In Charlotte visit, VP Kamala Harris announces funding to help NC students deal with trauma of gun violence 

Vice President Kamala Harris joined a round-table discussion on gun violence during a visit to Eastway Middle School in Charlotte on Thursday. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu via Getty Images)

By Michael McElroy

January 12, 2024

Twelve million dollars in federal funds will help put more than 330 extra mental health experts in North Carolina schools, where limited resources leave current counselors understaffed and overworked. 

Vice President Kamala Harris visited a Charlotte middle school on Thursday to announce a nearly $300 million effort to provide public schools in the US with counselors who can help students process the trauma of gun violence, the leading cause of death of young people nationwide. 

North Carolina will get $12 million of the funding, which will help put more than 330 counselors in schools statewide, Harris said.

“One in five Americans has a family member that was killed because of gun violence,” Harris said during the public portion of a discussion with student leaders and local educators at Eastway Middle School in Charlotte.

“The number one killer of our children in America is gun violence — not car accidents, not some form of cancer,” she said. 

In North Carolina, mass shootings—those in which four or more people were killed or injured—rose nearly 60% from 2022 to 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a national database. But mass shootings at school are far from the only threat.

On Jan. 7th, a 17-year old senior at Myers Park High School in Charlotte was shot and killed at a house party. An 18-year-old was charged with the crime.

“We are convening to talk about all of these issues,” Harris said, “and to talk about the trauma that is undeniable, how it manifests itself in children and young people who you may find want to sleep all day because they just don’t want to get out of bed or deal with the realities — of the hard realities — of the violence and the pain they feel if they have personally witnessed or have a family member who has been killed or harmed by gun violence.”

She added: “We have the opportunity, then, to address what we know will otherwise be generational and intergenerational trauma.”

Harris also repeated the Biden administration’s call for tougher gun safety laws and background checks to help keep guns out of the hands of people with histories of violence or who courts have determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

But the main focus of the new funding is to help students with the lingering, and damaging, psychological effects of gun violence.

Trained mental health professionals can make a huge difference, experts say, but decades of underfunding in North Carolina public schools leave districts with limited resources to provide them. The counselors that are inside the schools are understaffed, overworked, and unable to keep up with the effects of rising gun violence, Corteasia Riddick, a social worker at Eastway Middle School, said during the discussion.

“We are witnessing an alarming rate of students presenting with various mental health issues,” Riddick said, “including high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations.”

More counselors means more chances to help students deal with existing trauma, she said, but also the tools they need to deal with bullying and to avoid escalating conflicts.

“[The new funding] will give our youth an opportunity to acquire conflict resolution and coping skills, which are severely lacking with many of our children and teens,” Riddick said.

 “Students shouldn’t have to think twice about their safety in the one place that many look to as a safe haven.”

Author

  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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