By Kirk Clay
“An artist, if he is truly an artist, is only interested in one thing and that is to wake up the minds of men, to have mankind and womankind realize that there is something greater than what we see on the surface.”
– Marvin Gaye –
If you read the most popular headlines today, you would think that this is unequivocally the worst of the time to be a young student. As usual for most adolescents, just figuring out who you are in your development is tough enough. You are often battling feelings of acceptance, relationships, and growing academic expectations. Your identity is being developed amid the backdrop of who your family says you are, the holidays you celebrate, religious events you attend, and other cultural experiences with your friends.
As I pointed out in my last blog, this summer, we have a little more to reflect on than usual. As the education community begins to make plans for the upcoming year, there are a few questions that we must address to heal the whole school community. First, how does racism impact the mental health of people of color (POC) students? Second, in what way does “race-related” stress show up in young people? Lastly, how can students mitigate the impact of racism, learn from their experiences, and heal while living a productive life?
The two most significant areas of concern are:
· Racial Identity Development – How we perceive, learn, and come to know who we are to ourselves, within groups, and to others in our environment.
· Cultural Trauma – a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people that have achieved some degree of cohesion.
For students like my neighbor, who attends Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, this begins their final year as RBHS’s first cohort of graduating seniors. Before these scholars walk across the stage and enter the adult world, there are a few “POC” student-centered issues to address. For example, they need to be prepared for the possibility of living in an environment where they will experience race-related micro-aggressions. Moreover, they may be exposed to a racially charged domestic terrorist activity and feel shocked as they learn how expendable some people view POC lives are. These experiences could cause feelings of anxiety, anger, and or depression then lead to a physical manifestation of “stress” in the form of stomachaches, headaches, and even “post-traumatic slavery syndrome.”
The 400th anniversary of Africans arrival in America is this year. The seeds of post-traumatic slavery syndrome were planted at the beginning of our union, and the legacy through past actions of prejudice, discrimination, racism, and microaggressions exist today. For example, the U.S. Constitution states that America will count every person every decade and use the results of that count to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, this originally had profound injustice embedded in it by stipulating that slaves held in bondage were counted as three-fifths of a person. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14thamendment, allowing former slaves to be counted as full-individuals, one result of the costly, bloody struggle of the Civil War.
Immediately following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, over 600 African Americans occupied various elected offices across the nation. With the end of that era came an almost century-long period of despair, which began when African Americans were habitually disenfranchised through Jim Crow practices, lynching, segregation, institutionalized racism, and incarceration discrepancies, to name a few. By 1965, only 300 African Americans occupied elected offices. This type of social injustice has had a lingering impact, and can only be accounted for through reparations and addressed through appropriate policies.
Our children see the effects of this injustice daily. When our young students feel upset by the things they read or see on social media and don’t have a clear reference point to connect their emotions and behaviors, they stop trusting their neighbors. We have to give them confirmation that we have been here before. They must know that it’s okay to “feel the feelings.” Let’s acknowledge that these issues were previously swept under the rug but not anymore. We must inform them that their feelings are appropriate and will be affirmed and supported. We should teach them to recognize what triggers them and show them the necessary coping skills. They should always protect themselves and maintain personal safety but be sure to live their truth.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.