On Trust-Based Relationships and Confronting Racism

Editor’s note: Our team at the institute is deeply grieved for the recent events rooted in racial injustice in this country. A recent event close to our own community has made it even more clear that we as an institute must take a decisive and clear stance against racism. Our staff has had many conversations over the past weeks, and Research Scientiest, Erin Razuri so eloquently captured our thoughts and feelings in this message.

To be a member of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development is to fundamentally believe in hope and healing. To live the tenets of Trust-Based Relational Intervention® and let them permeate every aspect of your mind, body, and soul until you see the whole world through a TBRI® lens. To put relationships first. To believe, above all else, that connection and trust are central to our humanity. To choose to model love, understanding that our children will learn what they live. To commit to bringing felt-safety, giving voice, looking for the need behind the behavior. To do all of these things is to whole-heartedly join Karyn’s Army.

At this moment, it is difficult to believe in hope and healing. It is even difficult to be a member of this community that we hold so dear, because we have been broken open by the hurt and pain of racism. We have seen it in our midst, closer than we could have imagined, and we are deeply shaken.

In the early days of TBRI, some of us were fortunate enough to witness our great founder, Dr. Karyn Purvis, go to a child who was hurting, who seemed beyond hope and healing. We saw her acknowledge their pain, pain rooted in fear and distrust, in being violated, in being made to feel less than human. We saw that she was willing to sit with them in that pain. We watched her extend her hands, look into their eyes, and say, “I am so sorry that you have been hurt. You are precious. You are worthy of love. Tell me what you need. I am listening. Safe people will always listen.” Dr. Purvis told us that this was a sacred trust, and we believed her.

Perhaps you, too, have been fortunate enough to witness such a sight. Perhaps you have seen it in others who possess the extraordinary gift to see the need and meet the need. If you have, then you know the healing power of connection and empathy. But you also know that being trust-based and relational makes us vulnerable. It can be exhausting. It can make us want to shut down. It can leave us feeling helpless against oppressive systems and overwhelmed by the pain of the world. You know that staying present and staying open takes work.

We as an Institute commit to doing this work. To do the work, not only of building trauma-informed systems of care, but of becoming an anti-racist community that understands that building trauma-informed systems requires the dismantling of the systems we are already living in. To acknowledge, in the language of TBRI, that we as a global community have experienced a deep rupture. That as a nation we have experienced trauma that is complex and pervasive and rooted in our development. And we maintain that relational trauma requires relational repair.

Here it is hard not to falter, because we do not have the answers. But we stand with people of color. We will do more listening and more learning. We will reach out to each other in love and speak out against injustice and refuse to turn away, even when we don’t know what to say or do. Because Dr. Purvis did not show us how to turn away. She showed us how to engage.

So, to our community, our colleagues and friends, our students, our partners, and above all to the children and youth who are the reason we do this work, we say: We see your pain. We are so sorry that you are hurting. We stand with you. We are listening. Safe people should always listen.

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