With concerns about COVID-19 continuing to weigh heavily on everyone’s minds, we have decided to cancel this year’s Celebration for Children’s Rights event. The safety of our guests is just too important to jeopardize with a party. We hope to see you next year!
With our Celebration for Children’s Rights coming up on Thursday, June 18 (6-8pm), we’re excited to introduce our Pascal Calogero Champion of Justice awardee for 2020: Denese Shervington, MD, MPH.
“Dr. Shervington’s advocacy over the past decade has been reshaping how our city comprehends and responds to trauma – especially within kids in the justice system,” says LCCR’s Executive Director, Aaron Clark-Rizzio. “Her work has made it clear that there are no ‘bad’ kids. And the best way we can improve our community overall is not by locking up and further traumatizing kids, but rather giving them the care and compassion needed to become healthy young adults. Dr. Shervington, we are grateful to honor your role as a leader and trailblazer with this year’s award.”
When Dr. Shervington returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, she intended to stay for only a couple of years to establish the infrastructure the city needed to cope with its post-disaster trauma. She’s still here because the need remains – as does her commitment to meet it. Her focus: the city’s African American children who suffer a disproportionate amount of trauma and stress stemming from violence in the community.
“I feel the burden of trauma is much higher in this generation of young people than ever before,” says Dr. Shervington, “and what it does is dysregulates their physiology and impacts their behaviors, but they don’t know that’s what’s going on.”
Dr. Shervington founded and serves as the President & CEO of the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES), which combines advocacy, health education, research and direct services to improve mental, emotional and physical wellness in local communities. With Dr. Shervington at the helm, IWES has been pushing the city to become more trauma-informed in its approach to New Orleans’ most vulnerable children.
Between 2012 and 2018, IWES conducted a groundbreaking survey of more than 5,000 youth from New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood. The findings were startling: one in three children had witnessed domestic violence; four in ten had seen someone shot, stabbed, or beaten; and more than half had someone close to them murdered. The effects of this trauma cannot be understated as these children are disproportionately more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal ideations, behavioral issues, and violence.
“Unfortunately,” Dr. Shervington continues, “many of the professionals in the educational and criminal justice systems upon whom children rely for justice and fairness do not understand the deleterious impact of trauma, how it harms our brains and dysregulates our emotions and behaviors. As a result, many of [our] young people, especially if they are poor, black, and male, have been criminalized, deemed untouchables.”
At LCCR, we witness every day how instead of getting a helping hand, Black and Brown children get handcuffs. Of the children arrested in New Orleans last year, 98% were Black or Brown. Nearly all of them have suffered four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences. Unless we address this trauma and connect kids with the resources that can help, they may slip even further down the rabbit hole of the justice system or become yet another victim of violence themselves.
In 2018, LCCR and IWES, along with several other local community leaders, came together to put the critical issue of trauma in New Orleans kids before City Council. This eye-opening presentation led to the Council’s creation of a task force charged with making recommendations for creating a compassionate and trauma-informed New Orleans in which all our children can flourish. As co-chair of the task force, Dr. Shervington spent much of 2019 developing a first of its kind report – Called to Care: Promoting Compassionate Healing for our Children. Among the report’s key recommendations, the City should:
Dr. Shervington, we couldn’t agree more. Thank you for your leadership, your courage, and your tireless dedication to reshaping our community’s response to childhood trauma and, ultimately, pushing New Orleans to treat all children – no matter their race or class – as they should be treated: as kids! We here at LCCR are honored to serve at your side in this fight.
Join us as we recognize Dr. Shervington at this year’s Celebration. Click here to RSVP.
LCCR’s Champion of Justice Award is named to honor the legacy of the late Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero Jr., a staunch advocate for children’s rights who helped usher in groundbreaking juvenile justice reforms in the early 2000s.