Psychologist helps heal inner city wounds
Dr. Earl Bracy has seen the wounded part of Milwaukee's troubled youth upfront and personal.
As a clinical psychologist employed by the state of Wisconsin to counsel adolescents aged 11 to 17 years old, Bracy meets with about 20 different cases each week to offer his particular brand of therapy for what ails them most.
A clinical psychologist deals with the most deeply rooted issues that can affect young people who find themselves in trouble with the law or with their own families.
Bracy often meets with young people who need direction and guidance in their lives. But in some areas of Milwaukee, he said the family structures are so dysfunctional that it's hard to get a grasp on the situation without concerted efforts from everyone involved.
"A lot of times, the kids are the scapegoat for what's gone wrong in the family, but that's almost always not the main reason," said Bracy. "In order to work the family has to come together."
Bracy has been working in Milwaukee for 15 years, mostly with African-American adolescents who are the product of parents who sometimes struggle to keep their children in line.
Bracy has authored two books: "The Making of a Psychologist" and "Too Young to Die: Inner City Adolescent Homicide - A Psychological Autopsy." Both are scholarly studies of the issues involved in his practice along with his memories of growing up in the segregated South as a boy.
Over the years, he's come up with his own explanation for the social conditions he sees in Milwaukee and elsewhere.
"I'd say I've seen a dramatic shift beginning in the 1980s," said Bracy. "Each decades the black families seemed more shattered. The parent, usually a single mother, struggled to support the family and the kids just seemed to go their own way. It's like there's no real sense of purpose and no spirituality."
Bracy said he also saw some young people in trouble as confused individuals from a good background who just ended up hanging with the wrong crowd.
"Sometimes these kids lead a double life like a secret society, until they get into trouble and their parents realize what they've been up to. A lot of times it's peer pressure and following the leader. But they're not really bad people."
What he had learned from his studies of black families in turmoil because of their children was that the role of the father was often invaluable.
"We need more strong black men in the community," he said, flatly.
Young black males, in particular, are in dire need of leadership.
"That's why it doesn't matter how hardcore they might be, I always make a point to talk to them. There's a lot of self-hatred and anger but I help them come up with strategies too help deal with that."
As an African-American psychologist who tries to learn the minds of troubled youth in crisis, Bracy is probably uniquely qualified to tell their stories. As it turned out, it's been more than enough to fill a book or two.
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