The Marathon
August 2022

By Joseph Yusuf, A New Deal for Youth Changemaker, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and Generation Hope Scholar

 

AMCHP’s 2022 conference included a session titled “The Path Forward: Strategies to Support Mental Health for Young Adult Parents.” This session highlighted the impact of racism on the mental health of young adult parents, opportunities for public health professionals to support the development of equitable mental health policies and programs, and a young adult parent’s vision for the future of mental health support across the life course.

Joseph Yusuf, the young parent featured in this conference session, wrote the following piece sharing his perspective on being a young parent and navigating mental health challenges, raising a daughter while pursuing a college degree, and his hopes for the future.


 

Hello, my name is Joseph Yusuf. I’m a father to a beautiful 9-year-old girl named Jakayla. She’ll be turning 10 years old in November, and what a ride it has been. The life of a young parent and the journey we all face, mentally and physically, is a marathon. When I think back from the start of the pandemic to now, all I can do is laugh, look toward the sky, and say thank you.

Like most people, this pandemic has taken away family, friends, and part of my sanity. This pandemic has also provided me the opportunity to establish my identity even further, a chance to look in the mirror, and a chance to see the miles I’ve run. Imagine losing multiple people to gun violence and losing a few to COVID. Imagine waking up on your birthday and wishing your existence was no longer. If you could imagine all of that, then you understand that today, I’m not okay. My story is just one example out of many. Today, young parents across this nation are battling with so much. School, social life, mental health, and other issues. While I don’t have a grand solution to all the problems we face, I can share one thing that will point us in the right direction: a sense of hope.

When I think about the mental demands we live with as young parents, I get a little emotional. I get emotional knowing there are kids who wake up and go to sleep being loved unconditionally. But I also know that without their little faces, without their energy, all hope would be lost. As parents, we suppress a lot of things. We know it’s not healthy, but we don’t always have the best choices to vent. Some of us can afford therapy, but others confide in wine bottles and “blow smoke,” because of a lack of options. Well, healthy options, that is.

In a country filled with empty promises and hatred, where do we express our needs? Where do we go to be heard? We can all come together to generate more safe spaces for young parents to go and be heard. whether it’s a partnership with local businesses or local elected officials. There are various ways to support this population. Generation Hope is a nonprofit I’ve had the opportunity to work for. The work they do in the community is phenomenal. Their approach to supporting young families establishes generational wealth and knowledge. This organization supports young parents who are interested in pursuing their post-secondary education. They offer scholarships, mentorships, mental health resources, child care, job readiness programs, and plenty of community events. These are just a few of the things Generation Hope does. But imagine if we had more programs that supported people like us. To this very day, I credit Generation Hope for my transformation into fatherhood. Without their support, I would have given up a long time ago.

If I had unlimited funds and resources, I would set up a program to assist all young parents throughout this country. Similar to the child tax credit payments some of us received during the pandemic. I would open a bank account for every baby and deposit around $5,000, so they can have something by the time they graduate high school. I would include better representation of young families within our everyday lives. I know it may come as a shock, but fathers are involved with their children. I’m proof of that. Mothers aren’t the only ones tending to their children’s needs. To my mothers, I thank you. To my fathers, I thank you. And to the village that raised me, thank you. And to the reader, I thank you even more.