Weekly Letter: Some Good Seeds

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Things have happened in recent days that feel like seeds. I want to share them, because I plan to plant them, and if they grow there will be a garden that sustains us.

Tunnel Vision

I had breakfast recently with Kyle Williams and Comacell Brown of Tunnel Vision, a sports apparel company that has a mission of creating peace and opportunity for young Black men in the lowest-income neighborhoods of our county. As they were pitching a youth gun violence prevention weekend, Kyle explained what “ops” is - opposition - the organization of young Black men into groups that oppose each other, to create what we all want, a place to be protected and belong, a way to compete, and a way to be empowered.

Kyle and his team work within and around these groups, organizing basketball leagues, bringing in role models, and creating dialogue between the groups. They are also putting together a youth gun violence prevention weekend in March.

I was so impressed by their vision that I have them coming tomorrow morning to the Arundel Center to present to me, the Governor’s office, our Health Department’s Gun Violence Intervention Team, county staff, and some local businesses. It will be followed by a brainstorming session that I’ve scheduled with Health Officer Dr. Tonii Gedin and Community Engagement and Constituent Services Director Vincent Moulden.

The Governor and the Kids at Glen Burnie High School

On Monday this week, I sat down for an hour with sixteen Glen Burnie High School students who have recently experienced the trauma of gun violence and/or extreme poverty. The meeting was requested by and included Governor Wes Moore. It also included the Lieutenant Governor, Chief of Staff, our Schools Superintendent, the Principal, and Delegate and alumnus Mark Chang.

The kids did the talking, every one of them. The Governor asked if guns were easy to acquire. Heads nodded. He asked who felt the need for protection going to and from school, without specifying what protection meant. Hands went up. One young man said he wished there was a “watering hole” - a place to hang out that was safe. The word “anxiety” came up a lot. Counselors, coaches, and teachers were described and thanked, for pulling them out of downward spirals.

Most, but not all, of the kids were Black. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among young Americans, and Black Americans are ten times more likely to die by gun homicide than white Americans. Anxiety disorders are said to be the most common of all mental illnesses, and are also the most treatable.

More Madness

I’ve written about Crownsville a lot in this letter, and about Antonia Hylton’s book about it, Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum. But hearing Antonia speak at both Indian Creek School on Friday and Discoveries: The Library at the Mall on Saturday taught me new things. I am struck by how white the field of mental health is, even today. And it makes sense to me now when I’m told that “Black folks don’t trust shrinks.” Antonia challenges us to fix that. Generations of slavery, lynchings, redlining, discrimination, and profiling create anxiety, not health and wellness. Even if we’re able to remove all of that oppression, people still need to heal from it.

Community Healing

I don’t believe that healing is delivered only by licensed clinicians. Dr. George Everly, the father of Psychological First Aid, doesn’t either. His post-disaster work in dozens of countries around the globe has led him to a model whereby regular people get trained to work in communities and heal their neighbors from trauma. 

Imagine a future where the ops, the thing we battle, is trauma. And the power, the thing we strive for, is healing. Where the groups we organize ourselves into are what heals us. 

Take that vision, package it, and sell it. 

Stay tuned for our plan. We can’t not try.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman

Anne Arundel County Executive