For the Sake of Black Girls Mental Health
“Hundreds of Black girls are killed every year and nobody knows, nobody pays attention.” - Naomi Walder at the 9th Annual Women in the World Summit
In the days following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, my 15-year-old sister had a dream that one of her teachers shot and killed our youngest sister during what seemed like a normal school day. She was so shook to her core that she never fell back asleep and feared going to school the next day. When my mother described the dream to me, I struggled to breathe. Not only does my sister have to worry about her safety in school, but now she worries about being able to sleep at night without another gun violence nightmare.
The mental health of Black women, especially girls, is both extremely fragile and highly resilient. Black women are often some of the strongest and loudest members of their communities, vocal in supporting the safety of Black bodies and fighting for more intersectionality in feminist movements. But where are the voices supporting us? Where are the advocates bringing attention to Black girls bullied for their skin or hair? Where is their outrage at the hundreds of Black women and girls killed every year by gun violence?
Black children face gun violence at a rate almost ten times that of White children, yet their fight is often silenced or turned back on them. The Black community is blamed and children are told they are too young to have a voice in this debate. Their names are cycled out of the news and gun violence conversation, but Black girls across the country refuse to be merely a passing thought. Our bodies, our lives, and our deaths matter. Our mental health matters.
African-Americans are 20% more likely to experience severe mental health issues, but the stigma surrounding mental health services within the Black community leads many to not seek help. As constant news of Black bodies, especially those of young children, slayed in the street penetrates households, necessity has begun outweighing stigma. There is too little attention on the Black women and girls killed in unimaginable ways, forcing us to protect our own mental health. Black Girl Smile was founded by Lauren Carson with a vision for making mental health resources and support readily available for young Black women and girls. By filling the gaps in knowledge and services, organizations like this are building up their communities from within.
Until these organizations are recognized, until Black women brutalized are given the same attention as Black men, until no Black person has to worry about being shot down for carrying skittles or playing music too loud, I worry for the mental health of all Black people. I worry especially for the Black women like my sisters and me all across the country who can’t sleep out of fear of what the next day will bring. If a Black girl does not make it to the end of the day, will we #SayHerName and demand justice with the same force?
Breathing in and out every day is hard with a weight on your chest. As a graduating senior, my biggest fear should be finding a job and yet my anxiety is exploding from the pain of what I see, and more importantly don’t see, on the news every day. Until students across the country can feel comfortable in our places of learning, places of worship, and in all spaces, all I can do is keep holding my breath until I know my sisters are safe every night.
Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi