Where do you feel safe? Where do you feel seen as a person — someone worthy of investment and support from others? For many students and communities of color in California, there are no easy answers to these questions.
We know Black, Latinx, Native, Asian, Pacific Islander, immigrant and refugee, low-income, LGBQ, Trans and Gender Nonconforming communities are currently under attack from state violence, threats of deportation, environmental injustice, and systems whose sole intent is to criminalize our bodies. Our youth are subject to these same systems and they’re taking a heavy toll on their mental health. Suicide rates are much higher for native teens than any other group, while black youth under age 13 are twice as likely as white peers to attempt suicide.
We owe it to the next generation to take mental health seriously and honor the need in our communities. This Mental Health Awareness Month, we can choose to lead together as organizers, educators and advocates to ensure our youth have spaces where they feel safe, supported and capable of thriving.
Schools are the place we can start to sow these seeds of success and healing. Students spend eight hours a day, five days a week for months at a time in school. The classroom environment offers an ideal space for them to reflect and learn more about the systems at play in their community. But for this experience to truly empower our youth, our schools must offer space to acknowledge and address the trauma, pain and anxiety that exists in the day-to-day of the communities we exist in.
This means ensuring access to mental health resources and engagement with caring and trusted adults. Our schools need allies who see and value students for who they are, engage with youth and build meaningful relationships that help students feel safe and supported.
We all need someone who believes in us, makes us feel seen and supported to grow. Students are no exception. We need to lead together for safer more supportive schools. Spaces where teachers are empowered to build meaningful relationships with students, counselors are available and trained to address trauma, and our youth are valued and supported in their growth. Together, we can ensure that our schools and communities are supported to thrive for generations of leaders to come.
“During my freshman year, I was part of an incident where I was the victim and I had to participate in a restorative justice circle. I met Ms. Arianna, who used to be our Restorative Justice Coordinator…I used to look forward to seeing Ms. Arianna because she kept me motivated at school.
“I felt safer at school having someone to confide in. When we saw each other in the hallways or in between classes she would check up on me. She wouldn’t just say hi, she would check up on my mental health and have conversations with me.
“Then last year, we lost Ms. Arianna as our Restorative Justice Coordinator because of budget reductions. After she left, students were lost and bottled up with emotions, with no one to talk to.
“We need to make sure that we don’t reduce budgets in a way that eliminates the caring adults who are in our lives every day because those are the critical resources that students need. We need healthy, loving, supportive relationships with adults at school who believe in us and want to see us succeed.”