I am a 17-year-old Black woman that goes to Edna Karr High School. With youth across the country getting more vocal about politics and social justice issues, the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted why Black youth voices must be heard. We are the future, and the city of New Orleans must listen to what we have to say.

Despite our best efforts, Black youths are constantly stereotyped by older people within the city. However, adults don’t like to hear the back story of why an outstanding Black youth turned to the streets. Older people label us before asking what we are going through, even though they should care. This is a huge wasted opportunity. We are the experts on our own lives, on what Black youth need in this city, and on how to meet those needs.

While attending virtual school during the pandemic is much safer than going back in person, for some youth, being quarantined at home may cause more stress and contribute to the isolation of the last eight months. The mental illness this can cause comes with a stigma that is hardly discussed in Black households. But we’re talking about mental illness and breaking this stigma and the cycle of generational trauma that it continues. These are the sorts of insights and solutions that only we have for addressing our needs during this difficult time.

As young, Black New Orleanians, we face problems, and we come up with creative solutions all the time. In fact, we are creative and able to imagine a better world in a way that the adults who look at us and just see stereotypes are not. Black youths showed that when they led marches this summer after George Floyd’s death. For too long, our city has allowed Black youth to be incarcerated and killed at disproportionate rates, but those young leaders showed what it looks like to believe Black youth lives matter and act on it.

The youth of New Orleans aren’t broken or damaged. We can rise above circumstances and define our own path as we work toward our healing, our restoration, and our future. In fact, we’ve already started. I’m a part of the New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board (CYPB) and serve as a Youth Advisory Board member already working on a new vision for New Orleans. This Youth Master Plan focuses on aiding the success of youth in New Orleans and will provide an opportunity to build pathways to realize the potential of our youth.

Black youth voices need to be heard, and people must listen. Our problems and experiences should not be pushed on the back burner because of our age. We are the future and older people need to listen, comprehend, and react, so we can rise above circumstances to define our own path.

LAUREN BENN

student

New Orleans