Now, a little over a year following the murder of George Floyd it is important to not let conversations about race stop just because the news cycle is not as focused on it as it was last summer. You may see stories about injustice against black individuals less on your timelines and TVs but black people never have the privilege to stop thinking about race and how systemic racism impacts them and their families on a daily basis. July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and it serves as a great time to highlight the fact that navigating mental health services is a vastly different experience for minority families than it is for white families. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance sat down with two black parents; George Flemming of Pittsburgh, and Melodie Jackson of Philadelphia to listen and learn about their struggles, hear about the psychological toll on parents who are raising black children in today's society, and learn how to be an effective ally if you are someone who is not in the black community. Check-in with our social media channels all month long as we continue to feature the insight and stories of BIPOC.
"My youngest son works at Target, and the store he works at had been closed due to the protests last year. When I finally got him on the phone after hearing about that, let me tell you just to hear his voice; relief washed over me. I have been living like that for as long as I have been a father just because of the color of my children's skin," said George Flemming of Allegheny County. This gut-wrenching feeling is one that every parent raising a black child around the country knows all too well.
Jackson and Flemming are both parents who have raised and are raising children who have struggled. A majority of our readers have also raised or are raising children similarly situated and know how scary it can be to let your child out into this often less than understanding world. This anxiety increases tenfold if your child is black. "I have taught my children to be aware that they are not judged by the character of their heart, but by the color of their skin," said Flemming when asked about what extra lessons he needed to teach his children that a white parent does not have to tackle. "I pray all the time," said Jackson. "I pray when he goes out, I pray when he comes back. I am in constant fear for him." Jackson explained that her son's mental health challenge adds to her fears because it can cause him to be easily misunderstood. "Sometimes it makes him appear to be mouthy, and when given a fight or flight situation he is going to fight."
"Keep an ID on him. Be mindful of what he says and how he says it, even his body language. If you get stopped by the police just listen, don't reach into his pocket. Be mindful of any moves that he makes if the police have stopped him. Be as respectful as he can when he is out of my presence. He is already a target. I had to teach him when people were mean to leave it where it was and keep moving. Don't talk back, that was very difficult for him. The hoodies; I tried to get him to not wear a hoodie, unfortunately, he loves them. That was an issue. Wearing a simple piece of clothing; we had to have a conversation about that. I had to sit him down periodically to look at certain things that were happening in our country to black males in particular. To realize it's not just him and he knew what was going on and can be more mindful. Normally he does not sit down and watch news clips. I needed to see his response to it. I needed to see that and not just let him find out on his own. A lot of people don't like you because you’re a black man and they don’t trust you. I try to see life through my son's eyes," said Jackson when reflecting back on the lessons she has had to teach her son.
Flemming said, "Each African American man has a different experience. It has been very daunting in my 65 years. I have had to be twice as good and then even better than that. It has been scary. I have 3 sons and at least 2 have had encounters with the police." It breaks Jackson's heart knowing that her son has lived his life constantly looking over his shoulder. She mentioned that in their old neighborhood her son was consistently questioned by one police officer about what he was doing. Jackson and her son lived in a home that was in Jackson's family for over 100 years. This very home where Jackson herself was raised now found itself in a gentrified neighborhood with police officers who would continually question her son's intentions and reasons for being in his own neighborhood. Her son had grown up in that neighborhood and; "all of a sudden he didn't belong there."
Institutionalized racism impacts nearly every aspect of a person of color's day-to-day life. "This is having an incredibly negative impact on the mental health of young African American men. More hopelessness more despair; suicide rates are up in young black males. When I say young I am talking middle school-aged," said Flemming. Jackson has noticed the negative impact it has had on her own son's mental health. "This has greatly impacted his self-esteem. He is never free of his fear. The idea that the world doesn't see him as the person he is is very hard for him to accept." Jackson knows her son as the kind and caring individual that he is and is disheartened that he is instantly judged before anybody gets to see that side of him.
Visit https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/ to access resources and valuable content.
If you are white, what can you do to help?
First and foremost Jackson and Flemming are in agreement about the fact that racism must continue to be talked about, no matter how uncomfortable it is for people. "If we don't talk about it it is not going to get any better. It will only get worse. It affects us socially, it affects us economically, and spiritually one way or another it affects every American. "Talk about it because it's real. It's real and we talk about everything else," said Jackson.
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Flemming wants to remind people, as well as the media, that this MUST be talked about forever. He mentioned that the media has an ethical duty to cover stories and topics that impact the daily lives of Americans, not just focus on sensationalism and what is getting views and likes. He urges everybody to continue to use social media to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement and to never ever stop talking about it.