‘Radical engagement:’ Minority children seek mental health services

Kibiriti Majuto, a Charlottesville High School senior and refugee whose family arrived in America from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011, says making him feel welcomed is as simple as taking the time to learn his name. Photo by Jackson Smith Kibiriti Majuto, a Charlottesville High School senior and refugee whose family arrived in America from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011, says making him feel welcomed is as simple as taking the time to learn his name. Photo by Jackson Smith

Children resettling in the U.S. often bring with them the emotional trauma caused from exiting their country at a time of high stress. A local nonprofit supporting minority families wants to help people interact and provide services for these kids.

For Kibiriti Majuto, a Charlottesville High School senior and refugee whose family arrived in America from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011, the best thing educators can do is provide “a safe space,” he says, or “just stand up and say no” to bullies, such as the ones he’s heard call minority students “terrorists”
at CHS.

As he told a crowded room of people at a February 15 workshop sponsored by nonprofit Creciendo Juntos, making someone feel welcome is as simple as taking the time to learn his name.

And for an 11th-grader at Albemarle High School, a quick fix for teachers is not only “having a one-on-one with the student feeling anxious, but having a one-on-one conversation with the attacker.”

Also a speaker at the workshop, she referred to the November 10 event in which she and fellow AHS students stood in the school’s breezeway during a lunch period to voice their concerns about the country’s newly elected leader.

“In our school, after President Trump was elected, we had a speak out,” she said. “That speak out meant everything to me,” because this is where she first announced to her peers her status as an immigrant.

“America was built on immigrants,” she added. “We have made this country so much better.”

But some struggle to find the necessary services to help them assimilate and “are avoiding what they’re feeling because it’s just too much to deal with,” says Eboni Bugg, the program director at The Women’s Initiative, about the post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and fear that children often carry with them after immigrating.

Aside from providing a nurturing environment, Bugg says the next step is to provide a space for them to get services—but oftentimes minority communities don’t recognize the need for mental health assistance, and when they do, language barriers and a lack of health insurance can stop them from receiving help.

Varinia Anderson, a local mental health worker and speaker at the workshop, reminded attendees, “It’s hard to heal while you’re also still suffering,” and said one should be careful not to make a fragile child relive a traumatic experience.

Anderson says what’s needed most in schools is basic acts of friendship (which some have labeled “radical engagement”): truth telling, understanding privilege and taking risks, such as standing up to a bully for another student.

“Currently, [these] have become radical acts,” she says. “These are all words that describe what it means to be a good friend.”