Steven Kniffley Jr.

Steven Kniffley Jr.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Steven D. Kniffley Jr. is an associate professor at Spalding University’s School of Professional Psychology and the coordinator of the university’s Collective Care Center, a racial trauma clinic.

On 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic

It has, unfortunately, increased the need for us to be here. So when it comes to mental health specifically, the pandemic--due to isolation, due to increased depression, and just anxiety related to the pandemic--has really exacerbated folks’ mental health needs. On top of that, because of all the challenges that we're seeing in regards to social justice issues, in regards to police brutality, and murders, and all those types of things, there's been this double pandemic that persons of color have also been experiencing. And so because of that they're experiencing issues related to their race, also known as race-related stress, or racial trauma. So just from a mental health standpoint, more folks are seeking out our services to cope with the difficulties that come with being in a pandemic, and dealing with the uncertainties potentially dealing with grief and loss.

On the toll from the fight for racial equity

According to the most recent health equity report for the city of Louisville, West Louisvillians experienced a couple of challenges that are disproportionate to other parts of the city. So, for example, West Louisvillians have about 14 or more poor mental or physical health days, compared to the average population here in the city. Additionally, West Louisvillians traditionally live about 12 years less than their white counterparts that live in the East Louisville area.

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The interesting thing about it is even if a West Louisvillian was to move from West Louisville to East Louisville, their life expectancy would still follow them. And so even in those spaces where they presume they might have access to different types of resources, they will pass earlier than their white counterparts in the same space. So there are some unique challenges that people of color are facing here in our city that can't be explained by education, or socioeconomic status, or things along those lines, that are mostly due to the different experiences that we have based on our racial background.

On how 2020 might change mental health awareness among persons of color

I couldn't do my job if I didn't have hope that things could change, that things can change. I think what I've seen the most of in this last, like 15 months or so, is just a heightened awareness of these types of issues that people of color have been experiencing over the last 100, several 100 years or so. The difference now is that, if we imagine that we've all been watching TV, and we see something that we don't like on TV, we've just been able to change the channel, and move on to something else. But because we've all been at home and in isolation, we've all essentially been watching two things on TV that we can't turn away from, which is the pandemic and also issues related to racial injustice.

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Because we've been unable to change the channel on those issues, we've had to lean into those conversations in ways that we haven't before. So I think because there's been a increased awareness two things have arisen because of that. First, there's been more conversations that people have been willing to have, or at least have been more open to have around racial justice issues, not just at the individual level, but also think about how systems have reinforced issues related to racism and discrimination. Additionally, because more persons of color are also being more aware of labels, such as racism, racial trauma, race-related stress, etc., more folks are able to put a name to what it is that they're experiencing. And because now that there's a name for it, people also know there is a place that they can go to seek help, such as what we're able to offer here at the Collective Care Center.

On his work

One of the reasons why it's rewarding is because I have a son. He's 2. I care about him so much, and he is a little Black boy. And my goal one day is to create a world, based on the work that I do, where he says, ‘I don't know what racism is. I've never heard of discrimination.’ And he's saying that not because he's ignorant, but because he literally has no context for it. So to be able to create a world where we dismantle racism, where we've elevated Black and brown folks to where they are equitable, and have a narrative of compassion, and love, and really share all the great things that they're capable of--I want that to be the future that he has. So this work is rewarding because it allows me to build a future for my kid that I'm hoping that he'll have.

Note: These are excerpts from an interview with WDRB News. Some have been edited for clarity and brevity.  

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