America is a gun, declares Brian Bilston’s viral poem – and increasingly, it targets America’s youth, primarily BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) youth.
Our nation is facing yet another moment of truth. The guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is but a brief respite in a system designed to let the police kill with total impunity.
Horrific killings of Ma’Khia Bryant, 15 years old, Adam Toledo, 13 years old, Peyton Ham, 16 years old, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, and 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap at the hands of law enforcement, have brought us to this critical juncture. But they follow the deaths of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Stefon Clark, Jonathan Edwards, Tyre King, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown Jr., Kenny Watkins, Sean Reed, and so many more.
Do we believe, really believe, that Black lives matter? Saying those words in protest chants is not enough to change our blood-stained, centuries-old history of genocide, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and police brutality. Movement, progress, change – these must all be measured against the backdrop of our nation’s racism.
Ma’Khia Bryant, Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, Peyton Ham, Iremamber Sykap. We say their names to remember. And with each name repeated, we die a little more inside as a culture. Our youth are our future and with each death, we kill more of our collective potential and promise.
“Do we believe, really believe, that Black lives matter? Saying those words in protest chants is not enough to change our blood-stained, centuries-old history of genocide, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and police brutality. Movement, progress, change – these must all be measured against the backdrop of our nation’s racism.” ~Shalimar Gonzales, Solid Ground CEO
Law enforcement will argue that these young people put themselves in harm’s way by the choices they made. At Solid Ground, we know that in America the game is rigged against our youth, especially those in Black and Brown bodies. We know that the traumas of poverty, racism, state-sponsored violence, and other oppressions are significant barriers for their social, intellectual,* and moral development. You cannot reform a system that murders children. As a society, we must create an environment where all young people can flourish, grow, and develop.
That’s why Solid Ground invests in community partnerships to support, mentor, and nurture the young people in our residential programs, whose families have all experienced living unhoused and associated traumas like hunger, social isolation, and much more.
At Solid Ground’s residential housing programs, we support youth success in education, partner with their schools, enhance their technology access, and match them to tutors and mentors. We connect youth with community leaders who look like them, who model success, and who support and challenge them to grow and succeed.
Our Art Club partnership with The Seattle Public Library is one of many examples of how creating opportunities for youth to work with teaching artists, activists, scholars, health care providers, and others molds them into tomorrow’s civic leaders.
Our staff who are white work to recognize their privilege, position as gatekeepers, and internal biases, so that we provide youth of color with the same services that we do for white families. Our entire team is working on how we can be proactive to protect young people who are vulnerable in possible interactions with the police.
We know that work we do does not change the world that BIPOC youth are experiencing. We all need to also work to change policies, challenge blatant and internalized biases, and more, for young people to truly move towards more equal footing.
America is a gun, and political will to put the gun down is at best sporadic and halting. Clearly, we need to do more in that regard. We grieve with our families for the loss of the lives that have been stolen, and for the fear that parents of color have for their children, and for the racism that their children will experience as they walk in the world.
But America is also a place where in the face of ultimate horrors, we find strength in creating community together and fighting for a better world. Where, despite the barriers society throws up, Black and Brown youth can thrive and lead the way to a better world.
Here are some resources to help you “hold space” with youth and other people impacted by violence:
- The importance of holding space (Kevin Pho, MD)
- Holding Space: A Toolkit by Farah Tanis
- Talking to Children About Difficult Topics (Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh)
- Talking to Your Kids About Grief and Loss (video on Facebook)
- How to Talk to Kids about Asian-American Violence & Racism (Dr. Christine Koh)
Here are some resources on advocacy efforts to secure police reform:
- *Police Shootings Lower Black and Latino Students’ Grades, Graduation Rates, Study Shows (EducationWeek)
- Washington Coalition for Police Accountability
- Next Steps Washington
- 2 big changes for police use-of-force in Washington state (KUOW)
- Police in Washington who see fellow officer using excessive force must intervene, Legislature says (The Seattle Times)