Editor's Note: At times, I encounter topics and fields of study that I find to be important to let speak, to let "breathe" in stories. This means that I do not focus on the length of the story, but rather the importance of the words. Now, I understand this can make things quite long to read. But I believe some things are worth highlighting in their entirety. These stories will be designated with "Observer In-Depth" in their headlines. I hope this kind of storytelling is appreciated by my readers. - Daniel Thompson, The Uptown Observer owner, founder and editor-in-chief
KENOSHA ⏤ Dr. Dominique Pritchett knows what it’s like to not have a voice.
Her knowledge of hard times has pushed her to work her best to ensure her clients not only elevate their own voice, but are at peace with it as well.
On Monday, Pritchett held her ribbon cutting and grand opening for her new practice, Beloved Wellness Center. The business is located in Kenosha in the building at 3530 30th Avenue. It can be found in Suite 207 on the second floor of the building. Along with Pritchett, Dr. Monica Cummings is part of the practice.
‘Mental health chose me’
“I like to think I didn’t get into mental health; mental health chose me,” Pritchett said, when asked by the Observer about her chosen field.
Pritchett, a Waukegan native, moved to the Kenosha community in the fourth grade. Unfortunately, she and her six siblings were moving directly into homelessness.
“Growing up, being homeless off and on until the day I turned 18 and went to college, it taught me a lot about life; it taught me a lot about resilience and speaking up,” she said. “For so many years I had my voice taken as a survivor of domestic, sexual and emotional violence and abuse; I was taught not to have a voice.
“So when I realized that there was someone there who actually wanted to hear my story, who actually wanted to help me heal ⏤ this happened in college ⏤ I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
A city of resources
Living in Waukegan as the second-oldest child of seven then moving to Kenosha gave Pritchett a unique perspective of the city.
“Kenosha is a city of resources,” she said. “Yes, it has its own challenges. But it has its own strengths. I work for a lot of agencies in this town, and we look at consumers and clients from all over the United States. And I would always ask them that question, ‘How did you find Kenosha?’ And I suppose it’s the same way my mother found Kenosha.”
It’s a city between two major hubs, Chicago and Milwaukee, she explained.
Trauma a common word here
While its location often ⏤ to some ⏤ meant distance from big-city issues, that all changed this summer. On Aug. 23, 2020, Kenosha Police Department Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in his back.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley has yet to announce whether or not there will be charges against Sheskey in the shooting.
One of the areas Pritchett has research in and thrives in is addressing trauma. In fact, that is the basis of Beloved Wellness Center.
“I built my practice on addressing trauma, specifically race-related trauma, colorism and other challenges that are birthed out of chaotic situations,” Pritchett said. “So when we think of stress-related paranoia, it’s a derivative of trauma in itself. So when we think of paranoia and trauma, it is the perceived threat that you will be harmed. It’s a frequent state of paranoia, and it’s triggered by ongoing stress.”
What’s unique about Kenosha
What’s unique about Kenosha is,“yes, we know there is an ongoing trauma due to the recent shooting and recent unrest in the city,” she said.
As a result, that stress-related paranoia even surfaces during the healing process.
“So I’ve questioned a lot of people, ‘What good are we or how can we start healing if we’re not even trusting each other?’ But paranoia definitely comes from that perceived and frequent state of threat, safety and not feeling heard for so long, ‘Who can I trust in this world as I try to heal?’
“So there’s a turning on each other.”
‘But this shook our city’
Pritchett acknowledges that the same issues that led to the Blake shooting have been apparent in the city for a while.
“When this happened in Kenosha ⏤ and there have been many incidents since I’ve lived here that have happened in Kenosha that are related to racial inequality, injustice and unfairness ⏤ but this shook our city.
‘What side of history are you standing on?’
This realization caused residents to press officials with reactions to the effect of, “What side of history are you standing on?” she said.
“And I think a lot of people are trying to protect their positions, their city positions, state, local, federal, whatever positions, because it’s a complicated issue,” the mental health professional said. “But they have to answer to someone. But basically, at a meeting I observed online, when you have a room of all white representatives who are supposed to offer fair, equal, treatment for all, how can you possibly do that?
“So the trust is now lost as the issue comes to the surface.”
‘Only tackle one thing at a time’
Thinking about unpacking the events of 2020, Pritchett refers back to the ability to effectively tackle one thing at a time with clients.
COVID-19 disparities in state
COVID-19 is perhaps the topic that has defined 2020. And while the overall numbers are cause for alarm, the numbers among different demographics highlight different battles.
For instance, in the state of Wisconsin, the Black population ⏤ makes up 6.7% of the state’s total population, according to the Census Bureau.
According to the state Department of Health Services, positive cases of COVID-19 in the state are proportionate to the overall Black population in the state at 6.7% ⏤ 23,753 as of Monday morning.
However, when it comes to COVID-19 deaths, the percentage increases to 9.3% ⏤ 279 of the 3,005 reported so far this week ⏤ 2.6% disproportionate to its place in state demographics.
According to the Kenosha County COVID-19 dashboard, Kenosha County’s Black population makes up 7.5% of local positive COVID-19 cases. That is only .1% above the percentage the Black community takes of the Kenosha County population at 7.4%, according to the Census Bureau.
Unlike the state numbers, Kenosha County deaths among the Black population are below its population percentage in the county at 4% ⏤ five deaths as of Monday out of the total 125 in the county.
Disparaging COVID-19 numbers’ impact on mental health
“Out of all the things that have happened, when there is a disparity between data and numbers, it means something different for different people,” Pritchett said. “It’s compounded. It’s complicated. We can talk about trauma, talk about the COVID numbers. We can talk about the unemployment rate. And even continued unjustified shootings of Black and brown people. It means something different.
“So when I’m working with my clients, there are so many lenses that I have to process the here and now in.”
Specifically when speaking about Black and brown people, it’s hard to even catch a breath, she said.
“For Black and brown people, we’ve been fighting to get ahead ⏤ no matter if it’s a pandemic, an epidemic or whatever ⏤ for 400-plus years,” Pritchett said. “So how do we catch our breath as a culture? It’s hard to answer. But when working with so many different and diverse people, we’ve got to be present now.
“Because to stay yesterday, we’re not thriving today.”
‘The paranoia boils up’
However, the focus on possible futures, too, can lead to issues.
This most often shows in the form of fear in the recent time of unrest in Kenosha, and paranoia about what might happen.
“The paranoia, that boils up when repeated incidents happen,” she said. “But when we look at the origination of why these things are happening, it is embedded in a culture of racism, microaggressions, inequality. So naturally, people become paranoid and they ask themselves that question: ‘Did this person shoot that person because they were Black or did they shoot that person because they were scared for their life?’
‘That is trauma’
That line of thinking, Pritchett said, boils down to one issue, yet without a one-size-fits-all cause.
“That is trauma,” the mental health professional said. “Flight or fight, hypervigilance, the paranoia, and out of that symptomatology, we start to see psychopathology, depression, anxiety, perhaps agoraphobia. And that is the line of work where I thrive in.
“But also, it is heartbreaking work because the biggest question is, ‘How do you eradicate racism? How do you shatter it?’ But to know that is the pebble in the pond and the ripple effect is all the collateral damage that comes along with it. We could speak for our children; I can’t speak for them, but I can educate on how trauma, intergenerational trauma impacts children.”
‘Embedded in my ‘DNA’ to have a trauma response’
Intergenerational trauma does not only impact the Black or brown child, she stressed.
Children brought up in racist homes also experience intergenerational trauma.
“To not give that child a fighting chance to be their own self and their own identity. … Let’s look at racism and trauma for a woman who has not birthed a child. As a black woman, it is embedded in my ‘DNA’ to have a trauma response as it relates to being a Black or brown person.
Society’s lack of addressing mental health aspect of things
Even as this trauma exists, the stigma of admitting the trauma exists continues to be a roadblock to treatment for many.
“You know, when I hear stories from my grandma from her childhood, you couldn’t dare talk about that,” she said. “Everybody had that ‘Uncle Joe’. But nobody could talk about it.
“And if I am involved in an institution ⏤ such as a workplace ⏤ and I can’t even be vulnerable and admit ‘I’m struggling today,’” she continued, “how does that help me contribute to the greater cause of upholding your mission as a company, giving back to my community, being part of the healing process, when I can’t even authentically and vulnerably say, ‘I’m not okay.’”
‘It hasn’t come up’
Pritchett has seen this seeming blindspot for mental health issues even in conversations with local officials. Particularly, Pritchett did not see mental health services as a part of the plans to strengthen the city.
In fact, some told her it “actually has not come up” in conversations, she recalled.
“How can it not? Everything we touch, do, believe, see and feel starts with a thought,” she told the Observer. “Our thoughts reflect our feelings and our feelings reflect our actions and behaviors or not.
“So when we talk about institutional racism, if it is not embedded in the culture to shatter racism and promote mental wellness, how is it doing any different then they did 100 years ago by disenfranchising people, by telling them, ‘You can’t read. You can’t do certain things.’”
‘Hell yeah they’re listening now’
In her judgement, “the tragedies of this world don’t happen by accident.”
“Many institutions foster a culture where they don’t talk about it, ‘If you we don’t know about it, it won’t happen,’” Pritchett said.
‘Normal is strange, and strange is normal’
When asked by the Observer what she felt it would take for people or the city to return to “normal,” Pritchett rightly first corrected the idea.
“Normal is strange, and strange is normal,” she said.
Further, she highlighted that people simply admitting out loud racism exists has “taken over 400 years.”
She doesn’t see meaningful progress taking place unless black lives truly matter, she said.
“And I live and I breathe having equal or diverse representation in everything. Because when we start thinking and processing in silos, we are doing our constituents, our customers and our clients a disservice.”
‘I want a fighting chance for myself as a Black woman’
Those who have encountered Pritchett in her professional capacity know that she is a role model for Black professionals.
She’s courteous, yet does not allow disrespect or disinformation.
As a Black woman, she can be more vulnerable.
When asked what she personally wants Kenosha to be, she couldn’t help but have to hold back tears.
While apologizing for the emotional interruption to the interview ⏤which the Observer took absolutely no issue with ⏤ Pritchett composed herself and offered a raw and honest response.
“That’s a hard question because, as an individual who does not have children yet, I desire to have an invested interest to bring a child into this world. I’ve talked to many other individuals without children, and there is this deep fear of, ‘Am I birthing a child to have them killed?’
‘The good, the bad and the ugly as hell’
Pritchett equated the response to the one needed to address the other hot topic issue of climate change.
“It’s going to take everybody’s part to heal this world,” she said. “ But it’s going to start with one community and one household. I challenge individuals to have those conversations with your children.
“Give my future children a chance.”
Pritchett has shed a lot of tears and broken down with other community members in recent months.
All she asks now is that the community looks at itself honestly and with a desire to be better.
“I have walked until I’ve gotten blisters on my feet; I’ve been attacked by the police as a peaceful protester,” Pritchett said. “I want us to share many more experiences, but not at the hands of unjustified shootings or killings.
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