Meek Mill’s life and career have been punctuated by trauma. From childhood through his current adulthood, Mill has experienced excruciating trauma even as a well-known hip hop artist. In 2018’s track of that name Trauma, Mill describes in illuminating prose just how these traumatic experiences harmed and impacted him personally describing the very same harms that impact so many similarly situated young black people in the United States. Meek Mill, as a child, witnessed violent death and experienced poverty while as a young man he was arrested and incarcerated (wrongly). Despite his star turn as a true hip hop icon, Meek Mill has suffered the kind of childhood trauma that emerging health care research indicates leads to debilitating outcomes in adults.
Powerful health studies conducted over the past two decades have uncovered the startling impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are traumatic events that occur in childhood, ranging from abuse and neglect to other traumatic experiences derived from household and community dysfunction. Today, ACEs are generally placed by health researchers into nine categories of childhood adversities ranging from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse to incarceration of a family member, living with someone who abuses alcohol or drugs, and poverty, community violence, and homelessness. These identified traumas, although not fully understood or even grasped as late as the 1990s, were known to occur; however, the overall impact of childhood trauma on an individual’s long-term health outcomes was only first measured in the now famous CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE study. The findings of this first ACE study shook the health care world, forever altering the understanding of the link between childhood trauma and adult health outcomes. These links would push researchers to look more deeply into the ultimate impact of traumatic childhood experiences on overall adult health. The study concluded that the more trauma a child experiences, the fewer years that child would live as an adult. Stated differently, CDC researchers determined that exposure to childhood trauma literally shortens an individual’s lifespan; in fact, on average, a person with six or more ACEs died twenty years earlier than a person that had experienced no Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Meek Mill, in his autobiographical Trauma, describes experiencing not just several instances of childhood trauma as identified by the CDC-Kaiser Permanente study, but when a teenager, he suffered cruel trauma at the hands of US police and a criminal justice system that wrongly imprisoned and unfairly positioned him in a revolving door between probation and prison. This trauma suffered by Mill as a child and teenager statistically predicts a poorer life expectancy than those individuals that experienced no trauma or little trauma as a child and youth. Because of the anti-Black culture of policing in America, and because of the deep systemic racism that permeates the criminal justice system, simple exposure to US policing and its courts should qualify as an Adverse Childhood Experience for black and minority children – one that contributes to harmful adult outcomes, including a shortened life expectancy. Mill’s personal childhood trauma as described in his Trauma carefully extrapolates the ways that American policing and the criminal justice system literally traumatized and endangered his young Black life. As it does so many Black children.
This chapter will trace the evolution of health care research that ultimately identifies childhood trauma as one of the most significant indicators of adult quality of life, health outcomes, and life expectancy. Thereafter, the chapter will explore the childhood trauma described as experienced by Meek Mill in Trauma, and extrapolate that trauma onto the common experience of numberless Black American children and youth. Finally, the chapter will introduce a childhood trauma that is mostly ignored by health care research but is nearly exclusive and deeply traumatic to African American youth in the United States: that of simple exposure to American policing in the United States and its concomitant direct interaction with the criminal justice system.
andré douglas pond cummings, Trauma, in Fight the Power: Law and Policy Through Hip-Hop Songs 127 (Gregory S. Parks & Frank Rudy Cooper eds., 2022).