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Rev. Verdell Taylor: Acknowledging trauma is important, and so is asking for help

Editor’s note: July is Minority Mental Health Month. This year's theme, Be the Source for Better Health: Improving Health Outcomes Through Our Cultures, Communities, and Connections, is about understanding how the unique environments, cultures, histories, and circumstances of racial and ethnic minority populations impact their overall health.


Rev. Verdell Taylor knows about trauma.


He has experienced it firsthand.


Taylor was robbed at gunpoint in June 2016 when he was on an early morning walk near Holcomb Park.


He has also seen trauma in the lives of people he has counseled. Taylor is the retired pastor at St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in East Lawrence. He retired from pastoring in 2021 after nearly 40 years, including 26 at St. Luke AME.  He has a master’s degree in counseling and has been a counselor with Christian Psychological Services since 1996.


Taylor also served as a line of duty investigation officer in the military during the Vietnam War where he interviewed soldiers who had been wounded or were dying.


“Sometimes people don’t even realize they’ve been traumatized, but that trauma can come back if it’s not dealt with,” he said. “I’ve seen that in my own life and sought counseling because of it.”


Taylor currently serves as the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity manager for LMH Health, a role he has been in for 10 years. Prior to that, he served on the LMH Health Board of Trustees for eight years.


Throughout his 80 years, Taylor has both experienced and observed trauma. None more than the day he was robbed by someone who pointed a gun at his face.


“That was one of the most difficult days of my life,” he said. “The shotgun was within inches of my nose. It was so close, it caused me to fall over.”


It took three trials before the man who had been charged with the crime was convicted. The first two trials ended in hung juries.


“I had to relive the trauma over and over again, every time,” Taylor said. “I don’t even want to go back and try to find what the date was that it happened, because it brings up that trauma.”


To help deal with the trauma, Taylor sought help from mental health professionals at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Topeka.


As a pastor and a counselor, Taylor has seen how trauma can affect people’s mental health. His message to them was always: help is available.


“Many times, the congregants will look to the pastor to fix things. I would tell people I can help you so far but then I’m going to refer you to Bert Nash or someplace that can give you more help,” Taylor said. “You have to know when to refer. In that way, I acted as sort of a case manager.”    


Building trust is an important step in that process, he said.


“Trust is definitely part of it,” he said. “That can keep people from seeking help. I would tell them the people there might not look like us, but they can help you. That’s when we start to build these layers of trust with people. I’m going to trust Bert Nash because Pastor Taylor referred me there.”


Taylor said for members of the Black community, especially for men, it can be difficult to ask for help.


“There’s been a stigma that Black people don’t do therapy,” he said. “There was the sense that you were weak if you asked for help. People would ‘power through.’”


Taylor said individual trauma as well as generational trauma can impact a person’s mental health, though he sees the younger generation is more inclined to seek counseling services. The murder of George Floyd traumatized a whole nation.


“As a member of the Black community, I saw certain things that happened regularly, that’s the way it was,” he said. “After George Floyd, people were really struggling. They saw a man murdered right before our eyes.”


Taylor said it was important for people who were struggling to be able to ask for help and receive it.


“People reached out to me because I’m a Black person,” he said. “But we’re all members of the human race. We’re all one of God’s created beings. If we can’t have a conversation about it, we’re in trouble. So, let’s figure this out together.”


That’s why Minority Mental Health Month is important, he said, it promotes awareness and education.


“It’s important to acknowledge this is something I need help with and to be able to receive that help,” Taylor said. “For people who look like me, we need to continue to provide more education, making sure that we talk about the benefits of getting help, especially with minority mental health.”

Rev. Taylor: "We're all members of the human race. Let's figure this out together."


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