Refugee Youth Voices: Introducing the R_PEACE Coalition

By: Jennifer C. Mann

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


  • This post is introducing the Refugee Youth Voices blog series with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition.
  • I present information about the students from refugee backgrounds and the inequitable systems they face.
  • I introduce the work and impact of R_PEACE and set the stage for upcoming student-written blogs in this series. Additionally, I provide resources for learning more. 
Source: Jennifer Mann

I spent sixteen years as an educator, mostly to refugee- and immigrant-background students who recently arrived in the United States. I am currently a Research Scientist at Duke University, where I work on making education more accessible and more welcoming for such students.

Refugee Backgrounds & Inequitable Systems

Refugees relocate to escape violence, poverty, and extreme conditions. They also arrive in new countries hoping for educational opportunities. However, despite their interest in educational achievement, there are many reasons refugees face educational barriers.

First, the process of migration for refugees often involves emotional trauma and may result in post-traumatic stress disorder.1 Additionally, there are often gaps in children’s formal education before and during the resettlement process.2 Students with limited or interrupted formal education have had at least two fewer years of schooling than their peers and have varying levels of formal education.3

Furthermore, refugee-background students often face mixed reception by community and school personnel.4 Overall, there is evidence of a continued deficit perspective held by teachers and administrators towards refugee and immigrant students and a subsequent lack of access to rigorous learning opportunities.5

In response to the lack of rigorous learning, I wanted to provide refugee-background youth with opportunities for complex learning and critical engagement. One important research project I led was a social design-based experiment, which was conducted in an effort to bring about social transformation through a reconceptualization and reorganization of standard educational practices. Central to social design-based research is inviting participants to partner in taking action to help transform the inequitable systems which adversely impact their lives. In this social design-based study, I worked with a group of young adults from refugee backgrounds who wanted to increase college access for other refugee-background students.

They formed a coalition called R_PEACE (Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence). Through R_PEACE they traveled around to nonprofits who work with refugee- and immigrant-background students and shared some of their educational experiences and insights and offered their support. Additionally, R_PEACE spoke to over a hundred educators about how they can better support their students who are new to the country or new to the language.

The Coalition’s Work & Impact

The R_PEACE students have incredible insight into the unique complexities of being refugees. Driven by a motivation to help, they are able to:

  • Clearly communicate their own experiences.
  • Challenge others to consider how they can help craft better educational experiences for other refugee-background students.
  • Create better experiences and better futures for others.
  • Openly share their own difficult experiences.

It is my hope that we can all be open to hearing and learning from them. In the upcoming series blogs, Sue Mar, Gigi, and other students share profound insights that are relevant to us all as we seek to make the world a better place.

As educators, we can improve the world by making strides towards cultivating spaces of belonging. As researchers, we can seek out humanizing and participatory research approaches which allow the participants to partner with us in seeking solutions to the problems they face. As both an educator and a researcher, one of the most important actions I can take is listening to learn. It is my hope that we will each pause in our busy lives and listen to learn from the wisdom of others.

Resources for Learning More

In addition to listening to learn, we can read to learn. I’ve included some resources for those wanting to know more. Learn more about teaching refugees from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world’s leading refugee organization. Visit Harvard’s page on research, education, and action for refugees around the world for academic and creative resources. Finally, read an article I wrote about the importance of caring relationships and relevant and relatable curriculum.


1Tuliao et al., 2017; 2Daniel & Zybina, 2019; 3Hos, 2016; 4Roxas & Roy, 2012, p. 469; 5Alford, 2014; Daniel & Zybina, 2019; Lau, 2012

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

Author Bio: Jennifer C. Mann is a Research Scientist at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. In 2023, she received her Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences from North Carolina State University. Dr. Mann spent sixteen years as an educator, teaching high school English, elementary and adult English as a Second Language (ESL), and undergraduate pre-service English and ESL education. Her research interests include refugee and immigrant education, culturally sustaining critical pedagogies, and the social-emotional well-being of marginalized students.

Mitigating Implicit Racial Bias Through Improved Mindfulness & Social Emotional Competency

By: Pamela Nicholas-Hoff


  • 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.


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 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: Programs that Elevate Youth Voice & Agency

By: Liz, a 16-year old


  • 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.
  • Liz, a 16 year old, shares more about her experiences attending the conference, discussing youth programs as a panelist, and participating in a youth program that elevates her voice and agency.
Source: Youth-Nex

I attended the entire Youth-Nex conference and loved being a panelist for the session on “Programs that Elevate Youth Voice & Agency.” This experience was very new and important to me. It was like an I made it moment.

Being at the conference as a youth was very eye-opening for me. I have never been in a room with that many adults that actually want to listen to what I have to say and take away from it.

Panel on Programs that Elevate Youth

I feel like youth need programs to stay involved in the world and not stray away from society.

What is most important to me from this panel is that youth get to feel comfortable in a space that they have created and is meant for them. We get the most joy and connections from leading our community.

Young people should be uplifted by those around them, especially our mentors because they are considered the “knowers.” Mentors and other adults should affirm youth and help us to feel like we are actually heard.

Some advice for adults who want more youth in their programs is to bring the community into the program. It may help youth to feel more comfortable since they might be surrounded by those with the same values and experiences as them.

My Experiences in a Youth Program

I loved being on this panel with everyone but I especially loved sharing this moment with my mentor, James. He’s been there since my first day at Mikva Challenge and has helped me through so much. Even on the worst days, he always made sure to include me in all discussions and have my voice heard.

James is such a fun person to be around and so caring. If something was going on with my school he would reach out and ask if I was doing alright, or he would randomly just text me to check in and see how I’m doing.

He is my #1 mentor and someone that I look up to alot. Even though he might not know or feel like it, he has made such a huge impact on everyone in Mikva. I thank him for everything he has done for me and my family.

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 Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: My name is Lizette, or Liz for short. I’m 16, from Chicago, Illinois and going into my junior year at Chicago Bulls College Prep. I’ve been a part of Mikva Challenge for three years and have participated in meetings with the Aldermen and Mayors about what youth today need and how we can take that action. I love taking action, especially with Mikva Challenge because we get to meet so many people we wouldn’t have met if not in the program. I traveled to Washington DC for Mikva’s National Youth Summit and got to meet and speak with representative Chuy Garcia and his team about various issues my peers and I care about. I’ve also participated in candidate roundtable events and campaigned with Alderman Sofia King for the mayoral election. The issues I mainly focus on are the education system and abortion rights. I’ve attended multiple events in my community because of Mikva Challenge and hope to be in the program for many more years. I am planning on going to UVA for college as being there for the conference made me love the campus and overall environment. People who really inspire me are my parents because they both work hard to get me and my sisters on the right path and make sure that we always know they are there for us whenever we need it and they won’t judge and just want what’s best for us. Another person who really inspires me is my program director in Mikva, James. He’s my role model and who I want to grow to be like him in the future.

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

By: Isabel, a first year at UVA


  • 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 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!

Pass the Mic Series: Health & Well-Being

By: Kiara, a senior in High School


  • 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.
  • Kiara (a senior in High School, youth panelist and conference attendee) summarizes and reflects on the fourth session about “Health & Well-Being.”
Source: Youth-Nex

As a High School student athlete who wants to pursue a health career, I know learning about health and well-being is essential. I truly enjoyed this panel discussion and the knowledge I obtained from these health professionals.

I felt so much inspiration when hearing from the youth about how they feel they can advocate for not only themselves but their families as well. Some of these aspects to advocate on is related to health and wellness systems, but also things like food, desserts or even being comfortable in the environment they live in.

Hearing the panelists’ ideas about having mental health professionals in schools to be able to speak with students about the things they may be experiencing in their communities was something I completely agree with.

Giving youth the opportunity to speak to someone about the things that they see everyday could be the first step to healing childhood trauma (that they would have to tackle one day in their adulthood).

I also enjoyed learning that different cultural backgrounds can have different health and well-being standards based on the history and traditions that are aligned. I definitely was able to learn different aspects of what health and well-being is, whether it is mental health resources or family resources, which truly resonated with me.

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 Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Kiara A. is a senior at An Achievable Dream High School in Newport News, VA where she has been in the top 10% of her class all 4 years. She is currently ranked 4th in her school graduation class of 2023. Kiara currently serves her school as An Achievable Dream HS Senior Class President and President of the An Achievable Dream Middle and High School National Honor Society. Kiara is also a member of NNPS Emerging Leader Institute, Newport News Mayors Youth Commission, An Achievable Dream HS 3.0 Club, An Achievable Dream HS Principal’s Advisory Board, SCA, NNPS Flourish Youth Empowerment Club, Heritage HS Girls Varsity Volleyball team, Captain of the Heritage HS Girls Varsity Tennis team, CNU Community Captains, National Society of High School Scholars and Hampton University Upward Bound. Kiara has participated in various panels representing her school system Newport News Public Schools and her Newport News community. She has served as a student panelist on the Aim for Impact Summer Leadership Institute and the NNPS Innovate Conference, both sponsored through Newport News Public Schools. In addition, she recently participated in a local community panel sponsored by WHRO Public Media and iHeart Radio for a community conversation on safety and school security in September 2022, which was televised locally. Kiara plans to attend college where she will be majoring in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, where she aspires to be an athletic trainer for the NFL or a major league sports franchise.

Youth Voices in YPAR

This post is the 3rd 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: Mykei & Angel, 11th graders


  • Previous posts in the YPAR Series explained what participatory research processes are, and why youth should be engaged in research.
  • This post showcases two high school students who are engaged in YPAR, and currently designing research projects.
  • Mykei and Angel talk about what they learned in YPAR and how it has helped them.
Learn more about one of last year’s YAL YPAR projects, led by LMA students, through this award-winning documentary.

Starting in 2021, Lugo-McGinness Academy (LMA) and Youth-Nex’s Youth Action Lab (YAL) partnered to introduce students to youth participatory action research (YPAR). YPAR is a research approach that engages young people in identifying problems relevant to their own lives, conducting research to understand the nature of their problems, and using findings to advocate for change.

LMA classroom teachers and Youth Action Lab team members co-facilitate YPAR projects to support student leadership and uplift student voices in a school setting. The current YAL facilitators, Dr. Jessica Forrester (a postdoctoral researcher) and Olivia Burke (a grad student), sat down with two students from LMA to ask about their experiences in YPAR.

Question: Tell me about the current YPAR project you’re working on.

  • Mykei: I am working on creating interview questions on what sparks adults’ career interests and why they went into that field of work. I just want to see what people say, to be honest, like what their different experiences are. So far, I have interviewed my history teacher, Mr. K. He told me that he went to law school but realized teaching was his calling. I am excited to interview Mr. K’s father-in-law who is a nurse.
  • Angel: The overall question of my project is “Do high school students have enough resources for jobs, and internships after completing high school?”. My current project started off as research looking into career-based classes. It then led to looking into internships for high school students, in- and out-of-school. I have now expanded my project into a focus group for 11th and 12th graders; asking for their opinions on what kind of internships they wish they had and if they feel that high school successfully set them up for success in their career choice. The focus group will be recorded and sent out to businesses that are open to interns so that they may use the data to edit intern interview questions for high school students. During the focus group, we will give the students information on businesses open to internships.

Question: What have you learned while working with Youth Action Lab and YPAR?

  • Mykei: What sparks people’s interests. I also learned how to word questions to get a better response from the people I interviewed. I also learned a lot about the research process, like what to look for on the internet, especially when I was searching for different people in the community to interview.

Question: In what ways has your YPAR project been helpful for you and your future?

  • Angel: It has benefited my mentality. I now feel a need to strongly take initiative towards my future, while using the skills my project has taught me; such as reaching out when help is needed, looking into resources in my community, and looking closer at the people around me who could possibly bestow more knowledge upon me.

Question: What do you want to do after high school?

  • Mykei: I want to become a traveling nurse. They make a lot of money and it seems really fun. My aunt, grandma, and mom were all nurses. They all loved it. My grandma was a nurse for 40 years. I take care of my mom and little brother, so I am used to taking care of people.
  • Angel: After high school, I will continue my nursing program until it is time for me to head off to college. While in college I plan on majoring in Chemistry or Biology while doing nursing on the side so that I still have an income. Hopefully studying abroad at some point, and after many years of school, achieve my dreams of becoming an anesthesiologist.

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 Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Mykei is an eleventh-grade student at Lugo-McGinness Academy and is joining the YPAR team for the second year in a row. In addition to YPAR, Mykei works part-time at a local business and has caretaking responsibilities for his younger sibling. Mykei’s education research interests are rooted in his commitment to education. In particular, he wants to increase the variety of class options for LMA students, such as advanced placement, career, and technical opportunities.

Author Bio: Angel is an eleventh-grade student and one of the YPAR team’s newest members. Angel is interested in transforming school classes to focus on students’ strengths in order to build their confidence. In addition to making a difference in educational spaces, Angel wants to shine light on business opportunities for high schoolers because of her own entrepreneurial spirit.

Pass the Mic Series: Youth Voice & Agency in Schools, How to Empower Youth Voice in Schools

By: Maya R. Johnson


  • Youth are experts on what they need and do not need in schools, so their voice needs to be heard in discussions on changes and innovations.
  • Teachers and administrators play a vital role in empowering youth voices in schools.
  • In this blog as part of the Pass the Mic series, read about the strategies panelists mentioned that schools can implement to empower youth voice from the third session about “Youth Voice and Agency in Schools” during the 8th Youth-Nex conference entitled Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency.
Source: Youth-Nex

“Students are the experts on what they are learning,” says Dr. Graves. Heads nod around the room, with mine being one of them. In education-related decisions, it is common for youth, who will be impacted by these decisions, to be left out of the conversation. A shared sentiment amongst the panelists was that youth voices should be empowered and that these voices should be heard in school spaces where decisions are made. The purpose of this panel was to address the question: How can youth voices be empowered by schools?

How to Empower Youth Inside Schools

School is where youth spend most of their time, meaning that students know what they need and what will work. The following strategies were suggested by panelists on how to empower youth in schools:

  • Principal advisory committee: Students meet with their principal and share suggestions on how to make their school a place they want to attend.
  • Student-community partnerships: Students and community partners are brought together in conversation on areas that need improvement.
  • Challenging projects in the classroom: Students complete individual multi-step projects that target challenges that youth see and allow them to create steps to solve those challenges.
  • Skill-building opportunities: Students have opportunities to practice skills needed to engage in actions and changes.
  • Create intentional spaces: Youth have access to spaces where they can practice self-governance.

How Teachers Can Help

Teachers can help empower youth voices by implementing strategies that avoid regression. Such strategies are building a personal relationship with each individual student, creating an environment of freedom of expression in the classroom, embracing the role of facilitator, and having “be real” moments during which teachers make sure that their students understand and retain the information taught. Through these strategies, not only will regression be avoided, but youth voices will be empowered because students will feel supported by their teachers and have the space necessary to grow confident and comfortable using their voice.

How Administrators Can Help

Administrators can help empower youth voices by making sure that young people feel safe when using their voice. Through consulting youth directly on what the word “safety” means to them and creating spaces where students feel comfortable sharing how they feel and what affects them without judgment, youth will know that their voice is acknowledged by leaders in their school. A key to administrators contributing to the empowerment of youth voice effectively is that they must be open and ready to hear feedback, rather than taking student feedback personally.

My Thoughts

Students know their experiences in schools. They know what innovations and systems work and do not work. They know what they need and do not need.

Students’ voices should and need to be not only heard, but also given genuine space during the school decision making process.

Once schools begin to empower and listen to youth voices, strong leaders will be developed, and schools will be transformed to effectively impact the lives of youth.

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 Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Maya Johnson is a second year at the University of Virginia majoring in Youth & Social Innovation and minoring in Religious Studies. She is a member of the Education Council, member of the leadership team for SEEDS4Change, co-event chair for the Youth & Social Innovation Executive Board, and a volunteer for Virginia Ambassadors.

Pass the Mic Series: Social & Justice Systems

By: Zaharra, a 13-year-old


  • 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.
  • Zaharra, a 13-year old youth panelist and conference attendee, summarizes and reflects on the second session about “Social and Justice Systems.”
Source: Youth-Nex

During session 2 at the conference, we heard from moderator Joanna Lee Williams, Ph.D, and panelists Chidi Jenkins, Renee Spencer, Andy Block, and Sage Williams. This panel focused on child well-being and how to respond to the needs of youth in our community. I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to watch and listen to this panel live. 

The Panelists

Sage Williams talks about his unique experience at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center and how he worked as the president of the Student Government Association. Briefly after, a new community treatment model was implemented and it helped to foster rapport. Andy Block was the one who came up with the idea, and it is a unique perspective to see them both successful and on a panel together. Renee Spencer is a youth mentor, previous social worker, and is focused on building youth relationships; she is passionate about the Youth Initiative Mentoring program. Lastly, Chidi Jenkins works with Youth-Nex as well as a policy program that focuses on child well-being; she has helped to lead discussions around what is being talked about on this panel. 

Their Discussion

Sage Williams has the unique perspective of someone that has experienced what it was like on both sides of the spectrum–knowing what it felt like to be isolated and then the change of the policy within the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. He represents the positive effects of engaging with youth and building relationships. 

Andy Block is an exact representation of what it means to break out a box that shouldn’t be there. What I mean by that is people get stuck in their ways, which is understandable, but what he had to do was challenge that. By taking a risk he changed the system and helped to save lives; this is what educators and other people should be doing when building relationships. 

Renee Spencer talks about the institutional structures that we have created that devalue or denigrate youth relationships. Being human to children and not isolating them is considered “soft” is really perpetuating toxic relationships. She reminds us of something she learned in graduate school about resilience.

Young people who have safe, supportive, nurturing relationships are bound to succeed.

This is a privilege. Even having this type of relationship allows youth to re-approach negative experiences in a positive way. 

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 Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Zaharra is a thirteen-year-old attending Renaissance School. She is an activist, musician, athlete, artist, and writer. As an Ethiopian-Italian-American, Zaharra has learned to embrace her culture. Throughout her life in Charlottesville, she has experienced microaggressions and racism; this has helped her to acquire the skills to educate those who are uneducated, and fighting against bias inside and out of the school systems is her focus. Zaharra’s recent involvements include having two films, that she collaborated on, shown in the Youth Film Festival ’22, one of them winning the Audience Choice Award. During the ’21-’22 Renaissance School awards ceremony she was awarded the Doc Wilbur as an Eighth-grader, and she has also participated in numerous endeavors such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Teen Stylin’ Event in 2022 and being a Panelist at a Virginia Humanities conference in 2022.

Pass the Mic Series: A Dialogue Among Young People

By: Wintre Foxworth Johnson


  • 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 and in future posts including youth voices to summarize and reflect on what was discussed.
  • In this first blog, co-chair Dr. Johnson introduces this blog series and shares our first session on “Youth Voice and Agency in the 21st Century: A Dialogue Among Young People.”
Source: Youth-Nex

Adults often talk about youth as “the future.” That, however, is a partial truth. Many of the issues that adults debate and the policies that we create affect young people’s day-to-day lives, arguably more than they do our own. Young people are the present as much as they are the future, and we need their ideas. They should have a say in how we think about social issues and what we do to address them. 

At Youth-Nex, we take a strengths-based approach to youth development. And every day we are amazed by the ingenuity, energy, and hope of youth as they tackle the problems they see in the world. Part of being an adolescent is forming an identity that includes a sense of meaning and purpose. We see young people enacting that meaning and purpose, often within systems that do not value their voices or expertise. 

Youth voice and agency were central to the recent convening. Throughout Youth-Nex’s 8th conference, we heard from young people and adults who are actively working to amplify the voices of youth across the systems that shape their lives. Our goal is for everyone to approach the issues affecting youth with new eyes because they are complex and require all our experiences, expertise, and ideas. We want adults to not only see but also engage youth as true partners in working for change!

The first session of the conference grounded us in youth voices. This panel was moderated by Zyahna Bryant, an activist and community organizer, and included all youth panelists. We asked: Are young people ready to lead and if so, in what ways? How do we center and uplift youth voices in the 21st century? What are action-oriented steps to support youth? Listen to this session and learn more.

Source: Youth-Nex

In this blog series, we will share each of the sessions from the conference with an accompanying young person’s perspective who attended the conference. Listen to these sessions, hear these youth voices, and consider how you can “pass the mic”!

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 Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Wintre Foxworth Johnson’s scholarship lies at the nexus of sociocultural literacy studies, critical race scholarship, and critical pedagogies for and with young children. Her research has two primary aims: to examine the relationship between literacy teaching and learning in race-conscious and social justice-oriented elementary educational contexts; to investigate the sociopolitical development of children from historically marginalized communities, with a particular focus on Black children’s educational experiences, racial awareness, and experiential knowledge.

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

By: Jasmin R. Brooks


  • 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.


[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 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:, follow her on Twitter at: @__JasminBrooks, or email her at