Testimony on violence & mental health:
A report from Gabriel Garcia, YA! Advocacy Manager –
In December, Teens on Target youth leaders and Youth ALIVE! staff testified at a State Assembly hearing on the impact of gun violence on youth mental health. In opening the meeting in Oakland, Select Committee on Youth Mental Health Chair Buffy Wicks, who represents Berkeley, Richmond, and parts of Oakland, said, “We need to hear directly from people who are working to solve this epidemic every day in our communities, so we can come up with solutions that I can take back with me to Sacramento.”
The first speaker at the hearing was Youth ALIVE! Teens on Target youth leader Greg Hampton, a Casltemont High School senior, who shared his experiences growing up in a part of Oakland where gun violence has become normalized. “It’s affected me in a big way,” he said. “I’ve lost family members.” Greg also said that “before joining Teens on Target, I was going down a dark road.” What inspired him to join TNT was knowing “what my community is going through and how I want to change it.” Greg added that his role in TNT provides him the opportunity to help give young people “a better understanding on their right path, what they should do, what they should grow up to be.”
Another TNT youth leader, Jaishon Lucas, echoed Greg’s sentiments saying “Coming from my community, this is a huge issue for us. To know that people are actually working to help prevent this and stop it brings a lot of comfort.”
Youth ALIVE!’s Counseling Services Director Nicky MacCallum, an internationally recognized expert on trauma and urban violence, testified about how gun violence impacts the mental health of victims and how policymakers can provide resources to help those community members. She stressed the need for policy change that “recognizes youth are not bad, sick, or crazy, but hurt and in need of healing.” She explained that this understanding informs how Youth ALIVE! approaches providing care to clients, and how that care is necessary for addressing violence.
“At Youth ALIVE!,” she said, “we believe that healing is possible. We believe that healing prevents violence and saves lives. We believe we all have a role to play in addressing violence as a public health and social justice issue.” Read her informative testimony here.
Youth ALIVE! was joined by several other individuals, experts and organizations, who testified about the ways they have experienced, studied, or addressed gun violence, including Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign, RYSE Center, and Public Health Advocates. You can view the full hearing here.
See Nicky’s full list of policy recommendations below:
WHAT CAN WE DO –
- Invest in trauma informed, healing centered education and support that recognizes trauma and violence as public health and social justice issues for all engaged in decision making regarding the wellbeing of youth. Training and support for school staff, medical and behavioral health care service providers, child and family services, law enforcement and juvenile justice, and public officials in order to support their ability to effectively serve trauma survivors.
- Recognize that the community and the individuals within it are the experts on their experience. Collaborate with community in identifying needs and ways to effectively address those needs. Then follow through utilizing their input at all stages of development and implementation
- Recognize that evidence based practices are only helpful if they have been proven to help the community we are serving. Practiced based evidence that comes by and from the community, and that meets people where they are at, is an essential component on the path to healing.
- Increase funding that is not tied to a diagnosis of “PTSD,” and that recognizes and respects a broader range of trauma experience.
- Support services shaped around actual need rather than trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
- More engagement with community leaders and indigenous healers, mentors, and when needed, therapy services available to those who want them.
- Support opportunities for education and training that increase the number of mentors, life coaches, therapists, and other providers from underrepresented communities
- When therapy is necessary, bring therapy out of the clinic and into the community to increase engagement and success.
- Support expressive arts, sports, community gardens, mindfulness practices, restorative practices.
- Support the work of organizations like Youth ALIVE!, RYSE, and others with more funding for staff, and more discretionary funds that can be used to meet the unique needs of those we serve.
- Be Humble, open and willing to learn from community experts, and willing to use your power and privilege to challenge and dismantle oppressive systems and institutions that contribute to trauma impact