By Ingrid Padgett, Communications and Program Strategist, School Mental Health Initiative, New England MHTTC
The Center for Racial Justice in Education (CRJE)—a national nonprofit organization dedicated to training and empowering educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in our schools and communities—released a Black History Month Resource Guide for Educators and Families. The guide includes lesson plans and reading lists designed to center, honor, and uplift African Americans in school curricula every day.
"CRJE envisions a world where all young people learn and thrive in racially equitable, liberating, and empowering educational spaces (CRJE, 2024)." At the New England MHTTC School Mental Health Initiative, we lead with equity and promote and extend trauma-informed, compassionate school practices as part of all dissemination activities.
At its core, mental health is about one’s state of well-being—the ability to learn well, work well, cope well, and pursue your full potential. Students can’t learn when they feel unsafe. School staff can’t perform their jobs when they feel unsupported. Honoring Black History Month, through curricula and learning activities are necessary steps, but a major concern in school communities across the country is school violence.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nationally,"1 in 5 U.S. high school students witnessed violence in their community (CDC, 2021).” The researchers found that 29.3% of Black and 26% of American Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian students reported witnessing community violence compared with 24.5% of White, 21.3% of Hispanic or Latino, 14.8% of multiracial and 9.3% of Asian students,
In 2021, the most recent year for which data were available, 19.9% of high school students reported ever witnessing community violence and 3.5% reported carrying a gun during the past year, according to the CDC’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance reports. The data also showed that students who witnessed community violence were more likely to report carrying a gun, engaging in substance use and considering or attempting suicide. Overall, according to the report, children and teens are more likely to die by guns than anything else. And suicide is the third leading cause of death among 14- to 18-year-olds.
“Previous research has demonstrated that young persons might carry weapons for self-defense to protect against future violence, particularly when they have been directly victimized or perceive high levels of community violence,” CDC researchers wrote in the new report. “Community violence and gun carrying are significant concerns for youths in the United States.”
The MHTTC Network's School Mental Health Initiative hosted a symposium at the 2023 Advancing School Mental Health Conference, hosted by the National Center for School Mental Health in New Orleans, LA, in December 2023, highlighting training and technical assistance that the MHTTC Network is leading on addressing school violence and school mental health. Access the slide deck for, best practices in comprehensive school mental health systems, concrete strategies around the integration of comprehensive school crisis plans, and ways to enhance school culture.
We know we must also do more to ensure equity and safety. In a world where settled law is becoming increasingly unsettled, there are schools allowing students to opt out of Black History Month. This point, coupled with the rise of racial violence in recent years, highlight the importance of coming together as a community to end hate and spread compassion. Ensuring the ongoing integration of the history and experiences of underrepresented populations throughout all curricula is imperative as educators continue to uplift every student and reinforce how embracing the connectedness of our shared history can help to propel us all forward.
Center for Racial Justice in Education. (2024). Black History Month Resource Guide for Educators and Families.
Harper CR, Li J, Sheats K, et al. Witnessing Community Violence, Gun Carrying, and Associations with Substance Use and Suicide Risk Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2021. MMWR Suppl 2023;72(Suppl-1):22–28. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.su7201a3.