During Black History Month this February, it’s important to honor our African American community’s extraordinary resilience. Black Americans have endured much in terms of mental health burdens throughout our country’s history. The Black family’s ability to survive and thrive in the face of this adversity tells us much about them.
Imagine the collective anguish of nearly 400 years. Men, women, and children were cruelly forced from their homes in Black nations throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Transported in shackles and packed into crowded ships to cross rough seas, (if they survived) they were sold to the highest bidder for generations of slave labor. Families were routinely separated. Ancestral languages and traditions were forbidden. Life was cruel and often short.
And despite the abolition of slavery in 1865, the lives of Black Americans continued to be scarred by segregation, white supremist movements, and Jim Crow laws. Only one hundred years later, when resistance to lingering racism and discrimination in America led to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, would Black Americans begin to achieve some political and social gains. Yet, the battle is far from over. Racism, discrimination, and inequity persist today — not the least of which is the high number of Black people who are criminalized for mental illness rather than treated. Our Black communities remain plagued by disproportionate rates of arrest, incarceration, and the resulting intergenerational poverty.
How do people survive generations of such crushing adversity? Science calls it resilience. For example, research has shown that in Black communities, despite the risk for negative outcomes, many people are able to overcome the negative consequences and experience a positive life (Brown, 2008). This strength comes from a deep well within many Black individuals and in Black communities that nourishes self-respect, recovery, pride, and achievement.
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse is on the front lines of the fight for mental health and substance use disorder treatment equity. We are extraordinarily proud of the Black families we serve. It is their personal success stories — their strength – that gives us the courage and determination to advocate for services to address equity in social determinants of health.