To our Texas youth services community:
It would be easy and, quite frankly, expected for us to acknowledge the grief which weighs heavily on us and on all of you right now. However, as an organization with a mostly White staff, that would make this conversation about us and our emotions rather than about the violence and oppression that people who identify as Black and African American face in Texas and across this country every day. We want – no, we need – to change directions away from focusing on our own guilt for systemic racism that is too prevalent and instead toward making real changes.
For many months, TNOYS has given voice inwardly to acknowledge and address structural racism by doing internal work with our team. For example, we outlined equity and inclusion as a priority in our new strategic plan, instituted a policy on diversity and inclusion, and made changes to our hiring practices so that we can attract and develop a more diverse team. We realize that what we have been doing is not enough. We are called on to have a new and more pro-active awareness and to take new and more pro-active action.
New action is warranted when just being Black means fearing for your life while only trying to live your life in this country. All too often, Black people have had to repeatedly explain their experiences to those who are privileged or in positions of power, only to have those experiences dismissed.
In Texas, Black children make up 11% of the state’s child population but are system-involved at much higher rates.
- African-American families in Texas are more likely than other families to be reported to and investigated by the child welfare system, and African-American children are more likely to be removed from their family than White children. African-American children are also more likely to age out of foster care.
- In Texas, African-American youth account for 28% of arrests and referrals to juvenile probation despite being just 11% of the state population. African-American youth are also committed to state-secure facilities and certified to stand trials as adults (the harshest sentencing measure in the juvenile system) more often than White justice-involved youth.
- During the 2014-2015 school year, 23% of Texas students experiencing homelessness were Black while Black students made up only 13% of the student population.
- A 2018 study found that 61% of homeless young adults in Houston are Black and another 16% identify as multiracial, while only 25% of the Houston young adult population is Black.
We would be remiss not to acknowledge that disparities also exist in these systems for Latino youth. While Latino youth are not system involved at the same egregious rates that Black youth are involved, they are involved at higher rates than White youth. The impact of these inequities may be lifelong; systems involvement is associated with poorer health and mental health outcomes later in life, as well as with increased chances of living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, and being involved with the criminal justice system.
More than ever, our communities need us to be present and transparent and to take action and accept accountability. We know that first steps must start with us. In recognition of so many inequities and injustices and our responsibility to address them, our team is committing to do more. This includes more listening to and learning from TNOYS members, youth and youth-service providers, Black people and other people of color, as well as communities of color. We recognize that our role is to be allies and helpers rather than the ones with all the answers.
TNOYS is committing to the following in the coming months:
- We are redoubling our efforts to make equity and inclusion the focus of our upcoming Annual Conference on Services to Youth and Families. Speakers will include Mia Williams on equity, inclusion, and cultural humility; Dr. Monique W. Morris on inequality in systems and the impacts of trauma and bias; and other leaders working to create a more equitable and just world for youth and families. TNOYS will record as many of these sessions as possible to share with the public after the event.
- We will utilize an equity lens for developing TNOYS’ 2021 Legislative Agenda. This means TNOYS will seek feedback and recommendations from Black people and other people of color and only include proposals on our agenda that will reduce inequities.
- Our Policy and Programs Teams will hold an open Equity Listening Hour, to provide a forum for you to share information and concerns regarding inequities in policy and practice and to provide recommendations and suggestions for how TNOYS can help to address those. We will be available to listen and learn how TNOYS can support your organization, you, and Black youth and families. The Equity Listening Hour will take place on Mondays between 2:30 and 3:30 pm and you will be able to join by clicking here or by phone at +1 954-998-5312, PIN 411 664 394#. (Of course, you can also reach out any time if this day and time is not convenient for you). Please note: due to TNOYS’ 37th Annual Conference, we will not be hosting a Listening Hour on Monday, June 22.
There is so much trauma and tragedy around us, but we remain hopeful. We remain hopeful because we know that things can be better for Black people and all people in Texas and across this country. Every day we are inspired by the dedication and commitment of our members and partners and by the resilience of the youth and families you serve. Every day we are inspired by the compassion and leadership of the young people on our staff and our Young Adult Leadership Council, as they work to make the world better for future generations than it was for them. Thank you for all that you do and that you will do.
We look forward to continuing this journey together to create a Texas and a country that is just and equitable for all youth and families.
With urgency and optimism,
The TNOYS Team