University of Wisconsin–Madison
Podcast Icon

Noni Gaylord-Harden, Jocelyn Smith Lee, and Alvin Thomas on Youth Trauma and Resilience in Contexts of Poverty

  • Noni Gaylord-Harden, Jocelyn Smith Lee, and Alvin Thomas
  • August 17 2022
  • PC116-2022

Noni Gaylord-Harden

Jocelyn Smith Lee

Alvin Thomas

Noni Gaylord-Harden, Texas A&M University
Jocelyn Smith Lee, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Alvin Thomas, University of Wisconsin–Madison

A growing body of research has begun to change understandings of how toxic environments can affect young people, particularly African American boys and young men. In this webinar, we hear from Noni Gaylord-HardenJocelyn Smith Lee, and Alvin Thomas about risk and protective factors for youth exposed to poverty, racism, and violence, and about how research, policy, and practice can incorporate these lessons.

Watch the video recording of the webinar.

Transcript

Dave Chancellor [00:00:00] Okay. Well, hello and thanks for joining us for today’s webinar from the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I’m Dave Chancellor and I’ll be your host. Our webinar today is on youth trauma and resilience in contexts of poverty, and I’m so happy to be able to introduce our three presenters today. So, Dr. Gaylord-Harden is Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University. Dr. Jocelyn Smith Lee is Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. And Dr. Alvin Thomas is an assistant professor of human development and family studies in the School of Human Ecology here at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Thank you all for being here. Dr. Gaylord-Harden, Dr. Smith Lee and Dr. Thomas. Thank you all so much for being here today. And I’m hoping that we can begin to frame how we’re approaching this topic. With each of you telling us a bit about who you are and how you approach this work in relation to what we’re talking about today. And Dr. Gaylord-Harden, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to start us off.

Noni Gaylord-Harden [00:03:14] Sure. Thank you. And good afternoon, everybody. My name is Noni Gaylord-Harden, and I want to start by expressing my deepest gratitude to Dave and the IRP. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this important conversation and thank you for the opportunity to share this virtual stage with such esteemed colleagues. I would like to note that by training I am a child clinical psychologist and by profession. As mentioned, I am a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M, where I teach and direct the Youth Research Youth Rising Research Lab and the Clinical Psychology Program. And thinking a bit about position positionality. I have multiple identities that I want to acknowledge I’m a black, cisgender woman. I’m a mother and my wife and partner, my daughter, sister, a friend, a psychologist, a researcher, an instructor, a mentor mentee. I consider myself a lifelong learner, reader, a runner. And I really believe that these identities create a unique lens for the work that I do. And my research focuses on the impact of exposure to community violence and traumatic loss on black adolescents and families who are living in disinvested urban communities and in thinking about how I approach my work. I thought about three things. One is that I approached the work and trained my students to approach the work as a collaborator and a partner with young people and communities. I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that my research program focuses on black youth and families who are living in big cities and urban communities that have been. Targeted disinvestment. They’re under-resourced urban communities that are largely ignored by government, local government. And as a result, we see high rates of poverty and crime in these communities. But I grew up in a very small, very small rural southern town and a middle-class neighborhood. And I do not have the lived experiences that the youth of my research studies have. And despite being trained to present myself as an expert, it’s critical for me to note that I cannot do that. I do not approach my work as an expert, but as a collaborator with young people and families and communities. I don’t seek to explain but seek to amplify the voices of youth and families and to learn from them and try to take a stance that embraces curiosity. I heard somebody say once that science organized curiosity, and I really love that. And really in thinking about being a researcher. One of my mentors mentioned to me once that we think as researchers, we’re in the business of being right, but we’re really in the business of being wrong and in our efforts to become experts. Sometimes we want research that confirms our hypotheses, but true research is not conclusive. It’s hypothesis generating, it’s question generating. And if you’re attempting to be conclusive in your work, you’re limiting the ability to be impactful in your work. And so, we try to have a curious stance. And then a more recent approach in my work is, is approaching it with a lens on healing and humanizing and recognizing that we have to move beyond treatment to healing and move beyond coping to empowerment and resistance and move beyond surviving to thriving. So the goal of any intervention that’s based on our work is not just the absence of disease, but on how young people are thriving in all dimensions of their lives.

Dave Chancellor [00:07:07] Dr. Smith Lee, would you talk next?

Jocelyn Smith Lee [00:07:13] Yes. And thank you, Dave. And hello to everyone. Thanks so much for joining us this afternoon. It is again, it’s such joy I’m experiencing and being in this space with Drs. Gaylord-Harden and Alvin Thomas. So, I share from a positionality standpoint. I share all of those identities that Noni mentioned except running. I can’t claim to be a runner, but I currently serve as an assistant professor of human development and family studies at UNC Greensboro, where I’m also the founding director of the Centering Black Voices Research Lab. We are a community engaged program of research, committed to affirming the humanity of black boys, men and families through trauma informed practices that prevents violence, promotes healing, and advances racial equity. I also lead and direct a newly launched visual storytelling and narrative change campaign called In All Ways Human, and it would be just a privilege for myself, our team, and most importantly, our participants. If you would connect with us by visiting www.inallwayshuman.com. Maybe you can throw it in the chat for us on Twitter and Instagram. So, this work really began for me professionally about ten years ago in East Baltimore. I spent a year and a half at a dead-end job readiness training center, and at my earliest meetings of the young men at the center, it was part of a larger project examining the transition to adulthood for economically disadvantaged men of color who are considered disconnected from traditional pathways to adulthood being school and work. And as in my first interview as a research assistant, that first qualitative interview I conducted, we began by asking young men, Tell us about your neighborhood. And the guys would talk at length and without prompting about the violence in their neighborhoods and the people they were losing as a result of that violence. And that caught my full attention here. I was thinking I was asking a question about place and the guys were responding by telling me who was dying as a function of the social conditions where they lived. And at the same time, it was like a mirror was being held up for me, reminding me of the people that I lost as a result of gun violence growing up outside of Philadelphia, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. And so, the dots in my own life and my own lived experience were getting connected with those of the young men in front of me to really reveal the need to examine and point towards the marginalized trauma and grief of black boys, men, and families as a result of the health disparities of violent injury and violent death. And so for me, this work is professional, but it’s also deeply personal. And I see it as not only opportunities for to do transformational work that promotes healing in the lives of black boys, men in families who are unequally burdened by the health disparities of homicide and police violence. But also it’s redemptive work and it’s healing work for myself, too. So I own that in what I do, and I look forward to raising awareness about these issues and thinking through next steps for all of us and doing that with two people who I just respect tremendously.

Dave Chancellor [00:10:59] Thank you so much, Dr. Smith Lee and Dr. Thomas, how about you?

Alvin Thomas [00:11:05] Got remember to turn my mike on. Thank you very much again. Want to echo the comments of both doctors, Jocelyn Smith Lee and Dr. Gaylord-Harden as well. Really great friends of mine. And thank you, Dave, for making this space available to so many people. It’s just really exciting and encouraging to hear the numbers of people who are essentially breaking the boundaries of the Zoom application to to be part of this discussion and to both to hear and to be able to share with with us and beyond once this is done. Thinking about who I am and how I came to this work, I can’t not think of the the boys and girls that I was interacting with when I was teaching in the Caribbean. So I’m originally from the island of Saint Lucia, where I taught for about nine or so years at elementary, middle and high school level. And I remember sitting in my classroom and just kind of watching my kids when I was teaching English language and English literature and watching a lot of these kids who were just beaming with potential. And I’m looking back at them now and think to myself, some of these kids, I hate to say it, but some of them were doomed because it just was not the space to support them and the opportunities were just not there for them. And so I decided that I needed to start addressing some of the issues that I would see with my kids. I would have kids who were reading by streetlights to do their homework, who are reading their novels and doing their homework on notebooks by streetlight or by candlelight. Kids will walk miles to school not because there was no bus, but because they couldn’t afford it or the parents couldn’t afford it. Kids who didn’t know whether what they were going to eat that day when they got home, kids who were taking food back home from school, a friend would give them half a sandwich. They would eat half and they would save the other half for 5 p.m. when they would walk back home to check their cousin or their brother, some some younger sibling. And I think that was that that was probably one of the earliest points. I remember my eyes being open to the challenges being faced by kids, by black boys specifically and by black families. And I kind of transitioned some of those same experiences over to the U.S., where I saw the same things happening, the same stories, albeit in a different locale still being existed. And I think of the significantly different traumas that are visited upon black boys and black families and black boys and brown bodies in the US by context and by deliberate design. And I thought. There needs to be some exploration of what that looks like, what the effect looks like, and the full cost. And so when I think back to my own training as a my immediate history as a teacher and a person who taught literature, I think of myself as a storyteller. I think of myself as a change maker, as a meaning, a meaning explorer. So most recently, we released the Black Fatherhood Podcast series. And if you’ve not heard of the Black Fatherhood podcast series, we are now number six on the top 20 Black Fatherhood podcast series across the country. So please get out there and find the Black Fatherhood Podcast series. Or just search Dr. Alvin Thomas on YouTube. We’re on Facebook. We’re on Twitter and on Instagram @dr_at758. You can also follow us on Twitter. You can find us wherever you find podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, you, you name it, it’s probably there. So please find the Black Fatherhood podcast series and follow it. But the reason why I kind of mentioned the Black Fatherhood podcast was because we need to find and I started doing some of this work on youth violence and the trauma of youth violence and the effect of youth violence. And I quickly realized that you often approach a youth violence without exploring the full family system. So we’re talking about the mom. We’re talking about the father and absence. And I realized that we needed to start talking about how to bring the fathers into some of these conversations. Not that fathers were not present, but that we were often treating them as as not present, often treating them as invisible. So how do we bring in fatherhood and bring in positive youth development? And that is pretty much where my work sits. It’s situated at the intersection of Black Father engagement and by engagement we mean not fathers being involved because we assume that fathers are involved, but how are organizations and institutions engaging, recruiting, bringing fathers in, making them feel safe, and retaining them and genuinely making them part of this process of strengthening black parents. So at that intersection of father engagement and positive development for black boys, we find that research being able to retell the story, rewrite the story, clean the story, and tell it from a non pathological lens until the actual truth of what the literature is telling us about the stories of black men and boys.

Dave Chancellor [00:16:42] Thank you all so much. And again, thank you for being here. I’m just so excited to kind of get this conversation rolling. But, you know, kind of our first sort of prompt here is, you know, when we’re thinking about trauma in contexts of racism and in context of poverty and also more broadly trauma connected to racism and other forms of social exclusion, how should we think about that? And I guess how in your roles as researchers, developmental scientists do you parse out trauma related to a particular event, say experiencing violence or traumatic loss and factors related to, say, poverty or historical oppression that are sort of more continuous, more and more there. And so there’s a lot there. But Dr. Gaylord-Harden, would you start us off? And I think, you know, and certainly for the other presenters, feel free to jump in. You don’t have to wait for me to call on you as we kind of try to make this conversation here.

Noni Gaylord-Harden [00:17:38] Sorry, I’m muted. You know, this is a hard question for me because I think it’s it’s been a journey for me in terms of thinking about parsing out trauma related to a particular event or really focusing more on multiple events, historical events. When I started my career, I was a coping researcher. I didn’t do research solely on community violence, and I was pretty adamant as well that I was not going to focus on a particular stressor. I really wanted to understand the unique ways that black youth coped with stress. And so I measured stress in multiple domains. And, you know, somewhere along the line, after multiple conversations, very similar to, you know, just a mention is having these conversations with young people. And so talking with young people and families and teachers and folks who were working at youth serving organizations. The conversations kept coming back to community violence exposure. I should note that at this time I was in Chicago. I worked for several years at a university in Chicago, and so I reluctantly decided to focus on community violence exposure. So I shifted the nature of my work to focus on community violence exposure and. I’ve done that work for about ten years, but I’ve been over the past year or so, really thinking about how that seems to be a reductionistic approach. I’m not sure if that’s the best word to use, but really. You know, does that capture the full lived experiences of young people? And so, you know, I what I’m learning after moving to the Houston area is we know that poverty predicts violence anywhere, but experiences of poverty and experience or experiences of violence are not the same everywhere. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about how do we learn more about the lived experiences. And I think Jocelyn’s work is is just a model for how to do that and really thinking about community based participatory research models. There are a number of researchers now who are emphasizing the importance of historical trauma, of cultural trauma, intergenerational trauma. And in our work, we’ve also talked about continuous trauma and moving away from the models, particularly in clinical psychology, around PTSD, because this work that we’ve been doing on community violence has taken us into trauma and PTSD. And just thinking about how even the conceptualization of PTSD in our diagnostic manuals focuses on symptoms, symptoms that occur after a traumatic event. And it’s assumed that people experience this traumatic event. It’s over. And now we work on recovering from that with very little focus on continuous trauma. And so that’s part of how we’ve been trying to get at this, is really talking about the importance of continuous trauma. But also through our work here in Houston, we want to know more about historical trauma just as an example, something that’s important here that was not important when I was in Chicago are natural disasters, hurricanes. And those are very much the impact of of natural disasters here in Houston and probably anywhere, are very much tied to poverty. And so the experiences of violence and it’s all connected, but that’s something that we did not have to think about in our work when we were in Chicago. And so I think, you know, in terms of bringing those things into the work, we have to elevate the voices of folks that we’re that we’re partnering with. There’s a Rob Nixon at Princeton talks about slow violence and fast violence and how slow violence becomes fast violence. And so I think it’s important to recognize and name poverty as violence. And it’s it’s decades of the slow violence, of systemic racism, of redlining, of unsafe housing and unequal access to quality health care and education, polluted air, water, unsafe housing, all of these things that that lead to the fast violence of shooting and assaults. And we tend to focus on fast violence. But it’s it’s the slow violence that leads up to that. And so there needs to be some recognition of that in the research, how that happens. I don’t have a clear answer for that, except we’re learning from folks who are writing about historical trauma and cultural trauma, intergenerational trauma, and what we believe and our lab is on. The best ways of getting to that is, again, going back to partnering and elevating voices and using those community based participatory research models. So I’ll stop there and let folks come on.

Noni Gaylord-Harden [00:22:42] Dr. Smith Lee or Thomas, do either of you want to jump in?

Jocelyn Smith Lee [00:22:45] Yeah, I can I can jump in there. You know, as we mentioned, I really come to this work as a as a trained clinician, but also largely using qualitative in community, engaged in CBPR approaches to examine questions. And these experiences then have been simplified for us for a really long, long time and not really capturing the complexity of lived experience or the full story of of experiences of trauma and loss. And so for me, the simple answer to your question is that like, don’t you don’t get to pass out history. We bring history into every one of our interactions. I don’t get to control for race in any setting that I enter. I don’t get to remove the history that comes with showing up in the world and how I’m experienced as a black woman in any setting. Neither does my husband or my toddler in transitioning to parenthood in the pandemic has taught us anything is that white supremacy doesn’t have a clock. It doesn’t wait until you are out of the warm or doesn’t care if you’re a toddler or if you have a Ph.D.. White supremacy is the backdrop of black life, black death, and what makes black joy such a powerful tool of resistance as well. And so for me, you don’t get to parse that out, but what the young black man who I am honored to be in relationship with and to continue to learn from and do life with in many ways is is that these are not singular events in even our language in the way we describe it, doesn’t necessarily capture the complexity of lived experience. So as I mentioned, this work started for me in East Baltimore. I partnered with the mental health clinicians and a GED and job readiness training center to develop loss and grief groups that were facilitated weekly in the center. And these groups quickly became the highest and most frequently attended groups in the center, which to me really speaks to young people’s desire and craving to have space, supportive space, to begin to unpack these experiences in their lives. But what they made clear for me, the 40 young men who originally worked with and did in depth interviewing with, was the frequency and the developmental timing of exposures to violence in their life, both interpersonal violence, as we might think about it in terms of with community members, but also police violence. And so I had young men construct what I call chronologies of loss. And so these are timelines that young men drew for me during our conversations. So the strategic way of navigating gender and the ways that we were socialized to talk about or not talk about our experiences and our emotions and our in our pain and acknowledging that men sometimes are more instrumental grievers. And so with the chronologies and I think I have the ability to share screen, not just show you two examples of them, because I think they point to the pieces that we’re trying to talk about today. So here’s two examples. And Noni, I think you’re still here with me right here. Can you see the screen? These are just the thumbs up or. Yes. Okay. So here’s one example of a young man who I call Andrew was 22 years old and he has three significant time periods in his life where he’s lost young friends or family members in his life and an uncle who had died from what we might label natural causes, but we know it’s disproportionately vulnerable because of all of those pieces. He talked about the residential segregation, the poverty, racism and discrimination. And then in 2010 and 2012, he was his cousin and another friend to gun violence. And you’ll notice in 2012 a name we all know as in Trayvon Martin and so on his timeline where he’s got these intimate experiences of loss people he knows and he’s grown up with. He’s also naming this teenager in Florida who he’s never met, which taps into the collective experience of traumatic loss and violence that black people have had to navigate for centuries. And here’s another timeline of a young man who I call Wayne. He’s 19 years old. And if we were interactive right now, I would ask you, what do you notice about his timeline? And commonly people respond. It’s very crowded. There’s a lot of loss. The numbers represent his attempts to write for me and scale of 0 to 10, mindful that you can’t capture in a scale of 0 to 10 the impact of the loss. But it helped me to know the intensity as we were talking about the intensity of those experiences. And so of all of these losses, one, two, three, four, five, six at age 19 or as a result of violence, and of those six losses to the ones that just darkened for you were as a result of police violence. And again, this is before we really got into this kind of steady drumbeat of highly publicized police cases. And so what they made clear, very clear their voices have made very clear that these are not singular events. So even the name homicide survivor, the term homicide survivor doesn’t do justice to and in some ways masks the multiplicity of traumatic loss in their lives. These tools are also very powerful because they help us to see a comprehensive picture of loss, but they can point to some of those systemic and structural pieces, you know, seeing friends and family members die of heart attack or asthma or AIDS, all of those things kind of point to the legacies of white supremacy that impact our daily lives. And they also make really clear for us that as you describe the language we’ve been using a long time to talk about mental health, like post-traumatic stress disorder don’t necessarily fit because young black men and their families are returning to neighborhoods where there is no post context. There is no break necessarily from this kind of steady drumbeat. And so we see grief and trauma as developmental tasks that black boys and men have to navigate over time. Thankfully, in the from the trends I was able to discern from their timelines, the minority of those experiences were happening in early childhood. They increased steadily into the school aged years, peaking in adolescence where they were either back to back years or even consecutive calendar months where they were experiencing the deaths of their friends, really complicating the abilities to construct identity in concert in contrast from peers who were dying. So this is a developmental challenge that black families are equally burdened with, and it’s a direct result of our failure as a nation to address the historic and continuous legacies of white supremacy.

Dave Chancellor [00:29:48] Thank you so much, Dr. Smith lee And I should note we briefly have lost Dr. Thomas. I think we’re having some zoom trouble. So he and I are texting in the background. So I want to move on to the next question here as he tries to get back with us. But and I think it ties in really well to what you’ve been talking about in these last couple of minutes, Dr. Smith Lee. But, you know, one of the threads that I think runs through your collective work, the three of you, is an emphasis on sort of reframing these narratives around the behavior of young people, and particularly black boys and young men, and doing so in a way that sort of affirms their humanity. And I think there are a couple of key layers here from the sort of my vantage point is just an observer. But, you know, one of the obvious ones is just the way that society has and continues to sort of pathologize the behavior of boys and young men, especially of color. And but I also think there’s this layer of that that sometimes often researchers do in sort of the way that maybe research is framed or in some of the questions or assumptions that we carry into work. And so, you know, I think, you know, if you’re talking to folks who are maybe well-meaning but, you know, they may be asking the wrong questions, you know, how do you suggest to ask better questions or what sort of things do you think are important that we talk about when it comes to the assumptions that we bring to this work? I’m going to let either of you jump on that.

Noni Gaylord-Harden [00:31:16] I think, you know my first. I guess my initial response is, what do we mean by better questions? But what is better mean? And I mean more effective, more relevant? Better. Yeah. And I’m not I’m not trying to criticize as a quick question. I’m just saying that we have to ask ourselves these questions when we’re saying, okay, I want to ask better questions. What do we mean by that as researchers? And, you know, this is something I’ve grappled with throughout my career. Again, as I’ve mentioned, I was trained in clinical psychology and I was trained over 20 years ago. You know, I think I started my training 25 years ago, and there were no discussions of humanizing your participants. And it was it was pathology. We were trained that our role was to diagnose and pathologize and then develop and implement strategies to reduce or eliminate the pathology. It was also very much focused on the individual and not on systems. And so, you know, and. I’m so. Excited about this, this new generation of scholars that are resisting these traditional Eurocentric methods of understanding black youth and thinking critically about, you know, social locations, how systems of power and privilege relate to one’s experience. And I’m learning from them. Right. And so, you know, I actually just finished a book chapter where my question questions we talked about some of these issues and some of the things that we suggested was first really acknowledging in our work as researchers that racism, not race, is the cause of poverty, the cause of violence. Race is not a risk factor. Being black is not a risk factor. Racism is a risk. It’s a race is a proxy for the structural inequities that marginalize black youth and families. Race is not the risk factor. And just even starting with that and in our work, even the most well-intentioned folks will still talk about, you know, black youth are at higher risk. Or we’ll say things like being black is a risk factor for X, Y and Z. It is not. And that’s one way to to to start shifting the narrative. You know, context is critical and behaviors should not be decontextualized. And in our work and, you know, back in 2016, 2017, a colleague left an article in my mailbox and just a note saying, I think you should read this article. And it was an article by Jocelyn and Desmond Patton, and it was an article that changed really the way I was thinking about this work. I was kind of in the middle of doing this work on community violence. And, you know, Jocelyn and Desmond interviewed black men, I think it was in Baltimore, about their experiences with violence and really their experiences with PTSD symptoms. And what was struck me about the findings of that work first is that the majority of men met the criteria for PTSD. Second is that the cluster of symptoms that was experienced at the highest rate, what we call the hyper arousal symptoms, notably hyper vigilance, where you’re aware of your surroundings, you’re constantly scanning your surroundings. But what really stood out about the findings is that those young men described hypervigilance as a coping strategy. Right. Staying on point, I think is what was said in the article. And it which was, you know, this is something that we are saying is a symptom, something that needs to be fixed. Right. These young men were telling just the investment, this is something I do to navigate my surroundings. It’s an adaptive coping strategy. We took that work and conducted a study with high school boys. And these were all black boys, ninth to 11th grade, I believe. And we they completed measures of community bonds exposure, but also measures of PTSD symptoms. And album was on this paper as well with us. And we found that higher levels of hypervigilance and hyper arousal predicted less violence exposure over time. So what we were essentially doing is testing what these young men had told them was helping them. So we say, okay, let’s see. And it was absolutely the case. And so if we have interventions that are supposed to be reducing symptoms that folks are using as coping strategies, we’re disabling survival strategies and our interventions. Right. And so that when you’re when you’re when you are focusing on behaviors without thinking about context, decontextualized and behaviors, you are minimizing the impact of your of your intervention. So the context has to be considered at all times, I think, you know. I would also say don’t conduct comparative research. I can talk more about that. If people want to talk about that, just don’t do it. Just don’t do it. And when you’re conducting within group research, consider the importance of intersectionality and the work that you’re doing right. And solely focusing on race or ethnicity fails to recognize the complexity of black youth and who have many identities in addition to their identity and identities. And these identities interact with oppression in ways that have implications for their experiences of violence. And we can’t just have a sole focus on race and ethnicity. I think also we have to be careful about how we are using language. Any term that combines a deficit and a geography. High crime communities, low income communities and violent youths. So, you know, also a deficit. And it’s a group. Right. It’s dehumanizing and obscures systemic causes. And so really thinking about how we are describing young people, how we are describing communities, and instead of asking, why are black youth impacted by violence? Why aren’t more black youth impacted by violence? Because then that leads you to understanding more about the assets that are embedded in families and communities. And instead of having this focus on deficits, I think I went. Let me let me stop because I get on my soapbox.

Dave Chancellor [00:38:26] That’s awesome. And so and I think we might revisit some of those topics as we move to Q&A. But I do want to move to sort of this last sort of prompt about talking about sort of resilience because, you know, trauma and resilience are not opposites. And, you know, I think. Dr. Thomas, welcome back, by the way. And, you know, your lab is. Thank you very much. Yeah. Resilient youth lab. And, you know, we talked about this podcast that you recently launched and in which I think you and your guests, you do such a beautiful job of sort of talking about some of the contexts that resilience might be developed within. And can you just talk a little bit this kind of start us off on this about sort of how you think about sort of broadly this this idea of the resilience, especially, you know, in relation to kind of what we’ve been hearing about from Dr. Gaylord Harden and some Dr. Smith Lee’s work here.

Alvin Thomas [00:39:20] Thanks. So again, in light of the name of our lab, the Thomas Resilient Youth Lab, kind of focusing on this resilience piece. I don’t know what happened to my Internet. It just went out and nothing is working at home. But we will find spaces to do the work that we need to do. And so now I am hopefully not making you seasick because I’m holding my phone and continuing to move through this webinar because it has to be done. And I think that’s what we see in communities that people are in spaces that on that were not made by them, but they find themselves in those spaces, I think. The outgoing president of the sorry the Society for Research in Adolescents, Velma noted. Velma McBride challenged us at the last SRA meeting to think and think of ways to include these systemic areas of the ecological model into our reimagining of adolescent research, especially specifically among black youth. We’ve spent so much time investigating the family of the individual and even the community, and we’ve not paid as much attention to how this this indirectly, this kind of focus indirectly suggests that that was where the core of the issue really how do we then bring in the contributions of the MAKO system, the exhaust system, the effects of our societies, its history or histories, its norms and mores, the way these things change and maintain our political system along with the policies that guide our key institutions at the county level, the state level, the national level, and how all of these together and separately visit trauma on black bodies, whether it be individual individuals, families, communities. And so when we when we thought about kind of where this work was going, we spent we spent a lot of time exploring some of the research, the research that we’ve done in the Thomas Resilience Youth Lab, but also thinking about the work that people like Nordea and Jocelyn and others are doing around black boys and black families. And we thought, how do we take this work and repackage it in a way that is one that takes the voices that have been speaking about some of this work and amplifies those voices. But do it in a way that can speak directly to individuals who are on the street, who are dealing with these issues, but also speak to some of the researchers. How do we challenge researchers to rethink how they pull all of these different stories together? And so that’s where the Black Fatherhood podcast series was born. We saw the dad going on Instagram, going all out to try to reclaim this this really flawed and really destructive, horribly destructive narrative of absent black fathers and negligent black fathers. Again, this is not us saying that there’s this overly romantic view that every single black father is involved, but that’s also us saying that there is no race, there is no demographic where every single father of that demographic is involved. And so to single out that some black fathers are not involved and some black fathers are not doing their job, and to tar and feather an entire demographic of black fathers with that horrible notion that that’s where we needed to start changing the narrative. And so we put together quite a few experts in issues related to fatherhood, whether it was co-parenting, mental health, child development, child support payments, the full history of that, to come in and speak about these different stories, we put in some of those who were also fathers who could speak about their own experiences as fathers and in some cases as grandfathers, and think about the trajectory of that fatherhood role, the trajectory of that fatherhood responsibility as a way of trying to engage fathers, but also present resources. And so when we think about this podcast, it’s about 15 episodes all together, like I said at the beginning, available in all these different species, including on the UW lab website, the Thomas Resilient Youth Lab website, and anywhere else you can listen to podcasts. We’re currently uploading these videos of the conversations for you if you want just a very tasty morsel of the conversation. We have a few episodes that we’ve already cut into small bite sized pieces. In fact, here’s a clip and two clips that I want you to go to go look at. One clip from episode two is called Black Unicorns. That’s all I’m going to tell you. Black Unicorns. And another is titled Boys Don’t Scream So. Again, it speaks to some of the nuggets of wisdom that these guests are pouring out on the screen and through the audio for listeners. And we’re hoping that what’s going to happen is that therapists will use them. We heard a lot about dads connecting with other dads on social media and other pieces to create support because they’re not finding support in the community. So to create support for themselves and we’re hoping that dads, as they will use some of these videos and podcast audios to create conversation, to use them as conversation jumping off points. We hope researchers and others would tap into these hours of cutting edge, highly trained experts and the voices of fathers across these conversations, and use them as a way to hone and fine tune their own research. But understanding that at the end of the day it is about reclaiming that conversation and reclaiming your own narrative is one of the one of the quickest and most powerful ways of building resilience. We’ve said as a society, we’ve said some horrible things about horrible people. One of the first ways I’ve seen and I saw it with we recently did a tour of Wisconsin through the Ideas webinar, and we went to one of the Oneida tribes, one of the spaces. And as part of building their resilience, what they were doing was cleaning food, reclaiming the ground and telling their story as they wanted it to be told. And I think that is at the core of recovering from trauma. One of the one of the key elements of trauma recovery is to build a narrative around the incident. Build your narrative around that traumatic event. And I think if we can get fathers, if we can get black men, black boys, black families to sit and do some of that work, work with them to help them take ownership of rebuilding some of the narratives that I think is a really brilliant space to begin. But I think we cannot do that without also recognizing the impact of state, county and national trauma, historical and present that is being that is being visited upon black bodies across this country.

Jocelyn Smith Lee [00:46:47] And David, we can before.

Dave Chancellor [00:46:49] I want you to talk about that. That was my next question.

Jocelyn Smith Lee [00:46:53] I would love to tell you how we’re doing this and also show you a little bit of how we’re doing this. So in 2020, we were one of 28 out of over 1200 applicants to be selected for Bill and Melinda. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Brand Challenge Award that really sought to change the narrative about people who are experiencing poverty. And so that project gave us the opportunity to really move into with full force this mission of disrupting dehumanizing narratives of black men in poverty. One of the challenges that I run up against in my work, whether I’ve done, done the things and will continue to do the things that academicians expect in terms of publishing in high impact outlets and clinically creating those supported spaces for black men to engage and begin to tell their stories and process their trauma. And we need more contextually informed clinicians to help do that work. But also, I’ve realized that if we don’t do the work of addressing root causes, if we don’t acknowledge the bigger stories that are shaping our lives and competing with our ability to even see the pain and the overlooked promise of black boys and men, then we’ll continuously run up against limitations that undercut the work that we’re doing. And so this visual storytelling and narrative change campaign in all ways, human is on a mission to spread the simple and profound truth about black boys, men and families that we are always. So, whether a tiny toddler like my daughter or young, adult or young at heart, a community organizer or celebrity, we are always and in always every facet of our being human and deserving of dignity, of safety, of care and of opportunity. And so we intentionally engage in a visual storytelling project to counter the dehumanizing images of mug shots and to counter that centuries long story of black male criminality that entrenches this is entrenched in our psyches and shaped the policies of decision makers, but also the mindset of the public. And we’ve had to pivot from a more traditional photo based approach to that over the pandemic, to a community engage portrait project that allows us to create images and create opportunities for black boys and men to show up as they wish to be seen and to push back against those negative images that circulate in the nightly news and reify those narratives of black male criminality. And we created space for them to tell their stories, both in documentary form. And that will hopefully be coming your way and available to you this fall. But it also became the Intergenerational Project, which allowed us to bring in both the children of our past participants and also elders in the community, mindful that the experiences of trauma of grief and this centuries long process of dehumanization impacts us from when we’re born until we’re elders. And so this project has really allowed us, again, to create images that foreground the resilience, the humanity and the dignity of black boys and men. And that’s so important to do. When I was first starting out in this work, I would use the word humanize a lot. And I just want to shout out the inhales, the red who said to me, How can you make something, something that’s already human, more human? And so I that moment really challenged me even to examine the language I was using. And we’ve moved to talk about affirming the humanity of black boys and men. We are strategically disseminating this work, taking advantage of kiosks in the city where we can bring black boys and men and into spaces where they have been pushed out or are consistently policed or punished. We are using billboards to spread the word and to circulate our images as well as our are media campaigns. And this is not just for white people, but this is also transforming the ways that we are seeing, the way we see one another in the way we see ourselves. And so the joy of revealing these lifesize portraits of black boys and men that we printed on this third grader, you can see on his face and how proud his brother is to be standing next to him. But also for older men who saw themselves in this in this way and in this light for the first time, it really transformed the way that they were seeing themselves. We’ve intentionally used outdoor spaces and in in COVID to circulate this work. And so this is a closed elementary school that stares at a redevelopment zone and gentrified area. And East Baltimore, that’s one block from our community center and is also death stares at the campus of John Hopkins Medical Center. Our portraits are now pasted alongside this wall, along with the giant message of being always human and again thinking of. How we’ve been pushed out and places and spaces and Starbucks, which is right at the corner, kind of triangulating the spaces, has a pop up exhibit. So thinking about where black men have been criminalized over time and where clinicians and physicians come to hydrate themselves and fuel themselves in the morning, creating this dialog in space to rethink the way that we are experiencing black boys and men in the community. And I’ll end with this young boy here who, as we were doing some tests and shout out to our team some text pasting of the images. Last fall, this little boy was across the street at the park and he saw his father so thinking about and he saw his dad’s picture being put up on the wall. His dad is living and active and present in his life. And he came over and you could see the pride on his face of seeing his father being celebrated in this way. And at that moment, we began calling this a mural of the living of and also an opportunity of pushing back against the narratives that we get caught up in and talking about and seeing black boys in death and centering them intentionally in life and celebrating them in life and challenging our systems to do the better work of of creating opportunities that promote the health and well-being and success of black boys and men. So you can see more on our website in Always Humankind. And please follow us on our socials at in always keen.

Dave Chancellor [00:53:15] Dr. Smith Lee That was such an amazing way to sort of kind of wrap up on so much of what you’ve been talking about today. And so we just have a few minutes left for Q&A. And, you know, one of the sort of themes that a few of the questions have sort of like start to address is just, you know, the ways that looking at the ways that providers or institutions or the things can maybe work towards sort of positive change in these areas that we’ve all been talking about today. Not all of you talk to providers when you get the opportunity, and I think especially in light of new research that that you’re all doing or that you’ve seen come out. What do you what do you tell people? Dr. Gaylord-Harden, would you like to start us off there?

Dave Chancellor [00:53:57] Yeah, I. I was on the set of and about this work and you just say that I am just I needed a moment to take in. But the work that they do and they are dear friends of mine. But to be able to sit and listen to them, share this incredible work that they do, just fills my heart with joy. So much love to both of you and the work that you’re doing. This has been wonderful for me to be a part of, you know, part of. My meetings with organizations, youth serving organizations, schools is not so much telling them what to do, but. But learning from them what they what they do, what they’re engaged in, and what their goals are and how. What dreams and hopes they have for the young people with whom they work. I learn more listening to them than coming in and saying, These are the things that you should be doing. I find that many organizations and I wish had started keeping a list because there were all these organizations too, especially in Chicago. I call me in and come and talk and they do this well. Homework help. We do this well. Arts programs. You just don’t know what to do about trauma. But what I found in those conversations is that they were doing what we might call trauma for work, even though it wasn’t explicitly named trauma. And so even focusing on things like future orientation, positive future orientation, if they were working with young people and they were working on developing an arts program or they were working on or on, some of them were doing spoken words. Some of them were doing a play. All of that is working towards something that’s happening in the future. We know that violence exposure is related to more hopelessness and that having a positive future orientation can counter that hopelessness in some ways. I would explain you’re already doing things that are that are maybe considered trauma informed. So let’s not assume that you don’t know what you’re doing. And part of it is about is psychoeducation. The first thing is just doing some psychoeducation around the impact of trauma. We’ve done quite a few of those sorts of workshops, but really tapping into the culture of the organization and their like said their dreams and their hopes and desires for young people and what they’re doing to meet those goals. And again, we find that many of them are engaging in efforts that could be considered trauma, folks. And we work to enhance those. And I think. I’m beyond this model that we have where the expert comes in and tells you that this is what you should be doing with no understanding whatsoever of that community, of how long, you know, sometimes these organizations have been in communities for 30 years. So why are researchers walking in the door telling people, you need to do this, this, this and this? Or let me come in and do this right. What we need is to understand what their goals are and what they’ve been doing and then their strategies. We can work together to enhance things that are already being done or introduce some strategies that we know might be helpful. But I don’t think that walking in the door and saying, okay, this is what it means for you to to to be trauma informed out of them standing what’s already happening in space and their work with young people.

Dave Chancellor [00:57:55] That’s so noticeable. And, you know, we’re closing in, out of time. But I want to make sure that both Dr. Thomas and Dr. Smith Lee have an opportunity to kind of give us the kind of a wrap up, you know, where do you want to leave us? Dr. Thomas, would you go first? Just, you know, kind of what do you want to leave us with today?

Alvin Thomas [00:58:13] So I think the thing for me that is most honest, that is most necessary for us to think about, is always about the individual. What we can talk about trauma. We can talk about the reset. You can talk about resilience in these in sometimes what seems like very abstract tubes in these very large tubes. But what does trauma mean for Jamal Mitchell walking home from football practice, or what does trauma mean for Tavon Taylor when he’s walking home from the library or thinking about going across the street to play with his friend or walking past the police station or walking past through a blighted neighborhood? What does that mean for that kid who is going to a school where he doesn’t feel or she doesn’t feel safe or doesn’t feel like their whole person is welcome, appreciated and celebrated? What does that mean? No one should have to live with hyper vigilance every second in public. And yet people who live in black and brown skin, that is their reality. They do that every day. Imagine what that weight must feel like every day to walk around with the almost this thing about having your head on a swivel. There’s protection from it. But if the society did not react to black bodies in the way that it does, if our policies did not marginalize black bodies in the way that it does, we wouldn’t. Hyper vigilance would not need to be a protective mechanism. We wouldn’t need hyper vigilance because we would assume that everybody is, is positive and all that wonderful stuff. So I think for us, it’s to think about the individual that what am I doing, what? How am I contributing to it? Either in the way that I think, the way that I speak, the things that I support, the way that I vote, the way that I, the things that I engage in. How am I contributing either to resilience or contributing to the trauma that people are continuing to experience in their lives?

Dave Chancellor [01:00:40] Thank you. And Dr. Smith Lee.

Jocelyn Smith Lee [01:00:43] Yes. All of that a then and. We need to respond in a way that matches the magnitude of the weight. So having just talked about the heaviness of having to navigate that and that that’s not really we shouldn’t be tasking or training black boys and men to continue to do that over time. We need to be changing the context in which their lives are happening. And so I invite policymakers, I invite decision makers, I invite community leaders. I invite all of us to really do the work of prioritizing black boys and men in your budgets and to prioritizing black boys and men in your policy agenda, and to be thinking about and really doing the work of addressing these centuries long issues. It’s not something that we can just talk about as history, but it is our present and we need to do the work of addressing these issues if we’re ever going to again make any long term, see any long term success in promoting the health and well-being of black boys and men. So match the need. That would be my request. Have our solutions and our policies and our priorities match the scale of what black boys and men and families are navigating on a daily basis.

Dave Chancellor [01:02:16] Dr. Gaylord-Harden, is there anything that you want to add?

Dave Chancellor [01:02:21] No. No. I just. Just think. Thank you for this. No, I really I was like, but I you know, no, I just think that what has been said is I’m glad this is being recorded and folks should go back and listen to this, because the words of wisdom that are coming out of the mouths of Dr. Thomas and Dr. Smith Lee will resonate for years in our field.

Dave Chancellor [01:02:51] I am so grateful to the three of you and to everyone that joined us for this today. There’s never enough time to talk about this. And so we could have kept going for quite a while. But for everyone that’s asking, yes, we are we are recording this and we’re going to get that out and it’s going to be tomorrow. So you can see when it registered that’ll come through in your email. And so again, Dr. Smith Lee, Dr. Gaylord Harden, Dr. Thomas, I am so grateful for your time today and for sharing all of this with us. Thank you for being here.

Categories

Child Development & Well-Being, Child Poverty, Children, Family & Partnering, Health, Inequality & Mobility, Justice System, Juvenile Justice, Mental Health & Substance Abuse, Parenting, Place, Place General, Racial/Ethnic Inequality, Social Determinants of Health, Transition to Adulthood, WI Administrative Data Core

Tags