America harms children every day, and this is not just a contemporary issue. In the current moment, people all over the country have been confronted with America’s most recent brutality against migrant children. Watching innocent children be torn from their families, reports of abuse and trafficking and an administration justifying all of this with biblical scripture is a tad by overwhelming for many.
Others, mostly people of color, are not surprised. In fact, many of us know that this isn’t the first time that our countries policies have resulted in the forcible separation of families. Some have even taken time to remind us of slavery, “Indian” schools, and the Japanese Internment among other historical examples. And, while the current situation is still very unsettling, maybe even more so because we’ve seen this violence happen in history, anyone conscious enough must recognize that America has a pattern, even an addiction to harming children.
In the last few years, we have seen images of Black children being murdered by the state. These deaths have been treated as debatable, not deplorable. Even now, the death of Antwon Rose is receiving silence from the same folks on my timeline declaring their hearts are broken about migrant children. We have statistical evidence that children of color, poor children, and queer children, have been treated with violence in schools by teachers and other staff. These tragedies have been treated as excusable. The youth population is one of the fastest growing populations of new HIV infections. Our response, nothing. Young people have been shot and killed in their schools. In one such incident babies in an elementary school met this fate. Gun access; still up for discussion. Given the historical and contemporary trauma America has visited upon its children, especially those of color and from marginalized communities, it’s seems we’ve been well groomed for this current moment.
Data tells us that approximately 9 million “at-risk youth” are without mentors. Where are the concerned adults lining up to mentor them? Education data tells us young people are better off when they have wrap around supports in the form of programs that provide them with support both in and out of school. Where is the funding for those centers? Research on trauma tells us that when our young people have harrowing experiences like the ones we’ve been watching unfold on the American border, their trauma can be genetically passed down from generation to generation. Free and accessible therapy and other mental health services anyone?
See it’s not just our history but our daily social and political actions that impact the situation we are watching play out on our screens. There is an inter-relatedness, an inter-connectedness many of us fail to see and understand. We should be able to care for both migrant children and Black children at the same time. But, a critical eye recognizes that both of these children are victims of the American state. We’ve been working as mentors and educators for over ten years, and the impact that these socio-political dynamics have on children is visible in schools, programs and community centers all over the country.
Educators, mentors and youth workers need support, guidance, and resources to provide support for young people who are the victims of America’s harm. The new Center for Critical Mentoring and Youth Work is taking on the challenge. We’ve created this center to scale our critical mentoring and youth work impact. In the past two years, we’ve traveled the country and world helping youth workers to do critical work with young people. It’s not only important, but it’s also necessary as our society continues to be a violently complex space that youth have to learn to navigate and challenge. The center is charged with three essential tasks;
- To provide training and other types of professional development for anyone working with young people.
- To research mentoring and youth work utilizing critical theories and perspectives. We want to study youth work in ways it hasn’t been considered.
- To provide trauma first aid and support for communities who are impacted by tragedies. We will deploy a team of experts to help the youth community heal and form responses.
But this is only our little corner of “the work.” We need dialogue, action and grassroots organizing at every level. Young people need us in ways we may not have understood before. Now is the time to show them our support. Here is what you can do:
- Volunteer to mentor a young person in your community. The time you give is invaluable, and it doesn’t cost a dime.
- Give to community organizations on the ground. The non-profit industrial complex can be deceiving. If you really care about what’s happening to young people find grassroots nonprofits doing work on the ground to make sure your money really gets to the people you want it to.
- Do more than post on social media. While utilizing social platforms to share and initiate dialogue is excellent, move past the screen and hashtags to do something real.
Young people deserve the best of us so that they can be better than us.