COMPTON, Calif. - Going through trauma is not a rare thing. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 50 percent of all men and women experience at least one trauma in their lifetime.
However, in some under-served communities, talking about or seeking help for trauma can carry a negative stigma.
"Growing up in Compton, I was always taught that to be a man, you need to hold everything in," said high school senior, Alex Perez. "Don’t let anyone know when you’re insecure, when you’re sad, because that’s when they can hit you the hardest."
But his perspective on trauma and dealing with it have changed recently, thanks to the Mission Impact Challenge: Connected Community.
The challenge asked students in the Compton Unified School District to use STEAM to dream up innovative ways to identify the signs of and promote a community of healing around trauma.
Perez, along with several other students in the competition, were all coached by the same man — Vincent McLeod. The teacher at Dominguez High School uses his own traumatic experiences to help his students deal with their own.
McLeod was stabbed in the neck in 2009 while out with friends and family in Shoreline Village.
"I’m always big on using my story," McLeod explained. "I think that’s why I wanted to get into teaching and this particular thing in my past can help people. Regardless of if you were stabbed in the neck, trauma is trauma and PTSD is still PTSD.
His story has resonated with students like Perez, who has also gone through his share of struggles.
"Growing up I didn’t really have a home. A hotel kid, that’s what I was called," Perez said. "We didn’t have insurance to where I could go to the doctor, I could go get mental help."
"[McLeod] talks about things he’s been through, just like his scar," he continued. "That’s a breathtaking moment. It’s really amazing how he was able to overcome that mentally."
And under McLeod's guidance, Perez and the rest of his team took home the grand prize in the Mission Impact Challenge.
Their application, Mood Rite, can be personalized to its user using artificial intelligence technology. The app is able to take control for its user when they’re experiencing signs of trauma, help with coping mechanisms, and provide information for outside resources.
The team of innovators includes fellow seniors, Christopher Gilliam, Hilda Huerta, and Andres Favela. Along with McLeod, all four are hoping apps like these can help open up the dialogue surrounding trauma in their community.
"For me, it’s really personal that everybody should be able to have the access and equity to get help if they want it," McLeod said.