By Alice Thomas Tisdale
JA Publisher Emerita
That oh so familiar word to members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC) may have resonated differently coming from John D. Damon, PhD, CEO of Canopy Children’s Solutions, as he addressed them during a recent work session. It could have sounded strange because it was the first time in MLBC’s 40-year history that Canopy has asked for their assistance. At issue is a one-time $20.2 million investment of state funds for digital and physical infrastructure upgrades for Canopy’s Solutions. Canopy, which operates Cares schools and centers in Mississippi, is now in its 110th year providing a safe space and counseling for at-risk adolescents. Its annual budget looms around $40 million.
“This is the mental health moment in our country. This is the first time in our 110-year history asking for [this type of] help,” admitted Damon. “We’re in a unique crisis in our state and need help from the Legislative Black Caucus,” said Damon, who further disclosed that African American youth suffer from racial trauma. “Those in poverty are disproportionately impacted by the mental health crisis. Underneath violent behavior is trauma. We must address the trauma in adolescents. Although we’re here [at the Capitol] every year advocating for children, we’re not equipped to handle this crisis. The $20.2 million is needed. We want to stand in the gap for children in crisis and do the work with integrity to get to solutions.
“This is just the first wave of the tsunami,” he said. He admittedly added, “If we don’t raise funds we will press on, but we’re going to lose a lot of children.”
Canopy’s data shows there is a 40% increase in high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness; 1 in 5 youth will develop a mental health challenge while only 1 in 4 will receive the help they need; incidents of gunfire on school property increased 200% between 2019 and 2021; emergency visits for mental health reasons for youth between the ages of 12-17 years increased 30% in 2020; and sadly, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts for adolescent girls increased 51% from 2019 to 2021.
According to Senator Angela Turner-Ford, MLBC’s chair, “Canopy’s report was for information only. Their request for funding will not be considered until we begin the appropriations process in February.”