I can still remember in vivid detail the terror I felt when I saw a picture of the grotesque face of Emmett Till after he had been killed. I recoiled from his face, beaten beyond recognition, as if I were in the presence of a monster. I was just 9 years-old. I asked my mother who that was and what had happened? An immigrant from the south during the Jim Crow era, she explained that he was accused of doing something very wrong. She then went on to give me her rendition of ”The Talk” that is commonplace today in Black families with sons.
That image of Emmett Till traumatized me. It instilled in me anxiety and fear. I disdained any thought of ever going south, especially to the state where Emmett was murdered.
Trauma planted by circumstances beyond our personal control or involvement becomes vicariously our own suffering. Over the decades, I have come to terms with this. Years later, I was able to face my pain when I made a trip to feed hungry Black families living on the Mississippi Delta and when COSEBOC hosted a very successful Gathering of Leaders in Jackson, Mississippi.
But now another generation of children, youth, and young adults has been exposed to a series of trauma-inducing events. The progression of names of Black and Brown men and women senselessly killed by those charged with protecting us all seems endless. Watching the brutal execution of a man accused of passing a twenty-dollar bill was not only incomprehensible but also traumatizing to the fullest extent; and, unfortunately, too many of our children and young people who have witnessed this have fallen into the abyss of trauma in the same way I did, years ago. It has been posited that George Floyd, the man whose name is indelible, is this generation’s Emmett Till.
We who are dedicated to enriching those who are too often denied service and equality must discover what we can do to heal. COSEBOC joins the crescendo of voices that emphatically support social and emotional healing to the fullest extent. As we slowly return to school buildings, the focus must center on the wellness of our children, youth, and young adults.
This imperative is critical for Black, Brown, and other marginalized students. For these groups, trauma is ubiquitous. Its sources reside in plain sight. They are dehumanization, racism, poverty, homelessness, and now continual fear of those charged to protect. As an organization dedicated to the affirmative, social, emotional, cultural and academic development of boys and young men of color, we stress the necessity of emphasizing all means and resources directed toward social and emotional healing as a means to disrupt trauma.