The Masks We Wear – A blog by Jwel

As I was reading the New York Times best seller book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, I came across a story that hit very close to home. The author begins his book speaking on various engagements with Veteran clients while working at the Boston Veteran’s Administration Clinic as a staff psychiatrist. While performing his duties he encountered a volatile Vietnam Veteran who was having an episode in the lobby area of the facility. The young psychiatrist invited the man into his office to assist with calming him down enough to find out what triggered his outburst. As the man told his story of PTSD stemming from an ambush that took the lives of or badly inured the majority of his military unit along with how it impacts his behavior to his family and his inability to sleep on most nights, the author was intrigued by one major factor. This man refused to take prescribed sleeping medication which would allow him to sleep because he believed that he should pay a daily memorial tribute to his fallen brothers by reliving his trauma.

An equally interesting factor was that this man, upon returning from his Vietnam tour of duty, acquired his degree, married and had children, and managed a thriving law firm. On paper it appeared that this man had an ideal life which he had built in spite of the trauma that he had sustained. The truth could not have been more adverse.  The quote-on-quote success that this man had achieved was merely a mask to hide the turmoil that he was going through daily. It masked his inability to connect with his wife or show compassion to his kids, and the daily fear that his volatile behavior instilled in them. It masked the fact that he drank consistently on a daily basis as a way of easing the pain. It also masked the fact that his trauma did not begin with the ambush in Vietnam, but rather seeing his father display similar behaviors as a World War II Veteran when he was a child. After reading this story, it got me to thinking how such an outwardly successful man was able to hide his internal demons? It also got me to wondering how many other successful persons I had encountered that wore the “mask” of success everyday while working to not crumble under the effects of past trauma?

How many of you reading this blog are currently walking through life while being weighed down by the effects of your past trauma. What is the “mask” that you wear daily to hide how much you are truly hurting? I am here to tell you that I understand your pain. I too have worn the “mask” of achievements to hide the broken aspects of my psyche. I too have chased the achievement of various goals in my life to divert my focus and push aside the fact that I have resentment towards the sexual abuse I suffered at 8 years old, the physical and emotional abuse received at the hands of a broken mother, and the abandonment by my father forcing me to have to learn how to become a man practically on my own. On the outside I too have a beautiful and supportive wife, great marriage, two growing kids, 3 degrees, a purposeful career helping the homeless, and a list of various accomplishments over the years. With all of these positive things going for me on paper, at times I feal that it is all apart of the mask and disguise that I wear as a successfully Black man in society. My true hope is that one day I will be able to heal from my past trauma and take my mask off. Hopefully the man behind the mask truly matches the outward display shown to the world for so many years…

Jwel’s advice: Explore all methods of getting the help that you need to heal from your past events of trauma. A mask can only hide but so much. Re-purpose your energy towards finding the true wealth in life through good mental health.

We Need Trauma-Informed Music Education

 “Seventy-one percent of children have been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in the past year” (Berson & Baggerly, 2009). In the aftermath of a global pandemic, this statistic is not improving, it is getting worse. A turn to music as a place of refuge is understandable and encouraged. Davis (2010) said, “Music is more than just a medium of entertainment. It is a powerful tool that can capture attention, elicit long forgotten memories, communicate feelings, create and intensify moods, and bring people together” (p. 127). Researchers have considered the role of music in coping with trauma (Altun & Özdemir, 2018). They have also considered the therapeutic value of music in coping with trauma. Davis (2010) also said, “More directly related to counseling interventions, the use of music in therapy and in processing feelings with school-aged children has been well documented” (p. 127). On the other hand, research is starting to emerge about how some music education models are contributing to trauma or otherwise serving as a barrier to optimal health (Perkins et al., 2017).

Music is well documented as an effective component of therapy options for school-aged children and useful in learning to process feelings (Davis, 2010). Research shows a need for coping skills and mood regulation among students and music has a demonstrated ability to develop both (Garrido, Baker, Davidson, Moore, & Wasserman, 2015). Berson and Baggerly (2009) report that 71% of children have been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in the past year and almost 70% of children have experienced multiple exposures (p. 375). Exposure to these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) often cause hyperarousal, refered to as “fight, flight, freeze” response. Over time, chronic exposure to toxic stress produces neurobiological changes in the brain, which have been linked to poor physical health and poor cognitive performance (Terrasi & de Galarce, 2017). Although music has emerged as a creative form of therapy and a way to address stress and cope with trauma (Garrido et al., 2015), the envrironment that we ask students to learn music in can often be or contribute to the problem we are trying to help solve (Carello & Butler, 2015). If maximizing student resilience and reducing student risk of additional trauma and the affects that follow is a goal, music educators must learn to teach self-care, elicite and respond emotionally and intellectually to student feedback, create networks of support in and out of the classroom, be mindful of power imbalances, and maintain effective boundaries (2015).

Trauma-informed, in any context, refers to an applied understanding of the ways traumatic experiences can impact the lives of individuals. In the educational context, trauma-informed is about applying this awareness to the development of systems, services and curriculum so they “accommodate trauma survivors’ needs and are consonant with healing and recovery” (Carello & Butler, 2015, p. 264). This objective requires closer attention to the educational environment. The Fallot and Harris (2009) research established foundational principles for establishing a trauma-informed classroom environment. They are ensuring safety, establishing trustworthiness, maximizing choice, maximizing collaboration, and prioritizing empowerment. These principles are the guide for educators to evaluate their teaching philosophy, classroom environment, curriculum and more through the lens of trauma-informed care (TIC). Carello & Butler (2015) offer a few additional topics regarding the safety principle to consider when implementing any trauma-informed educational practice (TIEP). Student characteristics, content presentation and processing, assignment requirements and policies, instructor behavior, student behavior, classroom characteristics and self-care are all domains for educators to bring TIC to their curriculum development, classroom implementation and overall teaching philosophy. When children perceive their environment to be unsafe, they can enter a hypervigilant state where they experience everyone and everything as a potential threat (Terrasi & de Galarce, 2017). Unfortunately, no data exist on how to implement these ideas in the modern music classroom. Nevertheless, there remains a need to maintain a healthy learning environment for music education students. 

As an educator and someone deeply concerned about the effects of trauma, I have committed to taking on this challenge. Research exists on trauma-informed education practices, music therapy, music education and more but so far there is nothing on what trauma-informed music education (TIME) looks like. As part of my dissertation, I have committed to developing a study that addresses this topic. I can only hope that a wholistic look a trauma in the educational environment is in our near future. After 2020, we ALL need it.

Altun, Z., & Özdemir, M. (2018). The Role of the Music in Coping with Trauma Experiences. European Journal of Education Studies, 0. Doi:

Berson, I. & Baggerly, J. (2009) Building Resilience to Trauma: Creating a Safe and Supportive Early Childhood Classroom, Childhood Education, 85:6, 375-379, Doi: 10.1080/00094056.2009.10521404

Carello, J., & Butler, L. D. (2015). Practicing what we teach: Trauma-informed educational practice. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 35(3), 262. doi:10.1080/08841233.2015.1030059

Davis, K. M. (2010). Music and the expressive arts with children experiencing trauma. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 5(2), 125-133. Doi:10.1080/15401383.2010.485078

Fallot, R.D., & Harris, M. (2009). Creating Cultures of Trauma-Informed Care (CCTIC): A self-assessment and planning protocol. Washington, DC: Community Connections. Retrieved from

Garrido, S., Baker, F. A., Davidson, J. W., Moore, G., & Wasserman, S. (2015). Music and trauma: The relationship between music, personality, and coping style. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 977. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00977

Terrasi, S., & de Galarce, P. C. (2017). Trauma and learning in America’s classrooms. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(6), 35-41. doi:10.1177/0031721717696476

What counts more: Strengths or Weaknesses? – Blog by Jwel

Hey #TSStrong family!!! I wanted to talk you all about the strength of finding and fulfilling your purpose. One of the things that has greatly assisted me in achieving various levels of success in life has been building upon my strengths, and not dwelling on my weakness. Now this doesn’t mean that I ignore my weaknesses, but rather I have chosen to not give more energy to them than a general acknowledgement will allow. Now I didn’t always have this figured out. For example, as a big guy I used to think that I was not attractive to women, especially moments when I weighed over 400lbs. I can say that dwelling on it too much kept me from pursuing potential relationships that may have been beneficial for me. It wasn’t until I began to realize that I had more to offer in a relationship than my physical appearance that I started to build confidence in myself based on the strengths that I possessed. I offer the same advisement to you. Also, do not let your environment dictated the altitude of your success or purpose. Growing up in SE Washington, DC with various periods of living in an unstable home setting, statistically there were many reasons why I could’ve ended up engaging in street activities, incarcerated, or just an unfortunate victim of circumstance. Thankfully, I was blessed with the knowledge of self and strength to not allow my environmental factors to determine what type of person I would become or what levels of purpose I would seek. There were moments that I allowed my peer’s lack of support or enthusiasm in their own lives to assist in diminishing my output by nurturing weaknesses within myself. In those moments, life has taught me that dedication to my purpose was more important than loyalty to passing friendships. A snippet from my favorite poem titled “Our Deepest Fear” states that “there’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you”. From this sentiment I have drawn the strength and determination to seek out my own path towards purpose and have overcome nearly all barriers in my way despite my weaknesses. I leave you all with the following texts in hopes that this blog helps you discover and live in your ordained purpose in life…

Excerpt from “Be-Do-Have: The Principle for Massive Success” – by Brandon T. Bailey:

“To use the principle for massive success you must make sure that you align your work with your strengths. Keeping the Be-Do-Have principle in the correct perspective will help you see an improvement in your overall quality of life. From this moment forward when you think about personal development… STOP thinking about fixing your weaknesses. This is a draining and non-exciting task. Just like dieting only works for a season because the behavior is often unsustainable, fixing your weaknesses is not a behavior that can be efficiently sustained over time.” – Brandon T. Bailey

Our Deepest Fear
By: Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

You’re playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Say Something: Reactions Michelle True Francois

I’ve experienced quite a few things in my life that I haven’t always been able to find words for and many people think that just because I’m a poet, I have the magical love affair with words. I do not. I love poetry because I can get my point across without being interrupted and I can freely speak my mind. And I fell in love with spoken word when I realized I didn’t have to stand in front of crowd and improvise but I could be planned, prepared, edit and edit until it was just right before it came out of my mouth.

Today, I want to share a poem I wrote, not because I want to sell you a book but because through THIS poem, is where I found my healing. I wrote it at the end of 2005 as I reflected on my life. I went through every traumatic experience I could think of from my birth to that moment and I thought deeply about how they all affected and effected me to be the big bad person that I was. The person that I couldn’t stand to look at in mirror. I hated who I had become, I hated me BUT I knew I was a good person at heart and this poem was the therapy that allowed me to break barriers in my life.

I have probably shared this piece about 5 times on a stage and each time I do, multiple people will say things like, “you told my story”, or “thank you, I didn’t know it was okay to stay those things out loud”  and through their response I realized my healing wasn’t only for me but so I could help others heal too. I truly believe, we must face our traumas, even the ones, might I say, especially the ones we try to hide and forget to truly heal.

New Year’s Resolutions always reminds me of the scripture to write it down and make it plain.  That’s what I been doing since I was 11 years old, so without further ado, I give you REACTIONS!

You don’t know the secret I possess, the sin I will confess or the testimony I’ll attest.

For every action there’s a reaction,

What goes up must come down

And what goes around always come back around.

For as long I can remember, I have lived my life reacting to my environment

But no one realized my involvement or how I would be affected

So I never really knew why I did what I did

Never understood the reasons for my actions

My reactions to life’s situations

I could blame my confusion on life, my constant sense of loneliness and emptiness on my mother for walking away when I was just a 2 year old baby

I could blame my high sexual drive on my grandfather for molesting me when I was five years old or for losing my virginity and being raped by someone I considered a friend in the 11th grade. Or maybe that was my fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I could blame my dating a 24 year old man when I was 14 and a 29 year old man when I was 17 on my father for never being there. But he was always there; he just worked so damn much, so damn much trying to make things better.

I always seemed to look for love in all the wrong places from relationship to relationship with no true commitment, just lies.

So when I call myself going away to college and finding the man of my dreams, I ended up pregnant. But because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone or follow in my mother’s footsteps I killed my seed; I ended his life before even giving him a chance to be. And I live with that reaction daily.

I could blame my rebellious nature on the people who would always say “Michelle, she’s the good twin” And I just wanted to prove them wrong. So at the same time I found out that my man was cheating on me, I was taking off my clothes for the almighty dollar. Dancing in front of random niggas trying make them holla, and their reactions always seemed to make me feel better. I smiled inside.

My reaction to daddy telling me that children are to be seen and not heard resulted in my excessive need for attention and this way I could be seen and didn’t have to be heard and got all the attention I thought I wanted.

And the sex, with the men and the women, that was just a part of the job, just another reaction that made me feel better at the time.

I only did the Porno cause he dared that I wouldn’t. But Michelle don’t turn down no dare. So tell me why, when he called three months later, did I cry like a little girl, wishing I wasn’t so bold.

When does the line draw? When does the action of others stop affecting my life, my reactions, my consequences, me

I was never really good at saying the word no, never really good at turning the other cheek and walking away. I was never really good at acting on my own instead of being someone else’s puppet.

Only with scare of having a sexual terminal disease and passing it on to another did I stop, take a look in the mirror and realize the error of my ways. I learned I can no longer live my life based on another.

So after I got down on my knees and prayed for forgiveness, I promised myself that I would never walk down that road again. Never be a reactor, but the actor. Promised myself to always hold my head up high and take responsibility for all that I have done.

That the only reason why I’m able to tell you this poem with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face ‘cause I’m no longer afraid of what other might think, of what other might say.

I will never be able to understand the psychological or philosophical meaning behind any of my actions, but I’m now able to admit and dismiss with no fear of reliving it.

Maybe as a child I could have blamed my mother, my father, my environment. But as a woman I take accountability for my involvement. I can no longer blame others for me. Now even though I’m content with where I am today, conscious of where I was and where I want to be. Don’t attempt to disrespect me, ‘cause as I said I am content with my actions. My reactions that make up me, Michelle True!  

Testified: A Poetic Testimony is available on Amazon at

Art, how it affected me mentally, emotionally & spiritually.

Hello my name is Marsh Arts and I am the owner of The Marsh Arts Studio where I provide graphic design, illustration, painting and printing services.

I also sale artwork as well as out in paint & sips.

I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago where I earned my BFA in Graphic Design and I now reside in Atlanta.

I was always creative as a child and never stopped being creative but as your a baby/child you just do it because that’s what you love to do and as a child you play all fat. For me, if I was outside getting dirty I was inside being creative in some type of way. However getting into the preteen/teenage years I used art as a form of therapy. Here are the three ways art affected me on a mental, emotional and spiritual way.

Growing up I was raised Christian and had to have my hair pressed had to have girly clothes (I was a straight up tomboy) had to have everything neat and matching had to go to church and if I had any questions on why I couldn’t do something even if it was just to understand since I clearly didn’t understand at the time I was so confused. I had strict parents (I know now that it was because they were just being very protective of me in this crazy world) and I couldn’t really go anywhere. Even though I could’ve invited friends over but I liked going over places where the parents weren’t so strict so just I could have a little taste of freedom.

Long story short I became depressed and in a I don’t care attitude, I didn’t know who I was nor could I explore to find out no matter how hard I tried. It was literally driving me insane because I didn’t see myself in anyone nor anything except art. So on the days where I was just so angry at the world and at myself I would go to my studio that I created in the basement and would draw something very detailed just to let all of those questions that I had in my mind that wouldn’t get answered out. I overthink a lot and creating helped me to process everything I was thinking in a peaceful way.

I was sad and confused which turned into anger and all of it was pint up inside of me. I would rather harm myself than anyone else so in order for me to release all of those emotions I would throw paint onto paper and would see my emotions disappear as the paint splat therefore creating some of the best abstract artwork I’ve done. I like to call it killing two birds with one stone. 

Once I graduated college, I became more interested in religion and spirituality. I wanted to finally indulge in that world and connect my beliefs with my art just like when someone becomes connected to an art piece. I started doing research not only on Christianity but also other religions and beliefs and whatever I related to/that I connected with I would put it in my artwork. Another killing two birds with one stone because I was learning about my people that looked like me before slavery and I realized that a lot of my people didn’t know the history of our people before slavery and what their beliefs are etc. so I was only right to inform people through my art. 

In other words when people ask me how did art affect me mentally, spiritually and emotionally I can overall say that in present day when I need to let out some stress or process something I use art therapy and the art that create I make sure that my emotions and my culture portrays itself within my art so that people won’t feel alone and that them to can get through whatever they’re going through