I thought if I let a little time pass, the sadness, fear, anger, and frustration that has surrounded me since learning of the events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas would dissipate a bit.
I just needed a little break in the clouds so my emotions wouldn’t be so raw and my thoughts could become clearer. That didn’t happen. I’m as raw as when I first heard the news and perhaps even angrier and more frustrated.
Whenever tragedies like these happen—and they are happening with a frequency that should shake us all to our core—my immediate thought is always, what about the children?
What about 4-year-old Dae’Anna? She witnessed what no child, or adult for that matter, ever should. As her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castile, lay there covered in blood, she tried to comfort and reassure her mother. “It’s OK, mommy,” she said. It wasn’t OK. It was far from OK.
What about Alton Sterling’s five children? I can’t get the image out of my head of his oldest son, 15-year-old Cameron, weeping uncontrollably at a family news conference. We weep with you, Cameron, but our tears aren’t enough.
I think about all the students at J.J. Hill Montessori School where Philando Castile worked. According to news reports, the students loved him and he knew them all by name. How must they be feeling? How are they making sense of the senseless?
Then there are the sons and daughters of the officers slain in Dallas and Baton Rouge. How are they to pick up the pieces from this nightmare that will continue to haunt them in the days, weeks, and years to come?
We have no way of knowing what lasting imprint these tragic events will leave on the innocent. Unfortunately, these events and others like them have become an all too familiar reality for too many of our nation’s young people.
And I’m still left asking, what about the children?
We know more now than ever before. Today’s technology gives us instant and constant access to videos, stories, and opinions, leaving us nowhere to hide. How do we make sense of it, and how should we respond?
We have a collective responsibility to embrace, listen to, and support young people directly affected by violence and the countless others in our families, schools, and communities who are indirectly affected. They need us now more than ever.
All children deserve safe places in which to live, learn, and grow. They need physical as well as psychological safety. When children and youth experience trauma and are continually exposed to high-stress environments, the healthy development of crucial cognitive and social-emotional skills is stunted.
A study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that nearly half of all children in the United States are exposed to at least one social or family experience that can lead to traumatic stress. According to a Center for Promise report, Don’t Quit on Me, young people who left high school before graduating experienced twice as many “adverse life experiences” as youth who stayed in school.
What does this mean for Cameron and Dae’Anna and the children of the slain officers?
We can’t go back in time and undo these events. But as more of the country awakens to the inequities and injustices that still plague our communities, we must focus on our most precious assets, the children.
We need to hold them close. Comfort them through their nightmares. Assure them that we will do everything in our power to keep them safe. Teach them to be fair and to empathize with others.
For those who have directly witnessed and been touched by this violence, we need to provide the professional resources and supports they will need to cope with the trauma. We need to provide safe spaces in our homes, places of worship, community organizations, and schools for young people to share what they are feeling and to ask questions. We should empower them to come up with their own solutions and strategies. And, most important, we need to listen and be present.
These are indeed stressful times. It’s hard to manage the heaviness of it as adults, so imagine you’re a child trying to digest it all.
I’m not sure what becomes of this battle, but I know that right now we need an army of caring adults to surround all our kids with the love and support they need. Without this army, I fear that these recent acts and the tenor and rancor of our discourse about them will forever change who these young people are and who they will become. Are we ready to accept whatever legacy that brings?
How we respond and support the young people around us won’t change what happened, but could make a difference in how they navigate forward. Let’s be sure when we’re asked, what about the children, that we have a response we can all be proud of.
This post was written by Tanya Tucker (@TanyaMTucker), vice president of alliance engagement for America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth.