More than 120 advocates gathered in Kansas City, MO on October 6 and 7 at the annual conference of Empower Missouri, an NLIHC state partner, to explore the personal and social impacts of trauma. Advocates heard from nationally-recognized speakers about how a trauma-informed approach can improve the quality of life in the state and help shape health care delivery, public policy, and news reporting. Trauma is an event experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful and/or life threatening that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and social, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
Nancy D. Spargo, founder and CEO of St. Louis Center for Family Development, offered a pre-conference workshop titled “Re-Writing the Trauma Narrative” to share recent research on trauma and toxic stress and their connections to social conditions like poverty and hunger.
Tonier Cain, a survivor of severe childhood physical and sexual abuse, provided a riveting opening plenary keynote speech. Ms. Cain spoke of her more than eighty arrests and repeated incarcerations for drug and sex-trade related offenses until finally receiving trauma-informed therapies while pregnant in prison. Thanks to the program and her own considerable efforts, Ms. Cain is now a filmmaker, author, entrepreneur, and an attentive and caring parent.
Among the many conference workshops was one on the “Trauma of Evictions,” which documented the personal difficulties one faces in overcoming an eviction and the rise in illegal lockout evictions in St. Louis, MO (see Memo, 9/19). Empower Missouri members adopted participation in organizing efforts to challenge illegal evictions in St. Louis as their primary housing priority for 2017. They hope that this organizing work in St. Louis will be replicated statewide as the movement grows and achieves success.
Andrea Blanch, a consultant with the National Center on Trauma Informed Care, spoke at the evening awards banquet. During her presentation titled “This Changes Everything,” Ms. Blanch praised the Missouri Department of Mental Health and other agencies that are building a strong trauma-informed movement in the state.
Three awards were presented at the banquet. Jay Angoff, an attorney at Mehri & Skalet in Washington, DC, received the Rory Ellinger Award for Public Interest Litigation. Mr. Angoff, a former Missouri insurance commissioner and Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation director, filed lawsuits on behalf of ACA Missouri Marketplace insurance navigators and led efforts to perform the first health insurance rate review in Missouri for plans offered on the Federal Exchange in 2016. Missouri State Representative Judy Morgan (District 24, Jackson County) received the Herman & Dorothy Johnson Local Advocate Award for her actions to close the Medicaid coverage gap, raise the minimum wage, and reform Missouri’s tax system. St. Louis-based Places for People Executive Director Joe Yancey received the Elaine Aber Humanitarian Award for decades of service to persons with mental illness and for his strong leadership as co-chair of Alive and Well STL, a community-wide effort focused on reducing the impact of toxic stress and trauma on health and well-being.
The conference closed with a panel on the role and responsibility of the media in promoting a more trauma-informed Missouri. Panelists included Nancy Cambria from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Brittany Ruess from the Columbia Daily Tribune, and Mary Sanchez from the Kansas City Star.
Empower Missouri advocates for the well-being of all Missourians through civic leadership, education, and research. Founded in 1901, the organization has operated under four names, including Missouri Association for Social Welfare from 1933 until 2014, and has focused continuously on improving public policy in order to ensure access to basic human needs and to promote equity. Vickie Riddle and Nicole McKoy are co-chairs of Empower Missouri's Affordable Housing and Homelessness Task Force.