The People and A Promise

Kutura Bailey, Howard University

I came across an Instagram post that claimed “One year at an HBCU can undo 12 years of damage done in the K-12 education system.” I took the word “damage” to mean the psychological and mental trauma we experience (e.g. micro-aggressions, social exclusion, and stint in cultural envelopment). Feeling nostalgic, this post took me back to middle school when I watched Drumline, Stomp the Yard, and A Different World. I looked at those movies as a promise; if you go to an HBCU it will be a place where you can be yourself. I followed this promise religiously and applied to one of the top HBCUs, Howard University. Unfortunately, I endured four years of distress, isolation, and emotional abuse. There are many factors contributing to my experience, but the abundance of mental health issues in the African American community, is a silent partner.

Yes, you have heard it before: mental health is something we don’t like to talk about. Well now we do bring up how we don’t like to talk about it...then give an ‘amen’ and move on. Do you really want to grab someone’s attention at Howard, though? Talk about culture vultures, colonialism, or systematic injustice to spark a conversation; we have every right to recognize our abuse so we can move away from it. We point out the time someone had the audacity to touch our hair, how the cop that pulled us over thought we didn’t know our rights, or how many of us are told that we wouldn’t get this far. We open a discussion for these topics, we list every prejudiced or racist act, and we relive our trauma.

We relive our trauma together, but we all handle it in our different, and sometimes unhealthy ways. I noticed that some like to take on several extracurricular activities, but experience burnout and purposeful isolation. Some, smoke and drink all weekend to forget, but sleep on the reason they came to school. Others say we need a leader and blindly follow someone for answers. Some will lie, cheat, or use others to get ahead, because he or she knows life will always be hard for us. But, why is seeking help never an option?

It would be presumptuous of me to assume that all of our actions are a reaction to some form of emotional trauma. It would be presumptuous to say that all of us are suffering some form of mental illness; however, would you know the signs if you were? Again, we all admit that mental health is acknowledged, but still fail to speak up about it. It may not be all of us, and it may not be from systematic racism. It may not be a chronic illness, but it can be present.

So, are we to crawl out from the comfort of our ignorance and stumble like children through a dry, barren, and torrent life with our woes? Do we look for a leader? How about an oasis, or a promised land to run away from our trauma? I did. Then, I realized I needed to seek a professional, talk it out, and develop coping mechanisms.