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Where Culture Meets Grief: This Center Uses History, Traditions To Help Deal With Loss

The COVID Racial Data Tracker, a joint project of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center and the COVID Tracking Project, reported in May that black people are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people. They also account for 23% of COVID-19 deaths where race is known.
The COVID Racial Data Tracker, a joint project of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center and the COVID Tracking Project, reported in May that black people are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people. They also account for 23% of COVID-19 deaths where race is known.

The Children's Bereavement Center recently concluded a four-session training series for providers, and the community at large, to better understand historical context and traditions around grief and loss in the Black community.

The Children's Bereavement Center runs free support groups in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

For the past few years, the center has been trying to add cultural understanding to grief trainings. That's continued, virtually, during the pandemic in South Florida. The virtual speaker series focused on where cultural history and traditions meet grief. In this series specifically — Black grief.

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The speaker series for providers, and the community at-large, came out of an idea that was started in Overtown about two years ago.

"We started asking people, you know, what particular topics regarding grief would you find most helpful?" said psychologist Daniel Sheridan. He is the clinical director for the Children's Bereavement Center.

As the pandemic wore on, Sheridan saw how disproportionately Black communities were being affected.

"It became readily apparent to us that grief within the Black and African American community was a significant issue and it wasn't getting the attention that it really needed," Sheridan said.

Psychologist Shareefah Al'Uqdah, from Howard University in Washington D.C., was among the speakers at the latest virtual event and she talked about how social justice intersects with grief after someone dies in the Black community.

"Some West African traditions include this idea of calling on our ancestors. And this idea, I think, was definitely advanced with the 'Say Her Name' movement," she said. "Right? Like, if I speak their names, then they are still amongst us."

Al'Uqdah also talked about the history around Black grief — and how that narrative is now starting to change with how people feel they can treat themselves.

"We do have to begin to shift this narrative and help people understand that rest is not this passive thing. It is an active form of self care, it's an active form of healing," she said. "And It's so crazy because we see it legitimately right now ... like with Simone Biles."

Olympic gymnast Biles dropped out of some of her competitions last week to focus on her mental health after mounting pressure on the Olympic stage. She announced she will be returning to compete this week, in the balance beam finals.

The Children's Bereavement Center is planning more of these lunch-and-learn-style grief training sessions in the future and Sheridan expects culture will continue to play a role.

"It's a conversation we have with the South Florida community and we build it from there," said Sheridan. "We need to be culturally informed in the work that we do and the way in which we interact with people ... so I imagine that culture will continue to be an important part of the education and training we provide."