July 14, 2020

Tackling Racial Disparities in Mental Health

They came together this summer virtually, with expertise pulled from public and private universities, finance and health care companies, the technology sector, mental health and other disciplines. Their mandate? To outline ways that higher education, along with a range of stakeholders, can promote the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young people of color and mitigate the mental health risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Steve Fund COVID-19 Task Force is one of several initiatives of The Steve Fund, the nation’s leading organization focused on supporting the mental, social, and emotional health and well-being of young people of color. “Among communities of color, there has often been a stigma about accessing mental health services,” explains Evan Rose, President of The Steve Fund’s Board. “We were committed to ensuring a safe journey to adulthood for youth of color.”

FJC is honored to have incubated The Steve Fund as it grew from its early
days, when the organization was born of personal tragedy. The Fund is named for Stephen Rose, an African-American graduate of Harvard and City College, who died from mental illness in 2014. In the grief and shock following this tragic event, Mr. Rose’s family was determined to help other young people to achieve mental and emotional wellness. They chose to do so by working with higher education institutions to better recognize the particular challenges faced by young adults of color, and design proactive strategies to support them.

“We have been on a journey with FJC,” said Mr. Rose. “FJC made it easy and straightforward to get started, so that we could focus on our mission without worrying about the administrative details.” The initiative started with a Collective Giving Account at FJC, which raised over $120,000 from 60 donors in its first year. As the ambitions of the initiative grew, the family started the organization under FJC’s fiscal sponsorship and subsequently spun off into its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The organization has grown significantly from its early days.

The task force is just one of many strategies The Steve Fund uses to drive long term culture change in colleges, universities and the organizations that support young people of color to pursue and succeed in higher education. The Steve Fund has held nine conferences on higher ed campuses—from CUNY to Stanford, provides mental health resources and expertise, and forges alliances across mental health professionals who provide culturally sensitive support to students from Black, Asian American, Latinx, Native American, Muslim and other ethnic groups. Their networks include historically Black colleges, community colleges, Ivy League universities like Harvard and Brown, and community based organizations.

“There are two crises plaguing America right now – coronavirus and racial injustice – and both are adding a perilous layer of stress and distress, especially for young people of color,” says Sandra Timmons, Interim Executive Director at The Steve Fund. “Fostering resilience among young people of color caught in this current quagmire of the COVID-19 pandemic, associated devastation, and racial trauma warrants deliberate and intentional investments and support services across sectors that remove young people of color from harm’s way.”

For more information about the Task Force, see their press release.