I have literally been trying for over a year to capture my concern about the impact these troubling times are having on our youth. The never ending shootings of unarmed black and brown people, the marginalization of communities of color, followed by the divisive platforms of the presidential election. Hoping for an opportunity to be inspired and solution oriented, I waited. No revelations. And then the moment would pass. And then another tragedy. Then protests. And that moment would pass. In the aftermath of the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Charles Kinsey, I reached some temporary clarity, but then realized that the images on repeat in my mind, could not be erased, and that I felt traumatized with each and every incident, each and every video, each and every hashtag, yet still unsure of a solution. And so again, I waited.
I recall a blog that I wrote a few years ago sharing some tips for our young people who encounter police on how to respond so that they would be safe. How naïve! My intentions were good, but I underestimated how far back our country was slipping in terms of justice and equity. I have watched with the world, the impact of policies on communities of color – underfunded schools and overfunded prison systems, resulting in mass incarceration and blighted opportunities. Now, with the election of a president who campaigned on hate with a platform of taking America backwards, I am crystal clear. And, I am resolved. Our focus should be on the well-being of our youth and in particular youth of color. We should harness our best thinking and our resources to enrich them and foster their well-being.
We have not protected our children, and they are bearing the brunt of our complacency. We have allowed schools to suspend our toddlers, interrupting their ability to learn to read. We have sat idly by while tens of thousands of our black and brown adolescents have been shackled and sent to juvenile court. All for the same kinds of normal adolescent misbehavior that kids have always engaged in, while other teens drive drunk and kill people (TX), or get drunk and rape people (CA) and get a pass. We pay no attention while juvenile prisons are filled with black and brown kids, assuming they must have done something violent to deserve it, and allowing them to silently suffer, when in reality the vast majority of them have not. We allow ourselves to get sucked into games of political gymnastics and intellectual bantering during an election in which bias and misogyny could not have been more prominent. We engage under the guise of challenging the absurd opinions of pundits, when our mere presence and involvement in the conversation may have unwittingly given it legitimacy and undermined an effort to focus on substantive issues. In this way, we failed ourselves, our families and our kids.
And now we sit with our thoughts, frustrated, sad, disappointed, and in shock. But what about our children? What is this doing to them now and what lingering impact will it have on how they view the world, their own self-worth, feeling safe, their opportunities? That should be our focus, and our rallying call for change.
After the shootings of Alton and Philando, I got a text message from my twenty-something, college educated and married niece. It was a screen shot of a social media posting by one of her friends (a 20-something young black male) who had randomly encountered an 8-year old younger black male who was crying. When asked why he was so upset, the 8-year old said that he didn’t want to be shot by the police! 8 years old and already traumatized and fearing the police! The day after the election, as my friends pondered how to talk about the results to their children, many shared heartbreaking questions and responses. Kids were concerned about their friends whose parents immigrated to America, wondering if they would have to leave the country. Some were met with bullying comments from classmates “Now that Trump is President, don’t you need to go to the back of the bus?” Others texted their parents from school anxious and needing reassurance, while others cried inconsolably as they wondered out loud about their future and looked for comfort and direction.
We would be foolish to think all of this random violence, and sanctioned discrimination will not have lasting impact. Scientifically, brains are not developed until the mid-twenties. Trauma (and please understand that this is what it is) on a developing brain is especially harmful. I wonder the collateral effect and the long-term consequences on our most cherished? Will they lose sleep – probably? Will they grow more anxious and distrustful – maybe? Will it impact their ability to focus in school, or prevent them from being high achievers? Will our adolescents, with their hormones raging and nothing making sense in their world, have increased anger or anxiety? Will this cause them to act out or be labeled? Will this push them into the juvenile justice system? All those things are likely, so what is the solution? It’s time to regroup, refocus, set some goals, harness our collective strengths, and focus on our kids so that we might right the wrongs in favor of fostering for them a bright future. Tweet your thoughts with #ourkids.
Tanya Washington is a former civil rights attorney and social justice advocate who seeks better outcomes for vulnerable youth/ Share your thoughts at http://www.justicecorner.com