There is considerable conversation about the ability to work from home and engage with our children in homeschooling. It is important to note that this privilege is not available to all, and many people in our city have to risk their health to go out for work. Without question, the health of Black and brown adults is at risk daily, but there is a lack of conversation about the little faces that those adults have to go back home to in the evening - our children. As we consider the economic, social, and mental health impact of COVID-19, if Black adults will experience pneumonia, I offer that our children are also experiencing pneumonia and if it goes untreated, they will be forced to become dependent on an allegorical breathing machine to and through their adult lives. If we fail in this moment, generations yet unborn will be impacted.
Let’s consider what our city and our nation has neglected to treat as it relates to our Black children. Our public school system is failing. How many times have we witnessed teachers paying for school supplies, providing food for their students, and shivering or sweating due to the extreme temperatures in schools? Adding a worldwide pandemic on top of a system that is already failing has effectively crippled the struggling system of education and resources in our city. Statistically, Black children already gain less over the school year and lose more during the summer when compared to their white counterparts. At the end of February, our children were removed from school and given packets to complete at home, now becoming susceptible to possible winter, spring, and summer learning loss. Additionally, lead paint continues to fall from residential buildings in West Baltimore, there’s a lack of safe havens, rec centers, and other youth engagement programs to meet the needs and provide an outlet for youth, while parents continue to report that they don't feel comfortable allowing their children to play outside.
Baltimore is my home. I have only lived in 2 zipcodes in our city, was educated in the Public School System, and attended Morgan State University for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Nothing makes me happier than a City/Poly rivalry conversation, driving through familiar neighborhoods, or stopping by Mondawmin Mall when no other mall in the area had what I needed. In November of 2015, when my husband & I decided that it was time to buy a home, we invested in my hometown. I have worked in City Schools at the macro and micro level, and spent all of my career doing work for black children who remind me of myself. As a practicing Social Worker, I have daily conversation with Black children who are labeled as ADHD, ODD, anxious, and depressed. I remember my days as a little black girl in Baltimore and the consistent anxiety I would experience hearing my working class parents balance their checkbook, after spending an entire school year with a warm body substitute in math class.
There is consistent conversation in our country about the coddling of the young American mind in which our youth are protected, and demand protection from thoughts that may make them feel marginalized, or simply don't match their thoughts. While this theory is thought provoking, it is consistently considered from a eurocentric approach. Who protects the little black girls and boys? Who provides a voice for them? I can no longer count the number of times I have heard young people say “adults just don’t listen”.
It has been said that, “it is easier to build strong children, then to repair broken men.” While this quote was written in a conversation with white owners of enslaved Africans, it rings true in an American system that continues to request data of our public school system’s elementary attendance rates to project the number of beds needed in an area jail. Simply put, the evils from then still exist today. How can we affirm, love, and protect our children during this time of crisis? Long story short, I don't have all the answers. Just like our ranging shades of melanin, Black America is not and never will be a monolith. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach, and we must do what will have an impact on the greatest number of people. I do know that which benefits black America benefits us all.
I offer that we should approach the innovation of our new normal during and post COVID-19 with a village concept. Black people thrive in spaces in which collective care is the foundation. This is a chance to show our children that they have a right to be loved. Children look to their parents and other adults for information in ambiguous and crisis situations. We must listen to and affirm our children. Tell the black children in your life that it's ok to be scared, that they are safe, and take the time to explore the things that they are good at or interested in. For some of us, this time of social distancing is the first time in years that we have spent uninterrupted time with our children and partners. Make the most of it.
I call on our area nonprofits, and churches. Since 1865, we have known that SuperMan has not (and is not) coming to save us. It's up to us to mobilize through partnership and innovative approaches. Our churches in particular have a historical responsibility and connection to our youth, and are in a prime space to innovate youth programming. Check-in on our young people, and be a stable presence in their lives. I can guarantee you that they won't forget! If we do not activate and innovate our space, time, and opportunity the trauma (seen and unseen) from COVID-19 it will be difficult to undo the financial, educational, mental and physical health impacts for our children.
The Masai Warriors of Kenya and Tanzania greet each other with the words “and how are the children?” It is an homage to the wellbeing of the children. The response is “all the children are well”, meaning that life is good. Our children are the barometer for understanding our present and future. I encourage you to use this statement as the litmus test for our communities, our city, our state, and our nation. If the response is not ’all the children are well’ - there is still work to be done.