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