Youth of Color Matter

This past Thursday The Bridge’s staff attended The 5th Annual Youth-Nex Conference: “Youth of Color Matter Reducing Inequality Through Positive Youth Development”at the University of Virginia. The conference was hosted by Youth-Nex, a transdisciplinary network of UVA departments and individuals dedicated to promoting positive youth development within Virginia and throughout the country.

The conference had a series of local and national speakers whose work focused on either researching or implementing positive youth development through unique, compelling models. Speakers focused on dispelling commonly sited statistics that constantly frame youth of color (YOC) as “at risk” and instead emphasized the importance of understanding what techniques and programs have lead to YOC success.

Some of the highlights of the conference were moments when case studies and program success accredited practices that community centered art also utilize.

Thursday morning speakers emphasized the importance of working within communities and capitalizing on pre-existing cultural practices that lead to positive youth development at home. For example Noelle Hurd, Ph.D., MPH spoke about fostering naturally occurring mentoring relationships among black adolescents as opposed to creating formal mentoring programs which may not be as sustaining. Monica Tsethlikai, Ph.D. spoke about the executive functioning skills Native American children gain through participation in cultural practices and traditions such as dance and story telling. Her research on the positive impact of such activities can be applied to art forms such as theater and music.

Friday morning speakers Anne Gregory Ph.D. and Vickie Shoap presented on the theory and practice of restorative justice, an alternative method of altercation resolution. Restorative justice’s goal is to decrease school suspensions and other recurrent discipline tactics, which statistically target students of color. The method focuses on facilitating conversation between students in conflict so that their perspectives are heard and they can work collaboratively towards finding a resolution. The restorative justice model is reliant on creating trust amongst students and faculty and cultivating a community in which the students feel they have agency. According to Gregory and Shoap the schools that have adopted restorative justice methods have lower rates of repeat discipline issues. Student testimonials provide evidence that the method helps teach creative problem solving and increased self-control in times of conflict. There is evidence that the community and trust that is built through this method has lead to a decrease in school conflict and violence. The Bridge is excited by the researchers’ recognition of the positive impact of cultivating community with adolescents as it is a technique used widely within our work.