School Meal Delivery During COVID-19

infographic of how schools are distributing meals during covidSchool closures at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic presented school districts with a unique dilemma: how to get school meals to children when they can’t physically attend school. According to the USDA, schools were responsible for feeding over 29 million students each day before the pandemic, and studies have shown that many children receive their healthiest meals at school. In order to continue fulfilling this role in student’s lives, school districts had to come up with various ways of meal distribution that maintained safety protocols such as social distancing. Three primary methods have been used to distribute meals during the pandemic: grab-and-go meal distribution, bus route distribution, and direct home deliveries. Through these methods, schools have been able to continue to serve students nutritious meals safely throughout the pandemic.

Because the pandemic dealt a major economic blow to many families, schools also needed to find a way to provide meals for students who were no longer able to afford regular school meal prices. Luckily, the USDA released a series of waivers at the beginning of the pandemic allowing access to free school meals for all children under 18 regardless of family income. This has been extended through the 2021/2022 school year to allow for a transitional period as students begin returning to in-person schooling.

Volunteer with the United Way of King County to help deliver meals! Sign up at volunteer.uwkc.org.

united way of king county logo

 

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School Lunch in an Online World

In the U.S. education system, education and child nutrition are closely tied. Many families and students depend on school meals to not go hungry and help meet nutritional needs. Especially in areas of high poverty with high proportions of students of color, school meals help to address inequity in food security. With the onset of the pandemic, most children were required to shift their education completely online. Because of this shift, many schools had to readjust the way they prepare and serve meals so that all students could still access this essential service. 

school building

(Baker Middle School, one of the middle schools where cooks and other kitchen staff were reassigned to prepare and distribute Grab-n-Go meals.)

In the Tacoma School District no.10, commonly known as Tacoma Public Schools (or TPS), Child Nutrition staff take on the responsibility of providing healthy meals to approximately 30,000 kids per day. As the third-largest school district in Washington State, program operators were tasked with developing effective ways to feed a large range of students. To efficiently serve meals to families across the district, kitchens in elementary and high schools were closed and the kitchen staff from these sites were reassigned to various middle schools which have bigger kitchens compared to elementary and high schools. These cooks prepared and distributed Grab-n-Go meals for families to pick up and take home so that they could still rely on schools to feed their kids. For communities farther away from middle schools, the school buses were used to distribute meals at various parks and apartment complexes.

I spoke with a handful of Child Nutrition kitchen staff at Tacoma Public Schools about their duties and experiences during the pandemic. 

Pros and Cons

This adjustment in operations had both benefits and drawbacks for school cooks. For Tricia Burleson of Roosevelt Elementary, one of the biggest drawbacks was working alongside unfamiliar staff from other schools. “I’m always looking for work that has to be done,” she said, and often takes the initiative to complete her duties due to her position as cook manager. While she and other staff shared this mindset, many of them were also cook managers from their respective schools and would often butt heads on how work should be delegated or how certain tasks should be done. 

Despite this difficulty in conflicting personalities, Tricia enjoyed the extra time provided to prepare meals and clean. Before the pandemic, she explained that her schedule often felt quite rushed. Especially in comparison to her time as a middle school cook, the elementary schedule did not provide as much time to complete her duties. With the new schedule changes, she saw this additional time as beneficial and used it to ensure her surroundings were properly sanitized. Even after the fact that custodial staff does a round of cleaning beforehand, Tricia enjoys going the extra mile to make certain the kitchen is consistently safe for everyone and gives her peace of mind. 

With students coming back for in-person instruction, Tricia is glad to go back to her old kitchen, resume working with her elementary staff members, and see the students that inspire her work. Passionate about what she does, Tricia hopes that the extra time remains a part of her schedule so that she can continue to ensure the health and well-being of her fellow staff members and students. 

In-Person Adjustments

While a large proportion of the U.S. workforce began working from home during the beginning of the pandemic, essential workers worldwide had to mask-up and continue their work in person. For Veronika Thompson of Blix Elementary, she was ecstatic to continue her work of preparing meals. “I was willing to take food to distribute on my street,” she stated if schools were closing their kitchens. After a period of not being able to work and being aware of how many families rely on school meals to feed their children, she was willing to do anything to resume working and providing food for students. Fortunately for her and many students, TPS Nutrition Services merely changed their operations instead of closing completely for the following school year. 

Stewart Middle School, another middle school in the Tacoma School District

(Stewart Middle School, another middle school in the Tacoma School District.)

Much like the dilemma that Tricia faced, Veronika’s position and experience as a cook manager at her elementary school conflicted with the cook managers from other schools put on the same team. However, taking into account that she was no longer working in her own kitchen, she knew she had to adjust herself to not clash with the cook manager of the middle school where she was assigned. In addition, many duties had to be done differently in accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols.

Despite Veronika’s stress in having to adjust and learn so many new things at once, her passion for feeding kids outweighed her frustrations. “Kids being hungry is a huge problem,” she explained, and her work as a school cook combats this issue. Confident with the new safety measures now in place, she is eager to return to her school and for students to resume their in-person instruction, as her love of working with kids inspired her to become a school cook in the first place. 

Creating Community Connections

As lifestyles changed, many people were required to find new ways to nourish themselves not just with food but also emotionally and socially. Ikeyshia Weatherspoon of Bryant Montessori found ways to do all three, for both herself and for the community around her. Before the 2020-2021 school year began in September, many school cooks were without work. As Ikeyshia spent her days at home with her son, the worry of not being able to feed her students was overwhelming. “Some of these meals are the only meals they get,” she stated, and without school meals, many of these students would go hungry. To cope with this stress, she began to grow her own garden at home to take her mind off of things and have a place to meditate. In addition, she would distribute what she grew among the families in her apartment complex. She got the idea of growing a home garden from her students, who used what they had learned from the school garden to grow food at their own homes when schooling went remote. 

school lunch hours sign

(With the return of students to in-person learning, cooks once again had to adjust their routines to be able to serve meals to students at school while also still providing Grab-n-Go meals for pickup.)

When the new school year started, and Nutrition Services operations changed, Ikeyshia was tasked with distributing Grab-n-Go meals on bus routes. This change in duties opened up many new connections for her as she was finally able to meet parents of students that she served school meals to and see some of these students at pick-up sites. She was also able to meet families whose kids didn’t attend a school in the district and understand their needs. One hope that she has is that the program of supplying free meals off-campus continues after the pandemic for the sake of families whose children are not tied to public schooling and therefore child nutrition programs. 

To Ikeyshia, being a school kitchen staff isn’t just a job. She does what she does “for the love and for the kids.” Even before the pandemic, her willingness to provide for her students shone through her actions. She recounted a story of a foster student whom she grew close to. The student would often come to school with unbrushed hair, and Ikeyshia would take time out of her day to comb her hair. Eventually, she found out that the student’s foster home situation was a bit rocky and decided to obtain a foster respite care license to care for the student and prevent placement disruption. To Ikeyshia, caring for students isn’t just a part of the job; her students are her motivation and inspiration to be the best she can be. 

As her duties as a nutrition staff member are returning to the Bryant Montessori kitchen, it’s a bittersweet sentiment for Ikeyshia. Exciting as it is to see her students after all these months, it’s also hard to turn away those who ask for hugs for the sake of their safety. “Smile with your eyes and hug with your heart” is the new motto to promote socially distanced connections within the school while maintaining safe practices. It’s a difficult dilemma for both students and staff who miss the affection yet understand the importance of keeping a safe distance for the sake of everyone’s health.

thank you food services sign

(Public School Employees of Washington, a labor union dedicated to representing Education Support Professionals in Washington state’s public education system, worked together with Tacoma Nutrition Services to host a Drive-Thru Appreciation Day and hand out goody bags to Child Nutrition staff to celebrate their important work.)

While the pandemic has uprooted everyone’s sense of stability and security, it’s important to recognize those who are keeping our community grounded and nourished. School kitchen staff are essential due to their role in feeding our children and their passion for it, yet they are often overlooked. Many people automatically think of teachers as the ones who contribute to students’ success, but a deeper look into the education system shows that school cooks are also instrumental in the well-being and prosperity of students.

This year, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee chose Child Nutrition providers as the recipients of the “Extra Mile Award,” to honor their dedication toward feeding children. When schools closed statewide, Child Nutrition providers showed continuous persistence and flexibility to provide children with the meals they need to succeed. These Child Nutrition professionals deserve recognition for all that they do to ensure the nourishment and health of our children, especially in these difficult times. 

The OSPI Organizations Providing Meals Map can help families find locations serving meals to children in Washington State. Families not located in Washington State can use the USDA Meals for Kids Site Finder or contact their local school district to learn about free meal site locations in their area. 

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What does food mean to you?

Food, and the consumption of it, bridges the divide between the “biological” and “cultural” spheres of human behavior. While food consumption is necessary for survival, the preparation and selection of certain ingredients are heavily influenced by culture and social upbringing. Past these collective meanings of food, we also have individual psychological memories associated with food—both good and bad.

Pouring Sake

(There is also proper etiquette on how to hold the flask and cups.)

Our food memories often have strong associations with culture and relationships. Food is one of the main vehicles through which culture is passed. In association with recipes passed down from generation to generation, cultural norms are attributed to how one consumes food, which we might know as “table manners.” Eating food with others also enhances relationships. Many families make it a point to eat dinner together every night, and going out with friends to eat is one of the most common ways to spend time with others. For example, in Japanese culture, it is rude to pour your own sake, as it is expected for others to pour sake for you and for you to pour sake for others. This cultural custom accelerates the natural bonding that happens when people eat together and ensures that no one drinks alone.

These food memories are also powerful. Unlike other memories, those associated with food usually involve all five senses. While a quick recount of a food memory might include sight and taste, a deeper dive will bring back the other senses of smell (perhaps of something burning as you were first learning to cook), hearing (sizzling in a frying pan as you sautéed your next meal), and touch (the cold sweat clinging to a glass of a refreshing beverage). In addition, memories revolving around taste tend to be the strongest because of an evolutionary adaptation called conditioned taste aversion. Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

(Left: A batch of freshly dyed eggs from this most recent Easter; Right: My grandparents’ cozy breakfast nook where I first learned to make Latvian Easter eggs)

For me, one food memory is of making Latvian Easter eggs with my grandmother. This tradition involves coloring white eggs with onion skins and using materials such as leaves and petals to create intricate designs on the shells. I can remember fondly dunking the eggs in water and taking care to not break them as we layered materials on wet shells. I remember the panic I felt when I heard a crack and watching my grandmother take her broken egg to the fridge to save for scrambled eggs for the breakfast next day. Once we had finished preparing the eggs, we ate salmon burgers as the eggs boiled and cooled (I bet you thought I would talk about eating the eggs, right?). And for the final reveal, I watched closely as my grandmother carefully peeled off the materials, resulting in a beautiful yellow and orange marbled shell with shapes of parsley and fern leaves imprinted onto the sides. 

This isn’t just a memory of making crafts and eating lunch– it is shaped by the comfort of my grandparents house, the awe of being passed cultural knowledge, both physical and mental nourishment of being cared for and being included, and so much more. Contextualizing our experiences with food provides deeper meaning to the role food plays in our lives.  

My fellow  AmeriCorps members also hold strong memories associated with food. 

One of Sarah’s food memories is of her having the opportunity to partake in a tradition from a religion that her friends practice:

(Above: Kugel preparing to bake in the oven before break-fast.)

“For me, food ties into who I am as a person- not only in how it nourishes my body but in how it nourishes my connections with those around me. One food memory that stands out to me is when I was lucky enough to sit around a table and learn more about a religion that I do not practice. This past year I celebrated Yom Kippur with a few friends who practice Judaism- which plays a large role in their lives. Yom Kippur is the ‘Day of Atonement’ in Judaism and is considered the holiest day of the year. This holy day is traditionally observed with a day-long fast, Ta’anit, from before sundown on the previous night until after sundown on the day of the fast. Following Ta’anit, we gathered to enjoy break-fast, the meal eaten after the day-long fast. This meal was especially meaningful because each of us prepared traditional Jewish dishes and shared our food around a table, exchanging memories of how this holiday was celebrated in the past. For break-fast, I prepared a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish side dish, Kugel. Kugel is a baked noodle casserole made with egg noodles. I followed my friend’s recipe that has been passed down over generations in her family. I was honored that my friend passed on their culinary knowledge and shared their traditional religious rituals with me. The ability to share food with others fosters a connection and exchange of culture that I cherish deeply and hold close to my heart.”

Amelia’s experience with food comes from strong memories associated with her cultural upbringing:

“I come from cultural families of food lovers on both sides. This makes me a product of time spent in the kitchen together, gathered around the table sharing food, and learning to make the foods that have been passed down in my family for generations. It is more than just the traditional foods. It is the foods that are a tradition. Yes, the food on your plate tells a story, but it is the time spent around the food that is just as powerful. The experience from start to finish is the gift, and I have been taught to listen to the food from its creation to its nutrition to its value to others. The meals that take the most time and care become the times in your life that are the most memorable. These meals transcend into a full sensory experience. 

I remember visiting my grandmother’s house for Hanukkah as a young child and taking a walk with family as my grandmother made latkes, a traditional deep-fried potato pancake. I vividly remember walking back towards her house in the snow as this thick fry oil smoke billowed out of the open windows and thinking, ‘yep, grandma is making latkes.’ She had caught one of the pancakes on fire and caused the house to fill with smoke. Similar to the greasy fog that fills your home when you fry bacon. There was no threat of danger, but this holds such a vivid image in my head as I saw smoke wafting down the street, confirming we were having latkes for dinner. 

My grandmother on my father’s side passed down culturally traditional foods in a nontraditional way that has become itself a tradition. Like a Russian nesting doll of tradition, the layers that exist in this gift are to be enjoyed in a mixed-up fashion where the culturally relevant food becomes personalized and special to my family. I was taught to prepare deep-fried chicken tacos with day-old corn tortillas, carefully skewering the tops of the tacos with toothpicks, gently placing them in the frying oil, and drying them on paper towels. What makes this unique is that my grandmother and father taught me to put Italian dressing and Kraft parmesan cheese on top of the crispy chicken. When I first watched my father stuff his taco with iceberg lettuce and top with salad dressing and cheese, I was shocked. But my first bite taught me otherwise. This is a familial taste that elicits strong memories and a taste of home. 

The gifts that I have received from food have been through my family. This has become my love language. Unfortunately, ‘cooking and eating’ is an unrecognized love language from the classic five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. Cooking and eating with the people that you love is more nuanced than quality time and transcends acts of service. Food is one of the languages that I am fluent in and therefore find immense joy when I am able to speak that language with others.”

Maddy’s experience with food comes from memories of growing food in the garden with her grandfather:

girls planting tomatos“I first made a connection with where my food came from while spending time in the garden with grandfather. He built a miniature greenhouse in his backyard in Florence, Oregon, and allowed my sisters and me to help grow tomato plants. To this day, the smell of your hands after picking tomatoes and the juicy and slightly sweet taste of the tomato flesh reminds me of family. It has been so special to spend this year as an AmeriCorps member growing food in the garden with students and creating special memories of planting tomatoes with all of my classes. Pruning tomatoes with kids this spring brought back a warm wave of nostalgia that had me reminiscing on my first memories of gardening.”

These memories are important to us. They aren’t simply memories of food, but they represent larger feelings of belonging, nurturing, and nourishment. This is why we are passionate about food justice, not only because we all need food to survive but also so that others can pass on cultural traditions and foster relationships without worrying about not having the resources to do so. 

Our #FoodForAll campaign is a reflection of our values, which are shown in these memories that we have of food. Food justice doesn’t exist in a vacuum of objective biology and nutrition. Food is connected to all aspects of our life, from our cultural upbringing, to our relationships with others, and to our emotional nourishment. It also ties into countless other social justice movements, such as those that address racial, environmental, and economic disparities. And when everyone has access to healthy, culturally relevant food that matches their lifestyle, food can dismantle these structural disparities, foster relationships, and ensure emotional wellness.

Campaign resources:

Learn more about the Indigenous land you are living on: native-land.ca

Learn more about SNAP eligibility: www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility

Find a local Farmers Market: www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/farmersmarkets

Visit Feeding America to find a food bank near you: www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank

AGCA’s Find-a-Garden tool: www.communitygarden.org/garden

You can also text your city and state to +1 (855) 917-5263 to find out where you are living.

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The Disparities and Inequalities of COVID-19: How coronavirus has impacted the BIPOC community

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The narrative that the coronavirus does not discriminate based on race, gender, or class is a false concept that needs to be addressed. While in theory, yes, the coronavirus does not discriminate, our systems do. A year into the pandemic, the coronavirus has deepened the consequences of pre-existing inequalities that are placed on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). As environmental justice professor Julie Sze mentions in her book, Environmental in the Moment of Danger, in moments of catastrophe, pre-existing social, racial, and economic inequalities and disparities among marginalized communities are exacerbated. Similarly, marginalized communities have always faced acute challenges and barriers prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 has only worsened them. 

As most of us know, poverty and racism are intertwined. As both of these categories play off of each other, they can influence a wide range of quality of life and personhood outcomes. Here are a few factors that can heighten COVID-19 risks among the BIPOC community.

person on the bus1. Occupation

Occupation plays a major role in the disparities of the coronavirus, as people of color are disproportionately represented in “essential” hospitality jobs. These work settings include healthcare facilities, grocery and convenience stores, factories, public transportation, and farms. Not only are these positions low paying, but people who work in these sectors are most likely to catch the virus because of constant exposure. Not to mention, essential workers are also less likely to own a car, especially in large metropolitan cities. The coronavirus pandemic puts low-income essential workers, who depend on public transportation to go to work, at high risk. White-collar workers have the privileges of working from home, therefore are less likely to contract the virus. This suggests that being able to stay home during the pandemic is a luxury. One of the best ways to avoid getting the virus is to social distance and limit contact with others, but because hospitality and low-income workers have no choice but to move around in order to make ends meet, close contact is inevitable.

flow chart of how coranavirus spreads2. Inadequate Access to Healthcare 

As mentioned above, people of color are often victims of classism and are disproportionately represented in low-paying jobs compared to their white counterparts. These jobs are also often exploitative, meaning that any sudden illness could cost them their job or without paid leave. The main problem is the U.S. healthcare system. It’s profit-driven and built for the elite, despite the most vulnerable people who are heightening their risks by going to work every day in order to pay their bills and are without healthcare. Without the proper care, they could have a major impact on the broader society as well. If one person can not get the proper treatment, that person poses a risk to others, especially if you live with other family members or in densely populated areas. To break it down, by not providing adequate access to healthcare, it’ll just produce the same outcome over and over again. It’s a vicious cycle.

Picture of houses in a polluted area with factories 3. Housing Conditions/Location 

Race and class are major contributors to health disparities and complications. Residential segregation between Black and white Americans still remains, which perpetuates major wealth and opportunity gaps. Therefore coronavirus rates can vary vastly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Racial and ethnic communities are often located in densely populated buildings and neighborhoods or have multi-generation households. Sharing a household or living in proximity to neighbors puts them at greater risk compared to those living in single-family homes.

picture of an area with a lot of fast food restaurantsFood Apartheid 

Food insufficiency is no question how COVID-19 has impacted the BIPOC community. There are major parallels to food insecurity and housing location among low-income people of color. A lot of low-income neighborhoods with communities of color have limited grocery stores offering healthy choices at an affordable price and limited transportation to take them to get groceries. Low and inadequate access to healthy food can increase the risk of obesity and heart disease as people living in food deserts will more likely opt for low-priced meals at local fast-food restaurants. Underlying health conditions that are associated with food inaccessibility, COVID-19 deaths are bound to have a devastating impact on BIPOC who live in food deserts. Although the coronavirus has had negative economic impacts in wealthy neighborhoods too, it’s tougher for pre-existing vulnerable communities to afford fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables which are more expensive than processed foods.

Picture of a neighborhood4. Pre-existing Health Conditions

Similarly, pre-existing health conditions also highlight the disproportionate effects of COVID-19. Low-income BIPOC communities are also often located near LULUs (locally unwanted land use) because it’s more affordable. In fact, according to the UCC report, race is the number one indicator of whether you live near a toxic waste facility. As mentioned, living situations and housing can make someone more susceptible to the virus. Our health is determined by social and economic conditions and physical settings, such as exposure to toxins that affect water and air quality. In this case, living in close proximity to hazardous waste facilities can heighten their risk of getting covid because they already had respiratory-related health issues, such as asthma, from living in polluted neighborhoods. 

Every aspect of the pandemic, race, socioeconomic status, privilege, etc…, exposes the not-so-hidden inequalities of America that people of color have faced for centuries. It’s important to understand that these racial disparities are no accident and that the structural positions of marginalized communities are not different outside the COVID-19 pandemic. These devastating disparities put on low-income people of color have always existed within our nation’s systems through historical and everyday practices. We are seeing how systems slip into their violent behavioral patterns and how these issues have become institutionalized. These inequalities highlight the urge for systemic change, and as the pandemic continues, we see this virus is no equalizer of race. 

Overused phrases such as “we are in this together” to show solidarity in regards to those affected by the pandemic don’t acknowledge the disparities of the coronavirus. Everyone is dealing with the pandemic in their own way, and some worse than others. For some, the coronavirus may not have affected them in the slightest, and some may not feel a sense of togetherness within the broader societies. “We’ll get back to normal soon” also disregards the pre-existing inequalities the coronavirus has amplified. “Going back to normal” means continuing racist patterns in which the BIPOC community faces the burdens of capitalist inequality. These phrases are meaningless when applying to all of society as it does not account for people who have been most affected, before, during, and after the pandemic.

Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected the BIPOC community due to systemic inequalities, but many have also faced personal obstacles. Caring for dependents and other family members can put a lot of stress on caretakers, especially while dealing with other struggles and trying to stay afloat. I had the privilege of interviewing Tirhas, a Black immigrant and single mother from Eritrea, to share her story about the hardships she has faced during the pandemic. 

Has your life changed since the pandemic? If so, how? 

“I have lost a lot of social connections. There were a lot of community gatherings and getting together, which was not allowed. I also was very active in my church, but my church had to follow pandemic restrictions. I was also very worried about my child. My child is only nine years old, and when she switched to online learning, I’ve expressed how stressful my child might learn. I don’t know how many nine-year-olds can sit for 7 hours at a computer and knock all this work out. It’s almost impossible and unrealistic, especially when there are no classmates, no friends, and no recess. It’s not easy for the both of us.” 

What was it like caring for your dependent during the pandemic? 

“It’s been hard. It’s been really hard. Like many single moms, when the pandemic hit, schools out. School is like daycare for most moms. When I drop my child off, she is in school for 6 to 7 hours, and it gives me time to go to work. When there is no school, what are all these single mothers supposed to do with their children? I was fortunate enough to have a family friend to look after my kid, so I was able to come to work. But making sure my daughter is all set up for remote learning was a struggle. I don’t know much English, so making sure she got a computer, understanding the schedule, and other things that had to go before my daughter was ready for remote learning was a stressful situation while also trying to juggle work.” 

There is also disproportionate vaccine access among the BIPOC community. While inadequate access to the vaccine and lack of resources may play a major role, this pandemic also has shown how the BIPOC community feels about taking the vaccine. By using moments of history as precedent, the modus operandi of the government has been to experiment on people of color. 

Were there any emotional struggles or barriers you faced during the pandemic? 

“Yes. So many of my friends and colleagues have been trying to convince me to get the vaccine, but I’ve always been afraid. Seattle is very culturally diverse, and from what I’ve heard, I’m not the only one who is afraid to take it. There is a reason why some people in the African American community are afraid to take the shot because in the past, we have been used as guinea pigs. There has been an inheritance of mistrust from the government because my ancestors, my community, were used as guinea pigs. Like the Tuskegee study, where African men were asked to participate in this scientific experiment on syphilis that was conducted by the US Public Health Services. These participants were not aware they were being infected with syphilis but were told they were receiving treatment for bad blood. When this study was initiated, there was no treatment for the disease, so they used Black American males as experiments to observe what syphilis is like untreated. Dozens of these men died because they had no idea and were not told about the research. 

These conspiracy theories have felt very real to me, but these feelings are not validated by white, educated Americans. Many times the governments of the world have proven themselves to not be worthy of trust, so why would that make it unreal? Just like how Black people see the criminal justice system as corrupt or how the government doesn’t care about the disproportionate violence we face from the police… Now all of sudden, they are telling us to take the vaccine. It doesn’t make sense.”

It’s no surprise that vaccine hesitancy is rooted in mistrust and doubts. It’s not an irrational fear or about misinformation, but rather awareness of centuries of being mistreated by the government. 

To help combat hesitancy and doubt, we need to be more empathic about these feelings, explain diversity in the vaccine trials, or have people who look like the community members give the vaccine. By validating the real history and experienced-based reasons why the Black community is afraid to take the vaccine, we can create common ground. Without understanding the history, we can’t empathize, and we can’t fix the problem with no empathy. 

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Amplifying Youth Voices: WA COVID Response Corps Addresses Food Insecurity

Pictures of AmeriCorps members helping in their communities

In October 2020, The SISGI Group had the opportunity to partner with The Shultz Family Foundation to support 125 AmeriCorps members who opted to serve in the Washington COVID Response Corps. During an uncertain time in our world, young people in Washington state stepped up in a big way to serve their communities and individuals experiencing food scarcity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

AmeriCorps members from the Washington COVID Response Corps serve at multiple locations around the state in various capacities. Some members are planting and harvesting food for communities, some assist with food distribution, and other members are behind the scenes working in volunteer management or other operational capacities. Not only are the Washington COVID Response Corps members serving their communities, but they are also taking part in monthly professional development opportunities organized and facilitated by The SISGI Group. These professional development opportunities include online courses and attending live webinars with local organizations and community leaders to learn and share strategies to build community and address food insecurity. Members have also been working hard in small teams creating social media campaigns to bring awareness to the impact of COVID-19 on Washington communities. 

Image of two AmeriCorp membersTo say we are proud and honored to work with this inspirational group of youth is an understatement. When the pandemic hit, these individuals could have easily sat back and went forth with their studies, professions, or family lives. But instead, they heeded the call to take action and make a difference. 

We are excited for you to see what the Washington COVID Response Corps have worked on for the past six months. Follow The SISGI Group youth initiative, the Alliance for Positive Youth Development, @ideas4youyh on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram to help address food insecurity. We hope you engage with the content they created and are equally inspired to make a difference in your community. 

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Supporting Youth Mental Health: The Do’s & Don’ts

Hands holding a hope sign during a sunset

May is National Mental Health Month. This month is set aside to help raise awareness regarding mental health concerns. As we approach the halfway mark of 2021, the world is continuing its efforts to recover from the enormously stressful, bleak, and traumatizing impacts of 2020. People are coping with the continued threat of COVID-19 and the increased stress levels that the pandemic has caused. 

At APYD, our focus and mission are centralized around youth empowerment and equipping young people to become leaders and changemakers. To be effective, examining strengths and areas where young people need extra support is essential. Currently, 1 in 6 young people in the U.S. ages 9-17 have a diagnosed mental illness. A recent survey found that nearly half of parents (47%) reported new or worsening mental health symptoms in their teens since the start of the pandemic. With this in mind, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness that the youth in your life may be demonstrating. Mental health resources for you and teens can be found here.

Once you identify symptoms, it is important to know how to react. Below is a list of positive approaches and things to avoid to support young people experiencing mental health symptoms.

picture of adult showing emotional support to teenagerDo Communicate

Good communication involves talking AND listening. Providing a safe space for youth to be able to discuss their feelings and stressors is an essential part of being an effective support person.

Do Frontload

For individuals struggling with their mental health, unexpected changes can be challenging to manage. If plans have changed, expecting a young person to just “go with it” isn’t always realistic. If there is an event or appointment they aren’t looking forward to, discuss it with them beforehand. If it’s time for them to turn off their video game system to get ready for bed, give them a ten-minute warning. While the event or action may not be optional, allowing your youth time to accept that will help them and potentially avoid an argument. 

Do Validate and Reassure

The teen in your life needs to know that you love them, that you care, and that those things will never change. The good things about your teen need to be stated, even if you don’t feel like they are receiving it. It may take time and repetition, but it makes a difference. Their feelings must be validated, even if you disagree with them. Expressing empathy and support will help your youth feel less alone. 

Do Find Balance

Giving space and reassurance are both critical. Finding a balance between the two takes time, but make sure to prioritize and allow room for both.

Do Be Patient

Mental illness is not a logical disease. There will be times when your teen may be coping in a different way or less effective way than you would like. Be patient with them. Express your love and support, and give them the time that they need to manage their symptoms. 

Do Be Flexible

Mental health and wellness have no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Allow yourself and your teen the flexibility to adjust as needed if things are not helpful or if things that once were helpful are no longer effective. 

Do Get Help

The importance of professional support for mental health concerns cannot be understated. Resources are available here.

Do Support Self-care

Self-care is essential for you and your teen. Discuss and explore activities, events, time with friends or loved ones, hobbies, or other positive actions that help your youth feel rejuvenated and equipped to make it through their day.

Adult male supporting young maleDo Explore Positive Coping Skills

Coping skills vary by situation and person. Help your young person practice different ways to cope with stressors. For some ideas, start here.

Do Discuss Triggers

If you or your young person notice certain tones, words, activities, people, or other triggers for anxiety, depression, anger, etc. it’s crucial to talk about them. Are some of those things avoidable? If not, is there a way to decrease how often or how long your young person has to be exposed to it? Talk about the emotions that are triggered and discuss coping strategies. Be supportive, even if the reason why it is a trigger is not something that you understand.

Do Ask the Tough Questions

Many caregivers avoid talking about self-harm and suicide with teens. They often feel unequipped to navigate the conversation, are unsure how to bring it up, and fear asking might trigger the young person to start thinking about it. Ask anyway. Ask your teen if they have had thoughts of hurting themself or if they have thoughts of wanting to end their life. If the answer is yes, seek professional help right away. If your teen has a history of self-harm or suicidal ideation/attempts, ask questions about their thoughts regularly. If the answer is no, don’t push, but continue to provide a space for the conversation regularly.

Don’t Try to Fix It

Mental illness is not something that comes with a roadmap or instructions. There isn’t a checklist to complete, and you cannot rush the process of healing. Offering advice can make your teen feel like you are criticizing them. They don’t need you to make their symptoms go away. They need you to support them while they learn to help themselves.

Don’t Diagnose

The internet is filled with helpful questionnaires and other information about mental illness. Completing assessments can help you and your teen examine their situation from a different perspective and can help identify symptoms you may have overlooked. However, these are simply a starting point. A medical professional is the only one who can diagnose. Provide them with information you feel is important, and trust professional judgment and diagnostic criteria. 

Don’t Take Things Personally

Symptoms of mental illness can be overwhelming. Irritability, aggression, withdrawal, and other symptoms can be hurtful to others. Remember that those actions and words are symptoms. They are not reflective of your relationship with your teen. 

Don’t Argue

Mental illness can be irrational. If an argument is triggered, do what you can to prevent escalation. If you have set a needed boundary, stick with it (Ex. Bedtime is 9:30 on school nights. You cannot be on your phone after that time). If you feel your teen is escalating, do what you can to be supportive and empathetic to try to defuse the situation while maintaining their best interest as the focal point.

Don’t Blame

Mental health symptoms are not your fault, their fault, or anyone’s fault. Blaming your teen or yourself will only hurt you both.

Don’t Encourage Negative Coping Skills

Caffeine, excessive video games, sugar, and other negative coping skills have the potential to cause more harm than good in the long run. Encourage your teen to explore positive coping skills and self-care instead.

two individuals showing support to each other

Don’t Dismiss or Minimize

Whether or not you agree or understand where a teen is coming from, dismissing or minimizing their feelings and thoughts as illegitimate or insignificant is hurtful. Do your best to listen and encourage.

Don’t Give Up

Coping with mental illness is challenging and a long journey. Don’t give up. If a treatment is not having the results you were hoping for, talk to your clinician about other options. If you notice worsening symptoms, it’s important to communicate what you are seeing. Regardless of how quickly or slowly treatment is moving, don’t give up. 

Mental health and wellness looks different for everyone. The road to recovery is challenging, but with your support, your teen can find the hope and resilience to succeed. The most important thing to remember is to be supportive. Working together, you’ve got this. 

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5 Revolutionary Women of Color Who Made Herstory

Women's History Month Banner

History is a male-dominated subject where women’s successes and victories are constantly overshadowed, especially those of women of color. Consider taking some time this month to pay respects to all women before us and now who play a vital role in the advancement of women’s leadership in society in honor of Women’s History Month. As we prepare to empower our women and youth of today, let us recognize those before us who paved the way for female activism in the fight for equal rights. 

1.Dolores Huerta – Civil Rights/Advocacy

Pictures of Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights and Labor Movement. In the mid-1950s, Dolores joined the Community Service Organization, where she quickly emerged as a key leader on voter registration, education, health care, and police abuse. Dolores also co-founded and led the United Farm Workers union through the Delano Grape Strikes to protest against the abusive agribusiness treatment of farmworkers. She coined the movement’s famous slogan “Sí se puede” — Spanish for “Yes, we can.” Her efforts led to contracts between the agribusiness and eventually the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which protected labor workers from labor disputes. To this day, Dolores continues to advocate for equality and justice for all. Perhaps her most significant contribution is serving as an inspirational civil rights icon for women and girls in activism.  

2. Dr. Mae Jemison – Science

Pictures of Mae Jamison in space

Dr. Mae Jemison broke ceilings when she became the first African American woman to travel to space. On September 12, 1992, Dr. Jemison and six other astronauts boarded the Endeavour on a 126 orbit around the Earth. In addition to being an astronaut, Mae Jemison is also a medical doctor and an engineer. After leaving NASA, Dr. Jemison went on to develop the Jemison Group, which seeks to encourage a love of science in students and bring advanced technology to schools around the world. Dr. Mae Jemison sets an example for all women interested in STEM, and she continues to advocate for women and minorities in science.

3. Patsy Takemoto Mink – Government

A third-generation Japanese-American, Patsy Mink became the first Asian-American (and woman of color) elected into the U.S Congress in 1964. In her four decades there, she worked to amplify the voices and rights of immigrants, women, and children. Mink also passionately championed Title IX, the legislation that brought academic and athletic equity to American educational institutions, and wrote the Early Childhood Education Act and Women’s Educational Equity Act. Patsy Mink is an inspiration to all women of color interested in pursuing a career in politics. Her ambitions made it possible for all women of color to dream of one day holding space in congress. 

4. Wilma Mankiller – Social Work/ Advocacy

Picture of Wilma Mankiller

On December 14, 1985, Wilma Mankiller was sworn in as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, becoming the first woman in modern history to lead a major Native American tribe. Mankiller brought about important strides for the Cherokees, including improved health care, education, utilities management, and tribal government. She was instrumental in attracting higher-paying industries to the area, improving adult literacy, supporting women returning to school, and more. Mankiller’s legacy lives on in the work of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation. The Foundation works with indigenous communities to support and promote culturally appropriate media and community development, such as community education and civic projects to assist business development and mass media productions.

5. Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi – Physics/Medicine

Anandi Gopal Joshi was India’s first female doctor. She was inspired to pursue medicine at the age of 14 when she prematurely lost her child days after his birth due to insufficient medical resources. Born at a time when most women in her country did not receive an education, she set sail for America at the age of 18 to study medicine. She graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1885, becoming the first Indian woman to obtain a degree in western medicine.

Young Woman of Color Creating History Today: 

Noname

Pictures of Noname

Fatimah Warner, also known by her stage name Noname, is a Chicago-based rapper that has been noted for her sharp commentary on race, sex, and politics. Her latest album, Room 25 was one of the most critically-acclaimed records of 2019. Recently, Noname has made an exceptional impact in low-income neighborhoods with the development of Noname’s Book Club, an online and real-life community dedicated to uplifting people of color’s voices through the power of literature. Noname’s Book Club is dedicated to promoting literacy by encouraging community members to exhaust their local libraries as resources for empowerment. Noname’s Book Club currently has 12 local chapters and has established a prison chapter. Each month, two books written by authors of color are highlighted, and members from the community gather around to discuss the monthly picks. Here are the picks for March 2021 that you might consider sharing with your youth today in honor of March Reading Awareness Month:

Noname Bookclub March Book Picks, Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs and How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

For more information and reading lists visit: https://www.nonamebooks.com

Against all odds, these powerful women brought real social change within society and paved the way for women of color after them to succeed. One important fact to take from these women’s stories is their mentors’ impact on their successes. These women shared that they were encouraged to pursue their dreams and gain an education either through positive reinforcement or through the examples set by their mentors. Countless studies have proven that mentors and positive relationships between youth and adults are evidenced to increase youth development and competencies in a number of areas such as educational achievement, health and safety, and social and emotional development. Today, as we prepare to engage with our future female leaders, let’s discuss these women’s legacies and encourage our youth to follow their dreams, no matter how unattainable they may seem because there was a time when we did not have female activist, astronauts, scientists, doctors, congresswomen, or political leaders, but now we do thanks to all the women before us who were brave enough to challenge societal norms and pursue their goals.

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Equity in Education: COVID’s Impact on Youth Education Part II

student doing work on a laptop computerCOVID-19 has shattered any global sense of stability. It has impacted social interactions, entertainment, travel, business, food service, and education for everyone. As individuals and communities continue to work towards building a new sense of normalcy, education continues to struggle. Teachers are experiencing intense levels of stress and burnout as they attempt to teach virtually, in-person with COVID protocols, or in some cases both at the same time. Students and caregivers are also experiencing unprecedented levels of stress from COVID. As the pandemic wears on without an ending in sight, they are in immediate need of support, resources, and changes in policy. 

Limited Access to Services

Before COVID, *Antonio was an honor student in his eighth-grade classes. He is currently struggling to maintain a C average as a virtual student. He reads the paragraph on the laptop for the fifth time, squinting and rubbing his temples. He has a headache, which has become a frequent occurrence for him since starting virtual learning. He also reports heightened anxiety from the 5-7 hours a day he is expected to spend in zoom meetings and assignments. Antonio isn’t alone, with nearly half of American children reporting increases in headaches, anxiety, exhaustion, and stress levels related to education in the pandemic. 

lonely kid looking out the window*Jaylyn is a fourth-grader and has an IEP for his anxiety and ADHD symptoms. During in-person education, Jaylyn has in-class support from a special-education classroom aide. He takes scheduled breaks during the school day and utilizes fidget tools and sensory activities to help manage his stress levels. COVID has changed his routine dramatically. During virtual learning, Jaylyn does not have access to the same support. He has had to learn to cope with noise and movement of other household members and pets while he tries to work. Frustrated after getting an answer wrong, he melts onto the floor and sobs angrily. “I can’t do it! I’m stupid! I hate school!” His outburst will pass, with support from his caregiver, but all students do not have an adult who is able to be home with them during the day. As many as 70% of the workforce is unable to work from home, and for People of Color that climbs as high as 81%. Of adults who are able to stay home, many lack the skills to help with homework assignments or social-emotional concerns. Jaylyn is overwhelmed, anxious, and desperate for a sense of normalcy. His irritability and low self-esteem are frequent symptoms for students who struggle with anxiety or other mental health or developmental concerns. 

This is a typical school day for Jaylyn and so many other children. Despite the need for interventions, support from schools has been limited for students with special needs. Balancing safety and the needs of students can be challenging, and those disabilities add additional concerns. For children like Jaylyn with ADHD, focusing on a computer for extended periods of time pushes him to his limit. In addition to symptoms of disabilities, digital concerns have also impacted the special education population at a high rate. Students from low-income families are more likely to be labeled as Special Education by their school systems. Low-income households are less likely to have access to technology or reliable internet, making it even harder for students and caregivers to get the support they need.

The Digital Divide

When most American schools shuttered their doors in March 2020, a large number of them were grossly unprepared for the lasting impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on the educational process. The largest concern that emerged was the lack of reliable technology and internet services for students to use while sheltering at home. Low-income and rural families have experienced the most intense effects of this gap in equity, and Students of Color have been hit hardest of all. 4.4 million U.S. households with over 11 million students lack access to a computer necessary for virtual learning. Some school districts have gotten creative with their efforts to address the lack of internet through unconventional ways like parking wifi-enabled school buses in neighborhoods. Further support and innovative ideas like this are needed to help students succeed.

Students who are fortunate enough to have internet access are still burdened with other concerns. Low internet speeds often hurt participation in zoom calls and other forms of video meetings with teachers. 59% of low-income students report technology-related difficulties when trying to participate in virtual learning. This has led to missing instruction, assignments, and increases in attendance issues. Black and Brown children are 50% less likely to have access to live sessions with their teachers during virtual learning at all. This has impacted grades, test performances, and has created an additional barrier to students being able to ask questions or gain clarity on assignments. COVID has widened the already substantial achievement gap between predominately white schools and schools where Students of Color are the majority.  White students have experienced an estimated 7 months of lost academic growth since COVID, while Black and Brown students are testing an average of 10 months lost growth. How will students recover? This question remains largely unanswered.

Inequity in Funding

Inadequate equipment, resources, and lack of staff support often boil down to a lack of financial resources. Schools, where the majority of students are People of Color, receive an average of $2,226 less per student, per year than schools where their students are predominately white. This means less money for staffing, repairs, equipment, technology, student support services, and safety protocols that are necessary to operate safely during a pandemic. U.S. schools are intensely segregated and receive 35% of their funding from local tax dollars. This means that students from low-income communities have access to fewer resources and lower quality education. It also means that these students have less exposure to diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. Children who lack experiences with people who are different from them racially, socioeconomically, or culturally, are more likely to leave school lacking the skills needed to fully integrate into society. The negative effects of segregation often follow them for the rest of their lives.

Where Do We Go From Here?Equity education hands holding different pieces of a puzzle

Increase Funding

Increasing funding in low-income school districts will even the playing field. It will allow for school districts to expand learning opportunities and the time provided to students for instruction and assignment completion. This gives students more chances to regain information and progress damaged by the pandemic.  Increased funding will also allow for expanded hiring of teachers, classroom aides, and after-school tutors. More trained adults in the in-person or online classroom mean a lower teacher-student ratio. This gives students the opportunity to benefit from individualized learning plans and interactions. Funding increases will also allow for desperately needed creation and expansion of school-based mental health services. COVID has brought a great deal of stress and change for students and providing a safe, trusted, professional to support students’ mental health has never been more critical than it is today.

Reimagine School Systems

The U.S. education system is still highly segregated, which negatively impacts learning outcomes for students. School systems, their boundaries, and their designs need to be reimagined. Gerrymandering and single-family residential zoning have hurt public education and limited diversity and equity in schools. Ending this system and implementing federal standards for diversity will hold school districts accountable for their inclusive practices. These standards should leave room for local communities to implement their own ideas about best-methods for diversifying student-bodies and staff. Allowing local input, while still promoting accountability, prioritizes the empowerment of stakeholders such as local leadership, teachers, households, and students. 

Hold Policy-Makers Accountable

Elected officials at local, state, and federal levels hold extensive power in upholding the current system or making needed changes. Involvement in local opportunities to engage with policy-makers such as school boards or elected officials is critical to supporting equity in education. You can find the names and contact information for your representatives here if you would like to express concerns, support, or suggestions for making changes in education in your community or nationwide.

Support Changemakers

There are numerous organizations that have dedicated their time, energy, and resources to supporting educational equity. They have passion and a mission for change, but they cannot succeed alone. They need support from individuals just like you who want to see positive changes and raise awareness and support for their causes. For more information on ways you can contribute please visit equityineducation.carrd.co.

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Equity in Education – COVID’s Impact on Youth Education

Quote by Barack Obama that reads The Future Belongs to Young People With An Education And The Imagination To Create

The nation was turned upside down in March 2020 when the President of the United States declared a national emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic was only beginning to sweep the world. In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, stay-at-home orders were put in place: any operations deemed nonessential were halted, work-from-home lifestyle was adopted by many, and public education changed more drastically than it had been in the past few decades. Families were forced to adopt new ways of learning in order to continue children’s academic education. 93% of households participated in distance learning in some way since the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s no denying that everyone had to make adjustments to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease. I have worked directly with youth for all of my professional life, so the effects that COVID-19 would have on youth occupied my mind day in and day out. Youth and families around the country are dependent on critical and essential services provided by the public school system, and low-income households and Students of Color felt the most impact of accessibility to these resources. Youth’s education and future success are being greatly affected by these changes. We should be concerned about youths’ academic growth, social and emotional skill development, and physiological needs.

Knowledge acquisition

Social distancing regulations have created barriers for youth to receive in-person instruction from their schools. Many public K-12 schools have adopted remote learning through online resources to continue education. What does this look like? Children use technology to participate in virtual class time with their teachers and classmates. Online platforms are used to complete assignments and homework or hard copies of assignments are sent home for kids to work on independently. When I asked my friend, a mom of three grade-school children, what differences she has experienced with her children between remote learning compared to attending school in person, she said, “When I help my kids with school, it feels like we are tasking them. It doesn’t feel like there is any real learning going on; we just accomplish the task or assignment and move on to the next”. Students of Color are experiencing a loss of knowledge and education at the highest rate. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to receive low-quality remote learning. Achievement gaps will increase for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students by up to 20% because  40% of low-income students are not able to consistently participate in live instruction due to experiencing low or no internet access.

Socioemotional skill development

Learning essential social-emotional skills are important for youth’s success in life, with most learning happening before age 6, or before most children enter the 1st grade. Educational and learning environments support children in socioemotional learning, developing skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision making. Developing these skills has many benefits to student’s academic success, such as long-term improvements in behavior, academic performance, and perception of school. I spend most of my days working at an essential child care service, helping school-aged children navigate distance learning and stay active after their school day. Without being able to interact with teachers and peers, it’s significantly challenging for youth to continue the development of these socioemotional skills. Since school has changed because of COVID, I have noticed that the same kids that I have known for years are struggling more with behavior, expressing emotions, and making friends. Here’s what they said about it…

Access to basic needs

Schools are also a major source of food services and social interactions for students. Without these resources readily available, students and their families are struggling to meet social, emotional, and physical needs. 30 million kids in the United States receive free or reduced-price meals from their schools. For many hungry children, school meals are the only nutritious meal they receive each day. Since the pandemic began and many schools across the country closed in-person instruction, only 15% of the 30 million students are receiving those meals, leaving more than 25 million kids food insecure. Lauryn Bauer, a researcher at the Brooking Institute, found that 1 in 5 families say they do not have the resources to provide sufficient food to their children. This is even more intense for low-income, Black, and Hispanic families. Research shows that healthy students tend to experience better focus levels, higher rates of work completion, and higher test scores.

What do we do now?

COVID-19 is a deadly and highly contagious disease. Although the pandemic has caused so much to change for youth development, I know that we should do everything possible to protect those most vulnerable and help to slow the spread of coronavirus. So, how can we help youth and families cope with the troubles they are experiencing? What can we do to limit the physical, emotional, and mental health consequences that our nation’s youth are experiencing? How are we ensuring that the nation’s future leaders are not falling behind?

Through my research, I have found a slim amount of resources for youth. We need to do more to help youth navigate through the immense changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are the exclusive provider of mental health services for 57% of K-12 youth, which has been severely limited in the past year. Children need support to cope with physical and emotional concerns, but school closures have severely limited available resources. We need to connect youth, families, and educators to available resources to help support academic growth, emotional and social skill development, and access to critical physical necessities.

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Trans Women Of Color: Leaders of the Liberation Movement and Where We Go Next

An illustration for Trans Day of Remembrance, observed on November 20, by artist Ethan X. Parker.

An illustration for Trans Day of Remembrance, observed on November 20, by artist Ethan X. Parker.

Last summer marked the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall, an eventful rebellion that unified the LGBTQ+ community and sparked the Liberation Movement. Currently, millions are participating in peaceful protests across the globe in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The trans community has gathered in this moment to call to action for social justice for Black trans lives, which are disproportionately affected by racism and violence in our communities.  In 2019, there were 331 reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people. This past week, we lost Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, two Black trans women. Following both incidents, President Trump announced his repeal of an Obama-era policy, which protected trans people from being discriminated against in the health care system. The implications of denying trans people health care during a global pandemic translate the immense work that we as allies have ahead of us. As we celebrate Pride Month, it is imperative that we acknowledge the work of trans and gender nonconforming people of color that led us here, and the work left to do as professionals, parents, and allies.

Picture of Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie was a gay right’s activist, who began her career as an MC at the Jewel Box Revenue. Apart from her participation in the Stonewall rebellion, she was also part of the Stonewall’s Veterans Association, serving as Chief of Security, Ambassador, and later Vice President. Storme was a pronounced advocate against police violence and called to action the end of all violence against the queer community. 

Picture of Sylvia Rivera a Puerto Rican transgender activistSylvia Rivera was a Puerto Rican transgender activist and co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front. Sylvia protected trans youth experiencing homelessness through the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Today Sylvia is commemorated through the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit that engages in policy and provides training and free legal services for transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming low-income people of color.

Picture of Marsha P. Johnson a Black trans woman and central leader in the gay liberation movement.Marsha P. Johnson was a Black transgender woman and central leader in the gay liberation movement. She was the founder of the STAR initiative, one of the country’s first safe spaces for transgender and homeless youth in New York City that provides shelter, clothing, and food. Marsha P. Johnson dedicated her life to advocating for housing rights, equality, and sexual liberation.

Black Lives Matter Protest

Left, Miguel Cruz,18, Tabor Bowman,17, Charlie Zucker,13, and Monica Cage,16, lead a group from Amherst Regional High school to Sweetser Park in the center of town as part of a Youth of BLM protest Friday, June 12, 2020.

Our leaders have done immense work to protect trans youth, and today across states, youth have been at the forefront of countless peaceful protests against police brutality and violence in Black communities. Our most vulnerable population of youth today are in fact those identifying as LGBTQ+, specifically Black trans youth.  72% of LGBTQ+ youth experience some form of violence and abuse, including child abuse, physical and sexual assault, and bullying, which increase their risk of suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress, self-harm, and suicide. In fact, 66% of Black LGBTQ+ youth report experiencing depressive moods, and more than half of trans or non-binary youth consider committing suicide, but only half of all Black trans youth receive psychological or emotional counseling. Discrimination in the medical health care system poses a threat to Black trans youth who may only just be beginning their journey to recovery.

While only making up 12% of the U.S population, Black people have made up 22% of all COVID-19 related deaths. Reports have indicated that the Black trans community is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions, poverty, lack of health care coverage, and discrimination in the health care system. 1 in 5  transgender adults report being refused health care because they were transgender and over 50% reported that they had to teach health care providers about transgender care.

Picture of a Quote by Marsha that says "No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us"It has now been over 50 years since the Stonewall Rebellion and still, our transgender community is disproportionately represented in our homeless population and impoverished communities and continues to experience violence inside their homes, at school, and in the workplace. While our past leaders have done tremendous work to advance the lives of the trans community, there is so much work still left to be done. Perhaps the most notable learning opportunity that the BLM movement has presented is the need for all of us to acknowledge our biases and assumptions and how they contribute to anti-blackness.

As we enter into Pride Month, we are challenged again to consider how we benefit from heteronormative practices and systems, and how that affects our abilities to work with the trans community. As allies, it is crucial that we learn to support our trans community and raise the next generations to do the same. Here are some ways you can support the Black trans community today:

  1. Donate and Support to Black-Led Queer & Trans Organizations
  2. Show Up to Protests
  3. Stay Informed
  4. Continue to Educate Yourself
  5. Address and Challenge Anti-Transgender Violence

infographic on how to be an effective trans ally

 

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