A protestors's sign reads "Am I next 2 die?" in San Clemente, Calif. on June 3. (Photo by Megan Moe)
YULA Girls High School

Minds Matter: Black Lives Matter and teen mental health

A single verdict led to a movement that would undoubtedly change the face of 21st century America. After the trial of George Zimmerman resulted in a “not guilty” verdict, friends Alicia Garza, Opal Toma and Patrisse Cullors founded the Black Lives Matter organization to end the disproportionate police brutality toward Black Americans.

Lots of statistics support the notion that Black people are hurt by systemic racism far more than other races, specifically white Americans.

According to the American Civil Liberties Unions, Black and white people smoke marijuana at approximately the same rate, but Black people are four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

A study from the University of Michigan found that Black people have a poverty rate of 22% despite making up just 13.3% of the American population. Anger toward this unjust treatment reached a turning point after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd sparked protests across the nation in all 50 states. Both Arbery’s and Floyd’s deaths were caught on camera and spread across social media. 

The movement has taken a mental health toll on youth across the nation, specifically Black teens. Michael Brent IV, a rising senior at Pacific Palisades High School in California, feels that the viral videos of Black people’s deaths at the hands of police offices, although traumatizing, are necessary to share on social media. 

Brent said there needs to be a warning before people share the videos, but that widespread videos really bring to light what happened, in cases like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, who were killed by police. Concerning the future of Black equality in America, Michael Brent IV feels cautiously optimistic.

Protestors hold Black Lives Matter signs a protest in San Clemente, Calif. on June 3. (Photo by Megan Moe)

“[Black Lives Matter] is obviously the most important issue in my life right now,” Brent said.

As an attendee of the protests, Brent said he felt “weird,” and found it interesting to attend the protest with his 90-year-old great grandmother who sees the Black Lives Matter movement as the second Civil Rights Movement.

The protests have taken a toll on Brent’s mental health, as well as countless other teens.

“Lots of teens, especially Black teens have told me this movement has led to moments of totally breaking down,” Brent said.

While Brent has been stressed himself, his optimism has kept him afloat in the movement.

Not everyone has the same optimism, like Jeffrie Chambers, a rising sophomore at Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts in Tennessee.

When he thinks about the future, Chambers said he feels pessimistic.

“In 40 years, will my kids still experience segregation? Will they go to a school where the only Black person is the night janitor?” Chambers said. “In politics, will they only see Black people as congressmen and senators, but not as cabinet members or presidents?” 

However, the rage over systemic racism in America has not debilitated Chambers’ desire to make a change. He said that, instead of feeling a “crybaby” when he sees the effects of police brutality in the United States, he wants to march in the streets.