Refugee Youth Voices: Journey from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan

By: Gigi, recent college graduate with Political Science degree

This is the second post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.

Highlights:

  • This post is part of the Refugee Youth Voices blog series in partnership with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition.
  • Students from R_PEACE are sharing their experiences from having a refugee background and now being in the United States.
  • Gigi talks about her life in Afghanistan before her family had to relocate to Kyrgyzstan.
Source: Jennifer Mann

My name is Gigi, and I’m originally from Afghanistan. My family and I left our home country in 2007 when I was 8 years old. We temporarily relocated to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan before moving to the USA in 2014. The motivation behind sharing my experience is to shed light on the fact that people like me do not come to the USA solely for a better life; it is primarily for our safety, as our lives were in great danger. I hope to reach a diverse audience because I want to be a voice for others facing similar challenges.

My Homeland of Afghanistan

Now, let me transport you to life in Afghanistan.

Life in Afghanistan was beautiful. I have beautiful memories of our family gatherings and the warmth of our culture.

Let me share a specific example: my grandparents’ houses. They had two houses, one in the city and the other in a village. Because my grandfather was a farmer, both houses had spacious yards and extensive gardens. They cultivated a variety of flowers, vegetables, and fruits. My mother has ten siblings, and seven of them were married at that time, with kids our age. When we visited our grandparents’ houses, which was very often, we had the most wonderful and unforgettable times of our lives. Now that I think about it, it was like being in paradise—the most beautiful houses with enchanting gardens that filled the air with fragrant aromas, and kids playing around while the adults had heartwarming conversations together.

However, life also presented us with overwhelming challenges. My father, a successful currency exchange businessman, often found himself in the crosshairs of dangerous mafia groups. They would come to our house demanding money, and at times, they would even ask for my sisters, me or our girl cousins. However, my father never allowed them even a glimpse of us. We were young but fully aware of the gravity of these situations, as these groups were usually armed.

Going to school was another test. My father would instruct my sister and I to walk separately, one of us ahead of the other, so that if one was kidnapped, the other could escape. Those words are engraved in my memory forever.

Journey of Survival in Kyrgyzstan

Because Afghanistan was so dangerous for us, we had to flee our country to stay safe. Leaving behind everything we had in our homeland, we began on a journey of survival in Kyrgyzstan. We had to adapt to a new language, learn a different culture, and integrate into a society that was not our own. Challenges, like extremely cold winter nights and not having enough food, tested how tough we were.

Slowly but surely, we overcame these obstacles. We became proficient in Russian and Kyrgyz, excelled in school, and achieved numerous awards. During this time, my father’s business in Kyrgyzstan also began to flourish.

However, despite our achievements, we faced limitations in Kyrgyzstan because we were not native Kyrgyz or Russian. This eventually led us to make the decision to move to the United States when our case was accepted by the USCIS.

What I Learned

Our time in Kyrgyzstan significantly shaped my worldview. It showed me how important it is:

  • To be able to adjust to changes,
  • Keep going even when things are tough, and
  • To never give up, no matter the challenges we face.

My parents taught us that no matter where life takes you, with determination and hard work, you can overcome the most overwhelming challenges.


Stay tuned to this Refugee Youth Voices blog series to read more from Gigi on her experience in moving to the USA and how she is thriving!

Please note that pseudonyms are being used to protect the student writers and their family’s safety as part of this Refugee Youth Voices blog series.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Gigi is part of a group of college students from refugee-backgrounds that formed a coalition called R_PEACE (Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence). R_PEACE creates content by using a critical literacy perspective, telling their counter-stories regarding access and entry into college, and disseminating information. The goal is to increase access to college for other refugees via three avenues: live speaking events in non-profit organizations serving refugees, a multilingual brochure, and through social media.

Mitigating Implicit Racial Bias Through Improved Mindfulness & Social Emotional Competency

By: Pamela Nicholas-Hoff

Highlights:

  • Educators, like physicians, should seek to ensure safety and justice for those they serve including, and especially, their students.
  • Understanding educator stress and burnout, and reducing implicit racial bias is an important part of creating safe and just learning environments for students.
  • Engaging in mindful awareness practices is a promising intervention for reducing implicit racial bias and its effects.
Source: Adobe

Educators, like physicians, should seek to ensure safety and justice for those under their care. Physicians who recite the Hippocratic Oath upon completion of medical school pledge to “keep [patients] from harm and injustice”1. Though the Hippocratic Oath is considered outdated by many institutions, this particular phrase within that famous text is relevant to the teaching profession.

Ensuring safety and justice for students is not as easy as one might think. Unlike physicians who are required to participate in prolonged, supervised residencies under close scrutiny, educators only participate in brief periods of supervised instruction before being permitted to engage with students in relative isolation. The potential for harm is evident in such situations, especially when educators are unaware of their implicit racial bias. Educator stress and burnout can also lead to unsafe learning environments as they increase the likelihood of reactivity and reliance on heuristics (e.g., racial bias and stereotyping).

Educator Stress & Burnout

Again, similar to medical professionals, educators experience higher levels of stress and burnout. During the school year, rates of daily stress for teachers were found to exceed those of all other occupations surveyed, including physicians, and tied those of nurses2. Stress negatively impacts teachers’ effectiveness and students’ academic outcomes3. Elevated levels of teacher stress affect the health, well-being, and quality of life of teachers4 and can result in unsafe learning environments for students, especially students of color. Chronic stress can lead to burnout5.

According to a more recent poll6:

44% of K-12 workers responded they “always/very often” felt burned out at work which a) is the highest percentage of burnout reported by workers in all professions surveyed, b) represents a 22% increase from March 2020, the start of the pandemic, to February 2022.

Burnout can exacerbate implicit racial bias.

Understanding Implicit Racial Bias

Unlike explicit biases of which individuals are aware, implicit biases are unconscious. Implicit biases influence one’s behavior, decisions, and understandings7. Implicit racial bias is ubiquitous among U. S. citizens8. This type of bias manifests at an early age and continues developing due to the environmental messages one receives9,10 throughout their lifetime.

Implicit racial bias is thought to be a primary cause of the disproportionate rates of exclusionary discipline consequences for Black students. Factors contributing to implicit racial bias include automaticity of response11, socio-cultural conditioning12, media representation of Black people13, hearsay14, and stressful situations15. Like many in our society, educators are exposed to and/or experience all of these factors.

So what can we do to help ensure students’ safety and just treatment? In addition to courageously and authentically identifying, acknowledging, understanding, and examining our biases, including implicit racial bias, we can:

  • Develop greater self-awareness,
  • Respond thoughtfully rather than react automatically to situations and others,
  • Manage stress in healthy ways, and
  • Cultivate self-compassion.

Mindfulness can facilitate all of the above!

Mitigating Bias through Mindful Awareness Practices

Mindfulness has been described as a “state of mind,” personal trait, or practice16. The American Psychological Association states that:

“Mindfulness is awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings. Mindfulness can help people avoid destructive or automatic habits and responses by learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them.”17

In a recent blog, I discussed some of the benefits of mindfulness and how we can establish and maintain a mindful awareness practice. Spending consistent time in practice can increase self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making; these are attributes that the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning18 refers to as social emotional competencies (SEC). In addition, when we possess greater SEC and are more mindful, our ability to assess situations with nonjudgmental awareness, openness, curiosity, and compassion increases. We are less likely to perceive situations and the actions of others as personal attacks, thus reducing the likelihood that we will react automatically and commit egregious acts (conscious and unconscious) resulting in harm to students.

The term “mindful awareness practice” encompasses a broad range of activities. Two types of practices, in particular, have been shown to reduce implicit racial bias: focused awareness and compassion or lovingkindness practices, as detailed here: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

  1. Focused awareness practice involves focusing on and maintaining focus on an object or activity with openness and curiosity24. As thoughts and distractions arise, the mindful awareness practitioner acknowledges, and perhaps notes or labels them25, and redirects their awareness back to the focus target.
  2. Though Lovingkindness/compassion practice may vary, it often involves sitting quietly and focusing first on oneself with love, compassion, and kindness26, then, while maintaining feelings of love, compassion, and kindness, the practitioner’s focus gradually extends outward to close loved ones, neutral others, challenging others, and then back to self, extending well-being to all. During lovingkindness/compassion practice, the practitioner may visualize specific individuals and/or group of individuals to develop/increase empathy and compassion toward those individuals/that groups of individuals23.

In addition to reducing stress and increasing empathy, lovingkindness/compassion practice increases positive emotions26 often related to stress coping adaptations27. Even seven to ten minutes of focused awareness and/or lovingkindness inductions can reduce implicit biases22, 23.

Tips to Get Started

Educators have an obligation to keep students safe and ensure their just treatment. Here are some practitioner tips to integrate mindfulness into your educational practice:

  • Practice self-compassion as you identify, acknowledge, gain insight into, and examine your biases.
  • Though engaging in brief mindfulness practices has been shown to reduce implicit racial bias, consistency is key; therefore, set aside time and space for a daily 10- to 15-minute practice. (For tips on how to establish and maintain a consistent practice, please see this recent back-to-school blog.)
  • Try engaging in a focused awareness (e.g., the awareness of breath practice) or lovingkindness/compassion practice such as the ones found here. After becoming comfortable with the lovingkindness/compassion practice, consider visualizing specific individuals and/or group of individuals to develop/increase empathy and compassion toward those individuals/that group of individuals.

By identifying, acknowledging, understanding, and examining our biases and through the practice of mindfulness, we can reduce implicit racial bias, cultivate SEC, better manage stress, and assess situations with nonjudgmental awareness, curiosity, and compassion helping to ensure the safety and just treatment of all students.

Citations

1Markel, 2004, p. 2028; 2Gallup, 2014; 3Hoglund et al., 2015; 4Souza et al., 2012; 5Maslach & Leiter, 2016; 6Gallup, 2022; 7Staats et al., 2015, p. 62; 8Jones et al., 2012; 9Castelli et al., 2009; 10Baron & Banaji, 2006; 11Lueke & Gibson, 2015; 12Heitzeg, 2009; 13Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001; 14Dasgupta, 2013; 15Bertrand et al., 2005; 16Jennings, 2015, p. 2; 17American Psychological Association, 2023, para. 1; 18CASEL, n.d.; 19Fabbro et al., 2017; 20Hirshberg et al., 2022; 21Kang et al., 2014; 22Lueke & Gibson, 2015; 23Stell & Farsides, 2016; 24Jennings et al., 2013; 25Kabat-Zinn, 1994; 26Fredrickson et al., 2008; 27Fredrickson et al., 2003


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Pamela Nicholas-Hoff is a triple Hoo and postdoctoral research associate supporting work in Youth-Nex and the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education. Before earning her Ph.D., Pam spent 17 years teaching at the middle school level (five of those years were spent teaching at an alternative middle school serving students who were pushed out of traditional schools) and seven years teaching health and physical education teacher preparation courses. Pam is also a certified CARE facilitator and is working toward her certification to facilitate Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. Her research focuses on using mindful- and compassion-based practices to mitigate teacher-based implicit biases, stress, and automatic responses and to eliminate exclusionary discipline disparities for historically marginalized students. In her spare time, Pam enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and fitness training.

Pass the Mic Series: Amplifying Youth Voices in Politics, Organizing, & Civic Engagement

By: Isabel, a first year at UVA

Highlights:

  • Youth-Nex recently hosted their 8th conference entitled Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency, co-chaired by Drs. Wintre Foxworth Johnson and Nancy Deutsch.
  • In this Pass the Mic blog series, we are highlighting each of the sessions from the conference, sharing videos, and uplifting youth voices to summarize and reflect on what was discussed.
  • Isabel, a first year at UVA, summarizes the 5th session about “Politics, Organizing, & Civic Engagement,” highlighting important take-home points about empowering youth voices, engagement, activism and education.

Joined by experts and professionals including, Dr. Edward Scott, Dr. Josefina Bañales, Aaron Azelton, and Dr. Johari Harris, this panel focused on the importance of young voices in political engagement. Public policy and politics are often fields where youth voices can be overlooked for a plethora of reasons, however the leaders on this panel address this issue while simultaneously advocating for the increased involvement of young people, especially those who belong to marginalized groups, within the political atmosphere.

Youth Voices & Civic Engagement

Right off the bat, moderator, Dr. Scott, sets up the discussion by asking a question that focuses on the importance of youth voices when it comes to political and civic engagement. Dr. Bañales jumps in by highlighting the framework that women of color have built to support “youth using their voice[s] to challenge oppression and whiteness” within society. For Black and Brown youth, civic engagement has always been a major aspect of their lives due to the intertwined relationship between politics and racial justice. Coincidentally, young people who are part of minority groups are often hurt most by oppression but are on the front lines of fighting oppression as well. To create more individuals who will fight for democracy and equity, it is important to support young people, especially those who belong to marginalized groups, who are interested in politics, and also encourage more youth to engage with policy-making and government, both locally and nationally.

Diverting the conversation, Dr. Scott asks the panelists to speak on the level of engagement that young people have in different scopes of government, whether that be internationally, nationally, or locally. Aaron Azelton starts off this discussion with a strong statement: “young people are inherently political.” Regardless of their future career plans or goals, youth are very politically aware and oftentimes are extremely involved with local politics that address issues affecting them in their communities. Additionally, it is very important to understand that young people’s political awareness and engagement show up in various ways that may not be as visible or as public as a protest or social media campaign. Many times political engagement for young people is happening in their day-to-day lives through conversations they have with one another, or even adults as well. Also, especially for youth who are first-generation Americans, their form of political engagement may look like translating legal documents and navigating the political landscape of this nation to help their immigrant parents. Supporting adolescents’ involvement in civic engagement means understanding the different ways that each young person displays activism and political organization, depending on their strengths and individual backgrounds.

Youth Activism & Education

The panelists also focused on where and how young people can build crucial activism skills that they need in civic engagement. Schools become a major aspect of this conversation with two panelists (Dr. Bañales and Dr. Harris). They had different opinions on the ways schools can be used as a place to create more activists:

  • Dr. Bañales highlights that, historically, we would focus on building activists in schools because young people spent most of their time there. However, we are moving away from schools due to the sensitivity around conversations that focus on race and oppression; additionally, many teachers don’t have the capacity to educate students on these matters in addition to completing their workload. Due to this, most opportunities for advocacy are moving out of schools and utilizing media to encourage more youth political engagement.
  • Dr. Harris acknowledges the issues highlighted by Dr. Bañales, however she explains that schools can be the perfect place to encourage activism, especially in public schools where there are typically diverse students with different backgrounds. Schools can resemble micro democracies where students can negotiate and learn how to navigate simple issues like sharing pencils or combat larger problems like changing unjust and oppressive structures.

Despite the two contradicting opinions, both panelists agreed that it is important to move away from traditional and historical ways of encouraging civic engagement.

Moderator, Dr. Scott, continues the panel by asking a highly anticipated question about the impact of CRT (critical race theory) bans on youth political awareness and education. Panelist, Dr. Harris, begins that conversation by stating that laws like the CRT bans are not new. All throughout American history, there has always been pushback against progress; educators who have always been teaching content that is similar to CRT will continue to do so, while educators who have not been teaching CRT content will continue avoiding the topic regardless of the CRT ban being passed or not. Therefore, attempts to overanalyze and break down this ban may not be as impactful as people imagine. Dr. Bañales emphasizes that “the work will continue”; conversations about race will still occur outside of school, in homes, amongst friends, and via social media. Although school is a very important place to have these conversations, we can still continue to educate youth outside of school and ensure that they continue to be politically aware.

How To Support Youth Civic Engagement

The panelists divert towards another discussion about the support that youth need from adults to be more politically engaged. The intergeneration approach is the best way to really encourage youth advocacy; collaborating with adults and learning from them can greatly contribute to the growing political voice of a young person. Dr. Harris brings up a great example of the civil rights movement and how the partnership between adults and young people led to an immense amount of success. Additionally, adults, especially adults who mentor young people of color, need to recognize that oftentimes youth advocacy has many Eurocentric features. However, a young Black person cannot speak up in the same ways that a young White person can speak up, so it is important to teach Black and Brown youth to be an advocate in their own way and not force them to emulate the actions of young White activists.

As the panel comes to an end, panelists are asked about the resources to promote youth well-being as they navigate their political voice and civic engagement. They highlight some resources that adults working with youth activist should take into consideration:

  • Money is the first resource identified by panelists that youth need in order to continue leading and speaking up. Coincidentally, this is not the first time that the subject of money has come up during this conference, and the panelists in this discussion emphasize the impact money has on youth engagement. Money can be used as an incentive to engage more youth and persuade more adults to listen to youth; additionally, youth need to be adequately compensated for their time and efforts, and money is one of the many ways to show appreciation.
  • Community and compassion are other ways to support youth in civic engagements. Activism can be very heavy because oftentimes youth are dealing with various forms of oppressive systems. It is important to encourage youth to take time in order to heal and do things that bring joy. Essentially, even though young people may be activists, they are still young and they deserve to be able to participate in hobbies and activities that have absolutely nothing to do with activism.
  • Lastly, understanding that young people play different roles in activism. Oftentimes, adults create rigid definitions of political engagement and expect all youth to fit into these stiff roles. However, it is important that youth have various opportunities that appeal to their different personalities. Not every single youth has to be on the front lines or at every single rally/protest, so it is crucial to find roles where youth with different interests can thrive.
Source: Youth-Nex

Did you miss one of our six sessions from the Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency conference? Go back and watch these panels with youth voices, and read the summaries, primarily written by the youth participants, on the following topics:


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Originally from Nigeria, Isabel Ohakamma was raised in Houston, Texas. She currently attends the University of Virginia as one of a handful of Posse Scholars selected from Texas and given a full tuition scholarship to UVA. She is currently a first-year student and plans to double major in Psychology and Youth & Social Innovation. Isabel is passionate about amplifying the voices of youth. In high school, she led conferences where she facilitated discussions with leaders of school districts about the importance of diversifying curriculums in K-12 public schools in Texas. In 2021, her advocacy and dedication to highlighting the voices of young people in her community led her to be recognized as one of twelve Bezos Scholars in the nation. Isabel is also a member of UCLA’s Youth National Scientific Council on Adolescence where she is able to actively represent adolescents and their views. On UVA Grounds, she is a member of the Student Council Legislative Committee and is a proud Echols Scholar. In the future, Isabel plans to complete a Ph.D. program and continue advocating for youth in her career!

How Can Youth Voice Amplify Research? Listening & Leadership Are Key

This post is the 5th publication in a YPAR series, which aims to explain participatory research, youth-led measurement and evaluation approaches, and strategies for youth-adult collaborations in YPAR.

By: Jessica Forrester

Highlights

  • In this series on Youth Participatory Action Research (or YPAR), we’ve argued that youth engagement at all levels of research design can leverage their expertise and increase the validity of research findings. 
  • There are several ways to increase youth voice in research, including listening, collaboration, and leadership.
  • In this blog, I will describe how I’ve listened to youth in my collaborative research and how I envision youth leadership could amplify my future work.
Source: Canva

Increasing student voice and engagement in the research process has many benefits for youth development. These benefits include creating a network of justice-oriented adults and youth, developing critical thinking skills, and cultivating a sense of empowerment and purpose. Listening, collaboration, and leadership are three approaches to increasing youth voice in research that align with expert suggestions for transforming school decision-making. I will describe how I’ve used these practices below and give strategies on how you can apply these ideas to your work.

Increasing Student Voice Through Listening

Not all research studies are designed to be youth-led, and that’s okay. Sometimes adult researchers can include instances of listening to seek youth perspectives and opinions about our data and work.

Within my doctoral research process, I was the leading developer of culturally responsive mathematics activities for an after-school tutoring program in the North Minneapolis community. Even though I was the primary designer, I felt there were ways to include youth voices and feedback to improve my research. For example, one activity idea included an infographic of the distribution of Black teachers in the United States by region. It was clear from the infographic that the Midwest had drastically fewer Black teachers compared to the South, West, and Northeast. I was hesitant to include this figure because the students attending the program were predominately Black, and my aim of the activities was to create joyful learning experiences for students. Questions I asked myself were:

  • How can students help transform this activity from bleak to joy-centered?
  • How can we work together to change this activity into one focused on students’ identity and community?
  • How can we highlight Black teachers in Minnesota to inspire students and future teachers?

I held a reflection meeting with two 11th grade students participating in the program to gather youth input and feedback. I showed them the infographic, expressed my hesitancy to include it, and asked how they thought we could make this infographic more joyful. They gave several insightful possibilities:

  • Using the chart as an introduction to the lack of Black teachers locally and nationally,
  • Creating a survey for Black teachers to know more about their experiences, and
  • Designing a call to action for more teachers of color.

The revised activity would still allow students to mathematically explore the data while critiquing Black teachers’ working conditions and suggesting recommendations for change. We left that conversation feeling hopeful that a somewhat depressing activity could transform into a multi-dimensional learning moment for students.

Moving from Listening to Leadership

Listening is an excellent start to increasing youth engagement but it comes with challenges. For instance, Dana Mitra mentions the possibility of misinterpreting youth voices when students aren’t fully engaged with all steps of the research process. A way to improve youth engagement and move past a limited practice of only listening is to create opportunities for leadership and decision-making. A future direction of my research would incorporate students in the development phase of curriculum writing. At the end of the day, students are the ones engaging with curricular materials and deserve opportunities to give their voice and input. A fully collaborative curriculum with researchers, educators, community members, and students would provide opportunities for youth leadership over their learning.

If you are interested in moving from listening to leadership in your work, here are some tips and questions to ask yourself:

  1. Acknowledge your bias on what partnerships between youth and adults look like. What are my preconceptions of youth-adult collaboration? How can I change my everyday practices to create reciprocal youth-adult relationships? Am I willing to learn from the insider knowledge of youth?
  2. Establish clear goals, roles, and responsibilities at the beginning of the collaboration. Do I know everyone’s competencies, strengths, and talents? Are those strengths aligned with their roles and responsibilities? Am I providing valuable training opportunities to support youth development?
  3. Regularly reflect on your practice. Is there any misalignment between the partnership’s goals and actions? Is anything holding me back from transforming my current youth-adult collaboration? Over the next few months, what can I do to improve our decision-making process, communication, or shared responsibility?

Missed a post in the YPAR series? Check out all the tips and resources:

  1. The Benefits of Engaging in Participatory Approaches to Research
  2. Why Young Investigators Are Important
  3. Youth Voices in YPAR (includes youth)
  4. Strategies for the YPAR Collaboration Process (includes downloadable resources)
  5. How Can Youth Voice Amplify Research? Listening & Leadership Are Key
  6. 4 Universal Facilitation Tips for YPAR Collaboration
  7. Asset & Power Mapping as Tools for Youth-Led Research (includes downloadable resources)
  8. Why YPAR Matters: Youth Are “Looking at the World Differently” (includes youth)

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Jessica Forrester is a postdoctoral researcher working directly with Youth-Nex and the Youth Action Lab. Before joining the University of Virginia, Jessica earned a Ph.D. in STEM Education from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biomedical engineering. Her dissertation combined her interest in STEM engagement with justice-oriented practices in education to create mathematics activities for an after-school tutoring program in North Minneapolis. Specifically, qualitative and community-based approaches were utilized to acknowledge community assets and, in turn, value those assets during mathematical learning to influence students’ identity development, skills development, criticality, and joy. Additionally, Jessica explores equity and justice through youth participatory action research and mentoring networks.

Black Youth Suicide: A Public Health Crisis and Call for Support

By: Jasmin R. Brooks

Highlights:

  • Suicide among Black youth and young adults is a national public health crisis. However, limited research has examined contributing and protective factors of suicide among Black youth and young adults (this is especially relevant in light of September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month).
  • Recent research suggests symptoms of depression are associated with greater suicidal ideation for Black young adults, but that self-acceptance may buffer this association. 
  • In this blog, read more about these findings and what you can do to help address the crisis of Black youth suicide.
Source: Canva

Suicide is a major public health concern among all age groups. However, with increases in social media use, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and self-inflicted injuries, suicidal thoughts and behaviors among youth and youth adults are of particular concern1,2. Importantly, analysis of the CDC’s national 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveal that suicide among Black youth has increased at an alarming rate, faster than any other racial or ethnic group3. Findings suggest that suicide attempts have risen 73% between 1991 and 2017 for Black adolescents, and injuries from suicide attempts have risen 122% for Black adolescent boys over the same time period3. As a result, research investigating how suicide risk develops, and can be prevented, among Black youth is warranted.

The Role of Depression and Self-Acceptance

Previous research suggests that depression is a robust risk factor for suicide; however, Black Americans remain largely underrepresented in these studies. In our new study, published in the Journal of Black Psychology, we examined the association between symptoms of depression and suicide ideation among Black young adults, as well as the potential buffering role of self-acceptance.

Our study found that elevated symptoms of depression were associated with increased suicide ideation. Potential explanations of the pathway between depression and suicide for Black young adults include exposure to racism-related stressors, hopelessness, diminished psychological functioning, and impaired coping skills4-6. Importantly, we found that for Black young adults who reported higher levels of self-acceptance (i.e., positive and realistic attitudes toward the self), symptoms of depression were not associated with suicidal ideation. This finding suggests that holding positive attitudes towards oneself protects against external influences that may lead to psychological distress. Moreover, this finding suggests that assisting Black young adults in cultivating increased feelings of self-worth may lead to a reduction in risk for suicidal ideation.

How to Support Black Youth

Youth suicide is preventable. Suicide rates for Black youth and young adults can be substantially reduced through the following recommendations:

  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of suicide risk. If you or someone you know is suicidal, get help immediately via calling or texting the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line (text “HOME” to 741741).
  2. Black youth continue to be less likely to receive and complete treatment for depression, compared to White youth. Black youth are also less likely to receive mental health services following a suicide attempt. Seek out mental health treatment, including culturally-responsive services as needed.
  3. For parents, talk and listen to your child. Affirm their feelings and foster an accepting and welcoming environment to discuss mental health and well-being. Keep learning new strategies on how to check in on your child’s mental health.
  4. For teachers, foster supportive, warm, and inclusive classroom environments and maintain positive connections to Black students.
  5. For providers, screen for depression in primary care settings. Furthermore, we can work together to design and implement more race-conscious and culturally responsive suicide interventions targeting specific risk factors among Black youth.
  6. Therapy for Black Kids and Therapy for Black Girls provide free resources, tools, and access to a directory of Black providers in order to promote mental health recovery among Black children, teens, and families.
  7. Help break the stigma that exists surrounding suicidal thoughts and behaviors by: 1) bringing awareness to (and helping to reduce) the use of stigmatizing language surrounding suicide, 2) educate your family, friends, and colleagues about the unique experiences and challenges of mental health within the Black community, and 3) take steps to address our own implicit biases and any assumptions we may have surrounding suicide and mental health.

References

[1] Miron, O., Yu, K. H., Wilf-Miron, R., & Kohane, I. S. (2019). Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in the United States, 2000-2017. JAMA321(23), 2362-2364.

[2] Mercado, M. C., Holland, K., Leemis, R. W., Stone, D. M., & Wang, J. (2017). Trends in emergency department visits for nonfatal self-inflicted injuries among youth aged 10 to 24 years in the United States, 2001-2015. JAMA318(19), 1931-1933.

[3] Lindsey, M. A., Sheftall, A. H., Xiao, Y., & Joe, S. (2019). Trends of suicidal behaviors among high school students in the United States: 1991–2017. Pediatrics144(5).

[4] Nrugham, L., Holen, A., & Sund, A. M. (2012). Suicide attempters and repeaters: Depression and coping a prospective study of early adolescents followed up as young adults. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease200(3), 197-203.

[5] Abramson, L. Y., Alloy, L. B., Hogan, M. E., Whitehouse, W. G., Gibb, B. E., Hankin, B. L., & Cornette, M. M. (2002). The hopelessness theory of suicidality. In Suicide science (pp. 17-32). Springer, Boston, MA.

[6] Walker, R. L., Salami, T. K., Carter, S. E., & Flowers, K. (2014). Perceived racism and suicide ideation: Mediating role of depression but moderating role of religiosity among African American adults. Suicide and Life‐Threatening Behavior44(5), 548-559.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Jasmin R. Brooks, M.A. is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Houston. Her research interests include evaluating how sociocultural risk (e.g., racial discrimination) and protective (e.g., mindfulness, racial identity) factors influence suicidality and mental health for Black populations. She aims to apply her research to the development of clinical interventions that reduce racial stress and promote psychological well-being within Black and other marginalized communities. Jasmin also maintains a strong commitment to being active in her community through mentoring, non-profit work, and creating a podcast, We Had the Talk. If you are interested in learning more about Jasmin’s work you may visit her website at: https://jasminbrooks.com/, follow her on Twitter at: @__JasminBrooks, or email her at jrbrooks4@uh.edu.

Race, Racism, and Relationships: What Matters for Teens’ Mental Health?

By: Jessica Stern

Highlights:

  • Attachment styles have been shown to shape mental health, but almost no research has examined the experiences of Black teens (this is especially important in light of BIPOC Mental Health Month).
  • Our new research reveals that Black teens experience more racism in their neighborhoods, and those experiences of racism are associated with greater attachment avoidance (discomfort with emotional closeness) and with elevated depressive symptoms in the early teen years.
  • We also explore other findings, including how attachment avoidance predicted increases in depressive symptoms over time, but only for teens who identified as White; avoidance was not a risk factor for teens who identified as Black.
Source: Canva

Think back to your teenage years: Was it a happy time in your life, or did you struggle with feelings of depression? Did you lean on your close friends or family members for support, or did you deal with your feelings by yourself? And did you ever experience racial discrimination in your neighborhood?

We put these questions to teens themselves to uncover how race, racism, and attachment style — or how we feel and behave in close relationships — shape mental health during adolescence. Our new study, published in a special issue of Attachment and Human Development, explored pathways to mental health for teens with different racial-ethnic identities and experiences of discrimination in their neighborhood.

Teens’ Relationship Styles

We focused on two styles of behavior in close relationships:

  • Attachment avoidance – teens’ reluctance to trust others, discomfort with vulnerability, and tendency to deal with emotions alone.
  • Attachment anxiety – teens’ worries about their relationships and fears of abandonment.

Previous studies had shown that both attachment avoidance and anxiety foreshadow increased risk for depression— but these studies overwhelmingly focused on White college students. Almost no studies had examined the unique experiences of Black teens, for whom some aspects of avoidance (like being able to suppress vulnerable emotions when necessary) may be understandable —or even protective— in the context of dealing with racism in their daily lives.

We followed 171 teens from Prince George’s County, MD from age 14 to age 18, focusing on teens who identified as Black or as White. Each year, we asked them to report their attachment style, experiences of racism in their neighborhood, and symptoms of depression. We tested a simple but novel question:

Do the well-established links between attachment and depression differ depending on teens’ racial identity and perceptions of neighborhood racism?

Racial Identity & Racism Findings

When we looked at our sample of teens all together, attachment anxiety and avoidance predicted increasing risk for depressive symptoms— replicating most previous studies. But the story was more complex when considering race.

First, Black teens perceived significantly more racism in their neighborhoods than White teens (unsurprisingly), and those experiences of racism were associated with greater attachment avoidance and with elevated depressive symptoms in the early teen years. Second, avoidance predicted increases in depressive symptoms from age 14 to 18 only for teens who identified as White; avoidance was not a risk factor for teens who identified as Black. These effects of racial context were unique to avoidance, and not attachment anxiety.

This suggests that Black teens may cope with racism in their communities by adopting avoidant strategies to manage vulnerable emotions.

Rather than assuming that avoidance is universally “bad” for teens, we can see it instead as an understandable strategy for Black youth dealing with racism that may be protective, at least in the short term. Even so, all Black teens need and deserve close relationships in which they feel safe, secure, and supported in expressing their full range of emotion.

The findings reveal how the pathways linking experiences in close relationships to mental health outcomes can vary by racial context— highlighting the importance of considering diversity in adolescent development. Future research is needed to understand how attachment might interact with racial identity to shape other important outcomes, like coping, resilience, critical consciousness, and racial identity development.

How to Support Black Adolescents

As we consider ways to support positive youth development and mental health, it is critical to understand the unique social and emotional experiences of Black youth. Researchers and practitioners can support Black adolescents by:

  1. Advocating for anti-racist policy;
  2. Understanding that moderate levels of avoidance may be a protective strategy for dealing with racism in daily life (that is, not pathologizing teens’ avoidant attachment style); and
  3. Supporting social relationships in which Black youth can safely express their full selves (for instance, relationships with natural mentors).

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Jessica Stern is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dept. of Psychology at University of Virginia. Her research focuses on close relationships, child and adolescent development, empathy, and anti-racist scholarship.

LGBTQ+ Youth Need Your Support

By: Lamont Bryant

Highlights:

  • June is Pride month, and as we celebrate our LGBTQ+IA2+ communities, we should also recognize that this current moment is a turning point from a policy perspective.
  • We need to support LGBTQ+ youth socially and recognize the intersection of youths’ race, sexuality, and gender identity.
  • In this blog, read more about what you can do next to support LGBTQ+ youth.
Source: Canva

Happy Pride!

Watching gravity-defying drag-queens perform acrobats in 6 ½ inch stilettos or stunning ballroom legends voguing as they battle on the dancefloor are some of my favorite moments during Pride. However, every year I spot a group of LGBTQ+ youth sporting their colorful Pride flags like superhero caps, which stirs unfadable joy and the flutter of hope. They are superheroes for daring to live and be their most authentic selves in their own right.

The fact of the matter is, LGBTQ+ youth don’t need another hero, but they need the support to thrive. Their presence is an essential reminder that Pride is not a parade, but a brave protest to proclaim equity and freedom from the normative limits of gender and sexuality at the intersection of infinite social identities. Every year we celebrate Pride during the month of June as an important reminder of resistance against the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and other sexual diverse and gender minoritized individuals (LGBTQ+IA2+).

Turning Point

This year, over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ state legislative bills will loom over Pride. More importantly, is the fact that this historic surge of anti-LGBTQ+ bills is made up of 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that adversely affect LGBTQ+ youth. While a quarter of these bills aim to criminalize lifesaving medical care for transgender youth, approximately 75% of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills enable the discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth in schools, particularly transgender youth. [1]

We stand at a curious junction. The introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ school policies threatens decades of youth advocacy and work within the educational system to increase greater protections for LGBTQ+ youth. As such, schools with LGBTQ+ affirming policies have become a refuge of acceptance and empowerment for many LGBTQ+ youth who may face rejection at home or within their community. By and large, most LGBTQ+ youth identify schools as LGBTQ+ affirming (55%) and gender-affirming (51%) spaces in stark comparison to affirming homes (37% and 32%, respectively). [2]

The Importance of Social Support for LGBTQ+ Youth

By addressing the systemic oppression of LGBTQ+ youth, schools can become grounds for fostering social support networks and relationships. Research has found that creating affirming environments through Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) school groups and LGBTQ+-focused school policies impede peer bullying and foster higher levels of support from classmates and teachers. [3]

The association of LGBTQ+ affirming schools with lower rates of attempted suicide is important to preserve, given that 45% of LGBTQ+ considered suicide within the past year.

While student organizations like GSA’s do not guarantee psychological wellbeing, efforts to support and affirm LGBTQ+ youth are interrelated to feeling connected to their school.

Many of the anti-LGBTQ+ efforts in schools will threaten the viable connection LGBTQ+ youth have with their schools. Anti-LGBTQ+ school policies isolate youth by prohibiting transgender youth from competing in student athletics, limiting age-appropriate discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, and denying youth access to school facilities that align with their gender identity. Furthermore, many of the anti-LGBTQ+ youth initiatives also include language that will criminalize the discussion of racism within schools. However, discourse around LGBTQ+ youth and school and social support often neglects meaningful discussion at the intersection of race.

The Importance LGBTQ+ Youth at Their Intersections

Let me spill some real tea that may be obvious to many Black folx in the LGBTQ+ community; It is simply impossible to discuss any LGBTQ+ issue without addressing race. Period. However, the discussion of Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults often occurs within the context of sexual-transmitted infections, HIV, and PrEP adherence. It is important that we continue to discuss how systemic barriers to health that target sexual and gender minoritized youth disproportionately affect Black LGBTQ+ youth and youth adults. However, I cannot help but wonder how the historical hyper-sexualization of the Black body may exclude Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults from conversations about social well-being, connectivity, and other forms of positive interpersonal engagement. 

The Intersectional Pride flag was introduced by Danial Quasar in 2018 to underscore the importance of greater inclusion within the LGBTQ+ community. A black and brown chevron was added to the LGBT Rainbow Pride flag to represent racially marginalized LGBTQ+ community members, and the colors pink, light blue, and white-colored chevrons were borrowed from the Transgender Pride Flag. Source: Canva

Black LGBTQ+ youth face discrimination at the intersection of their race, sexuality, and gender identity both at school and at home. I find the complexity of Black LGBTQ+ social support interesting because seeking support from both inside and outside their families can be both beneficial and potentially harmful. For instance, there is a link between LGBTQ+ affirming schools and reduced attempted suicide [4]; however, Black LGBTQ+ students attending majority Black schools were least likely to have a gender and sexuality alliance support group. [5]

In conjunction, Black young adults place great importance in connecting with their family compared to other racial groups; however, Black LGBTQ+ youth continued to experience greater rejection from their family and Black peers. [6] However, dialogue about the social support from their family of origin and close friends (i.e., chosen family, fictive kin) often assumes that these support systems operate independently.

As systemic changes propose a threat to make schools less affirming spaces, it will be increasingly important to understand how to aid Black families in their efforts to support their Black LGBTQ+ youth. My current research seeks to understand the role of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support networks play as they navigate oppression that targets their racialized sexual and gender identity. Furthermore, I hope to shed more light on the interconnectedness of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support network.

What Can We Do Now?

  • For most LGBTQ+  youth, the best way for parents and caregivers to demonstrate their support is by accepting and welcoming their LGBTQ+ friends or partner(s).
  • When LGBTQ+ youth choose a name that better reflects their gender identity, avoid “deadnaming” (the name given at birth).
  • Pronouns are essential tools that validate LGBTQ+ youth and young adults’ gender identity. When in doubt, use their name and ask about their pronouns.
  • We all make mistakes. If you misgender a person, it is important to acknowledge your error and apologize without making it about you.
  • LGBTQ+ youth of color may be more reluctant to report harm or harassment, so be proactive by offering your support while also bolstering their autonomy.
  • Listen, reflect, and talk respectfully with LGBTQ+ youth about their identity. Supporting LGBTQ+ youth may mean finding help and resources to process your personal feelings, expectations you developed as a parent, prejudices (we all have them), and identifying areas of growth with other adults.
  • Keep learning! The GLSEN national network provides resources for students and educators, including research and educational webinars. Also, the LGBT Family Acceptance Project is a great resource for research, training and readings.
  • Race and ethnicity are important to understanding sexual and gender identity. The National Black Justice Coalition provides great resources including a terminology workbook, a gender justice toolkit, and culturally informed dialogue and reports.
  • The Trevor Project LGBTQ+ young people can access free confidential crisis counseling via chat, phone, and text through The Trevor Project.

References

[1] Freedom for all Americans

[2] Trevor Project: 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

[3] Day, J. K., Fish, J. N., Grossman, A. H., & Russell, S. T. (2020). Gay‐straight alliances, inclusive policy, and school climate: LGBTQ+ youths’ experiences of social support and bullying. Journal of Research on Adolescence30, 418-430.

[4] Trevor Project: 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

[5] Truong, N. L., Zongrone, A. D., & Kosciw, J. G. (2020). Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Black LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools. New York: GLSEN.

[6] Hailey, J., Burton, W., & Arscott, J. (2020). We are family: Chosen and created families as a protective factor against racialized trauma and anti-LGBTQ oppression among African American sexual and gender minority youth. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 16(2), 176-191.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Lamont Bryant (they/them) is a community psychology doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Inspired by Black feminist and queer/quare theory, Lamont seeks to understand the development of psychosocial-informed protective practices. Specifically, their research examines Black women, and sexual and gender minorities’ formation and utility of social support, both in-person and online. Lamont is a first-generation student and the recipient of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department Diversity Recruitment Award and the Dean’s Doctoral Fellowship. Before attending UVA, they lectured for several years at the University of Baltimore and Towson University’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. At the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, they coordinated specialty health educational assistance and professional development for youth and LGBTQ-serving organizations and providers. Additionally, Lamont mentored a team of Black LGBTQ+ young adults through an empowerment framework and utilized community-based participatory research methodologies and systematic tools to gather community input for targeted interventions created for and with LGBTQ+ youth of color.

Vlog: Youth Mental Health & Reshaping Our Culture

By: Daniel Fairley II

This vlog is the second in a series. View the first blog entitled “Youth at the Intersection of the Movement for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Highlights:

  • I am the Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement in the City of Charlottesville.
  • In my work, I identify and direct opportunity-youth toward targeted services, and liaison with agencies, schools, special interest groups and organizations serving at-risk youth, especially minority children and youth or any other children who fall within the achievement gap definition, while overseeing policy and program implementation.
  • In this video blog and for Mental Health Awareness month, I share more about mental health changes I’ve seen in the pandemic and how we can support youth going forward.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

We have to come to terms with the idea that our mental health needs have changed and will continue to be a large part of the conversation going forward. We as humans were not built to live in isolation, without community and fellowship, or going outside with sunshine. We aren’t built for how we’ve been living the last two years during the pandemic.

The renewed focus on mental health is something that is going to fundamentally change who we are, how we navigate throughout the world, the things we take for granted, what we are looking forward to and more. All these things are changing because we have to come to terms with the idea that what we were doing before was not sustainable. For many, not addressing our mental health and the issues we were facing with our families and in the workforce was really toxic.

There are so many opportunities right now to reshape our culture and that has to start with mental health.

What are we doing to take care of ourselves and our families? How will that permeate throughout the rest of our society?

Youth & Mental Health

For the youth I work with, they are no longer afraid to ask for help. More so in last two years I’ve noticed youth have the ability to:

  1. Understand what is going on with themselves or doing a self-analysis,
  2. Naming what that self-analysis comes up with, and
  3. Being able to act upon it or ask for help.

Youth are not afraid to say “this is an issue I’d like adults to work with me on.” It’s become a part of their culture, in a really healthy way. Oftentimes youth know when something needs to happen for them – they know if they need to ask for medication, talk with someone, work with their friends, or ask someone for help – and that is a really good thing for mental health.

What Adults Can Do

Adults should not dismiss feelings or actions from youth about their mental health. Avoid saying things like “back in my day, this wasn’t an issue or we didn’t have depression or anxiety.” That is just not true. There were these similar issues but there may not have been words to describe or label them. Hopefully now we are starting to share these experiences and in ways that minimize how it affects others in the future.

Be vulnerable youth and share whatever is appropriate with your own experiences around mental health too. Allow them to see you. Once youth see the genuine and authentic you, then they will connect more. Breakdown “I am the teacher, mentor, adult in charge” and “you are the small person that only has the ability to learn from me.” Shift those roles and blend the idea that I, as an adult, can learn from you and you, as a youth, can learn from me. With this shift adults will see a greater impact.


If you need help or are in a mental health crisis, please ask for assistance and use resources available:


Daniel is also a local steering committee member for the University of Virginia Equity Center with which Youth-Nex is affiliated.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Daniel Fairley II received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Richmond and his Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont (UVM). He was awarded the Kenneth P. Saurman Memorial Award and Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate student in the State of Vermont for his dedication to social justice and stellar academics. Daniel’s professional experience includes interning with the Operations department of The White House under the Obama Administration. He also worked as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM, and as the Area Coordinator at the University of Virginia in the Department of Housing and Residence Life. Daniel volunteered with the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, which led to his current position as a Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement for the City of Charlottesville. He now serves as the President of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and Board Member for Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

Familial Mentors May Help Promote Close Parent-Adolescent Relationships in Black Families

By: Janelle Billingsley

Highlights:

  • While close parental relationships may promote positive outcomes among Black youth, parents’ ability to support their children may be complicated during adolescence due to increased conflict and strain.
  • However, support from adolescents’ familial mentors has the potential to mitigate strains in the parent-adolescent relationship.
  • In this blog, we highlight ways that familial mentors may support the parent-youth relationship during adolescence.
Source: Pexels

Studies show that a strong sense of connectedness to parents may protect Black youth from experiencing negative outcomes associated with exposure to anti-Black racism and structural inequality. [1,2] However, parents’ ability to support their children may be complicated during adolescence as parents and youth often experience increased conflict and strain while attempting to negotiate youths’ growing autonomy. [3] While scholars studying mentoring have long suggested that mentors may be a key resource for helping youth improve their social relationships with other adults, notably their parents, the question remains:

How are mentors supporting the parent-adolescent relationship?

This question is particularly useful for understanding Black adolescents’ family-based mentoring relationships given that (1) non-parental adult relatives comprise the majority of Black adolescents’ mentoring relationships; and (2) familial mentors are uniquely positioned to mediate parent-child conflict as they are likely to hold personal relationships with both youth and their parents.

Mentors Support of the Parent-Adolescent Relationship

In a recent study, [4] we identified three ways that Black youths’ familial mentors supported the parent-adolescent relationship through both youth- and parent-directed means:

1. Mentors Acting as Sounding Boards – Familial mentors listened to parents and youth discuss challenges they experienced in the parent-adolescent relationship. These mentors provided a space for youth and parents to process their thoughts and emotions when experiencing conflict with one another.

“[She] bring up stuff ‘well momma don’t understand or daddy don’t understand.’ So I said ‘well, tell me your version of it.’ So, we sit down, and I just listen to her talk.” – Grandmother mentor of a 14-year-old girl

By providing youth and parents the space to talk through their emotions, familial mentors were likely helping both to better understand and express their feelings. These practices may have promoted more effective communication between parents and their adolescent children.

2. Mentors Coaching Positive Communication Strategies – Familial mentors suggested positive communication and response strategies to youth and parents to help them navigate conflict in their relationship. For instance, familial mentors advised youth to not argue with their parents when they were upset and also encouraged parents to refrain against harshly disciplining their children.

“you have to be calm and tell [her]in a different way. . . you got to keep a calm voice. You have to calm down and they might get it rather than you screaming at them.” – Grandfather mentor of a 11-year-old girl

By helping parents and youth calibrate their reactions, familial mentors were likely able to promote more effective communication between youth and their parents.

3. Mentors Promoting Understanding – Lastly, familial mentors promoted understanding in the parent-adolescent relationship by advising parents and youth to perspective take. Familial mentors also encouraged youth to share information with their parents and encouraged parents to give their adolescent children appropriate space and autonomy.

“[my mom] reminds me that I cannot protect [my son] from everything. I can give him advice but she’s really the one trying to get me to release a little bit and relax and let him make his own way. . . [she reminds me] that he is a young man and to let him be young man even with all my fears and worries. Not to stifle that.” – Mother of a 14-year-old boy

By advising youth to share information with their parents, and encouraging parents to give their children the space to grow, familial mentors may have helped parents and youth negotiate adolescents’ growing desire for autonomy.


Together this work highlights familial mentoring relationships as a naturally occurring resource in Black families. Even further, by working to strengthen parent-adolescent bonds, familial mentors may help to ensure that parents are well positioned to support their children through the ups and downs of adolescence.

References

[1] Seider et al., 2019

[2] Wilson, 2009

[3] De Geode et al., 2009

[4] Billingsley et al., 2021


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Janelle Billingsley is a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow and a doctoral candidate in the Community Psychology program at the University of Virginia (UVA). She received her B.A. in Psychology from North Carolina Central University and her M.A. in Psychology from UVA. Janelle’s program of research integrates ecological and developmental frameworks to uncover the ways Black adolescents leverage their familial networks to promote their healthy development in the face of contextual risk. Her scholarship primarily focuses on two areas of exploration: 1) identifying factors that promote close and supportive intergenerational relationships between Black adolescents and their parents and adult relatives, and 2) better understanding how Black adolescents’ supportive intergenerational familial relationships facilitate adolescents’ social and emotional development.

The Power of Intergenerational Activism

By: Celina Adams

Highlights:

  • In spring 2021 I worked with the Teachers in the Movement project during my final semester as an undergraduate.
  • During this time, I reviewed and conducted oral history interviews that explored teachers’ ideas and pedagogy inside and outside the classroom during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
  • In this original blog post, I reviewed an interview with Mrs. Flora Crittenden and reflected on the power of intergenerational activism.

Mrs. Flora Crittenden is a remarkable woman who positively impacted her students and community throughout her lifetime. She worked as an educator, guidance counselor, and politician during the Civil Rights Movement. Her incredibly deep involvement in her community speaks to her determination to facilitate racial justice in every aspect of life. I reviewed an oral history interview from Mrs. Crittenden during my involvement with the Teachers in the Movement Project, and a major theme that arose in the discussion of her career is the importance of support systems. This yielded intergenerational progress that is evident in the lives of Mrs. Crittenden, her family members, and her students.

Role Models & Background 

While attending the only school that accepted Black students in her county in Newport News, Huntington High School, Mrs. Crittenden interacted with teachers who maintained high standards for her. This high school was established around 1920 with the intention of providing quality education to African American students, and in Mrs. Crittenden’s experience, it did exactly that. Mrs. Crittenden specifically recalls the impact her high school biology and chemistry teacher, Mr. Hines, had on her. While in his class, she was assigned projects that she found uninteresting. She was determined not to complete her assignments; however, Mr. Hines pushed her to conduct the necessary research. Mrs. Crittenden believes that educators like him were the reason she attended college and excelled academically. Mr. Hines was one of the many resources Huntington High School afforded Mrs. Crittenden, and his impact in her life extended beyond his classroom. Years after she graduated, Mr. Hinesbecame the principal of George Washington Carver High School which is located in Newport News. He alone was responsible for the school’s opening and operations due to the lack of resources provided by the School Board. As a result, he recruited Mrs. Crittenden to help develop the school’s curriculum and hire faculty. Mr. Hines garnered her support prior to the school’s unveiling in 1949. He went to her home, and he said “Mrs. Crittenden, get dressed—we got to go make a school.” This simple statement coupled with his guidance radically affected Mrs. Crittenden’s life. It gave her the opportunity to invest in a school in a way that most teachers are unable to do.

Educating during the Civil Rights Movement 

Even though the subject matter Mrs. Crittenden taught (girls’ physical education and occasionally biology) did not easily align with the ideas promoted by the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Crittenden made an effort to remind her students that they were valued, citizens. She wanted them to know that neither their age nor race made them inferior to anyone. Mrs. Crittenden worked predominantly with young women since “physical education classes were separated by gender but not the academic classes.” It was not until 1972 that all classes were required to be coeducational as a result of Title XI. Therefore, the majority of Mrs. Crittenden’s students had to navigate a society that praised whiteness and masculinity. This challenging situation made the affirming messages Mrs. Crittenden taught increasingly necessary. Additionally, she encouraged her students to be an active member of their communities despite social norms. This approach was rooted in her belief that:

Educational institutions have the ability to strengthen both families and nations by producing educated and thoughtful citizens.

Mrs. Crittenden was determined to ingrain these ideals in her students. Her teaching style suggests that activism can occur in any environment. It is not limited to certain subject matter, locations, or age groups. She suggests that “it just so happened that [she] was a teacher” who used her career as a platform to promote Civil Rights. Mrs. Crittenden’s work suggests that activism is rooted in an understanding of the humanity of people.

Life Beyond Teaching 

Mrs. Crittenden sought opportunities to enact change in the lives of young people and community members beyond teaching. This led to her decision to become a guidance counselor. This new position allowed her to counsel students in a more personalized manner; she could tailor her approach to individual students rather than classrooms with multiple people. Mrs. Crittenden was invested in the lives of her students. Furthermore, she was able to engage directly with students and parents creating an environment that fostered student success. Thursa Crittenden, Mrs. Crittenden’s daughter, recalled an experience in which a student received a scholarship to an excellent university, but he did not want to attend that institution. Mrs. Flora Crittenden knew the school would afford him numerous opportunities, so she traveled to the students’ homes to speak to his parents and compel him to accept the university’s offer. He ultimately decided to attend the university, and he attributes his success to Mrs. Crittenden’s persistence. This situation highlights Mrs. Crittenden’s deep desire to support her students.


Read more in the original blog post on how Mrs. Crittenden’s family shaped her view of education and ultimately led to her deep appreciation of teaching, her educational background, her life after retiring from teaching which include becoming a representative for the Virginia House of Delegates, and references.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Celina Adams recently received a Bachelors of Science in Education in May 2021 from the University of Virginia. She double majored in Youth in Social Innovations and American Studies. She currently works on the Counseling and Equity team at ReadyKids, a local nonprofit that provides educational, developmental, and counseling support to children and families. This position embodies Celina’s interests in racial justice, culture, and mental health. She hopes to continue her studies in order to learn how to highlight the stories of marginalized people and promote positive racial identity development.