JFK IDEAS Forum: The Effect of Racial Inequality on Mental Health

By Katelyn Twist

The Forum in action

In light of the protests following the murder of George Floyd, the Peer Resources class at JFK began to hold discussions regarding racial inequalities throughout the year. Peers hosts a mix of students, teachers, counselors, and administrators, who come together to share experiences, educate each other, and brainstorm ways that JFK can actively fight racism in the classroom this year. According to Peers president Katelyn Twist, “Our goal has always been to keep these important conversations going and to spark social and instructional change in our school community.”

The latest forum was held on November 2nd, during which they discussed: “The Effect of Racial Inequality On Mental Health.” Notable guests included Mr. Velez, Dr. Fisher, and several teachers, such as Ms. Anderson, Mr. Dickens, and Ms. Ghosh. Peers representative Abigail Headley started the meeting off with a moment of remembrance for police brutality victim Walter Wallace Jr., who was shot while having a mental health episode, during a police confrontation. The moment of silence allowed time for participants to reflect on the stigma around mental health for Black men. Following the thirty second moment of silence, the facilitating students shared guidelines they created to make sure that all participants felt safe in the forum environment. 

After about fifteen minutes, the conversation commenced. The given talking points included: “Ally fatigue: How long is too long of a break?”; “Whose responsibility is it to keep the conversation going?”; “Police dealing with mental health,”; and “Speaking over versus uplifting Black voices.” The conversation began with Mr. Velez, who shared his thoughts about having SRO’s on campus. He confirmed that he is in favor of keeping SRO’s on FUSD campuses. His reasoning for this was that, at Kennedy, our SRO is trained in restorative practices. He explained that there are certain instances on campus where administrators are required to have the police involved. One example of these instances would be if a student is in possession of drugs or a weapon. Mr. Velez said that, if we were to cut our SRO, he would have to call in “street cops.” These officers would not have the school-specific restorative practice training that our SRO does, but we would still have to call them in. 

Mr. Dickens, a ninth grade English teacher, had a different opinion on the SRO topic. He shared his hope for a world where the need for police on campus would be eliminated. A world where schools and other youth programs could support students in a way that would significantly decrease the number of reportable instances on campus. A world in which police officers had mandatory training in restorative justice and mental health crisis intervention. A world in which police officers believe in these practices and are not just there to meet a requirement. 

Peers president Katelyn Twist jumped into the conversation with her thoughts on two of the day’s talking points. The first one she addressed was, “Whose responsibility is it to keep the conversation going?” She explained that it is the responsibility of an ally to do so. To further drive her point, Katelyn shared a quotation by an anonymous speaker which read, “If you’re so tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired we are of hearing about it.” 

 

As a result of the discussion that took place during the forum, one can conclude that there is a harmful impact of racial inequality on mental health, and it is the job of an ally to keep the conversation going. One can also conclude that common police officers are not properly equipped to handle mental health crises. 

 

JFK Peers is planning on handing the forum responsibilities over to a soon-to-be new club, IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success). IDEAS will continue to hold these forums at least once a month, with a new topic every time. Since the new club is in the process of getting set up, the next forum is projected to be held in early January, 2021. The topic has yet to be decided. To stay updated on JFK’s social justice forums, students should check their Loopmail for polls and information. Students that are interested in joining IDEAS should email Mrs. Castillo (ecastillo@fusdk12.net) or Katelyn Twist (katelyntwist@gmail.com). Do not miss the chance to be part of the Kennedy community that is taking the necessary steps for change.

 

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