More Than “Just Mercy,” A Path to Healing Racial Trauma

More Than “Just Mercy,” A Path to Healing Racial Trauma December 14, 2019

A week before the release of the highly anticipated movie, “Just Mercy,” Sheila Wise Rowe released her book, Healing Racial Trauma – The Road to Resilience (InterVarsity, 2020).This resource provides manna from heaven for those traumatized by racial oppression and serves as an invaluable primer for anyone who desires to grow in their understanding and engagement with the battle to combat racism. Her book launch party behind her, Sheila sat down with us to share some additional insights about healing racial trauma and where we find ourselves on matters of race during this election year and the responsibility we all have in working towards overcoming the divide.

In the beginning of your book you define eight different types of racism. Which type has impacted your life most profoundly?

I’d say interpersonal and systemic racism when I was younger and later when we were raising our kids. There was so much labeling of people going on and it was everywhere: public schools, Catholic, Christian schools. We tried them all. We moved to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2005 and when we returned in 2016 the racism was relentless, as though everyone had been given carte blanche permission to say whatever and do whatever they wanted—to anyone. The words coming out of the White House gave permission for this behavior and that’s been hard. It gets wearying and I have to be on my knees. The activists around me are literally burning out so building reliance is key to persevering in our day.

On pg. 139 you state, “He (Jesus) destroyed the dividing wall. It’s up to us to stop rebuilding it.” You describe an aspect of rebuilding as taking “positive action.” What does that look like?

I’m excited about some of the positive action I’m seeing here in Boston. The mayor recently spoke in his “State of the City” address about providing money for poor working folks who can no longer afford to live in our city where a one bedroom apartment can cost $2,500 a month. He’s setting aside money to help people in need stay to avoid pushing people out. We can all ask ourselves, what resources can I provide to help people of color stay in my neighborhood? Also, asking the questions, looking at ways racism is systemic, where it is ‘baked in the cake’ and do some necessary repair work. In your workplace, if you know there is an income discrepancy between you and a person of color doing a similar job, what are you doing about it? All of these questions and actions first come from a place on our knees, asking the Lord what he is calling us to do on both a macro and a micro level.

We are living in a culture of rage, a culture contrary to the teachings of the Bible with regard to our neighbors. In the chapter entitled “Rage” you quote Ephesians 4:25-27, a passage about speaking truth to our neighbors, but not letting the sun go down on our anger. Do you think the devil is gaining ground in America because of our unbridled, unleashing of rage?

In the chapter on Rage, Carla is one of the people who discusses the source of her rage and how she deals with it. She attended the book launch party and asked the audience, ‘Can White people make space for our rage?’ When we just pile rage upon rage the enemy is going to have a field day, but we can’t totally demonize rage because that way the root of the problem doesn’t get addressed. It’s about coming to the Lord in lament with our rage. We have to be aware and prayerful, asking him to show us the source of our rage. As we invite him to “take every thought captive and make it subject to Christ” we invite him to take our rage and heal the underlying pain.

You identify some critical steps toward building resilience and healing from racial trauma. You mention journaling and creating art as a means by which you care for your physical body and release stress. Could you describe your process in these areas?

I do journal every morning as part of my quiet time or I find myself scattered throughout the day. I read some scripture and write down what it’s saying to me and then listen for what the Lord might be saying. I also write down how I’m feeling, ‘It’s cloudy and I’m a little depressed today,’  so I pour that out to the Lord in writing as a prayer. I also have an art studio in my basement where I create things, mostly in acrylic. I love to go to galleries and take art classes when I can afford them. Basically, I try to keep my life balanced so that I don’t burn out. As a counselor I encounter people’s pain continually and I give their pain over to the Lord as well as my own.

Brian Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy begins with a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, “Love is the motivation, justice is the instrument.” You use a thought-provoking quote to start each of the chapters in your book, what do you think about this quote by Niebuhr?

We went to the same Assemblies of God church with Brian back in our Cambridge days. We all want to see that we have a God who loves us and that he will bring justice for us, but “Vengeance is mine declares the Lord.” Romans 12:19. He is the giver of justice, not us, and when justice is meted out properly in can be an instrument of love.

You describe in your book on pg. 96 how Liza spent seven years in a church where no one attempted to make her feel welcome, Whites did not initiate engagement with her. How can the church effectively address this lack of love?

The leadership of every church needs to look at places of bias that exist amongst themselves and have a conversation around those areas and address them. Across the board, is everyone made to feel welcome? How are you creating an environment that doesn’t fold into a White worldview? Did anyone notice that all the people on the church’s website are White? How are people of color represented on our worship teams, is there diversity in worship music and in everything that happens upfront? We, as people of color are always thinking about Whites. Church leaders should always consider the contribution that people of color bring to the life of the church.

In your chapter on Addiction, Tom journeys with the Lord to obtain healing for his pornography addiction and discovers that he is uniquely positioned as a biracial person to become a bridge builder. How can White folks be better bridge builders to people of color?

I state in the beginning of my book, a challenge to White folks, ‘Be open to however these stories may challenge you to be a better friend, ally or brother or sister to people of color.’ Your job is not to minimize, but to see who people of color are in their totality, just as Tom had to learn to do as a biracial person.

Thank you Sheila for your wise words. We are delighted to publish an excerpt from your book, Healing Racial Trauma – The Road to Resilience by Sheila Wise Rowe, InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Chapter One

We need healing and new ways to navigate ongoing racism, systemic oppression, and racial trauma that impairs our ability to become more resilient. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or to “work through them step by step, and bounce back stronger than you were before.” In relation to racism, resilience refers to the ability “to persevere and maintain a positive sense of self when faced with omnipresent racial discrimination.” Resilience is not an inherited trait; how we think, behave, and act can help us to grow in resilience.


In this book you will meet a few people of color along the way and read their stories of oppression, healing, and resilience. I am one of them, an African American woman, author, speaker, trauma counselor, and also a survivor. The others are not random people of color but dear friends and family members whose stories carry lessons for us all. The fact that we are a diverse group is countercultural. Historians have revealed that from the earliest days of First Nation genocide and the enslavement of Africans there has been a concerted effort to keep people of color separated and to develop a caste system of sorts. Rather than seeing the commonality that we have as people of color, we have been grading whose experience is worse. My invitation to people of color is that you might experience your own life story affirmed and acquire new solidarity with other people of color. Also that you will obtain tools to help heal your racial trauma and to persevere on the road to resilience. My invitation to white folks is to be open to however these stories may challenge you to be a better friend, ally and sister or brother to people of color. Perhaps you will hear echoes of your own trauma that you need to address. My hope is to lead you to greater empathy and activism.

People of color know that racism and racial oppression is real. We’ve felt the sting of each racist incident whether it was overt or covert, intentional or unintentional. Yet we’ve often been unaware of the full impact of the racial trauma that remains.


Racial trauma is real. Every day in the United States and across the world women, men, and children of color experience racism and witness lives and livelihoods devalued or lost as if they do not matter. The result is that people of color are carrying unhealed racial trauma.

The sin of racism affects us severely and deeply, yet we remain silent or in denial, a response we learned from our ancestors for whom silence meant survival. While we continue to suffer in silence, bearing the wounds of racial trauma exacts a toll on us. There are various ways that people of color experience racial trauma: historical, transgenerational, personal, physical, vicariously, and through microaggression, gaslighting, and moral injury. Unpacking each of these will provide a window into how racial trauma has been transmitted in our own lives and the damage it does to our mind, body, soul, spirit, and communities.

T H E  H E A L I N G  J O U R N E Y  B E G I N S

The magnitude and impact of racism and racial trauma became more evident to me when I participated in a racial trauma conference in Alabama. Monuments, plaques, and other nods to slavery and the confederacy are displayed throughout the state capital, Montgomery. In the city center is the imposing Court Square fountain, the former location of Montgomery’s slave market. A historic marker there states: “Slaves of all ages were auctioned, along with land and livestock, standing in line to be inspected. . . . In the 1850s, able field hands were brought for $1,500; skilled artisans $3,000. In 1859, the city had seven auctioneers and four slave depots.”

Overlooking the city center is the recently opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice, conceived by Equal Justice Initiative’s founder, lawyer, and activist, Bryan Stevenson. The memorial, also known as the National Lynching Memorial, is similar to the Holocaust Memorial, where the words of Deuteronomy 4:9 are prominently displayed: “But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.” The National Lynching Memorial is a sacred space of remembrance and repentance. The memorial exposes the truth that from 1877 to 1950 over four thousand African American men, women, and children were lynched, often by enraged white mobs, the KKK, and law enforcement. Inside the memorial structure suspended from the ceiling are eight hundred six-foot metal monuments, each engraved with the names of victims and the county where they were lynched. Some counties had one lynching while other had so many that the monuments were covered with names. I was overwhelmed and hoped that I would not locate Accomack County, Virginia, where my people are from. When I could no longer read the names and counties I sat in silence. I read placards along a wall that noted some of the reasons for the lynchings: A black man scared a white girl; a black farmer refused a white man’s offering price for his cottonseed. I slowly walked outside on the grounds of the memorial where there are replicas of the monuments laid out like coffins. When I found Accomack County I was undone, stunned, and angry.

The next day I visited the Legacy Museum, located on the site of former slave-trading quarters. Down a dark corridor directly inside the museum is a startling scene. Holographic images of the enslaved kept in pens. As I approached the images, they literally spoke of their pain and horror: a grieving mom looking for her children, children separated from their mother crying “Mama, Mama,” and the sound of women wailing Negro spirituals. Further inside the museum I was overwhelmed by audio, visuals, memorabilia, and images of racism and racial trauma in shocking detail. More of my painful history laid bare: four hundred years—from slavery, Jim Crow segregation laws, mass incarceration, and the racial injustice continues. Some areas offer bits of hope: references to the civil rights movement and a room with images of freedom fighting heroes and heroines. Some names were familiar; others were new to me. As much as I needed to see hope, I also needed to see the painful truth. I held my emotions in check, but the whole experience was too much for me. I stumbled from the museum onto the sidewalk and hunched over trying to contain my sobs. Then I began to wail. I looked up and saw a white woman, also a conference participant, whose face was wet with tears. Our eyes locked; she gently shook her head and mouthed, “I have no words.”

My mind flooded with the words and stories I’d written of the different forms of racism and racial trauma. It’s one thing to write about it and another to see and feel it in graphic detail displayed in one place. For people of color, those definitions are more than words—they are trauma.

You’ve read about the resilience of the resurrection plant (see chap. 7). I experienced a similar lesson while at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. Inside, a wall of shelves is lined with

hundreds of large sealed jars. Every jar is labeled with the name of a lynching victim and the location and date of the lynching. Inside each jar are soil and possible traces of DNA collected from the confirmed site of the lynching. This area is like a mausoleum where we remember and honor the dead, and yet there is life. Despite what seems like the absence of sustenance, tiny seedlings have sprouted in some of the jars. These seedlings remind me of people of color. We are more than resilient we are miracles. In the midst of our tragedy and trauma we work, thrive, and struggle, and the Lord continuously saves, brings grace, new life, beauty, and justice. In John 11:25-26 Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Our resilience grows as we live and love as if this life is not the end of our story. It is written that Bryan Stevenson “looked at the jars of soil and said, ‘We can grow something with this, we can create something with this that has new meaning.’ That’s because while soil may surround us in death, it also is the place to plant seeds of hope for a new beginning.” Ecclesiastes 11:6 encourages us to do that very thing; “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” Therefore, we pray by faith, live like we’re heaven bound, and get to work scattering our seeds. Last, we receive encouragement from Psalm 126:5-6:

May those who sow in tears

reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

carrying their sheaves.

Taken from Healing Racial Trauma by Sheila Wise Rowe. Copyright (c) 2020 by Sheila Wise Rowe. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.


About Seasonedpoetess
Seasonedpoetess taught students for thirteen years and endured lock-down drills, herding frightened students into corners, praying it was just another drill. She writes about what churns her guts for the world, the church, for America and for the arts. She has been a member of the Redbud Writers Guild for many years. You can read more about the author here.

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  • AntithiChrist

    What can we do?

    Solving America’s impotence on fixing rampant, CDC-alert levels of gun violence really isn’t a religious issue.

    If prayers, or even a fervent belief in a certain deity, pick one, or if adopting a Christian lifestyle, or supporting religiously inspired local scale activism were the answers, certainly the supernatural beings or overlords out there would have been propitiated by now, and we all wouldn’t be wondering where today’s or tomorrow’s next mass shootings are going to take place.

    Conspicuously absent from this piece, is any mention of doing what we can as citizens to vote in a political party that’s not stalling on this issue, nor fiscally beholden to the world’s largest gun manufacturers’ lobbying group ever.

    Since this piece, however well-intentioned, is written as a Christian-themed blog, a reader has to wonder if that absence is because of the Faustian bargains American Christians have made with that gun manufacturer’s dream of a political party.


  • Beentheredonethat

    Prayer is the number 1 activity we can perform; it shows our utter dependence on God who can fix all problems.

    That said why isn’t our government officials looking into the relationship between the use of anti psychotic drugs and gun violence? There is most certainly a positive correlation. Or is it our government officials are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry, 1 of the largest lobbying groups in this country?

  • Jason Carpp

    Prayer can do many things, but can it prevent murder? It didn’t prevent this psycho from shooting up a school.

  • Guthrum

    Schools were more dangerous in the 1990’s.
    “Schools are safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common than they used to be, researchers say” (Northeastern Edu.)

  • Guthrum

    Does the epidemic of opoid drugs also relate to this somehow?

  • Guthrum

    A Virginia state representative wants to use the National Guard to go around and seize legal weapons from law abiding citizens who purchased the guns legally and have a permit for them. Of course this would be unconstitutional, but it shows the warped and misguided thinking of many officials.
    Sounds like they are after the wrong people.

  • Beentheredonethat

    I don’t know. But I do know Adam Lanza was taking anti psychotic drugs for his ADHD. And I bet many of the other school shooters were taking anti psychotic drugs too . Today, many of our young boys are given drugs to control their impish school behavior originating from boredom.

  • Newton Finn

    Perhaps the bigger question is why American society, in its current form, seems uniquely positioned to create psychopaths. And perhaps the answer to that question has to do with how large the gap in values has now become between our governmental and social institutions and the Kingdom of God, which Jesus prayed and believed would come to earth.

  • AntithiChrist

    You’re absolutely right. VA would be putting the cart before the horse, legislation-wise.

    The 2A first must be repealed and replaced with something that makes sense for our times.

    “Law abiding citizen” in this conversation has become code for “selfish person who cares nothing for children dying from gunshot wounds, running cover for violent gun criminals,” as well as “future accidental gun death perp.”

    There’s no honor in claiming LAC status in this discussion.

  • Guthrum

    I am not some gun nut. I have a gun, but it is not workable. It is also an antique.
    The people that I know who own guns keep them locked, practice proper safety by wearing safety glasses, ear protection, and locks. They are not criminals. They purchased their guns legally. They use their guns for hunting or at the practice ranges.

  • David Cromie

    If prayer ever were efficacious, the world would be a much safer now, and more peaceful, than it ever was. But it is not.

    Why not ban guns, of all descriptions, from the hands of those with no real need for them (and that includes trophy hunters with a yen for killing wild animals for ‘fun’, especially rare and endangered species)?

    I will be 83 yrs old next birthday, and I have never met anyone who needed a firearm, apart from farmers, some members of the police, and the military.

  • David Cromie

    “…God [ ] can fix all problems”. Really? Not much evidence of that!

  • We have a Biblical right to self-defense and that means having the methods to defend ourselves. Guns are often the only method sufficient. Just showing a gun, not firing it, prevents as many as one millions crimes per year.

  • The desire to end mass shootings is no different from wanting to end all crime and evil. But God has made it clear that such violence is his judgment against rebels. In Romans 1 Paul wrote that God gives rebels over to the lusts of their hearts. It mentions sexual sins, but includes violence also as the rest of the NT proves:

    24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Let me step on a few toes. Japan and other non Christian countries have less violence. Because they teach one to be responsible for their own actions. Because other countries teach kindness and compassion over blind obedience to a false diety. I had to say it, because people assume Christianity is a religion of peace, love and tolerance.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Also, when is the last time a parent taught a child that guns are not toys and should only be used as a last resort? I think I hear crickets chirping.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Let people speak for themselves. Without your precious bible I would defend myself against people that wish to use it to harm others as well as themselves. Because, since I happen to be native American, I have my own reasons for defending the right to bear arms, and although my reasoning isn’t the same as yours, at least we can both agree that the right to bear arms should not be taken away from WELL EDUCATED hopefully rational and hopefully intelligent people.

  • I’m a member of the Choctaw tribe and a Christian. Did you not notice this is a Christian site?

  • AntithiChrist

    Link to source for that statistic, please.

  • AntithiChrist

    I actually didn’t notice this is a Christian site. I did notice the author of this post writes under a Christian theme. But I’m still not sure what the point is of calling this a “Christian site.”

    Perhaps that “we’ll-educated” folks aren’t to be found here?

    Regardless, I’m guessing that by “well-educated” Ms LaPoint might be talking about folks who have demonstrated rigorous study, practice, background, taken tests, etc for actually possessing a gun. Like they do in, say, Japan.

  • AntithiChrist

    Any god – or person- that would routinely permit innocent children or any other person to be violently killed, ruining the lives of everyone who loves them, as “judgement against rebels,” is a violent, dangerous a$$hole, and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near respectable people. Let alone guns. It really sounds here like you’re condoning gun violence in order to support your favorite god. That’s an attitude that keeps killing people. If this is true, you’re in good company. In addition to violent Christainist extremists, there are also violent Islamist extremists, violent Hindu extremists and so on. The only differences between these hateful ideologies are the names they pick for their gods and the style of hats and robes the church leaders wear.

    No one violently obsesses over gay sex like a godly, hot & bothered, sexually repressed, self-loathing, closeted gay religionist.

    If you are gay, if you’d just come out, you’d feel so much better about yourself. And once you’ve unwrapped the godly chains of hate from around your brain, you might be safe around innocent children, empowered women, and all those other hell-bound enemies – and collateral damage – of your favorite god.

  • GaryLyn

    I’d say we have a constitutional right to self-defense. A biblical one???

  • B. Sherman

    Interesting comments in general. I am not certain but it appears to me most of the mass shooters, including Adam Lanza ascribed to a worldview where the individual is the final arbiter of all things. Which worldview most closely aligns with that I wonder?

  • swbarnes2

    The shooter didn’t think that the kids should be the final arbiter of their lives. Or that his mother should be the final arbiter of how her guns were used.

    The Centennial Olympic park bomber was a Christian.

    Susan Smith was a fervent Christian, as was Andrea Yates.

    I’m sure you believe what Yates did was A-Okay, because she sincerely believed she was following God’s will right? Certainly you won’t blame her husband, who prayerfully decided to put his wife through post-partum psychosis again and again? If he prayed before leaving his children alone with their mother, he didn’t do anything wrong, right?

  • swbarnes2

    You support the right of a well-educated wife-beater to all the guns he wants?

    Are you 100% sure that someone won’t look at your skin color and decide that you aren’t educated or rational or intelligent enough to have a gun?

  • B. Sherman

    The shooter didn’t did he. People claim all sorts of things. Is their behavior reflective of what they claim or not? In all your examples the individuals decided for themselves the right and wrong way to act regardless of any prescriptive template. The question remains.

  • LastManOnEarth

    ^Just imagine how much lower those stats would be if more Japanese had guns to deter crime!^

  • swbarnes2

    Andrea Yates’ husband sincerely thought he was required to have a wife who pumped out as many children as physically possible And that just what he made his wife do, despite the crippling mental illness it caused. The template was Christian.

    So yes, he did behave in accordance with his claims. He lived according to his Christian beliefs, why don’t you show some of that Christians honesty and integrity we hear so much about and tell us that you proud and glad of it?

  • B. Sherman

    Perhaps you can point me to the specific location where he was “required to have a wife who pumped out as many children as physically possible”. I’m genuinely unaware as to where that is located in any reference. My Initial question remains. Curious as to your hostility from a simple question.
    Let me ask a different question. On what basis then is anything objectively right or wrong?

  • swbarnes2

    It was his sincere religious belief. He wanted his wife to go off her psychiatric meds so she could get pregnant again. Her psychiatrist documented “Apparently patient and husband plan to have as many babies as nature will allow! This will surely guarantee future psychotic depression.”

    Why can’t you answer a simple question? Why aren’t you proud of this laudable Christian dedication? We all know you are beamingly proud of it, why can’t you just give a straightforward “By Jesus yes!” You will feel so good and so full of the holy spirit when you straightforwardly and honestly praise God for the Yates’ good faithfulness.

    Are you going to say “objectively, killing children is always wrong?”

    Of course you won’t. But where oh where is that Christian honesty that will allow you to say with “If God told me to shoot up a school, I’d do it with joy!”

  • David Cromie

    Since it is impossible to tell the ‘sheep’ from the ‘goats’ in this respect, why would it be wise to provide all and sundry with the firearms of their choice?

  • B. Sherman

    Sincerity is not a basis for anything. Hitler was sincere, as were Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hoxha. Shall I consider everyone sharing their world views as mass murderers? I’ll be thrilled right after you show me where it is written. Just provide me the reference text, shouldn’t take long. Actually objectively I do believe killing children is wrong. And so the questions remain.

  • Agree completely –I am 76 years old. I have lived and worked in many areas of this country. I have never been in any situation where having a gun would make things better

  • Rainbow Warrior

    Wait are you seriously saying God let a bunch of little kids get murdered because gay people? Your “god” sounds like a monster

  • cOoKeE MoNsTeR

    People now have less faith with the belief of how powerful prayer could be, with just enough faith, prayers will be answered. I appreciate this seasonedpoetess. The simplicity of just (excuse my language) giving a %&@# does remind me of how the little things make the a big difference. America has not changed, with all due respect, but there has always been some form of hatred being expressed and it’s the hate the people expel from their mouths. People do a lot of talking with out love in their heart and that is what prayer is. It breaks my heart to hear of not only of those killed, but of the killers, too.

    Once again, I appreciate this reminder of how America truly is, it going to take a miracle to see some change, prayer is good enough to start asking for that miracle.