Racial and Intergenerational Trauma for ACB Youth: Episode 2 With Simone Dolandson

"Representation is important because it gives us a sense of belonging, it gives us a place to feel nurtured and safe so we could grow, and it gives us pride in our black identity, which is so very important for us to move forward."

Racial and Intergenerational Trauma for ACB Youth: ACB representation in the Educational System with Simone Donaldson (Episode 2)

Simone Donaldson is a Consultant, Therapist, and founder of Agapé Lens Consulting

and Therapy, with over 12 years devoted to mental health, racialized communities, and youth. She offers consultations to private, non-profit, and public sectors, to help guide and implement equity, cultural humility, anti-black racism, mental health, and wellness education, through program development, workshops, leadership coaching, staff development, and speaking engagements. She also prioritizes Black youth 12-24 for psychotherapy and counseling, through a warm, honest, and mindfully present approach. Simones' practice is grounded in trauma-informed principles, an Afrocentric lens, attachment, holistic, and strength-based practices. She believes true healing manifests when we become our most authentic self, allowing us to thrive and live out our purpose.

SWY Opening Remarks:

This is our new monthly series called, “Racial and Intergenerational Trauma for ACB Youth”, which stands for African, Caribbean and Black youth, with our lovely Simone Donaldson. Our first episode was closer to the end of January. And this month's episode, which is our second episode is African, Caribbean, and Black representation in the educational system with connections to identity and how that affects racial trauma.

SWY: Why is ACB representation important?

SD: This is such a very important question. We hear people oftentimes talking about representation, but having a really hard time, sometimes swallowing why it’s so important. As well as, asking ourselves, "How can I move into ensuring that there is representation for me," whether you're young, whether you're old, etc. So it's important because anti-black racism; and we should just really call it for what it is, white supremacy, has demonized the black identity. It's created this worldwide misinterpretation as to what it means to be a black individual. So there's these ideas that we’re a threat, that we’re savage, that we're inferior. There's these ideas that we're over sexualized, so even our children can't be children, because they're looked at as adults and treated like that "angry black man" or "angry black woman", versus being able to live freely like every other young child out there. And then what this does for us, is when we're met in every institution that we go to or in connection with different individuals, and the interaction we have with them, we're made to feel as though we're not good enough. We're rejected, again, treated differently because of the colour of our skin, we start to internalize that. We start to feel as though there truly is something wrong with us. If everybody's rejecting us, if everyone's saying that we're not acceptable as we are, treating us as though we are the ones that are making them feel unsafe. When really we're the ones living in fear and in survival because this experience creates racial trauma, which I know we spoke about previously, and it really leaves us in this place of survival. We're either in this fight, flight, or freeze mode, in our bodies constantly. And so it really takes us away from actually building pride in our identity and who we are, and then we don't have a level of safety that most people are afforded.

The reason representation is important, is because it provides us a pathway to this emotional and mental freedom, this prison that we are kept in. It provides us that freedom, because when we see people that look like us, in positions of power, and/or not positions of power, but a position where they appear quite healed from the wounds of racism. It allows us to see ourselves differently, It allows us to see that there may be an opportunity for us, that we don't have to live the life that our ancestors led us to survive. Which of course, we honor, we celebrate, but they didn't do all of that just so we could continue to survive or fight the way we do everyday. They did it so that we can have a freer life. Are we living, if we are not free, if we're only living through survival? And I would argue we're not.

So representation is important because it gives us a sense of belonging, it gives us a place to feel nurtured and safe so we could grow, and it gives us pride in our black identity, which is so very important for us to move forward.

SWY Comment: I very much agree with those sentiments. I'm speaking from my own experience, I introduced my identity a lot in school and in one of my courses, I felt that lack of representation. And it made me feel isolated, made me feel sad, and made me feel so alone, and constantly rejected. Even if that wasn't their intention, I did feel exactly what you're talking about.

SD: And I felt the same way growing up and even when I was in, post secondary and grad school, it was the same kind of idea. Too many of us are feeling this way when we are in these institutions. And this is why it needs to stop and we need to have these conversations so people understand the importance of representation in these areas.

SWY: Can you tell us a little bit about the Canadian black history of the educational system (segregation, black schools, etc.) and how it has changed since then?

SD: I love that you're asking me how it's changed. And to be quite honest, I don't think it has changed as much as I would love to say it has. Of course, there's been some forward movement.

But let me just start a little bit with the history. So I'm not a historian, I don't know everything. But the little I do know is that it really was a horrific experience. So back in about the 1800s, is when you will see that segregation was legalized. So when black people were freed from slavery or there was just a different kind of rise and equality with regards to the black population, the 1800s brought about segregation. So whether it was restaurants, the schools, like access to a lot of these different institutions that, thankfully again, we have access to, but how we have access is a whole other conversation. But during those times, of course, the schools where white people would go, they were often funded very differently, which meant the resources were better, the maintenance of the buildings were better. So sometimes, the black students were separated by buildings. Sometimes, they were separated in the way that they would go to school houses, to teach, to learn, to develop their education. And in those situations, sometimes they would have to go to school at different times, that would be another way the segregation would happen. And then in other situations, if they had to be in the same school, then they would just be separated, maybe on a bench or they'd be separated, somewhere in the building, that wouldn't allow them to cross, like almost a line. So these are different ways that it came about and it was really horrible.

So you asked me the question about what has changed. So one of the laws and one of the things that came into play, was that individuals were not allowed to go to schools outside of their geographical area. However, if someone was in the same geographical area, for example, if a black child was in a geographical area where there was predominantly a white school, trustees would fight so hard and manipulate the system to ensure that they still were not able to access those schools. And some of them couldn't go to schools, as a result. And some of them that were able to go to school, they had to do the most and take whatever kind of transportation, that may be very far out, in order to access these schools so they could get some form ofl education.

And oftentimes, we talk about Canada being great, because our education system is free, it's open, it's all these things. But you know, when you get there, if you get there, the violence that's experienced is a whole other ballgame. And so this is no different, to be quite honest. Even the same sentiment was felt with post secondary schools where people were continuously denied access. And again, you talked about change, and I think to myself, well, maybe the changes are that now, people are obviously not able to deny access, if they're in a certain geographical area. Then also, if you're under 21 years old, even as an immigrant, you are kind of obligated to go to school. And the schools are not able to deny that access, either. Although, unfortunately, I've seen it happen multiple times. And thankfully, through advocacy, we're able to get these kids in school, but many people have been denied as a result of that.

When I think about racism, I think people forget that in Canada it's very, very covert. And so yes, maybe we may not see things as blatantly as we once did, when it comes to segregation in schools, but behaviors and the attitudes remain the same. And so that's why we see a disproportionate rate of our black young girls and boys being suspended or expelled. So they may not be able to deny them access, but they make sure to keep them out in all these other ways. So it's really similar in many ways.

And then when we look at some of the schools that are considered in the "ghetto" or in the "at-risk neighborhoods", they often don't have resources to maintain buildings. Imagine your child will walk into these buildings that are not being maintained, you're going to feel that there's a rejection just by the physical environment. And then you have your children that are being forced into these special classes because of the way they speak or because of their behavior, which again, demonized much more harshly than if another person; a white or non-black person, were to behave inappropriately. Or you have them sitting by the office door, like they're in office doors more often than they are in their classrooms. So again, it may look different, but it's very much the same, because the attitudes and behaviors haven't changed as much as they should have.

SWY Comment: Thank you so much for that elaborate response. Personally, growing up, I went to schools in predominantly white neighborhoods, but I did live in, as you said, "at-risk communities". So when I played sports, and going to other schools, I did see that big change in terms of the facilities, even just lockers or stuff that are broken, that are just not being repaired. So I definitely can speak to what you're talking about. And even also, as well as education that's being taught. We don't really even learn about Canadian black history. At that, we learn about American black history.

SD: Right, that's another big issue. We're not taught our history in the Canadian context, which actually is quite rich. Definitely comes with its level of pain. But there's so much more to be told that is not being taught. And that has been happening forever. They've used education as a tool to strip us of our black identity. They've used in many ways to really demonize who we are as a people, and then cast themselves as saviors to us in these history books. Meanwhile, many of us were here doing just fine even before the Europeans came here. Which is why I think it's so important that I often talk to people about knowing your history, and of course, you're not gonna know everything. And unfortunately, it is hard to find sometimes, but it's so important that we understand our history because that in itself will give us a different representation of who we are, where we came from, what we're really about, where our strengths really lie, what our ancestors did, what they left for us. It really just provides a different level of connection and understanding of our true identity versus the one that's being painted for us from a very, very young age..

SWY: Do you have any advice for ACB youth who are attending predominantly white schools, who may be feeling disconnected from the ACB community?

I think there's many ways, I'm going to give the top three that I would recommend. Again, I work from an Afrocentric lens and that really just emphasizes the responsibility we have to one another, as a people. So village building; that it takes a village kind of mentality. And I think that, too often we want to rely on this system that was not made for us in order to find our healing. And although they for sure need to do their work, although people in the system ... because we talk about these systems as though their buildings, but the systems are really people and I think people need to know that. But the thing is, we cannot wait on this system for us to begin our healing. And I'm so adamant about us to village build. So I think for these youth, where they can, relying on community is so important. For some people, it might mean creating some kind of a youth group in their church. For some, it might mean getting a mentor that is out in the community, it could be formally or informally. Just someone that you can really trust, that you can learn from, someone that is achieving the goals that you may want one day. Seeing that representation, some kind of mentorship and it doesn't have to be formal, through a “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” kind of thing. It could be a very natural organic kind of experience. And there's a lot of projects out there that people are creating. So like the “IMARA Project,” through TAIBU CHC. That's one that I am a part of, and Christiana, where we have a lot of discussions around what it means to be a black youth in Toronto, and there are some other programs like that out there. So I would say, connect to your village, first and foremost. Find those safe places, and those safe people that can really help amplify your black identity, as well as, help you just feel more confident and slowly rip away at that internalized oppression that likely is happening. So that's my first advice or encouragement.

The second one, is if you do feel safe enough, find a trusting adult at your school. I know that there's this young woman that I work with and she has often felt like an outsider because of similar experiences. She's the only black individual in her school, one out of two, kind of thing. And there's a point in time, where she got to a place where she was just sick and tired of the way anti black racism was not being addressed appropriately within the school. And so she found a trusting adult and she created this club with other black youth, which there weren't many of them. But she created this group as a safe space for them to hold and this trusting adult was able to help them put this together. I do think there's some people in our school systems that are more than willing and ready to support. But we have to find those individuals, and then create a community, even at your school. So sometimes that is an option.

The last thing I would say is to volunteer in these spaces where you can learn and grow to love your black identity. And sometimes it's the food bank, because we have a lot of our people sometimes accessing these food banks, and even the small conversations that happen, could be a learning and warm experience for you. But also, there's something to be said about giving back, lending yourself and helping others where you can, and what that does to our mental health and wellness, in general. Just connection to people in a different way. And seeing others and supporting them, is really a boost of confidence and wellness. It really is supporting us overall. So definitely volunteering in spaces where you feel safe, you can