Black teenagers don’t tend to be school shooters.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling every bit as much as those who do commit such acts.
Poverty, hopelessness, isolation from traditional sources of support and gun violence all take their toll.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for black youth ages 10 to 17 jumped 77 percent between 2006 and 2016.
For this reason, here in Canton, Ohio, the school district’s decision to invest $2 million in a team of specialists to deal with behavioral problems at McKinley High School is a hopeful step because it suggests administrators understand how much is interconnected.
Kids aren’t bullies, dropouts or disruptors for no reason. Some carry the chaos and dysfunction of their home environments into class like a backpack. When no safe, positive outlet is available to work out their anger, depression and fear, it will be expressed some other way.
The district’s plan is important because the student makeup at McKinley is 50 percent minority, and there remains a stubborn and dangerous myth that black kids are somehow magically impervious to mental illness.
The ungodly rate of homicide of young black men by young black men, and the high rate of school suspensions for black girls, often are direct outgrowths of childhood trauma.
They never have the luxury of being labeled as “troubled” or a “lone wolf.” They’re viewed through a prism in which they are seen as willfully violent and dangerous.
It’s easier to dismiss it all as criminality because of a reluctance to believe minority kids are as vulnerable and as susceptible to mental illness as everyone else. Though black Americans have the lowest rate of suicide of any ethnic group, 36 percent of young blacks living in extreme poverty have tried suicide by the time they’re 20.
It’s made worse by a wider culture besotted by violence, but which can’t be bothered with complexity.
This is not to excuse bad behavior. We’ve all known people who were jerks, always looking for a shortcut or an angle, who chose to do wrong and commit crime and mayhem even when they knew better.
But the vast majority of black teenagers aren’t criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. Studies have shown that minority kids, and girls in particular, are viewed by educators as “less innocent” than white children.
A 20-year difference
In 2018, the world must seem infinitely more complicated, scary and uncertain for teenagers of all backgrounds.
The mass shooting at Columbine in 1999 shook the world precisely because it was such an unthinkable anomaly.
Today, there’s a mass shooting in this country virtually every day.
Imagine sitting in a classroom and knowing this.
Though their respective student bodies are different, McKinley has the fortune of following in the footsteps of Perry Local Schools’ new mental health initiative.
However, the district must be diligent in putting a plan in place that ensures the money being earmarked won’t be consumed by bureaucracy.
Someone’s life depends on it.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org