By Kareem South
One early Saturday morning in November, I received a text message from my former neighbourhood basketball coach that read “Malcolm was shot and killed last night”. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. Malcolm and I became friends in elementary school and were teammates on our neighbourhood basketball team. Malcolm was a selfless teammate who put others before himself. He was a quiet, compassionate, and loyal friend. A brother.
As I attempt to wrap my mind around the vicious crime that was committed against my friend Malcolm, I recognize his death is not an isolated incident. Malcolm represents a byproduct of an abandoned part of society. African, Caribbean and Black communities have endured many challenges and continue to face systemic inequities and disparities in health, education, and employment. The lack of culturally appropriate mental health and wellbeing resources generates a devastating ripple effect on these communities, leaving many to suffer in silence. The emotional callousness often manifests in the perpetuating cycle of destructive coping mechanisms, substance abuse, community violence, incarceration, and death. Given the frequent nature of these crimes, the lives of young Black men continue to slip through the cracks and are denied their humanity.
I wonder, how can we begin to rehumanize the frequently neglected and untold realities of everyday people in the diaspora? After all, every human deserves to be celebrated, and to feel that their mere presence is valued. In recognition of Black History Month and Black Mental Health Week, it is important that we continue to shine a light on the mental health and wellbeing of African, Caribbean, and Black communities, and take time to assess the current organizing structures and systems that contribute to their development and/or destruction.
Reframing the way mental health services are delivered is imperative to disrupting the cycles of gun violence. Social justice efforts in mental health require us to acknowledge the damage caused by mental health services and work towards building culturally responsive models of care that address the deeply rooted generational wounds.
Simply put, our capacity to transform is found in our capacity to be human. When we value the dignity of each person’s life and honour the time and space to grieve and reflect on past traumas, we lay the foundation for diverse voices to be heard, for people of all races and cultural contexts to be seen, and for collective healing to take place.
Healing doesn’t always happen overnight. However, I recognize that a simple acknowledgment can go a long way in rediscovering our intrinsic worth as human beings. As my friend Malcolm pointed out, it can be as simple as saying “I see you, fam!”
To Malcolm and to anyone who has ever felt invisible.
We see you, too.