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Three Leaders Who Refused To Sugarcoat The Reality Of Young Men Of Color

3 Leaders Who Refused To Sugarcoat The Reality Of Young Men Of Color

From left to right: Jahvaris Fulton, Bell Hooks, and Safe Horizon’s Paul Barrett

February 23, 2018

When we talk about survivors of abuse and violence, experiences of boys and young men of color are frequently missing in the conversation. The truth is that, although more likely than other groups to be victims of violence, young men of color are significantly less likely to seek or be offered the support needed to heal from these events at the same rate as other crime victims.

The numbers are telling: according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 60 percent of African-American youth in the United States are victims of crime, and almost 40 percent witness violence during their childhood. These events can be traumatic.

Despite the need for support, the barriers to healing are significant. Too frequently depicted as perpetrators of crime, boys and young men of color often do not see themselves reflected in organizations that support victims. Additionally, the toxic stereotype that boys or men who ask for help are ’weak’ may keep many from seeking help when they need it or when they do seek help, many organizations may not have the tools they need to help them effectively.

At Safe Horizon, we are working to change the narrative of how we talk about and support boys and young men of color: to humanize their hurt and pain, and to strengthen our own services for them. This includes exploring effective outreach methods to engage young men and their caregivers, providing trauma-informed services presented in an accessible, relatable environment to address their needs.

Paul Barrett, project manager for Safe Horizon’s Enhanced Service for Boys and Young Men of Color Initiative, is at the helm of this work. He has coordinated the development of a toolkit of resources for service providers who work with this population. “To me, it is an acknowledgment that in the midst of all of the gains we have made in the social services field, there are whole communities that have been forgotten,” he says. “I see our work as existing amongst a broader community of people seeking to elevate the experiences of marginalized communities into the mainstream.

Paul reminds us that in trauma recovery, one size does not fit all. This is especially true for boys and young men of color. The various mitigating factors they face in their daily lives adds another layer of complexity to their recovery process, “One key lever we can pull is to address our own internal biases that influence the ways that we respond. Our society’s response to the trauma that boys and young men of color experience is vastly different than our response to their white counterparts.

For Black History Month, we honor Paul and two other black leaders who have changed the way we talk about boys and young men of color affected by violence: youth advocate and brother of Trayvon Martin, Jahvaris Fulton, and author and activist bell hooks.

Jahvaris Fulton has become an outspoken voice in New York City’s local government, using his story –and his brother’s– to inspire young men of color to become involved in their communities. Fulton works as a special assistant to the NYC Young Men’s Initiative in partnership with the Mayor’s office, which works to improve the landscape for young men of color in NYC, focusing on education, employment, health, and juvenile justice.

Fulton never expected this to be his path but in an interview with Vice said, “It’s not until it happens to you that it opens you up, and you pay way more attention. Once your eyes are open, you have to do more.” Fulton reminds us that in the face of tragedy and injustice, paths can be carved out to help solve the very problems that caused the tragedy in the first place. In his pain, he found purpose. When we see injustice and suffering, we must look for solutions.

Bell Hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) is a prolific author and social activist, focusing on race, gender, education, and community. Her criticism of social injustices inspire her students and readers, alike. She wrote, “Failure to examine the victimization of men keeps us from understanding maleness.” She continued, “Negative stereotypes about the nature of black masculinity continue to overdetermine the identities black males are allowed to fashion for themselves.

Hooks demonstrated that real change requires us to not only abandon harmful and limiting stereotypes but actively celebrate black men and recognize their unique identities as people. In an anti-racist society, she said, black men would “know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved.

If we want to truly support boys and young men of color, we must cultivate an anti-racist culture. At Safe Horizon, we are doing this work internally as we call upon society to do the same. In pursuit of that goal, we are regularly engaging in anti-racism conversations, trainings and more. We are committed to strengthening our programs to better support and respond to the needs of boys and young men of color harmed by violence.

Safe Horizon offers trauma-informed support and other services for survivors of abuse and violence. To find out more about the help available to you, call our 24-hour hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).

In celebration of Black History Month, we are highlighting the work of nine leaders in three fields within the scope of Safe Horizon’s work: advocating for the rights of children who have experienced trauma, survivors of sexual assault, and boys and young men of color harmed by violence. We mourn the staggering measure of humanity and talent that has been denied in the African-American community due to racist actions, policies, and beliefs, and we celebrate all of the incredible achievements that have been made despite this.