Are We Giving Black and Brown Youth What They Need to Thrive?

Are We Giving Black and Brown Youth What They Need to Thrive?

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On behalf of Healthy Communities Foundation, I offer our deepest condolences to those who have tragically lost loved ones in the recent mass shootings across our country. I also extend our sincere sympathies to families who have recently lost loved ones in Chicago and those who continue to mourn the unimaginable loss of a child to gun violence. 

In the past few days, I have been sitting with a question: Are we truly giving Black and Brown youth what they need to thrive? 

In response to the shooting and killing of 16-year-old Seandell Holliday on May 16th at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago, the local City Council passed an ordinance that imposes curfews, enforced by police, for youth aged 17 and under across the city. Community members, including several of our grantee partners, had rejected this approach based on empirical research pointing to its ineffectiveness in reducing crime. Our partners shared how this action would increase policing and racial bias towards Black and Brown young people simply seeking spaces in the city to exist without cost or barrier.

Gun violence is a public health issue. The ongoing criminalization of Black and Brown youth is also a public health issue. Young people need multiple safe, supportive environments to grow up in without the constant fear of being harmed. Exposure to culturally rich places, like Chicago’s downtown area, can also influence what and how young people learn about themselves and the world around them. Growing up in a nearby suburb of Chicago, I have fond memories of visiting downtown and Chicago’s lakefront. It was like entering a completely different world from the one I lived in each day. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy our great city and all it has to offer without experiencing compounding trauma. 

What must change?

We need to listen to and invest in young people to understand, from their lived experience, what they need to thrive. We must support programming and efforts that create the safe spaces they need and deserve in their neighborhoods. Further, evidence-based practices and community-led strategies must inform upstream policies that systemically affect young lives in the short and long term. 

At Healthy Communities Foundation, we acknowledge the connection between community safety and the health and wellbeing of people, especially youth. If they do not feel safe, they are not healthy. We also believe that communities, especially those who have experienced long-standing systemic disinvestment, have the solutions to remedy the issues they face. Still, they cannot nor should we expect them to do so without investment or trust.  

Many of our grantee partners across Chicago and its western suburbs are reimagining community spaces to be places for play, exploration and growth for young people. Many are also centering young voices in their strategies to address the social determinants of health. We must invest in these strategies. 

Regardless of where they live or their skin color, our children deserve to be listened to, protected, and given the opportunity to lead full, healthy and productive lives in their neighborhoods and beyond. It is up to all of us to ensure that happens.  

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