Richard Desirey has counseled a bevy of traumatized people in his life, but there’s one type of experience that consistently nags at him.
“The experience that most impacts me is when I witness, on a fairly regular basis, a parent who I know who has experienced pretty traumatic things, who has hurt and angry and is being hurtful toward a child, not attending to a child’s need,” Desirey said. “I think, how did we become, in our society, so unwilling to step in and give more support to these families and these kids?
“How is it that it’s a commonplace thing to see a child verbally or physically abused and no one believes they can step in?”
That’s one of the most severe things Desirey has to deal with.
A licensed professional counselor, Desirey spent the majority of his life creating nonprofits and working in other organizations before establishing “A New Way Center” in 2011 — his final project.
Desirey grew up in Tulsa, spending all his years until high school in that community.
“I lived in a completely segregated, white neighborhood in south Tulsa,” Desirey said. “I attended all-white schools. In the 60s, as a teenager, I became aware the world I lived in was very segregated, and my family and the people around me seemed very comfortable with that segregation. But there was a much more diverse world outside of the community”
From there, Desirey attended Oklahoma University before returning to Tulsa to begin working.
And he had a specific focus.
“The importance of quality education and effective, relevant mental health in the Black community was historically underrepresented, in terms of resources,” Desirey said. “So that has been the focus of my career for 40-plus years.”
Desirey has worked all over the state, but in his final years he wanted to establish A New Way Center in Greenwood, which he describes as the vortex of the community.
A New Way Center has a focus on helping the children deal with trauma, although they work with people of all age groups.
“With each generation, prior to 1921 and subsequent to 1921, there have been extreme hardships and injustices,” Desirey said. “With that trauma for the generation that experiences it and the children that experience it, when they become parents and the world they live in is not fair and just, then their children experience it.”
From there, it just becomes a trickle-down effect.
“They’re not as emotionally available to their children and their children are more likely to experience a parent with substance abuse issues, with mental health issues, experience domestic violence, experience poverty, experience poor health of parents, experience parents that are incarcerated — all of those correlated with trauma in childhood,” Desirey said.
As Desirey put it, not all the trauma is a result of the race massacre, as these sort of race issues were occurring all over the country.
But the Tulsa race massacre has certainly left its imprints on so many people of Greenwood.
So for Desirey, who sees the effect the past centuries of discrimination, segregation and injustice has taken on so many people, hhas spent so many years trying to ease people’s trauma how he can.
“If we can get to children and create those protective factors and restore healthy relationships and end trauma, then we can turn the tide on all this,” Desirey said. “I keep my enthusiasm and energy and keep going because this is how the future is improved.”