A&M University, a master’s degree in community psychology and social change and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Penn State University and a National Certification in human development and family studies.

She recently shared time with UMOJA senior contributor Anaré V. Holmes to discuss her background in community psychology, her scholarly research, mental health challenges that undermine strong families and how our readers can overcome those barriers.

 

UMOJA: What is community psychology, and what inspired you to pursue a master’s degree in the field?

Hairston-Green: The discipline of community psychology and social change is an intersection between psychology and sociology. It’s a program that emphasizes leadership, community development, social activism, and public advocacy. When I pursued the master’s degree in the discipline, I was working for a youth advocacy organization where I was a mobile therapist and an adolescent health educator concerned about the health, education, and safety of our young people.

I became interested in developing my knowledge and expertise that would shape my ability to assess public needs, understand the impact of community structures upon individuals and explore the techniques best suited to initiate productive solutions to social issues impacting the Pennsylvania community that I lived in.

UMOJA: Researchers and scholars are now looking at trauma in a broader sense beyond just examples of soldiers and prisoners of war or those who suffered from physical and sexual violence and abuse, how do you define trauma and how can readers heal from it?

Hairston-Green: Trauma is an emotional response to any life experience, including an accident (major or minor), sexual assault, natural disaster ( such as storms like Katrina and Dorian). The reactions to these types of incidents are usually shock and denial or emotions that are unpredictable. Sometimes they will include having frequent flashbacks, strained relationships and in some cases have physical symptoms associated with it. Healing from trauma can be long term and multifaceted. However, seeking professional help is essential. The earlier professional advice is received the quicker healing can begin.

Staying away from alcohol and drugs is important because these substances can exacerbate the symptoms of trauma. Spending time with family and loved ones, exercising, and getting [adequate] sleep can be ways that a person who is dealing with trauma can initiate self-care and begin the process of healing.

 

UMOJA: You study aggression? Why that area of focus? What can we learn from your work and research?

Hairston-Green: The work that I have done is primarily on microaggression. This term was coined by African American professor and psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in 1970. The term referred to subtle behavior that can be verbal or non-verbal (conscious or unconscious) that unintentionally expresses prejudiced towards a marginalized group that has a harmful and derogatory effect. My first exploration of this topic was as a group research project for my graduate students following issues of racial tension associated with an incident involving a student portraying black face on her social media who was a white student attending the HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) on an academic scholarship.

The issue sparked outrage on campus and led my students to begin thinking about the effect of microaggressions on students that may be occurring at an HBCU. Most of the research on microaggression looked at it from the lens of minority students attending predominantly white institutions. This research looked at several areas, including disability, sexual orientation, gender, race, and body shaming.

We looked at the frequency, and the level to which students of color were experiencing microaggression on campus and the findings were significant — mainly related to the level of intensity and rate at which students of color experienced microaggression associated with their sexual orientation and body shaming — from other students as well as their educators. It was the first time this work was done on this campus. It began to open up dialogue around microaggression as more than a black/white binary that has significant implications even on historically black campuses.

 

UMOJA: We still live in a culture where many believe we have to “man and woman up” in terms of dealing with personal challenges. Some don’t fully understand how clinical depression, anxiety, and stress impact our health. Why is that and how do we change this reality?

Hairston-Green: This is unfortunate because it can cause family members and loved ones to not reach out for help because those that they trust and love don’t understand the impact of clinical depression, anxiety, and stress.

In African American culture, especially among men, we tend to not reach out for help because of various reasons. Sometimes it is because of historical, generational distrust for mental health professionals; and, for males, it could be associated with the lack of mental health professionals that are African American males.

Families and loved ones have to know that depression, anxiety, and stress has a major impact on an individual’s health and it can’t be turned off at the request of “just get over it” or “just pray about it.” It is a process. For many it is a life-long battle.

Everyone deals with trauma differently; some may be able to function normally, and others may not. As individuals, we respond to losing a loved one, miscarriages, loss of a job, diagnosis of a terminal illness or divorce differently.

What may work for one person may not work for another, and it’s not about ‘manning up.’ It’s about educating ourselves as a community and family around historical and generational trauma, depression, anxiety and stress and finding ways that we can help our loved ones cope and consistently share resources that will help them to live productive and comfortable lives.

Some of the signs of depression could be lack of interest in something that you and your family members use to love doing, social isolation, increase use of substances like alcohol or marijuana, extreme weight changes, emotional outbursts, frequent negative thoughts, and sleep pattern changes.

 

UMOJA: Strong communities start with strong families. What are some tips readers can implement to have better interpersonal relationships within our families, friendships and romantic partnerships?
  1. Being available. Actively showing up to support your family member during times of celebration and during times of crisis.
  2. Active listening: When a person feels like they are being heard and listened to, they feel more connected and respected.
  3. Create traditions: Families that create traditions tend to be stronger and closer, such as annual vacations, weekly luncheons, monthly family dinners, or having breakfast together daily.
  4. Practice mindfulness: Take time to stop and reflect on the relationships that you have in your life. Think about what you love about the people in your life and how you add value to their lives and how they add value to your life. Take time to be grateful for the relationship that you have and also think of the relationships that you have that may be toxic and think of how you may be enabling the toxicity or ways in which you can begin moving away from it. Taking time to reflect is not only calming and reflective, but it also helps us to be more patient and forgiving of those that we are in relationships with.
  5. Laugh more: There is so much going on in the world to be sad and angry about. Find space in your relationship to laugh, from the belly. Research shows laughter is healthy and associated with longevity, strengthening of the immune system, boosts your mood, decreases pain, and protects you from the damaging impact of stress. 
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