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December/January 2024Vol. 24, No. 10The Other Side of Joy, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

I am writing this message in the early morning hours from my hotel in Seattle. I am here attending the Runaway and Homeless Youth training, which is convened by our sister bureau, the Family and Youth Services Bureau. Yesterday was my first full day in attendance and I was scheduled to give remarks during the opening plenary about the Children’s Bureau’s support for youth and young adults. Before I went on stage, a video was shown titled “Just Because I’m Fine, Does Not Mean That I Am OK.” It was created by a young, spoken-word artist named Amea Smith, who reminded us about the depths of depression, coping mechanisms, and the taboo of speaking about it in the Black community. In my mind, she described it as a multigenerational disease, and, ever so poignantly, she said “we don’t talk about that.” Just like that, she inspired me to write about it.

The video ended and the lights came on. My heart was beating so fast. For a split second I wanted to hide. The video left an invisible part of me feeling seen. My brain was telling me to walk on the stage, my heart was telling me it was my turn to confess. I followed both. I walked up to the podium, stood in front of the mic, and transparency prevailed.

I confessed to the crowd of about 900 people that I’ve spent the majority of my life fighting depression. I told them that just before Thanksgiving, I had returned from a trip to Ghana where I visited the Cape Coast, toured the dungeons, and imagined families being tortured. The tour guide told us that “women and children were often a ‘two-fer’.” That means that they were two for the price of one. Buy one, get one free? The thought is beyond devastating. Multigenerational trauma is real. DNA is also real. How do you escape your own ancestral wiring? What the video made crystal clear is that too many young people—whether runaway, in foster care, both, or neither—are depressed and paralyzed by silence and shame. The depth of sorrow is real.

In February of this year, we held a 2-day convening with 25 young adult ambassadors from all over the United States. We brought them together to inform planning and policymaking at the Children’s Bureau. You know what they told us? That, in addition to housing and financial literacy, mental health support was among the top three urgent priorities for young people impacted by foster care. 

There’s a song called “People” by an artist named Libianca. In it, she sings: “Did you check on me? Did you look for me? Did you notice me?” 

The holidays are here, but what becomes of the young person for whom mistletoes, merriment, and magic are not within reach? They exist on the other side of joy. There is a young person in your life who may not be OK. Check on them.