Kenya Bradshaw is chief program officer for Reconstruction, Inc.

By Kenya Bradshaw

National–Our country is fraying at the seams. Black people and children are being gunned down while some governors, school boards and elected leaders are more focused on banning the truth of our history than protecting us. For Black youth, these bans are a threat to their identities and an affront to their very existence.

Educators are left to supplement curricula with fear of retaliation looming, while Black students often feel misunderstood and isolated while trying to discover who they really are. The truth is public education has always been bred in segregation and racial discrimination. Black children have never really gotten the comprehensive and affirming education they deserve because these institutions, regardless of some educators’ well-intentioned efforts, were never designed to help us. Culturally-responsive teaching began with Black families who have always led – whether consciously or not – the fight to ensure young people know what it means to be Black in America. The Black Panthers started liberation schools in the 1960s to educate and care for Black children the way no other institution would or could. And Black mothers, fathers and caregivers, through their example and expressions, have always taught young people in their families lessons about Blackness.

But with bans in place, Black families and caregivers have no choice but to make certain to do the job that lots of schools and educators can’t or won’t – all year long not just when school is in session. Right now, it has never been more urgent to allow Black young people the freedom to be themselves, to love themselves, and to thrive as themselves. Their lives literally depend on it.

It’s almost Juneteenth – a holiday created by Black Americans for Black Americans, but now potentially co-opted by others. Black youth must learn that Juneteenth is more than a federal holiday. Who will teach them? It’s Pride Month and who will teach them that Black and brown activists started this movement? It’s Black Music Month and who will teach them the contributions of Black artists from today to long before our ancestors’ feet touched this soil? It’s Homeownership Month – who will teach them that Black Americans have long been impacted by housing discriminaton and redlining?

The answer: We must. But others should, too.

Two years ago, as the nation and Black children watched police violence and lack of racial justice destroy our communities, corporations and others in power pledged to do better and to invest more in “DEI” and elected leaders pledged to enact policies to disrupt cycles of systemic racism. We’ve since learned that many of those promises were indeed empty.

In fact, we have watched everything happen but what we asked for when many of us took to the streets, tried to explain that our lives matter, encouraged allies to join us and do more, and begged for justice and to protect our rights.

Two years later, and it feels like things are much worse. We’re still wondering if anyone will truly support Black youth in this country. We are still asking for justice and sadly still discovering not many are truly willing to act other than to harm us. It’s time we pay more than just lip service to Black communities – and we can’t do it alone. We really and truly need allyship that isn’t just in name and more action than rhetoric on reckoning.

Supporting Black young people sustainably means allowing them to dream and loving them with the dignity they deserve. It means encouraging their joy and hope. It means celebrating their brilliance, and honoring Black contributions to our country – not just through the lens of success defined by white privilege. It means protecting them from the horrors of systemic racism, gun violence and unfair suspensions and expulsions. And yes, it means teaching them the full, honest, uncomfortable and rich history of our people.

If we’re to sustain the future of our country, we have to fight against the tide of misinformation and disinformation affecting Black youth. Plainly put, there is no America without them.

Black youth are not just the future; they hold the keys to it. We must help them own it.

Kenya Bradshaw is chief program officer for Reconstruction, Inc. – a company that creates bold, affirming curricula designed by Black people for Black youth. She was raised in Memphis, TN.