African American youth in this country are exposed to trauma daily. Issues like poverty, mass incarceration and violence plague the lives of many of our children, leaving them scarred and anxious. Yet many of the children facing these problems rarely get the therapeutic help they need, carrying the effects of these issues into adulthood. As access to mental health resources continue to decline in the Black community, incidences of suicide, ADHD and behavioural disorders continue to rise. This is particularly true in urban school districts where over 50% of the juvenile population, in some detention centers, has an IEP (Individualized Education Program). This is, more than likely, a direct result of adverse childhood experiences (A.C.E.). Instead of stigmatizing mental health issues, we must normalize the issue. We must learn to equate the importance of emotional health with the importance of physical health. Needing help is not a shame, the shame is in the inability and fear to do so.
Many African-American students are penalized and labeled as “troubled kids”. These same students have likely experienced major traumatic events in their lives that have affected their ability to focus, communicate, or perform under pressure. Just because a child stares off while a lesson is being taught, does not necessarily mean that he/she is not interested or doesn’t grasp the concepts introduced. It could be that his brother was murdered last night and he has to figure out the best route home so that he does not lose his own life, too. These are real challenges that students deal with daily. Therefore, therapy in schools is so important that it should be as much a part of the curriculum as English, Math and Science. In failing to acknowledge our children’s lived experiences, we are unconsciously failing them. We must give them the support they need if we want them to successfully navigate the terrain that is growing up Black in America.