Early intervention and resiliency are two of the best ways to improve the chances of youth growing up to succeed as best they can and to have the best possible chance in life.
But, in the face of all that our youth are up against today, including ever growing racial tensions, how do we re-weave the fabric of family and community to focus on the needs of our youth?
This is a question I sometimes struggle with as a parent and as a youth advocate. I am often frustrated with the multitude of youth serving programs and initiatives aimed at inventing new ways to help youth navigate their world and the social issues that exist. These programs fail to address racial inequities and fail to provide space for youth who are directly impacted to have a seat at the table. Almost no one is talking to black youth (or youth of other races) about racial issues in meaningful ways.
As a mother of black daughters, I can’t afford not to talk to them about the racial realities they undoubtedly face every day. By having these conversations, I am provided with opportunities to identify and offer ways to counter racism. By having these conversations in consistent, meaningful and relevant ways, I am also challenging the denial of African Americans’ lived experiences.
Regardless of race, youth need the opportunity to build the skills necessary to resist racism. Not by ignoring it when it surfaces, withdrawing from conversations, or minimizing experiences, but by being thoughtful and responsible. It starts within by considering their own moral beliefs about justice and caring for others. To be effective, youth need programs that will help them build both the social and emotional strength and social knowledge to understand what is happening in their community and how to counteract racism.
Youth need caring and responsible adults to guide them and help them understand what they’re up against. Adults who will not only support and listen to them, but will also share their own stories of resistance and teach them practical skills of resilience. These adults are willing to take the time to talk about racial matters in appropriate ways no matter how difficult, painful or uncomfortable the task may be.
By actively taking a position against racism, sexism and social class bias, these adults will pass along the tools necessary for youth to develop a source of strength and purpose to succeed. Both are critical components of healthy resilience and both will allow youth, despite where they start, to have a chance in this world to “jump at the sun”, and live out their dreams. And though they are to be encouraged to follow their own path, they must also be reminded of their awesome responsibility to the next generation.
The social change our world so desperately needs will come about when, and only when we are willing to work to make it happen.
Leslie Conway is the Youth Resilience Coordinator at the Action Alliance. A self-proclaimed ambassador of love and resistor to hate, Leslie believes her life work is to help communities “sow seeds of resistance” and build social supports youth need to thrive in a racist reality and to create ineradicable change. Embracing her ancestors’ history of resiliency, she also recognizes the responsibility she has to pass along these stories to youth in honest and relevant ways. She believes our youth can be confident, competent and ready to take on the challenges of adulthood despite the social systems meant to disillusion and disempower them and that our experiences can serve as a road map towards healthy resistance.
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