Jacki McKinney: An Expert In Trauma


Jacki McKinney is an activist and social advocate for survivors of trauma. McKinney was born in New Jersey on October 18th, 1934, from a very young age as early as two years old she was abused by her father beginning a cycle of trauma she dealt with over the next 50 years of her life.


As a child she had difficulties expressing what was really going on in addition to being punished or ignored if she tried. Her limitations around her continued suffering due to abuse led to her expressing more physical symptoms of illness than the emotionally illness she was experiencing. Overwhelmed by the constant abuse by the age of nine years old she had stopped walking. McKinney’s physical display of ailment ended up getting her put in a home for disabled children. Unfortunately the home for disabled children was just as traumatic. The facility housed all White staff and patients in addition to acting as housing for children suffering from the contagious disease, polio.


An 11 year old McKinney returned home no longer fueled by fear and confusion but instead a rage that grew from the knowledge of her truth.


This rage stayed with her for the next 40 years of her life. As she continued to experience traumas through her life, she stated in an interview that “I was victimized again in the streets of New York by a serial rapist along with a lot of other women who seemingly got over it. But I didn’t. And because of my background, my history and lack of treatment I had a major break. My mama would call it a break down but it was a break up and I ended up living homeless in the streets walking away from the family, walking away from my husband, walking away from my house, my life and I never regained those things but I did regain my family.” This break led her to becoming homeless on the streets of Washington DC which is where she met two women with the D.C. Rape Crisis Center who help get her back on her feet and involved with advocacy and activism.


In her time with them they set her up with some of the most elite medical professionals in the country but there Jacki began to notice the issue that none of the elite doctors and therapists could relate to her or with her. This ignited a new fire in Jacki to talk about the lack of culture competency in the medical profession around mental health and trauma that she knew all too well. She then went on to join the Consumer Movement in New York to focus on the mental health industry. Her first role in activism was in welfare rights fighting for the rights of other women and other mothers, which she said was the first time in her life something had been dealt with as a woman and a mother in a positive way. She then joined a program called New Careers for the Poor. New York was one of the demonstration states so she was recruited to go to school and to go to work. From that experience she went on to go to get a GED and then to go on to college. From there she went on to join the Consumer Movement in Philadelphia becoming the Director of the first consumer operating service program, a case management unit. All the people in the unit were people who were consumers (patients) of mental health making the case management program the most radical program made to date because it was also the first to use current mental patients on the professional team. All of them were people of color and they felt it was vital to the program that they had people who could connect with the patient they were trying to serve. The program was part of a research demonstration funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the first government funded peer support group. At the same time Jacki also attended her first Alternative conference, which is where consumers get together and share ideas and present programs. Opening Jacki’s eyes to more ways to get involved.


After the passing of the American Disabilities Act Jacki joined a training done by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. While there Jacki joined a conference called Dare Vision where she claims to have after 50 years truly defined her trauma which she said was a big moment for her because with the definition came clarity in defining herself. Unfortunately after the moment of clarity she was over run by fear for the next few years about what to do with the possibility of being well and the fear consumed her keeping her from leaving her home for a whole 2 years. It wasn’t until months of talking with a doctor and encouragement for colleagues to take a job as a Dare Division technical expert that she was able to overcome her fear. Soon after her time with the Dare Division she joined a Co-Occurring Disorders Study done by SAMHSA as an advisor to the study. She stated in an interview “the biggest piece I brought to that study was do not study the women without studying their children because my children lived lives of hell because I lived a life of hell.” a fact many know too well. Soon after her time with the study she began to be a national spokesperson for the issue of trauma. She had three main goals as a spokesperson. The first was to develop a policy against seclusion and restraint. The second was to spread the knowledge that if you don’t treat the children when you’re treating the mother, then you’re creating the second generation of the same issue. The third was to inform that battered women make up a large portion of the prison recurring recidivism rates.


In 1994, she went on to join the National Consumer Survivor Social Policy & Research Work Group. The goal of the organization was to be at the making of policy, to be a part of defining what research would be, and to make sure it was useful to those in need. However issues began to arise with the organization as there was no recognition on the agenda that there were people of color in the movement, there was no recognition there were women in the movement, and they were assumed to be white males because that’s who led it. After addressing her concerns with the board she faced a strong backlash from some of the white members. So she went on to co-found the National People of Color Consumer Survivor Network with the goal to see African-Americans in front of the room helping set the agenda, helping to talk about what the issues are. In 1996, the goal shifted to become trained as cultural competency experts. Jacki stated the intention was that “we would not be coming and taking that one chair that they’re so scared of losing of the five chairs they’ve had for the last five years. The white consumers who started the movement who don’t want to give up a chair. We could create a new chair. We could also bring to them a new skill and a new understanding and they can then go out and join us as people who know this work and they can write it on their resume that they can understand and they can do this piece, too. So, it’s only a win-win situation. Nobody’s going to lose.”[source]. That epitomized Jacki’s philosophy and showcased the reason she went on to become a recipient of Mental Health America’s highest honor, the Clifford W. Beers award, presented to a consumer of mental health and/or substance abuse services who best reflects the example set by Beers in his efforts to improve conditions for, and attitudes toward, people with mental illnesses. She also became the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Voice Awards program which was presented to her for her distinguished leadership and advocacy on behalf of trauma survivors.


Jacki McKinney’s story and accomplishments could fill many books so I’ll wrap the spotlight with a message from Jacki herself she gave in an interview I encourage you all to read:

“I’d like to add to all the children, adult children, of parents who have mental illness, I think every single one of you should remember that there’s a great deal of pain in your life no matter where you are and what you’re doing that makes you vulnerable and that you should do whatever you can to find out all about this mental illness issue – to look into your own past and resolve some of those pains because one day out of the blue that may come back to haunt you – the fact that you’ve been asked to close the door and not deal with it. You are vulnerable and you need to know it and you need to go explore a wellness plan for yourself. You need to stop hiding behind the bushes and stop saying it's what your mom did or what your dad did or what your grandparents did and you need to look at what the effect is on you. It’s a personal thing. I’m not asking you to help them. I’m asking you to help you because you don’t and it hits you, you got all that blame that you’ve been blaming on someone else and now you see that you didn’t take care of yourself and it can really be devastating. And you can end up sicker than any of us. Such a painful piece of knowledge. But now while you have the time, now while you’re reading this archive and it points to you, go do some reading, do some looking. Go find a way to be well yourself. Go look. That’s it.” [source].



by Kevin J.

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