Racial Trauma and Young People – Why We Can’t Stay Silent

Like so many others, we were deeply pained by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past Monday. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Violence against Black Americans, as we’ve seen with the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others this year alone, is emblematic of the systemic racism that remains in our country. The accumulation of incidents like these, either experienced or witnessed, can have a profound effect on our young people, particularly young people of color. They worry that people in positions of power do not value and respect the worth of each individual and that there’s a real reason to fear for their safety when they go about their daily lives.

As leaders of youth-supporting organizations, we cannot be silent. These acts of violence are manifestations of the inequities and injustices that far too many of our young people encounter on a regular basis. We know that this week’s headlines are a symptom of a larger problem—one that cuts across every aspect of society, including schools and other systems that serve young people and their families. We must continue to address the well-documented psychological and developmental damage that occurs as a result of systemic racism. Decades of research have linked racial trauma experienced by children to chronic stress, inflammation, lower self-esteem, worsened sleep, and even chronic disease. 

This trauma is not lost on young people. In the youth-led Barriers to Wellness report, many young people described racism as a threat to their health and well-being. In particular, young people of color cited feeling overpoliced, undervalued, and unsafe in their own communities. They also indicated a lack of trust in and fear of police, leading to anxiety and avoidance of public places. Our young people cannot learn and thrive if they fear for their own safety and well-being. As adult allies, it is our responsibility to create space for the pain and suffering of so many young people and communities, to actively engage in strategies to help mitigate and prevent racial trauma, and equip adults with the tools to show up as allies, mentors, and supports. 

As leaders of national youth-supporting organizations, we are committed to working hand-in-hand with communities and young people across the country to address these challenges and their root causes. We know that this work takes time and concerted effort. We balance the fierce urgency of now with humility for the persistent challenge that many have fought for so long to address. All of our organizations want to make clear our deep commitment to ensuring young people of color are valued and safe, and that the inequitable systems young people face every day are reimagined and rewired for justice and equity.  

America's Promise Alliance First Tee Peace First
Afterschool Alliance FoodCorps Playworks
After-School All-Stars Friends of the Children  Points of Light
Alliance for a Healthier Generation Girls Inc. Q.E.D. Foundation, Inc.
Alliance for Excellent Education GLSEN Reaching At-Promise Students Association
Aspen Institute - Opportunity Youth Forum Healthy Teen Network Rural School and Community Trust 
ASPIRA Association Hetrick-Martin Institute  Search Institute 
AT&T Higher Achievement  Share our Strength
Attendance Works Hispanic Heritage Foundation SIATech Schools HOSA-Future Health Professionals Springboard Collaborative
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America I'm First! Stand for Children 
Black Educational Events, LLC Jobs for the Future Step Up
Boys & Girls CLubs of America Jumpstart Story Tapestries, Inc.
Camp Fire KABOOM! STRIVE International
CASEL League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action
Center for the Study of Social Policy Learning Heroes  Summer Search
Child Trends Learning Policy Institute Susan Glendining PC
CHOICES Education Group MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership The Denver Foundation
Citizen Schools Mikva Challenge The Education Trust
City Year Minnesota Alliance With Youth The Forum for Youth Investment
Civic Mocha Moms, Inc.   The Steppingstone Foundation
Cohen Strategy Group, LLC NAF Thread
College Possible National 4-H Council Turnaround for Children
Communities In Schools National Association of Secondary School Principals UCAN, Inc
Concentric Educational Solutions, Inc National Association of State Boards of Education United Way Worldwide
Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) National Center on Time & Learning University Research & Review Inc
DFW Champion Youth National College Attainment Network Up2Us Sports
Education Northwest National Partnership for Educational Access US Dream Academy National PTA Venture Philanthropy Partners
Eye to Eye National Summer Learning Association Voices for National Service
FHI 360 National Summer Learning Association WorkingNation
First Book National Youth Leadership Council Youth Communication
First Focus on Children ParentChild+ Youth Service America