“Black girls deserve to be kids.”
– A poem by Azaria Baker, a high school student in Chicago
For the past year and a half, James Logan, a 15-year-old in Lanham, MD, found himself caring for four children. Her aunt died of cancer in May, leaving her children, who are the youngest less than a year old, in the care of James’ mother.
And when Jamese’s mom goes to work, Jamese is responsible for taking care of her cousins, their homework and their needs with virtual school.
For 17-year-old Yanika Mejias in Gaithersburg, MD, these past 12 months have been a major financial strain. Her parents divorced in November and Yanika, her mother and her 14-year-old sister moved into the basement of their aunt’s house. To help keep the family afloat, Yanika makes extra shifts at the burger restaurant.
“It was like we were starting from zero,” she said.
And Azaria Baker, 15, in Chicago, is caring for her 70-year-old grandmother, who had a stroke in early 2020, as well as her 2-year-old niece. Her grandmother is the legal guardian for Azaria and her niece, but since the stroke, which left her extremely exhausted with blurred vision and headaches, Azariah has done most of the heavy lifting at home. She used to wake up every day at 7 am, make them all have breakfast, then log on to the virtual school at 8 am
When school was off, she went to work at the grocery store. Then she would come back home and cook the food. She often felt overwhelmed. “I remember one night, I was cooking and I was having a panic attack. I was crying, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and my heart was racing,” Azaria said.
“But then my alarm went off for something in the oven,” she said, and she put her needs aside.
These three stories reconcile the ways in which the pandemic has affected the lives of young women of color across the United States, even if they are not directly affected by the coronavirus. Black and Hispanic youth were more likely to lost a parent or a family member COVID-19. They are further behind in school than their white counterparts, and last year they had a far higher unemployment rate than older adults and young white women, even during the summer, when youth employment. usually increases. Some of those who remained or found new jobs became significant earners as their family members were more likely to lay off.
Black and Hispanic teen girls were also more likely than white girls and their male counterparts to shoulder care responsibilities at home, according to a report by the Women’s Policy Research Institute. At the same time, he was leading racial justice demonstrations across the country, particularly last summer, putting his energies into confronting and changing systemic inequalities.
“Black girls were on the front lines of racial justice movements, they were essential workers and they were primary caregivers,” said Scheherazade Tillet, founder and executive director of A Long Walk Home, an organization that empowers black girls in Chicago. “There’s no other group that had all three of those things at once.”
All this has taken a psychological toll. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a sharp increase in emergency room visits following suspected suicide attempts by girls aged 12 to 17 in the first months of 2021 compared to 2019. This is probably due to a “more serious crisis among young women”. than has been identified in previous reports during the pandemic,” the report said, although the study did not break down the data by race.
A survey of more than 2,000 youth published in June by the non-profit organization Promise Alliance of Americafound that 78 percent of girls aged 13 to 19 reported at least one sign of decreased mental health, such as feeling distressed or unable to sleep, in the past 30 days, compared with 65 percent of boys. a long walk home A survey of nearly 30 girls found that nearly 70 percent reported an increase in anxiety and an inability to sleep in the past year. Twenty-seven percent reported having suicidal thoughts. Crittenton Services, an organization based in Washington, D.C. and Maryland that supports girls of color, found that of the nearly 400 girls in its network, 63 percent reported feeling stressed, and half had trouble sleeping, as did Shared is an internal survey. with the Times.
“This is the crisis they have gone through,” Ms Tillett said. “So what systems are in place now to support their emotional and psychological needs?”
Life rests behind numbers, dreams shattered, the burden of suddenly becoming a caregiver or provider. A Long Walk Home found that many of the girls in its network felt like they had lost their childhood, or as Azariah put it: “There was no time to have a baby.” And as schools and some workplaces open their doors again, the burden still remains enormous for these young women. They can be even bigger.
But they are also tales of the resilience of girls who become leaders in their communities and rise to the occasion for their families, rescuing them from crises and chaos with creativity and determination.
A 15-year-old student at Duvall High School in Maryland who cares for four children under the age of 10.
James’ aunt learned he had stage 4 brain cancer in February, and died in May. Since then, James’ focus has been on taking care of his cousins. Child care for four children was impossible and would have been too costly for James’ mother anyway.
For months, Jameis spent most of his days at home with his 14-year-old brother and cousins. Six of them made TikTok videos, played games and danced in the living room. From time to time, she would feed them pancakes made from a recipe she learned from her grandmother. She felt responsible for the happiness of everyone around her.
“I wanted to make sure not everyone gets sad or angry,” she said. “I wanted to be energetic and smiling, even though my aunt had just passed away.”
At the same time, James found it difficult to focus on schoolwork, and spotty Wi-Fi at home didn’t help. His grades started falling.
In May, she reached out to Khalil Kuykendall, a program director at the Crittenton Aid Organization, for emotional help. Ms. Kuykendall, whom some girls call “Mama Khaleel”, frequented James’s home to check on her. He also arranged for James’ family to send food and money for his aunt’s funeral.
Eventually, with the help of his teachers and Ms. Kuykendall, James’ grades came back up, and he spent the summer getting his reading scores where it was needed.
Going back to school in person this month has been “rocky,” she said in a recent phone interview. In the background his cousins were crying and crying for lunch. The chicken sandwich he had made was still cooling in the oven.
Jameis said normalcy will take some time. “I’m trying to figure out a way to balance it out perfectly,” she said.
A 17-year-old at Gaithersburg High School in Maryland who feels the need to support her family financially.
Yanika lived in a house where she and her sister had separate rooms. But almost overnight, her parents’ divorce forces Yanika, her mother, and her sister to live in a room in the basement of an aunt’s house. Yanika’s job at a local burger drive-thru that was once just for “fun” has become a lifeline. She now pays her phone bill and chips for car insurance.
The coronavirus pandemic derailed Yanika’s plan to become a certified nursing assistant last year, so she did so this summer, virtually. Her dream of going to the University of Miami after high school depends on how financially stable her family will be at the end of the year—otherwise, Yanika said, she’d take a two-year course at a community college.
At Burger Place, Checkers, Yanika was promoted from cashier to shift manager, taking on more responsibility when the business couldn’t retain workers or take them back. He made sure everyone was wearing a uniform and the shop was sanitized. She stopped at the end of the day to count the money and put it in the system.
Between school work, her job, nurse assistant training, and her parents’ divorce, she had minimal time to spend with her friends. When he looked around, it seemed that he had taken a pleasant summer vacation with his family.
“Sometimes my sister would ask me if I wanted to go to the pool with her,” Yanika said. “But usually when she wanted to go, I had to work.”
Yanika recently graduated from her nurse assistant program. She didn’t tell many in her family because, she said, the ceremony was virtual and it felt overwhelming. “I just kept it to myself,” she said. She also didn’t prepare for the virtual ceremony, or take screenshots of the event.
The week she graduated, other matters caught her attention: School reopened in person, and her family moved again. She quit her job due to scheduling issues, but is now doing a paid internship in day care.
A 15-year-old at George Westinghouse College Preparatory in Chicago, who attends school with the care of her grandmother and baby niece.
Last summer, Azariah felt compelled to participate in a nationwide racial justice movement. At an after-school event, she and her friends brainstormed practical solutions to systemic inequality and realized that the closure of a local grocery store during the recent pandemic meant fresh food was available in their neighborhood. had limited access.
With the help of a non-profit organization, 12 high school students ransack an abandoned liquor store and opened a fresh produce market, sourcing fruits, other food and flowers from local suppliers throughout Chicago. Azariah and the other students work there three times a week.
To balance it all out, Azaria multitasked, helping customers one minute, completing their homework the next corner. “When I’m setting up a flower station, I’ll have my computer on the counter,” she said. Her peers started calling her “Miss President” because of how gracefully she could handle it. Azariah was also doing interviews when the grocery store story caught on. Local And national press.
But behind the scenes, she was getting worse, especially with virtual school and care — for her grandmother, whom she calls “mom” and her niece — at home.
“The reality is that a great deal of the time, I’m not well,” she said. “There’s a part of me that wants to have fun and be a kid and have space.”
Azariah is now back at school in person. As good as it has been to see friends again, the transition has been stressful. “I live 20 miles from my school,” she said, and commuting means she has to be up by 5 in the morning. “I’m overwhelmed trying to keep up with schoolwork, going to work later, and worrying about my mom’s physical and mental health.”
In the time Azariah had, he wrote a poem:
I want to write a poem to honor my girl/friends
For those who pushed the pin into their skin
and those who were under someone else’s control
For those who smile amidst the battlefield
And for those who hold the battlefields in their hearts
For those who are always looking for something to smile about
with their broken eyes and
eyes that don’t get tired and
afraid to close eyes
This is a poem for black girls who are crying about being black girls
who filled their bodies with hatred and envy and hatred
Hate, and jealousy, and hatred
Hate, and jealousy, and hatred
Take a breath
Black girls deserve to be kids.