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Session 2

Impact of ACES/Toxic Stress: The Black Experience

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are defined as traumatic or stressful experiences before the age 18
  • Abuse (physical, emotional or sexual),
  • Neglect (physical or emotional) and/or
  • Household dysfunction (incarceration, substance abuse, mental illness, or domestic violence among parents or household crime)
  • Racism now acknowledged as its own ACEs category

Stress Response System

Like Team of Superhero’s led by the brain to combat stress. The team made up of the brain, organs, and hormones that work together to combat stress

Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)

The executive control center of the brain that controls thoughts and actions. Main job is to control our emotional responses to stress .


Amygdala perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus


Command center responds to distress signal

And the chain reaction continues…

  • Adrenaline rushes into the bloodstream
  • Heart rate increases pushes blood to muscles, heart and other vital organs
  • Pulse rate increases, blood pressure rises, rapid breathing
  • Hypothalamus wakes up second component
  • A cascade of hormones are release, including epinephrine (adrenaline) cortisol
  • Hormones are the messengers
  • When danger passes, body calms down

What Happens if Threat is Constant?

  • Like car idling too high for too long
  • Persistent epinephrine surges damage blood vessels and arteries
  • Increases blood pressure and risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes contribute to build-up fat tissue and weight gain

Acute to Chronic Inflammation & Chronic Adversity

Inflammation, as part of the body’s stress response, helps defend against infection, injury, and acute threat—but persistent inflammation in response to chronic adversity can have long-term, disruptive effects on physical and mental well-being.

Children living in adverse environments experience more acute inflammation, including recurrent infections, and are also more prone to chronic inflammatory conditions that can last for a lifetime

Chronic Toxic Stress in Black Community

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Low educational attainment
  • Neighborhood violence

What can we do to Counteract Chronic Toxic Stress?

The Most Effective Preventions of Toxic Stress

Provide stable, buffering relationships with adult caregivers

Provide stable, buffering relationships with adult caregivers. A supportive, responsive, caring adult is necessary to serve as a Buffer against stress

A supportive, responsive, caring adult is necessary to serve as a buffer against stress.

Ensure the environments where children grow & develop are nurturing, stable, and engaging

Reduce Exposure to Adverse Experiences

Reduce exposure to adverse experiences and ensure the environments where children grow & develop are nurturing, stable, and engaging

Not Everything that is Faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced

– James Baldwin

View Session 2 Presentation


  • Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, 2020
  • Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Vincent J Felitti MD, FACPRobert F Anda MD, MS, 1998
  • Pediatrics and Child Health;The Social Determinants of Child Health, 2018
  • Neighborhood Wellness Foundation, grassroots observations and interactions, 2017-2021