Being Black in America: Karen Simms

In her own words, an African American community resident shares a first-person story about what it looks, feels and sounds like to be black in America.

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Continuing a conversation we were privileged to host Sunday, and will keep up in the weeks ahead, The News-Gazette asked African-American community leaders to share their stories and solutions in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Featured today: KAREN SIMMS, coordinator of C-U Trauma and Resiliency Initiative.

If you’d like to share your story, email To view the entire series, click here.

Their Turn Simms

'I am 53, and I have never known a life that was not affected by police action shootings'


Long ago, I decided that I could not attend another protest march. I fear that my stance is unpopular, especially at this moment, when there is so much attention on the murder of George Floyd, the ensuing protests and pockets of civil unrest.

I want to do something. However, I am still reeling from the deaths of Ahmaud Arbrey and Breonna Taylor — innocent victims of other recent acts of racialized terror and violence.

My refusal to march is my small way of dissenting. I know that if I give my energy for protest, I will not have much left to focus on love, peace and healing. So, I stay planted.

Two Sundays ago, to fortify my resolve, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and reflect on my first organized effort regarding a police action shooting. During a call with my mother, she reminded me that I was nine or 10 years old; it occurred in Tampa in the late ’70s.

She described how I dragged her to meetings with marathon strategy sessions, during which people planned organized acts of civil disobedience and strategies for change — there was always a 10-point plan.

While googling the incident, I discovered that six months after I was born, there were riots in my hometown after an unarmed black teenager named Martin Chambers was shot and killed by law enforcement. Faces change. Stories stay the same.

I am 53, and I have never known a life that was not affected by police action shootings throughout various cities and states. Something this pervasive is more than situational. It is systemic.

These shootings are not just devastating to the victims’ families, friends, coworkers and peers; entire communities are scared. Being injured at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect you is terrifying and causes deep, long-lasting harm.

When that sacred trust is violated, fear and powerlessness result, leaving individuals, families and communities feeling devalued — as though their lives do not matter. The pain of such incidents is now compounded by media and technology. These stories are transmitted across the nation and reinforce feelings of powerlessness and hopeless.

Images of police brutality become racial terrorism, which by design is disempowering and wounds the soul of a community — for generations. That is why I fight so hard to create trauma-informed communities.

Recently, I was ridiculed about advocating for Champaign County to be a trauma-informed community. However, when I think about what we know heals individuals, families and communities, trauma-informed simply captures what is best.

So, I will take a risk and once again champion the vision of making C-U a trauma-informed community with policies, procedures and practices that create equity, resilience, growth, success and healing.

Trauma-informed communities are physically and emotionally safe. They embody an awareness of trauma. They are relational and empowering. They have policies that are transparent and build trust. They are collaborative and cooperative. They are culturally responsive. They ensure that the people who are most impacted by a problem have voice and choice over those policies and practices.

By default, trauma-informed communities have trauma-informed policing. This vision of our collective capacity to build trauma-informed and resilient communities helps me maintain hope and lovingly get up to fight yet another day.

If you’d like to share your story, email Editor Jeff D’Alessio at

Karen Simms is the coordinator of C-U Trauma and Resiliency Initiative.