Adverse childhood experiences and adverse community environments are often the underlying problems that derail healthy growth and development in children.
And although this “pair of ACEs” can impact kids everywhere, when combined with systemic racism, they create inequities that children in some communities may eventually spend their whole lives struggling to overcome.
The House Select Committee on Racial Justice learned more about these issues Tuesday during the second of five planned meetings meant to guide the Legislature as it seeks ways to tackle racism in the state.
Members heard from national and local experts, including Dr. Wendy Ellis, who works at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University but spoke on her own behalf rather than as the school’s representative.
She said that although adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, poverty or mental illness in the family are universal, the resources needed to bounce back from these problems are not. Stable housing, access to good education and reliable, trusted health care are vital to recovery, but not available to all children due to the inequities caused by systemic racism.
Ellis highlighted her own childhood as an example.
Growing up she experienced abuse, discrimination and divorce, but because she lived in a healthy community that provided stable housing, good jobs, and a good education from teachers who had the time to take an interest in her and give the attention she needed, she overcame the obstacles she faced.
“I didn’t live in a utopia; I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio,” she said. “But I grew up in a community that invested in community resilience, access to affordable housing, an opportunity for economic mobility, quality public education and fair policing practices.”
Ellis said structural racism brought about by decades of social and criminal justice policies have created the need for systemic change rather than a smaller-scale approach.
“That’s the challenge that’s in front of you,” she said. “… How do you create the will to move forward to finally create an equitable Minnesota?”
Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights), co-chair of the committee, said research has clearly shown that experiencing racism leads to toxic stress that harms a child’s development and there is a paradigm shift from asking “what is wrong” with someone to “what happened” to that person.
The committee is scheduled to meet again next Tuesday, Oct. 6, when members are to learn more about historical traumas. The Oct. 13 meeting has been reserved for the public to offer testimony either during the hearing itself or via voicemail or in written form.