Let Us Foster Understanding and Healing

I often reflect upon George Santayana's admonition, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I have been thinking a lot lately about our history as I watch events in our country unfurl one by one. Many of these events were tragic and familiar but provided Americans with a wider lens to understand the trauma, danger, and fear that is experienced by many in our communities.

Whether it has been the happenings at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Sandy Hook, or events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and New York -- or my beloved Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina -- we have seen firsthand how chancy life can be when permissive laws go unchallenged and consequential omissions are not addressed.

We can also see how difficult the daily machinations of life are when you happen to be a minority, particularly African-American. Sitting in your school classroom, standing in front of your hotel, walking home from a convenience store, driving your own automobile or even attending Bible study at your local church can become actions fraught with fear and danger.

In his book Why We Can't Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse, and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper." My unlettered and unfettered late mother-in-law, who I loved dearly, could not abide procrastination and like Dr. King had little patience for gradualism. She often admonished, in her Gullah/Geechee dialect, "Wait breaks the wagon down."

In other words, addressing the stress and trauma of enduring the pinpricks and pinches, brick-backs and chokeholds of injustice should be a priority and may require that we speak above a whisper. Sometimes we need to shout loudly and act forcefully. That is what we did when I was a young man in South Carolina. Our full-throated demands for dignity and equality were not always popular in some quarters.

It is this way I view today's "Black Lives Matter" movement. As uncomfortable as some of their rhetoric and tactics are for some of us, it is imperative to speak as forcefully as one can, in as many venues as one finds, about the emotional consequences that often flow from the injustices and indignities that are too often tolerated when living while Black in America.

These historical and current contexts explain why African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites. A U.S. Surgeon General's report found that from 1980-1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233%, compared to 120% of Non-Hispanic Whites.‎ These are troubling statistics that underscore the importance of raising awareness and speaking out about mental health in our community.

Faith and community leaders can play a powerful and sorely-needed role in reducing stigma about mental health issues and mobilizing people and resources to confront those issues. There are many vehicles and resources that can be utilized. One such vehicle and resource is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). November begins the third open enrollment for the ACA. Plans purchased through the health insurance marketplace include coverage for substance abuse and mental health.

You can find additional information at www.healthcare.gov, or you can call 1-800-318-2596, 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Let us raise our voices against injustices and increase our actions to foster understanding and healing throughout our communities.