This Father's Day I'm grieving with Black children who have lost their fathers to police brutality. Here's why you should also mourn — and how to support them.
Dr. Wizdom Powell is a trauma psychologist and expert on the physical and emotional impacts of racism in the lives of Black men and boys. This Father's Day, Dr. Powell mourns and grieves for the Black children who have lost their fathers to police violence, and says she is concerned about the trajectories of emotional well-being with these children. She lists seven ways you can help the Black community and especially Black children this Father's Day. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Children around the world celebrate their fathers today. But in some households, this Father's Day feels different. I imagine that Father's Day feels devastatingly different for Gianna Floyd, daughter of George Floyd and the numbers of children who have recently lost Black fathers to police violence. These children have had their fathers — and therefore a joyful Father's Day — forcibly taken. According to data compiled by statista.com, there has been a sharp rise in the number of fatal police shootings — most of which have been among Black Americans. In fact, this uptick in fatal police shootings is underscored by research from Harvard population health scientist, Dr. Nancy Krieger. Dr. Krieger and her colleagues examined data from five major cities and found that Black men were significantly more likely to be killed than White men over the past 50 years. As a trauma psychologist who focuses on the physical and emotional impacts of racism in the lives of Black men and boys, I am especially concerned about the trajectories of emotional well-being for the scores of children whose Father's Day has been permanently altered.
My training teaches me that racial trauma, like the police killings, can result in emotional numbing, social withdrawal, and regressive behaviors like bed wetting, pronounced irritability, and depressive symptoms. And because Father's Day feels different for all the children of other Black fathers immortalized in hashtags, it should feel different to all of us. Below are some of the most important ways that individuals can support grieving children and their families on Father's Day: 1. Educate yourself about the root causes of Black father stereotypes Systems and policy level action requires narrative change. As a first step, you can work to change narrative of Black fathers, who are rarely collectively revered, largely because of myths about their absenteeism and desertion. This myth was made notable by the controversial 1965 Moynihan Report, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." Be picky when it comes to watching popular movies depicting Black men. For example, "The Help", the Tate Taylor film that skyrocketed to the No.1 most viewed Netflix title the past few weeks has been called problematic even by lead actress Viola Davis. It depicts Black men as stereotypically baseless, malevolent, and absent. Alternatively, take this opportunity to read Dr. Harriet P. McAdoo's seminal text on Black Families, which brilliantly unpacks historical and contemporary influences on parenting and family structure. Consider reading Michaeal Connor and Joseph White's edited book on Black Fathers and co-viewing Matthew Perry's oscar-winning documentary, Hair Love. There are also a host of other age-appropriate books that portray Black Fathers in their fullest humanity. Use these resources to start conversations and disrupt the kinds of narratives that often subconsciously desensitize us to the killings of Black fathers. 2. Advocate for child welfare and paid leave policies Reimagine child welfare policies that criminalize lower income fathers like George Floyd and push many others to believe that their parental worth is tied solely to the child support payments they often struggle to make. Start a paid paternity petition in your community or sign existing ones focused on ensuring that fathers and mothers have access to parental leave benefits. Follow paid leave campaigns like PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States) committed to ensuring that paid leave is available to all individuals in the U.S. by 2022. But, insist that all these efforts center Black Fathers. Taking these collective steps would create an advocacy groundswell for ensuring, as outlined in a more recent U.S. Department of Labor brief, that working Black fathers can take time off to care for their children and provide needed support to mothers during the first moments of a child's life. Although Black male labor force participation rates in the U.S. have declined over the past four decades, in large part because of disproportionately low access to opportunities for upward mobility, the most recent estimates place rates at around 64.1%. The rates of Blacks in the labor force is slated to increase significantly by 2026. Help Black fathers establish bonds early on during a child's first moments of life. The bonds established during that time are essential to healthy child development and would go a long way in setting Black children up for success later in life. 3. Bridge health care access and insurance gaps The irony of George Floyd surviving COVID-19 only to be snuffed out by racialized violence is not lost on me. In fact, Black men have some of the most striking and persistent health disparities, including higher rates of the kinds of chronic disease conditions that increase COVID-19 susceptibility and make it literally more difficult to breathe (e.g., heart disease, lung disease, and hypertension). Such disparities are not rooted in biological differences. Rather, they are a by-product of inequitable access to resources in the places where Black men live, work, play, pray, are confined, get educated, and receive their healthcare. As it is today, Black men have low levels of healthcare access and health insurance. We must make firm commitments to ensuring that Black men have equitable access to high quality healthcare and health insurance. Advocate for health policies designed to advance health equity by reading up on widely available toolkits and resources for health equity advocacy. As these resources suggest, you can lend your voice, actively track legislation, and meet with local legislators. 4. Create healing-centered schools and health systems The COVID-19 pandemic and the shadow pandemic of racism, children will be returning to school with more pronounced unmet socioemotional needs. COVID-19 was already a trauma crisis in the making without unfolding racial unrest. Children directly experiencing father loss due to police violence (as well as those virtually bearing witness) will need enhanced support. Schools need to prepare to receive the grieving children whose Black fathers were killed. Educators will also need to move from being simply trauma-informed towards becoming more healing-centered. This would mean adopting new pedagogical approaches that detect trauma and focus on helping children recognize that they are more than the sum total of the racialized violence they have observed. One way to begin would be to join the movements galvanizing around the removal of police officers from schools. At the minimum, figure out if your child's school or those in communities of color near you employ school resource officers. Inquire about how they are trained and advocate for the introduction of nurturing practices for these employees — who are often Black and Brown men who need these jobs to support their families. Parents should insist that a portion of their tax dollars or school donations be used to hire more trauma counselors and that school systems offer training like those provided by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network to teachers and all other staff who interact daily with students. Likewise, health systems need an expanded behavioral health workforce trained in addressing racial trauma. This community-led workforce could be trained to assess and refer children and adults for racial trauma support. Visit the National Association of Community Health Worker's website to support, learn more about, and determine if CHWs are available in your community. Advocate for their presence and specific racial trauma training in the places where Black families live, work, play, pray, get educated, and receive healthcare. 5. Donate to trusted organizations and campaigns Below are only a few trusted and vetted organizations who are delivering practical services to children and families of slain Black fathers:
Communities United Against Police Brutality: Offers a 24-hour crisis line (612-874-STOP) and assistance to individuals and families impacted by police brutality The Cordale Q. Handy in Remembrance of Me Foundation: Provides headstones to families who have lost loved ones to police violence The George Floyd Memorial Fund: Benefits and cares for George Floyd's children and their educational funds Dove Men+Care's newly launched FathersDayTaken.com: Invests $1 million to support families who have lost Black fathers to racism and violence. (Full disclosure: I'm a Dove Men+Care brand consultant and helped shape their FathersDayTaken initiative.)
- Self-educate and read up on anti-racism More non-Black parents need to have informed conversations about racial justice, equity, and inclusion. Read everything written by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, historian, national book award winner, Guggenheim Fellow, and a leading voice in anti-racism work, including, "How to be An Anti-Racist." Consider following this up with reading and sharing his more recent companion for children, "Anti-Racist Picture Book." Learn about the anti-racist hopes, dreams, and wishes of Black fathers by revisiting Ta-Nehesi Coates', Between the World & Me. Read aloud and absorb passages from this text like: "Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered." If non-Black parents took these required initial steps and resisted the trappings of performative allyship we might raise a generation of children who are laser focused on creating a more racially just and equitable world — one where police killings of Black fathers would finally cease.
- Hold space for the range of grief and loss reactions. Make the choice to hold space for the grief, disappointment, rational anger, and loss experienced by the children whose Father's Day has been taken by police violence. Families and loved ones should be prepared to respond to the host of questions that often follow by telling the age-appropriate truth about the circumstances surrounding the death of their fathers. Access online resources like those produced by the Child Mind Institute to understand how to help grieving children. These resources encourage parents to respond with plain terminology. Children can spot a sterile explanation a mile away. Encouraging grieving children to express their emotions is also critical to healing. Leverage art, storytelling, and play — all provide healthy outlets for grief processing. But, most importantly, we should pause and sit Shiva today, as Jewish families do during mourning periods, for Gianna Floyd and all the families whose Father's Days have been tragically taken. Take deep cleansing breaths, perhaps for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in honor of George Floyd and all the Black fathers who no longer can. Use this time to reflect on how you plan to act on the suggestions outlined in this article. Make a commitment to leveraging your privilege, positions, and power to advance anti-racism work in your spheres of influence. But, most importantly take this time to remember how fortunate most of us are to have our fathers still with us. I will be pausing to reflect on George Floyd, Alton Sterling, Derick Powe, Earl Flanders Armstrong, Sr., Eric Garner, Hardell Sherrell, Jaffort Smith, Jarvis "Scottie" Lykes, Justin Teigin, Kimoni Davis, Terrence Kellom, Sr., Victor White II, and my grandfather, Eddie Powell — Black Fathers whose lives mattered.SEE ALSO: Two students helping lead March for Our Lives say police violence is gun violence — here's how they're organizing to end it Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How waste is dealt with on the world's largest cruise ship
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