Media & Black Adolescents Series: Moonlight Disrupts our Expectations in Ways That are Both Captivating and Breathtaking

By Ariana Gueranmayeh & Annabell Lee, University of Virginia students

This blog post is the fourth in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this fourth of five posts in the series, the two youth writers review “Moonlight,” a coming-of-age film that follows the life of Chiron who is navigating his complicated identity as both a Black and gay man from growing up in Miami into adulthood.

For parents or educators who may choose to use this movie as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • What impact, if any, does the setting of the film (mainly in Miami and briefly in Atlanta) have on the storyline? In other words, if this were set elsewhere, like a small town for example, in what ways would the movie differ?
  • Would Moonlight have received the same praise and recognition for its new and daring storyline if it were released a decade or two earlier? What impact does the political climate in the United States have on conversations about this film?
  • What are some of the ways in which this movie combats stereotypes?
  • Are there any characters, scenes, or themes that you believe play into stereotypes? What role/purpose do you think these stereotypes play in this movie if any?

Source: Moonlight

The movie Moonlight is a 2016 coming-of-age film that follows the life of a young Black man named Chiron who grew up in Miami, Florida. The film follows three chapters of Chiron’s life (Little, Chiron, and Black) that chronicles his childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. Moonlight offers a contemporary and emotional take on many realities that represent Black American life. Specifically, it shows society’s stereotypical expectations of Black men and the subsequent damage that has been done to them. Chiron’s story is told through breathtaking cinematography and emotionally rich score, capturing scenes that are both moody and dark, yet lit with fluorescent pastels that reflect Miami perfectly (Aguirre, 2016).

Each of the three chapters in the film brilliantly captures Chiron’s daily life and its complexities. Moonlight “undoes our expectations as viewers” as it centers around Chiron who we meet as a quiet young boy and just beginning to explore his gay Black masculinity (Als, 2016). He yearns to escape his home life where his mother has fallen to a drug addiction, leaving a void in his life that of Juan, a dope dealer, and his soft-spoken partner Teressa fill. Chiron finds solace when he shares an intimate moment with his friend Kevin, taking a step into unexplored waters. This moment is pivotal and leaves a mark on him in the decade that follows until he reconnects with Kevin in his adult life. Moonlight breaks the stereotypical boundaries media has created for Black characters, especially that of a young Black man, and reintroduces humanity. Chiron is an exemplary character who demonstrates several boundary-breaking characteristics and is an outstanding character to focus this discussion around. The themes of sexual identity, masculinity, and identity development will be explored through the lens of Chiron’s character.

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF.

-Ariana Gueranmayeh, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia originally from Richmond, VA.


Source: Moonlight

One question I found myself asking was “Why does this movie feel different?” I believe that it was different on many levels. On an individual level it made me realize my own expectations of “Blackness,” and how this movie disrupted that. I recognize the idea of “Blackness” as a superficial representation that has been perpetuated by the media. According to Adams (2011): Blackness is defined as a superficial symbolic representations of cultural preferences, norms, expression, dress, language, mannerism and communication styles that are treated as representations of African American cultural and ethnic identities that have been defined by mainstream society and media.

This movie also feels different on a normative level, as movies typically don’t go against cultural stereotypes, rather, they perpetuate them. From a young age we are repeatedly shown images from the media that create this superficial image of what it is to be Black.

As Tynes and Ward say in their 2009 paper, “The Role of Media Use in African Americans’ Psychosocial Development,” the gradual exposure to stereotypes portrayed in the media causes us to take these representations and see them as reality. This is known as cultivation theory (Tynes and Ward, 2009). The implications of this for African Americans is especially dangerous as the media has chosen to portray them as one-dimensional characters reduced to either comic relief or the tough gangster, cops or robbers. This covert racism against Black people has primed viewers to have these expectations about the characterizations of Black characters. 

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF

-Annabell Lee, a 4th year student at the University of Virginia originally from McLean, VA.


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: Ariana Gueranmayeh is currently a third-year student at the University of Virginia originally from Richmond, Virginia. At UVA, she is studying Youth and Social Innovation with a minor in Public Policy and Leadership. Ariana is aspiring to use her academic pathway at UVA to lay the foundation for the work she hopes to do in our nation’s public schools. It is her hope that she can spearhead meaningful and lasting education reform that will positively impact our students. In her free time, Ariana enjoys hiking, cycling, and photography.

Author Bio: Annabell Lee is a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Media Studies and Psychology, originally from McLean Virginia. She is interested in the effect of media on psychology and vice versa. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, and roller skating.

Youth Action Lab: Undergraduates Reflect on Leading and Learning with Local Youth

By Anya Pfeiffer, Kennedy Eagle, Olivia Burke, Kate Price, & Alexis Allen

Highlights:

  • Youth Action Lab (YAL) helps young people develop social science research skills to transform their lives and communities.
  • YAL uses a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework to engage youth as researchers who systematically explore community issues they care about.
  • In this article, undergraduates serving as mentors in the YAL reflect on their experiences working with local high schoolers to design research studies, gather and analyze data, and take action to address the issues they explored.
Source: Students participating in YAL created this video to explain the YPAR framework.

As Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) majors, we joined Youth Action Lab (YAL) as our community-engaged project for the YSI capstone class, an accumulating applied course required for all seniors in the YSI major. The goal of YAL is to equip young people with research skills to transform their lives and communities.

Youth Participatory Action Research

In YAL, we used a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) framework where youth become researchers, systematically exploring issues that impact their schools and communities. Building on their lived experiences and expertise, our high school students develop research questions, design social science studies, gather and analyze data, and then take action to address the issues they explore. YAL uses a mentor-led approach, where we, as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, teach a YPAR curriculum through interactive lessons tailored to meet each group’s needs and objectives. By building community and promoting equity and inclusion, YAL empowers youth through research and collaboration.

Tackling Virtual Learning

One of our first tasks for YAL was researching best practices for virtual learning. Some strategies we found helpful were using digital collaboration tools and providing opportunities for flexibility and student choice. Collaboration tools (such as using breakout rooms and Padlet) allowed students to work together in smaller groups and participate in interactive experiences.

Allowing students to co-construct our lessons by asking what they’d like to learn or how we could support their project also created a more engaged learning environment. Sometimes, this looked like just showing up to listen and provide a space to discuss current events instead of a lesson. Most importantly, we learned to make a plan but be open to adjusting — extending a meaningful activity or discussion is much more important than doing scheduled activities.

YPAR in Action

We applied our research on virtual learning as we started working with two high school student groups, Charlottesville City Youth Council and Albemarle High School Black Student Union. Throughout the year, our team meets with each group biweekly to help guide them through lessons that support the research process.

Youth Council (YC) decided to explore why some students attend private middle schools instead of Walker and Buford but then return to Charlottesville City Schools for high school. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • The students created a survey to ask local high school students about their middle school experiences and perceptions of different schools. The survey received over 70 responses.
  • YC is now in the process of interviewing adult stakeholders including parents and school board members. Conducting a mixed methods research project has allowed them gain experience with surveys and interviews and engage with different community stakeholders.
  • By the end of the year, YC will present their research findings to City Council and/or the Charlottesville City School Board. YC hopes their research will push the City to implement more programming to address the stigma around public middle schools.

Our team of facilitators have loved working with this group. They are wise beyond their years and show a high-level understanding of societal issues including classism and racism which they are mindful of in their research.

Black Student Union (BSU) is a student organization focused on sharing and supporting the culture and experiences of Black students at Albemarle High School. During our first meetings, BSU identified several issues at their school and decided to examine the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in Dual Enrollment (DE) and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Since most BSU students have experienced being one of few Black students in higher-level classes, they had a personal connection to the issue. Here are some highlights from their research project:

  • With support from their principal, BSU recently sent surveys to students, teachers, school counselors, and families and are planning interviews to help identify potential solutions. 
  • One idea they have is a summer program that will serve as a bridge to prepare students to transition to more advanced classes. BSU’s overall goal is to make higher level courses more accessible and ensure students of color are prepared to succeed.
  • BSU plans to present their research findings to the Albemarle High School staff and leadership and are also exploring the possibility of presenting to the Albemarle County School Board.

In addition to conducting this research project, BSU continues to advocate for Black students and has held multiple events for their school community to celebrate Black culture and history. Our team has been beyond impressed by this group of motivated and passionate students.

Final Thoughts

Working with two very different and incredibly inspiring groups of high school students has been such a wonderful opportunity. As YAL facilitators, we teach high schoolers how to frame and investigate real world issues through social science research, but we undoubtedly learned just as much from them about framing and addressing problems in our own lives and communities.


YAL is supported by the Equity Center and Youth-Nex. We are always looking for new partners interested in bringing YPAR to the youth they serve. To learn more about YAL and YPAR resources, please visit our website.

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: Anya Pfeiffer is a fourth year Youth & Social Innovation Major and a first year candidate for a Master’s of Public Policy and Leadership from the Batten School. After graduation, she hopes to work on education or housing policy.


Author Bio: Olivia Burke is a 4th year Youth and Social Innovation major and Public Policy minor who is passionate about education research. Next year she will pursue her M.Ed. in Quantitative Analytics at UVA. 


Author Bio: Kate Price is a fourth year student majoring in Youth & Social Innovation in the School of Education. She is extremely interested in applying youth developmental frameworks to practical settings which help prompt adolescents to critically reflect, use their voice, and make a difference in their communities. 


Kennedy Eagle and Alexis Allen are also YSI students.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: Dope’s Complicated Relationship with Racial Stereotypes

By Lee Woods, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia

This blog post is the third in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this third of five posts in the series, the youth writer reviews “Dope,” a movie about Malcolm, a high school senior and self-identified “geek.” Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles, Malcolm’s dreams to break out and attend Harvard are complicated following a wild party and drug encounter.
Source: YouTube, Open Road Films
Trailer for “Dope”

For parents or educators who may choose to use this movie as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • How do you think Malcolm’s unique character impacts Black audience members? Is he harmful or helpful? 
  • Is Malcolm’s less stereotypical character enough to counteract the more stereotypical characters in the film?

Dope

The film Dope follows the story of a high school senior, Malcolm, and his best friends, as they navigate their way through school bullies and life in the rough parts of Inglewood, California. Malcolm, who is intelligent and charismatic, identifies as a 90s hip-hop geek, plays in a band, and has dreams of attending Harvard. However, his life becomes complicated when he meets Dom, a drug dealer who invites him to his birthday party at a club. Things quickly go south when the party is raided by the police and Dom frantically hides a gun and illegal drugs in Malcolm’s backpack. Chaos ensues when Malcolm discovers this at school, and is aggressively pursued for the drugs by Dom’s rivals.

Escaping the pursuit, Malcolm rushes to make his Harvard interview, only to encounter that his admissions interviewer, AJ, is the original owner of the drugs. Although Malcolm is eager to return them, AJ refuses and informs Malcolm that he must sell them and return the profit. Fearful for their lives and futures, Malcolm and his friends devise a plan to sell the drugs on the black market. Successful with the sales, Malcolm cleverly links the drug money to a Bitcoin account under AJ’s company name, putting AJ in a position where he must accept him into Harvard if he wants to obtain his earnings. The story comes to a close as the friends attend prom and Malcolm receives his Harvard acceptance letter.

Overall, I found Dope to be entertaining and comedic. I thoroughly enjoyed its nontraditional and suspenseful plot line. I found myself captivated as Malcolm’s character developed from an awkward teenager to a more confident young man. Additionally, the seamlessly integrated cultural references helped to drive the plot and add relevant, humorous tones.

Black Stereotypes

Throughout my viewing of the film, I could not help but to make connections to Ronald L. Jackson’s II Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, and Racial Politics in Popular Media, concepts of Blackness, and positive and negative Black stereotypes (Jackson, 2006; Allen & Thornton, 1992).

First and foremost, Dope relies heavily on its audience’s schemas surrounding race, while also challenging them. The film presents Malcolm and his friends as non-stereotypical Black characters that do “White people things”, such as playing in a band and getting good grades. Malcolm and his friends craft their identities by rejecting their assumed “Blackness” and adapting more individualistic personas. These untraditional portrayals surely help to defy racial stereotypes, but also present the main characters, specifically Malcolm, as more complex individuals that cannot be easily categorized.

Although Malcolm’s more positive and nontraditional portrayal helps to defy racial expectations, it comes at the cost of the less developed side characters who happen to reinforce negative stereotypes. Characters like Dom and other residents of Inglewood, are criminalized and stereotypically portrayed as violent drug dealers. In accordance with researchers Allen and Thornton’s (1992) ideas about positive and negative stereotypes in Black media images, Malcolm represents a positive depiction of a Black male with “ethical and moral insight”, while Dom and the other drug dealers are much more negative, with “tendencies towards dishonesty, laziness and hedonism” (Allen & Thornton, 1992).

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF.


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: Lee Woods is a third year student at the University of Virginia, originally from Roanoke, Virginia. She is studying Media Studies and Studio Art. She especially enjoys understanding and analyzing media in relation to social issues such as gender and race. In her free time she finds joy in painting, being in nature, and spending time with her cat.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: A Look at the Tragic Mulatto in Spike Lee’s Crooklyn

By Bryce Wyles

This blog post is the second in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research. 
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this second of five posts in the series, the youth writer reviews “Crooklyn” a movie following the Carmichael family in a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, and examines the tragic mulatto and reinforced internal racism.
Song straightens Troy’s hair (Lee, 1994, 1:13:11)

For parents or educators who may choose to use this movie as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • Why might “socially ascribed blackness” be more influential in socializing Black children than their own perception of race? Does that perception even take root before socialization begins?
  • Viola does not visit Brooklyn, though she wants to. How might her perception of “Crooklyn” differ or align with Troy’s view of Song’s home?

Crooklyn

Chasing her children out of bed at 4 AM, scolding them for failing to clean the kitchen as she had asked, Carolyn Carmichael exclaims, “This ain’t no plantation. I’m not a slave…and I certainly am not a play thing!” (Lee, 1994, 12:50). The Carmichael family—Carolyn, Woody, and their five children—is the heart of Spike Lee’s 1994 movie Crooklyn. Occurring in a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, Crooklyn sees the Carmichaels, alongside their friends and relatives, navigating the quarrelsome, blurred difficulties of the personal and the political:

  • The personal: raising five children on a low income; feuding with neighbors, drug addicts, school bullies; interacting with aunts and uncles that either nurture or lay judgement. 
  • The political: piecing through the social connotations of welfare and food stamps; opposing and affirming the politics of gender and sex roles; witnessing casual racism in Brooklyn and suggesting institutional racism at large. 

In what may seem a lighthearted digression in Lee’s career, the iconic director uses the Carmichaels to dissect life in America—the ups, downs, lefts, and rights—for a struggling Black family.

Lee’s film walks both a comedic and serious line. Themes of racism and poverty are striking, yet you can’t help but burst out laughing when Aunt Song’s poor dead dog flies out of a foldout futon. That scene truthfully captures the entirety of the film: it’s dark, undoubtedly, at times, but somehow it keeps Lee’s satirical charm. Crooklyn’s characters—most of them, at least—are loveable, funny, and relatable. Recalling Lee’s 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, it’s clear that his filmmaking is distinct, and iconic, in its blend of humor and commentary.

The Tragic Mulatto

One of Lee’s most telling portrayals in the film is that of Aunt Song, whom Troy, the Carmichaels’ daughter, goes to stay with at one point in the film. Song immediately juxtaposes the Carmichael family—her affluent lifestyle contrasts the Carmichaels’ small apartment and low income. Her first remark to Troy, though, suggests a juxtaposition beyond just affluence; seeing Troy’s hair, Song belittlingly asks, “All those little tiny braids and things, what y’all call that?” “Braids,” Carolyn responds, with a painted smile, aware of Song’s distaste for Troy’s hair (Lee, 1994, 1:07:44). 

Other scenes at Song’s household include an array of White dolls adorning Song’s adopted daughter’s dresser. We see Song take out Troy’s braided hair in favor of straightened locks, in one scene commenting, “Don’t tell me you got the nerve to be tender-headed with these naps” (Lee, 1994, 1:12:59). Whether knowingly or not, Song has delineated Whiteness as an ideal, through the dolls she buys her daughter Viola and her insistence that straightened, flowing hair garner praise over braids and beads. Song could be said to have already answered the question as to whether “she should accept her socially ascribed blackness or reject it in favor of a more privileged whiteness” (Jackson, 2006, p. 33). This dilemma is one Jackson (2006) ascribes to the Black character archetype of the tragic mulatto. Jackson (2006) identifies the tragic mulatto as a Black woman who enters an identity crisis as she grapples with her morals in association with her race, often light-skinned enough to pass as White (p. 33-4).

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF.


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: Bryce Wyles is a second-year student at the University of Virginia majoring in English and Media Studies. He enjoys viewing and analyzing media ranging from Netflix shows to classic literature to press publications. Originally from Chesapeake, Virginia, he currently lives in Charlottesville, where he also writes for the student-run newspaper The Cavalier Daily.

Whose Ideal (and Who’s Ideal)?

By: Chris Chang-Bacon

I did my dissertation on “monolingual ideologies” in education. The idea of “monolingualism” made sense to me at the time (and still does in many cases). I was writing about states that had “English-only education” policies, despite evidence of the many benefits of bilingual education. To me, this was best explained by a deep-seated English-only bias of “monolingualism” (and the racism/nationalism that so often goes along with it).

Source: Chris Chang-Bacon’s personal blog.
A post summarizing my latest article in Teachers College Record.

The more I’ve written about the idea, however, the notion that all of the linguistic discrimination going on in schools was driven by “monolingualism” started to feel incomplete. Don’t get me wrong, there are far too many contexts where overt language oppression still takes place. But in other contexts, it began to feel too simple to explain all of it as a bias toward (English) monolingualism.

The history of U.S. education is often written as a long march toward monolingualism. This is appropriate in most cases: Schools have far too often been places where students were (and are) forbidden to speak languages other than English and overtly taught that learning English was the only avenue toward professional success or proving their knowledge.

However, it turns out that U.S. education has always encouraged multilingualism for some while forbidding it for others. Take renowned polyglots like Ben Franklin who were lauded for their cosmopolitan multilingualism: These figures gained fame at the same time that U.S. policies were attempting to forbid indigenous populations and enslaved people from speaking languages other than English.

So I realized I had to start thinking and writing about this in more complex ways. I’m trying to think less along the lines of “monolingual” and more along the lines of which language practices become “idealized” (and for whom). I bring out these ideas in my recent article for Teachers College Record. I write that,

“In addition to monolingualism as a language ideology, I argue that there is much to gain from a related, but broader framework of idealized language ideologies. Monolingual language ideologies uphold one specific language practice as the norm (e.g., so-called standard English). On the other hand, a framework of idealized language ideologies highlights the malleability of these supposed norms—involving (1) a set of idealized language practices (2) mapped onto an idealized speaker (3) in relation to certain institutional interests or power dynamics (see Figure 1). This framework helps to explain the entrenchment of problematic language hierarchies, whether through restrictive monolingual language policies or within educational programs ostensibly geared toward bilingualism.”

This has been helping me to articulate more clearly the underlying racism and anti-immigrant bias that informs whose langue practices are idealized–whether it be in monolingual or bilingual educational spaces. My thoughts on this are still being shaped by by engaging with related work from linguists, educators, and linguistic anthropologists (see article for massive list of name-drops, but here are two on my bookshelf at the moment). I’m looking forward to writing with this idea of “idealized language ideologies” more to see if it can help me better sort through the entanglements of language, racism, and nationalism in language education. Hopefully the idea that language practices can be “idealized” in different ways, for different individuals, and in different contexts can also help to better expose the host of other problematic ideologies that are ever-present in educational contexts and in society more widely.

For those interested in the full article, you can find it here (or a here for those without access to the journal).

Chang-Bacon, C. K. (2021). Idealized language ideologies: The “new bilingualism” meets the “old” educational inequities. Teachers College Record. 123(1). https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=23558

Read the original post on Dr. Chang-Bacon’s personal blog.


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: Assistant professor at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. Former High School English teacher in Lawrence, Massachusetts, ESL Faculty Manager in South Korea, and Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. Chang-Bacon’s scholarship is informed by the dynamic multilingual, multidialectal, and multimodal language practices young people bring to classrooms. Follow on Twitter @ChrisChangBacon

Reflections on Youth Voice, this Historical Moment, and Dialoging for Democracy

By Symia Stigler & Kaitlin Nichols

Highlights:

  • After attending the Dialoging for Democracy conference, members of City Year national staff reflect on the last eight months.
  • Lifting up youth’s voices and allowing them to speak their truths is essential, especially in the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Supporting young people’s voices leads to transformative citizenship, even in the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: City Year

In November of 2019, Youth-Nex hosted a conference on “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice” in Charlottesville, VA. I was thrilled to be attending with three City Year colleagues and looked forward to exploring how the topic might support and stretch our service ideas rooted in social justice and transformative citizenship. 

What we did not know when we entered the double doors of the UVA Alumni Hall is that in the subsequent 195 days, George Floyd would be killed and that killing would be recorded and replayed on television, social media and in the minds of every conscious human. The shock and horror after 8 minutes and 46 seconds and the last cries of “I can’t breathe” stunned the world. However, this time, in place of recurring silence and deliberately closed eyes, thundering masses of citizens across the globe raised their collective voices and loudly proclaimed, “Black Lives Matter!”  

Given our current social and physical reality, the conference topic from eight months earlier, “Dialoging for Democracy”, still resonates with me, as does the words of the organizers who spoke at the conference.  

During the welcome, Dr. Johari Harris, a Research Assistant Professor at the Curry School of Education and Human Development asked, “How do youth process complex moral and social issues?” She asked attendees to consider how that processing changes as young people grow and develop. Over the course of two days panelists, youth and community organizers shared examples from research, policy, and practice to address these grounding questions. At the conclusion, Dr. Harris reiterated that…

The best way to support positive youth development in African American adolescents is through a strength-based approach which builds on their cultural backgrounds, while keeping their powerful and unique voices at the forefront of the conversation.  

In my role as national director of student engagement at City Year, I design and pilot social-emotional learning and development (SEL/D) resources that our City Year AmeriCorps Members use every day in their work as near-peer mentors. AmeriCorps Members partners with teachers to co-create positive learning environments and customize small group tutoring sessions for students in systemically under-resourced schools. Our SEL/D supports are grounded in relationships, which I believe are the most powerful lever in K-12 education. The trust and connections built between students and AmeriCorps Members, over time, prove fertile soil for social-emotional and academic growth. Each day of the school year, City Year AmeriCorps members support students as they lift their voices and speak their truths. When young people engage as equal contributors in classrooms and communities, their voices are elevated, their courage is unveiled, and their perspective and perpetual energy create momentum, demanding positive change in our world.  

-Symia Stigler, National Director of Student Engagement, City Year


Source: City Year

Having served as a City Year AmeriCorps member, I have seen firsthand the amazing things that can come from young people’s voices being at the table.

  • I saw it when a group of 7th grade students had the great idea to host a city-wide toy drive for the local children’s hospital and had their City Year team help make it happen.
  • I saw it when we heard our students wanting to do lessons in the concrete courtyard by our classroom, so we led a service project with the students to plant flowers, paint benches, and beautify the courtyard.
  • I saw it when we created interactive bulletin boards outside our classroom that students could add their voices to connected with a monthly theme – anything from honoring a loved one impacted by breast cancer, to writing a valentine for a Black person in history who made a difference in our world, to sharing tips for self-care leading up to the next standardized test.
  • I saw it in the one-on-one relationships, when my teammate worked closely with one of her students to help him apply for summer jobs he was interested in, and when my other teammate intentionally gave special attention to her student suffering the recent loss of her younger brother.
  • I saw it when my students helped me understand how to best meet their learning needs: when one student shared that using different colors helped her concentrate, we worked on reading comprehension with lots of highlighters; and when another student shared he preferred to read over breakfast, we ate together before discussing what we read.

And I’ve been seeing it now – when schools closed abruptly in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, our City Year AmeriCorps members stepped up to creatively connect with their students in the virtual space. Our young adult leaders have continued supporting these near-peer relationships by replicating viral video dances, recording videos assuring their students that they are still thinking of them, and coming up with thoughtful prompts and activities for students to engage in distance learning.

Participating in the Dialoging for Democracy conference alongside my City Year colleagues was a rich learning experience, and it was affirming to be able to hear from researchers and practitioners about the evidence base for the activities our young adult leaders are doing with their students every day. Now more than ever, it is important it is to uplift, celebrate, and listen to the voices of our young people – and embrace all the good that can come from it.

-Kaitlin Nichols, Sr. Impact Services Operations Manager, City Year
City Year Alumni ‘13, ‘14


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: Symia Stigler brings over twenty years of field experience from education and youth-serving non-profits to her role as National Student Engagement Director at City Year Headquarters. In this position, Symia leads our work on upgrading or improving the network-wide Attendance, Social-Emotional/Youth Development, and After School tools and strategies. Symia is motivated by the power of relationships which are leveraged to forge new paths towards social justice in education.

Author Bio: Kaitlin Nichols currently serves as the Senior Impact Services Operations Manager at City Year Headquarters in Boston, managing operations and projects for our national group of program departments. Prior to joining City Year staff, Kaitlin completed two years of service with City Year Columbia as an AmeriCorps Member and Team Leader, serving middle and elementary school students across two school districts in South Carolina.  

What the School of COVID-19 Could Teach You About Strong Communities

By Mary Coleman

Highlights:

  • Mary Coleman is executive director at City of Promise, a nonprofit that provides cradle-to-college academic support for youth from Charlottesville.
  • As the coronavirus changes everyday life, the new “School of COVID-19” is exposing the resilience may families already have.
  • Many youth-serving individuals and organizations are recognizing the strong coping strategies already in our communities.
Source: Carrie Coleman

Schools may be closed throughout the country, but the “School of COVID-19” is hosting classes every day. What is the pandemic teaching those of us who serve youth? More importantly, how can we apply those lessons now and long after the emergency has passed?

As executive director at City of Promise, these questions loom upon my staff and me in our service to children and families in Charlottesville. Our program – modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone – has always depended upon in-person, on-the-street, and at-school engagement with youth. Moving to virtual academic coaching and mentoring was a painful transition, especially for staff with children at home who also need care and attention. The “School of COVID-19” forced us to dig deep to find the same kind of resilience we expect of the families we serve. The tables have turned. Those children and their parents are now our master teachers in the “School of COVID-19.”

For example, while the rest of us scramble and cry in the face of job loss and personal disruption, low-income persons draw from the strength they have built over time. The sad truth is, they have been here before. They have filed for unemployment before. They have relied on the food bank before. They have waited by the mailbox for government checks before.

While the rest of us complain about our hair salons being shuttered, black families carry on. They have been doing hair in the kitchen forever. Surviving without childcare or grandparents on call is tough, but it’s a daily reality for moms in our neighborhood. Can’t go anywhere because you’re sheltered in place? This is what it feels like for families who don’t have cars.

And what about virtual learning? Welcome to the world of those who always feel overwhelmed by their kid’s homework. COVID-19 is teaching us that being thrown into financial and personal uncertainty wears people down and creates household chaos that makes learning difficult. Coronavirus has taught us that Maslow was right: when basic needs are threatened, confidence and creativity are suppressed (read more about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

Those of us who find this stress new and overwhelming can turn what we are feeling into fresh resolve in our advocacy work by acknowledging the inner strength of the youth we serve.

Those who regularly face trauma and disruption show up to our after-school programs willing to engage. They never let on about how hard it is to jump through our hoops. Just the other day, one of our pathway coaches led a virtual session with a 6th grader who – determined to find a quiet place in her cramped public-housing unit – chose the floor next to the commode. This kid deserves our respect. She could write a book about “grit.”

And what about the parents? I spoke with a mom who came to City of Promise for the cleaning products and Kroger cards we distribute each Friday (thanks to donations restricted for COVID-19 relief). With a smile, she narrated the pride she felt because the trials of coronavirus haven’t plunged her into depression like they may have in the past. My eyes burned with tears as I realized that I focus too much on how far these parents have to go, instead of seeing how far they’ve come. This mom taught me a lesson about my own deficit thinking.

I’m sure many of us can admit that COVID-19 has exposed just how far we have to go as youth-serving individuals and organizations. It has exposed our lack of empathy. It has exposed our resignation that some children just don’t ever have internet or food on the weekend. It has exposed our complacency regarding a multitude of inequities and broken systems that make life difficult for the people we are trying to help. But if we are willing, we can learn from those very same people. They have so much to teach us. And we have so much to learn.

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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: Mary Coleman is executive director at City of Promise, a nonprofit that provides cradle-to-college academic support for youth living in the 10th and Page, Westhaven, and Starr Hill communities in Charlottesville. A fundraiser by profession, Mary served from 2005 to 2012 as Director of Donor Relations at Woodberry Forest School in Madison County, Virginia. Later, as Director of Institutional Advancement at The Covenant School in Charlottesville, Mary managed fundraising, parent programs, marketing, and alumni relations. In 2017, Mary became development director at City of Promise where she raised the profile of the organization in Charlottesville. Mary is a trauma and resilience trainer through the Greater Charlottesville Trauma-Informed Community Network.

Black American Parenting During the CoViD-19 Crisis

By Valerie Adams-Bass

I am a parent and an assistant professor who teaches an introductory course about humanitarian crises and children, Child Protection in Emergencies (CPiE). What we are experiencing with CoViD-19, is a humanitarian crisis. The CoVid-19 pandemic has caused an abrupt shift in the “normal day” and has brought challenges to all of us. In times of crisis (humanitarian), the needs of children and youth are often the last to be attended. While the global community appears to have been a bit better about considering the needs of children at the forefront vs. later in this crisis, we haven’t been super great at utilizing systems or putting systems in place swiftly here in the US. Even more so, the needs of Black Americans are often the last to be attended. To assist with coping particularly for  Black Americans whose higher contraction rates of CoViD-19 and morbidity related fatality is only now being publicly acknowledged, stay in side, hang out with your children and try some of these suggestions to help you during this dynamic and challenging period in your parenting and in our lives.

Source: In the Know Blog

Many parents are now at home parenting 24/7 and attempting to maintain a FT job that helps to keep the lights on, the mortgage or rent paid and the refrigerator full. Other parents are on the front lines and have limited time to have hands-on oversight. Whether you are at home 24/7 or you are setting up your home for your children while you are at work, it doesn’t matter how many children you have at home, I don’t take for granted that all parents and adults know what to do now that our children are home ALL day every day. I include in this list simple tips and strategies for integrating the awe-inspiring resilience of African Americans who generationally have had to overcome crises too often associated with being Black in America. The deterioration of Black communities have impacted how we think and transfer skills and knowledge to our children that is protective and models how “we got over”, but now is a time to reintroduce and practice those strategies. Our care for our children should be infused with our ways of being and our care for ourselves.

  1. Breathe, deeply. When you breathe deep you allow oxygen to reach your brain and you release tension. Your brain needs the oxygen to function at ideal levels. Deep, long breathes are also restorative and centering. When we breathe deeply we can also feel our body.
  2. Pray, meditate. Both mother wit and research have demonstrated faith is a protective factor for Black Americans! It helps with healing during sickness, with ailments and is calming. Spiritual or religious practice involve prayer or meditating on what is good and well. In spite of what is occurring, Black people historically rely on faith to get through difficult periods. Don’t, DO NOT let go of this practice. If you don’t already, include your children in your faith practices. I have a toddler. Sometimes she is in the mood to pray or practice gratitude, sometimes she isn’t. Today I found her in her room praying on her own, praying and expressing thanks to God. Works for me!
  3. Express gratitude for those who came before you and made a way. Look to what they did for strength and practical ideas to get through. If you have living family members who can tell you how “they made it” through segregation, the civil rights movement, serving in the military, or being the “first” in their field, now is the time to listen up. Black Americans have had to manage marginalization and acute societal contractions in the United States differently every time we have an occurrence. Call to ask, call, don’t text. Remember, telephones were made for talking. If you don’t have blood relatives to connect with, who are close friends and family you could reach out to for this conversation? A worry for many parents is the lack of inter-generational knowledge-again here is a space to invite your children into this conversation. Learning about how others they know have handled difficulties will likely prove useful for them as they learn about culturally based coping strategies. High school and college seniors, are understandably disappointed with the status of graduation celebrations this year. How might their perspective change if they heard family stories of resilience and persistence when public celebrations and appreciations of academic accomplishments for Black students were non-existent due to circumstance or could only be private and intimate? Turn these interviews into family histories. Tell our stories as keepers of our own culture.

There are 12 additional tips and strategies for Black American parents on the original post from the In The Know Blog.

This blog was also cross posted on Successful Black Parenting.

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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: Valerie Adams-Bass is a developmental psychologist who earned her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She focuses on adolescent development. Dr. Adams-Bass is an Assistant Professor of Youth and Social Innovations in the Department of Human Services at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. She is a faculty affiliate with the Youth-Nex and an affiliate faculty member of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Pennsylvania.

Dialoging for Democracy, the 7th Youth-Nex Conference

By Johari Harris

Highlights:

  • Youth-Nex hosted their 7th conference in November 2019.
  • The title of the conference was “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice.”
  • Co-chair Dr. Johari Harris discusses why this conference was chosen and what participants got from attending.

The Unite the Right White Nationalist march that took place in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12th 2017 demonstrated the resiliency and inherent violence of White supremacy. In the time since, this nation has continued to see a rise in hate crimes directed at different, often marginalized, communities within the United States. These events run parallel to larger conversations about justice and human welfare happening both in the U.S. and abroad. From immigration to global warming, people are grappling with what solutions to these problems should look like. While these issues and subsequent conversations are often viewed as “best left to the adults,” events like March for Our Lives, the Global Climate Strike, and A Day Without Immigrants demonstrate the vested interest today’s youth have in these and other moral issues and the health of our overall democracy.

We at Youth-Nex wholeheartedly support these efforts. Further, we believe that, rather than overlooking the concerns of youth, our educational and policy systems should center youth in the process of understanding complex problems by paying attention to how youth think about these issues and how adults can support youth’s engagement in creating solutions to them. I had the wonderful opportunity to co-chair the 7th Youth-Nex conference on “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice” with Dr. Nancy Deutsch (Director of Youth-Nex) in November 2019. 

We realized during the planning of this, however, that there are key questions we must consider as we seek to support and collaborate with youth.

First, how does youth’s thinking about complex moral and social issues shift as they grow and change? What does the science of child and adolescent development tell us about how to best scaffold youth’s engagement with moral issues and how do we then engender civic engagement among youth? Second, what is the role of dialogue in this process? What are best practices for engaging youth in moral issues? Finally, how do we engage youth in moral issues in our current social and political climate? In particular, how do we do this work within K-13 spaces, both formal and informal educational settings?

To begin answering these questions, the conference looked closely at the developmental processes related to how youth think about moral issues, the power (and constraints) of dialogue, and the relationship of both of these constructs to democracy. Importantly and intentionally, we kept the structural issues youth face at the forefront of the conversation. There must be an understanding of macro-level forces, like systemic racism, that dictate the effectiveness and expression of individual agency. Therefore, we discussed how implicit and explicit issues of power cannot be divorced from the types of dialogue in which youth can engage. We unpacked the developmental process related to moral reasoning, empathy, civic engagement, and perspective taking, and provided examples of best practices of how to do this work in a range of spaces from classrooms to camps.

Our hope was that participants left the conference ready to return to their own spaces better equipped to amplify youth’s engagement with moral issues and social justice in ways that further their existing capacity as today’s change makers, and the future leaders of our democracy. You can watch video from all the sessions and many performances at the conference on the Youth-Nex youtube channel and our website.

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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. Johari Harris is an Assistant Research Professor at the Curry School of Education and Human Development. Her work examines how social identities, specifically race and gender, along with cultural values systems, like Afro-centric values, influence African American adolescents social-emotional competencies. Her research is grounded in intersectionality, developmental psychology, and social psychology theories.

Special Journal Focuses on Civic Engagement, Moral Identity: Charlottesville’s Summer of 2017

We resume blogs about Positive Youth Development with a focus on the center’s three new core areas: a) Out-of-School Time; b) Educational Systems: Middle School; and c) Community Engagement: Civic and Political.

We start with the Journal of Adolescent Research Special Issue focus on Youth Civic and Moral Engagement. Nancy Deutsch penned the introduction, posted with the permission of the publisher, which shines a light on the events that transpired in Charlottesville over the summer of 2017.

Introduction to the Journal of Adolescent Research Special Issue on Youth Civic and Moral Engagement

As our editorial team was putting together this issue, our home, Charlottesville, Virginia, was still reeling from the events of the summer of 2017. Images of angry White, mostly male, faces holding tiki torches and weapons, wearing white polo shirts and khakis, chanting fascist and racist slogans were still fresh in our minds. Many of these faces were young; the leaders were under 40. The man charged with killing Charlottesville community member Heather Heyer, who was one of the counter protestors on August 12, was 20 years old. For those of us who study young people, these images could seem to signify a crisis of civic engagement—a reflection of youth whose disengagement from the moral fabric of our society was so great as to lead them to a White supremacist movement that advocates violent hatred.

Yet that is not the full Charlottesville story. On the evening of August 11, 2017, a group of students from the University of Virginia faced down a mob of tiki torch wielding White supremacists who had marched across the school’s campus. The students linked arms, surrounding the statue of Thomas Jefferson that sits at the heart of campus, in front of a sign proclaiming “VA Students Act Against White Supremacy.” These students took the ultimate civic stand—putting their bodies in harm’s way to defend the values that we hold dear. Members of the antifascist movement, whom some clergy members credit with saving their lives during the protests on August 12, are also primarily young people. Furthermore, for weeks, months, and even years before the August events, local youth had been working within our community to organize for racial and social justice. It was a high school student who started the petition to have the confederate statues removed from our local parks. Local high school students started a Black Student Association and an organization to help undocumented students. Their story is one of civic and moral engagement of the highest caliber.

This fall, as I walked across campus every day, I was reminded of the courage and moral fortitude of our local youth. At the same time, I could not ignore the continued presence of White supremacy and the increasing public presence of hate groups across the globe, groups that often prey on disengaged young people for recruitment. The time for a developmental focus on youth civic and moral identity and engagement is now.

In line with our mission, and following that commitment, our editorial team decided to create a special issue featuring articles focused on civic engagement and moral identity. The four articles in this volume feature a range of perspectives from across the globe. Some consider contexts or interventions that may promote civic engagement, such as schools, service learning, and youth councils. Others consider the development of moral and/or civic identities. We felt that this topic was timely and deserving of a dedicated issue. We hope that you agree. And we hope that some day #Charlottesville can come to represent not the violent reemergence of hate groups in the United States but the power of youth civic engagement and moral identity, and the tremendous ability of young people to promote positive social change.

Nancy L. Deutsch
University of Virginia
Youth-Nex: The UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development
Charlottesville, VA
nld7a@virginia.edu

Articles in the issue: (access depends on your individual or institutional permissions):

If Someone Asked, I’d Participate: Teachers as Recruiters for Political and Civic Participation
Rebecca Jacobsen, David Casalaspi
First Published October 24, 2016; pp. 153–186

Youth Civic Engagement: Do Youth Councils Reduce or Reinforce Social Inequality?
Astraea Augsberger, Mary Elizabeth Collins, Whitney Gecker, Meaghan Dougher
First Published January 4, 2017; pp. 187–208

Globalization and Moral Personhood: Dyadic Perspectives of the Moral Self in Rural and Urban Thai Communities
Jessica McKenzie
First Published October 9, 2016; pp. 209–246

Development of Adolescent Moral and Civic Identity Through Community Service: A Qualitative Study in Hong Kong
Huixuan Xu, Min Yang
First Published March 20, 2017; pp. 247–272

https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558418756524
Journal of Adolescent Research
2018, Vol. 33(2) 151–152
© The Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/0743558418756524
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The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 33(2) 151–152, February/2018 published by SAGE Publishing, All rights reserved.