Dr. David J. Pate, Jr | Hidden Truths Podcast, Episode 2

David Pate, an Associate Professor at the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, is an expert on low-income Black men, fatherhood, and child support debt. David researches the challenges Black men face in the social welfare system and how they make ends meet.

Most recently, Pate is examining the impact of  “toxic stress” on Black men. This stress results from early traumatic experiences or life changing events that have a lasting, negative impact throughout adulthood. “You’re walking around with your past childhood experiences that never got attended to as an adult,” explains Pate.

As part of his research, Pate interviewed 200 Black men and examined their physical and mental health, access to health care, adverse childhood experiences, and other factors. After the interviews were conducted, he analyzed their profiles in respect to ten conventional components of adverse childhood experiences that contribute to toxic stress; five components relate to issues of child abuse and neglect and five pertain to family dysfunction.  

“If a man has four or more components present, they are more at risk for incarceration, low employment, and often times have a harder time maintaining a stable life. We are also seeing a direct correlation between these ten components and stress when it comes to paying child support.”

Based on this research, Pate describes how existing public policies do not address the root challenges that these men face – the inequalities they were born into, their often traumatic experiences as children and teens, and the discrimination, oppression, and other challenges that compound these factors and greatly hinder their social and economic well-being as adults.

For example, David explained how “our current social welfare policies only support the primary caretaker of the child, which makes it difficult for the father to really support their child.”

Many of the men that were interviewed shared their desire to financially support their families and be the breadwinner. However, most are making less than $12,000 and cannot pay the monthly or weekly child support payments. The resulting fines, debt, and other sanctions they face for their inability to pay only exacerbate their problems, without actually helping the mother and child. “Often times the mother will be needed to support not only their child, but the father of her children too. Punishing the father doesn’t help the family, mother of their children, or generations to come.”

Pate also shared a story that highlights the discrimination within our current social welfare system and what he referred to as “state sanctioned violence” that can further trigger toxic stress:

“A Black man wanted to accompany the mother of his unborn child to her prenatal visit. However, due to the policies that are in currently in place, the mother’s transportation to the appointment was paid for, but not the father’s. Thus, the father had to walk to the prenatal visit… What message are we sending to fathers who are poor? We want you involved with your child, but we’re not going to support you? This doesn’t make rational sense.”

Currently, in the U.S., Black males face a disproportionately high unemployment rate. “We as a country haven’t done really well to provide a safety net for Black men and women,” explained Pate. “The U.S. tells men ‘Go out and get a job.’ But in reality, when these men do go and look for jobs in their community, they may have to compete with over 400 other men looking for that same job.”

In considering ways to address these issues, Pate stressed the need for greater investment in education, more research and understanding of how public policies interact and affect individuals and communities, and, on a fundamental level, greater compassion and appreciation of the human struggle at the root of these challenges.

“I think often we don’t give a human side to Black men who are particularly poor, who are experiencing challenges with the criminal justice system as well as with their employment opportunities, and who may be seen as someone who is just being lazy, and not working hard, and having [lots of] children, which is not the case for the majority of these men,” explained Pate. “These men start out in a space that is less than a lot of people, and until we start recognizing the humanity of all human beings, and particularly Black males…things aren’t going to change.”

As he looks to shine more light on these issues, Pate is excited to begin two upcoming research studies about violence prevention in the city of Milwaukee and the levels of toxic stress in Black men when they are given employment opportunities and benefits.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. David Pate and his research, view his recent publications below and his faculty profile at the University of Milwaukee.

Adverse Childhood Experiences, Health, and Employment: A Study of Men Seeking Job Services

Journal: Child Abuse & Neglect

November 2016, Volume 61, pp 23-34

The Color of Debt: An Examination of Social Networks, Sanctions, and Child Support Enforcement Policy

Journal: Race and Social Problems

March 2016, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 116–135

Dr. David J. Pate, Jr. is also the founder and operations manager for the Center for Family Policy and Practice, is a member of the National Advisory Board for the Responsible Father Research Network, and is an Affiliated Associate Professor of the Institute for Research on Poverty.

Jahmil Lacey | Hidden Truths Podcast, Episode 1

Jahmil Lacey, a public health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, is working to address health disparities among African American men in underserved locations around the Bay Area. A team of physicians, researchers, public health advocates, and community organizations have all come together to launch a new health initiative that cares for people, not profits.

Lacey’s effort is called TRAPMedicine, which leverages the cultural capital of barbershops as an upstream strategy for addressing disparities in chronic disease and mental health among African American men and boys. Culture and trust are the two pillars of this initiative and what we need to focus on to achieve equity,” says Lacey. From his previous experiences managing school-based health centers and running high school youth programs, he has learned that in order to see sustainable improvements the community must have trust in your understanding of their culture and, most importantly, in you.

Understanding that men and their barber have a deep bond, Lacey plans to launch this initiative in barber shops across the Bay Area. If a Black man trusts you with his hair line, they will trust you with their health,” chuckles Lacey. “I’ve always found [the barber shop] to be a unique, safe space for men to talk about everything, from the Warriors to safe sex.  

TRAPMedicine was designed to close the gap between the patient and the health care provider, with the barber acting as a convenor. We’re going to focus on screening for conditions that we know are prevalent among black men – diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, and mental health. Lacey hopes to provide not only upfront care and screenings but, most importantly, follow-up care and information to those who need it most. Lacey believes that this is where you can lose trust – by not offering follow-up appointments or not providing more information later on to those in need.”

On December 31, 2016, TRAPMedicine will officially launch the pilot program at Legends Barber Shop in East Oakland. On this day, members of the community can receive free health screenings from 10am to 4pm. The barber shop will also offer free haircuts for people who participate in the screenings. Food will be provided.

The group plans to provide various support groups to Bay Area barber shops to further engage community members in nonjudgmental conversations. People are more likely to be influenced by their peers than by a doctor,” explains Lacey. By operating outside the walls of a hospital, TRAPMedicine will encourage men of color to build a community around health.

In these ways, Lacey’s initiative seeks to not only address health disparities, but the underlying economic inequities that give rise to them. It’s stressful to be poor. This disease creates disease,” says Lacey. “Broadly speaking, I hope we can create and develop safe spaces for men to support each other, to share information about employment, mental health, manhood, and to ultimately increase health literacy in these communities.”

TRAPMedicine is looking for volunteers who have experience in the medical field or public health research, and who have experience working with people of color. If you would like to learn more or get involved, email Jahmil Lacey at jahmil.lacey@gmail.com or trapmedicine@gmail.com. To stay-up-to-date about this initiative, you can follow TRAPMedicine on Facebook and Instagram.

To listen to our full conversation, use the audio player above or subscribe to the Insight Center podcast on iTunes.

Jahmil Lacey is a public health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco; the manager of a housing facility for young adults with chronic mental health issues; and an Insight Center for Community Economic Development Board member.