Dear Letters to Strangers Community:
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Say their names.
We at Letters to Strangers want to make it clear: Black Lives Matter, always. The recent events in the U.S. have once more pushed to the forefront the heart-twisting reality of police brutality in the United States, particularly against Black and Brown communities. Though we are an international organization, we were founded and are based in the U.S. More importantly, racial equity is not a nationwide issue - it is a human endeavor. So around the world, we support and will always stand with our Black brothers and sisters. We hear you, we feel you, and we are here standing alongside you, following your justice-making lead.
Letters to Strangers has always been committed to not just a diverse but equitably diverse approach. But before we delve into what we are doing to support the movement, we want to first use this statement to educate on the facts and history surrounding Black individuals and healthcare. The fight has always been intersectional. We cannot have health when systematic racism persists.
Racism within the U.S. Healthcare System
Historically, racial inequalities in healthcare have been prevalent, but Black activists have played a huge role in increasing access to healthcare. Black activists during the Civil Rights Movement, led by Black, middle-class physicians, were instrumental in desegregating hospitals and expanding access to healthcare. In the 1970s, the Black Panther Party set up free community medical clinics to further expand access to healthcare in Black communities. Organizations like the National Medical Association (NMA) countered the white-controlled American Medical Association and favored a more egalitarian healthcare system. The NMA was instrumental in the creation of Medicare. The efforts of Black activists to reduce inequalities in the healthcare system challenged a legacy of white supremacy within the healthcare system.
At the same time, many African and African-American lives have been exploited by medical researchers in the name of medical advancement. A recent example is the infamous Tuskegee Experiment, conducted beginning in 1932. The experiment didn’t end until 1972, despite the Nuremberg Code for medical research ethics being passed in 1947. Black men with syphilis were denied treatment during the study in order for researchers to "track the disease's full progression," leading many to suffer lifelong injuries, pass the disease to loved ones and children, and even experience death. Experiments such as the Tuskegee experiment highlight the continued injustices within the healthcare system that Black Americans have faced for centuries.
There is still a long way to go. Even during this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, disproportionate impacts have been felt in minority communities. According to the CDC, about 1/3 of the COVID-19 infections recorded nationwide affected Black Americans, despite Black Americans only making up 13% of the US population. African-Americans have also been dying at disproportionately higher rates than all other ethnicities, forming roughly 27% of all deaths from the coronavirus. A Pew study also showed that one in three Black adults in the U.S. personally knows someone who has been hospitalized or who has died from COVID-19. High rates of unemployment (16.7%) also have affected Black Americans. During this already difficult time, the added mourning for Black lives lost to police brutality and racism only compounds the pain experienced by the Black community and beyond.
Minority Mental Health Matters
Inaccessibility of mental health care also poses a challenge for African-Americans and other people of color. 18.6% of Black adults in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition, which is not far off from the 19.3% for White adults. Still, African-Americans are 1/2 as likely to seek treatment for a mental health condition. Socioeconomic factors, bias from healthcare providers, and lack of cultural competence by providers can result in distrust by the patient, misdiagnosis by the provider, and poorer quality of care for Black Americans who do seek treatment.
Where to Learn More
Therapy for Black Girls: www.therapyforblackgirls.com
No More Martyrs: http://www.nomoremartyrs.org
Black Mental Health Podcast: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/reginald-a-howard/black-mental-health-podcast
Letters to Strangers Youth-for-Youth Mental Health Guidebook, available for free to download in black & white PDF version here. The race & ethnicity section delves deep into the history and experiences of Black Americans and features the input and insight of prominent Black mental health activists.
NAMI resources for African American mental health: https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/Diverse-Communities/African-American-Mental-Health
Statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health: https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=24
The Safe Place (a minority mental health app geared at specifically the Black community): https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/external/2018/03/mental-health-app-black-community/
Additional Black mental health resources/clubs: https://www.health.com/mind-body/black-mental-health-resources-to-fight-the-harmful-effects-of-racism
On being a better ally: https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a32741905/be-a-better-white-ally-black-lives-matter/
Places to Donate
Black Mental Health Alliance: https://blackmentalhealth.com/donate/
Trevor Project: Black LGBT Youth Mental Health: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/2020/06/01/supporting-black-lgbtq-youth-mental-health/
Ourselves Black - Black Mental Health Magazine: https://ourselvesblack.com
Petitions, Resources, and Organizations to Donate to for #BLM:
What Letters to Strangers is Doing
Ever since our founding, Letters to Strangers has explicitly written a commitment to equity on all fronts into our constitution and operations. Every Chapter must follow and agree to these conditions before being inducted into our family. We prioritize the voices of minorities in our work and outreach, particularly for concrete opportunities such as workshops, webinars, and scholarships. Our scholarships on average see 80%+ of applicants identifying as people of color. We are dedicated to ensuring that every education curriculum we push out emphasizes the importance of recognizing the impacts of race and identity on mental health and healthcare access.
However, that is far from enough. We want to be and are committed to doing more. We have taken on the fiscal sponsorship of a Chicago-based project called Emissaries, a 50-person-plus team of medics and trained personnel protecting and treating people on the frontlines of the protests during a time when the city just experienced its most violent weekend of 2020. This means that all donations for Emissaries will be tax-deductible through Letters to Strangers (rather than requiring Emissaries to take the time and resources to file and wait for nonprofit status of their own). To donate, just state that your donation is for Emissaries through the Letters to Strangers donation portal, and we will redirect, help administer, and assist with the structural organization of all funds for Emissaries so that they can focus on taking care of the people fighting on the ground for a better tomorrow.
This is not an easy or simple time, but that is a lesson that Black individuals learned long ago. For those of us now learning of the exhausting, draining, and intense assaults on one's conscience and consciousness that systematic racism has long encouraged - do not look away. It is uncomfortable, it is soul-sucking, but it is the reality that too many people face.
Leverage our privileges and empathy to fight for change. Take a stand against racism and be an active advocate against the continued injustices faced by the Black community. You can speak out, donate your time, knowledge, and/or money, call your representatives about justice reform/healthcare access reform/other inequalities that Black communities and communities of color face, and be creative about how you will actively fight against racism in this world. Use your talents and voice.
But also, don't forget: we cannot help anyone else if we are ourselves debilitated. So as strange as it may feel, do remember to take care of your health and well-being. Remember that we are in a pandemic. There are ways to help and get involved while allowing yourself to recharge, especially if you have mental and/or physical health concerns. Some tips are below:
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said and former U.S. President Barack Obama popularized,
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
With you in spirit and in heart,
The Letters to Strangers Team
P.S. Thank you to Letters to Strangers+Princeton Chapter President Hannah Reynolds for allowing us to adapt parts of her Chapter's statement on the history of Black advocacy for heathcare equity!