Twelve-year-old Jay* was having problems in school. His teachers said the sixth grader was being bullied by other students, getting in fights, and putting his head on his desk and refusing to work. His clothing was also attracting attention from students and school staff. Even on the warmest days, Jay would wear layers and layers of coats, plus a hat and winter gloves, including while he was eating. The school social worker reached out to Homeless Children’s Network to access culturally responsive care through the new Ma’at program, which serves Black/African American families in San Francisco.
Jay had experienced abuse and trauma, and had recently come out as gay. The middle schooler was deeply depressed, and admitted that he had thought about taking his own life. When the HCN therapist met with Jay and his father, Sam*, she invested time building trust and connection with the family and establishing a safe space.
At their first meeting, Jay announced to the HCN psychologist, “You’re a black lady and black ladies can’t be doctors.” He said every doctor he’d met was a white man. The HCN clinician spent time getting to know the family, creating a judgement-free zone, and even sharing meals. Jay started to feel more secure and picture a future that was larger than what he had imagined was possible for himself and people who looked like him.
The HCN therapist met regularly with school staff and with Sam. She helped empower Sam with positive parenting strategies he could use at home. For example, now Sam helps Jay with journaling to improve his confidence to help him feel strong individually and as part of a family.
Sam has been taking Jay shopping to help him express his individual style. Jay is more confident, participating in school, and has taken off the hat and gloves. Recently, he told the clinician that thanks to his love of clothes, he can imagine himself growing up to be a fashion designer one day.
As one Ma’at therapist said, “That is the power of Ma’at. Aligning Black therapists with Black children who crave genuine connection with providers who understand their cultural background is the heart of this Ma’at journey. We are more than just therapists, we are cultural symbols of a village, a circle of support, and a pillar to their mental health journey.”
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the clients.