By Wenimo Okoya, Associate Vice President, Healthy and Ready to Learn Initiative, Children’s Health Fund
As a Black woman and an educator, I have been feeling many emotions since hearing of the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Primarily despair, grief, rage, and exhaustion.
I look at my community and see so much beauty, vibrancy, and life. I am the aunt of four Black nephews, and when I think about what is being done to us and what it means for them, I am filled with heartache and a heaviness I can’t clearly express.
At any other time, these horrors would be devastating enough. But this trauma is not new, and these murders came at a time when we were already in a state of grief and pain from disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the forefront of my heart and mind, as a former teacher who still works with children and schools as the head of the Healthy and Ready to Learn initiative (HRL) with Children’s Health Fund, is agony over how Black children are processing the tragedy and stress of this moment.
Children’s Health Fund serves children living in marginalized communities across the country. More than 80% of students who attend HRL schools are living below the federal poverty threshold.* Ninety-nine percent of them identify as Black or Brown. These days, I’m thinking most of these kids, many of whom are also experiencing other injustices as a result of structural racism. The last few months have been an onslaught of traumatic events that are shaping so much of how they understand the world and their place in it.
In the face of the pandemic, these children have been struggling through the shortcomings of virtual learning while their families battle food insecurity and financial strain. Since a conversation with a friend, I have become keenly aware of how messages on the news must be affecting the children and young people we have worked with over the last decade or so. They have been hearing how they, their caregivers, and loved ones, are more likely to be infected and die from coronavirus. And amidst these immediate threats from COVID-19, they are now seeing videos, images, and reports of people who look like them and their loved ones being murdered while doing…