Young Black Men, Masculinities, and Mental Health Project
Transforming Gender Norms * Enriching Mental Health * Engaging Social Support
Volume 1, Issue 3 January 2018
The YBMen Director’s Corner
Dear YBMen enthusiasts, Happy New Year!
This year has really taken off and (honestly) I am still trying to process all of our exciting events from last year!
Fortunately, 2017 proved to be a noteworthy year for the YBMen Project as we had several “firsts” to celebrate. Not only did we hire a new Project Coordinator, Manny Richardson, but we were also able to undertake our largest wave of data collection to date! Thanks to the generous support from the Stephen C. Rose Legacy Foundation (The Steve Fund), we were able to implement the YBMen Project with 50 young Black men at Michigan State University and Ohio State University. Our team has been very busy working with our campus partners to transform gender norms, enrich mental health, and engage in social support with young Black men across two states in the Midwest.
In addition to our growing staff and busy fieldwork, are celebrating two awards made to the YBMen Project last year (see photo below). We received two awards from the University of Michigan FastForward Medical Innovations Program: one for being the best medical innovation in the category of Health IT and another for being the “Crowd Favorite.” Finally, the YBMen Project had its busiest travel season to date as we spent the second half of 2017 making our debut at Harvard University, the University of Toronto, and Columbia University. Future connections and collaborations are still pending, so stay tuned for more about our growing network.
Our 2017 was so exciting…. we cannot wait to see what 2018 holds.
Here’s to a new year and new adventures,
Dr. Daphne C. Watkins, Director
The YBMen Project
Why should we study young black men?
Check out our recent interview with University of Michigan PhD Student and one of YBMen’s Project Managers, Natasha Johnson!
Forced Manhood: The Removal of Adolescence and the Veil of Innocence
By Ed-Dee Willams
The YBMen Project
Menacing, he’s 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures, he’s a 12-year-old in an adult body. This was the description that Stephen Loomis former president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, gave of 12-year-old Tamir Rice just days after he was shot dead by a police officer responding to an emergency call of a Black man with a gun. Loomis’s words are indicative of a large issue facing Black boys in our society.
The continuous removal of adolescence and adultifcation of Black boys (Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta, & DiTomasso, 2014; Jarrett, 2003) has become a detriment to the safety and innocence of Black youth. The distinction between someone aged 12 and someone aged 28 is not simply the years that separate their ages but the experience, development and comprehension of the world around them (Ali Norozi & Moen, 2016). However, more research is showing that young Black boys are being viewed as adults. Furthermore, this perception of older age is in concurrence with a view of less innocence and less “child-like” attributes for Black boys than their White counterparts. The danger in these perceptions is that these youth are robbed of the veil that would protect them as they develop.
There is a fear of Black men in our society, however there is little conversation about the allocation of this fear to Black boys as they are too often perceived as men before they have had the opportunity to mentally, emotional and socially develop as such. Bearing in mind this fear of Black men that permeates our society, Black boys are at increased risk of experiencing negative adult oriented interactions. Evidence of this continuously appears daily in our society for example; a police officer pulling his gun on unarmed Black teenagers at a pool party in McKinley, TX; similar experience for Black and Latino teens in Los Angeles that walked on a neighbors grass and found themselves being held at gunpoint by the homeowner.
However, observing and treating young Black males as adults exceeds the treatment by law enforcement and authority figures. It is perpetuated in homes by parents and family members as well as youth serving organizations and groups (schools, coaches, sports leagues and clubs, etc.). Studies have found similar treatment and perceptions in school settings creating a continuous reinforced view of these young boys as adults and thus they experience harsher and often more physical treatment (Harding, 2010; Rios, 2006, 2011). This continuous treatment and view of Black boys generates a perspective of manhood that is defined by tough love, mal treatment, high levels of responsibility, and aggression. This is particularly important when considering research that has found using phrases such as “be a man” or “man up” to have detrimental effects on the mental health and development of boys. The mounting evidence on this consequence begs the question: How does being treated as a man affect a young boy, both inside and outside the home?
Few discussions have occurred on the detrimental effects of labeling a boy a man and what is implied when a parent tells their young son to be a man, particularly little has been discussed in terms of mental health of Black boys – who are not only told to be a man in their homes but also treated as such by society and authority figures. The act of taking on the burdens of manhood both in the home and outside of the home creates a unique paradigm in which Black boys are forced to navigate daily life with the development, experience and comprehension of a child all the while facing responsibilities, reactions, treatment and consequences of a man, in particular a Black man. One cannot fully understand the depth of a young Black men’s comprehension of manhood and masculinity without also investigating experiences of these young men as boys. In line with this argument the need to investigate young Black men’s experiences as to gain a greater understanding of their upbringing as well as their daily life experiences as young boys could quite possibly illuminate a Black man’s adoption of manhood.
Ali Norozi, S., & Moen, T. (2016). Childhood as a Social Construction. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 6(2), 37–38. doi.org/10.5901/jesr.2016.v6n2p75
Goff, P. A., Jackson, M. C., Di Leone, B. A. L., Culotta, C. M., & DiTomasso, N. A. (2014). The essence of innocence: Consequences of dehumanizing Black children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(4), 526–545. doi.org/10.1037/a0035663
Harding, D. J. (2010). Living the drama : community, conflict, and culture among inner-city boys. University of Chicago Press.
Jarrett, R. L. (2003). Worlds of Development: The Experiences of Low-Income, African-American Youth. Journal of Children & Poverty, 9(2), 157–188. doi.org/10.1080/1079612032000117406
Rios, V. M. (2006). The Hyper-Criminalization of Black and Latino Male Youth in the Era of Mass Incarceration. Souls, 8(2), 40–54. doi.org/10.1080/10999940600680457
Rios, V. M. (2011). Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys. New York University Press.
Fall 2017 marked the third iteration of the YBMen Project with 50 young men enrolled at two schools – Michigan State University (MSU) and Ohio State University (OSU). Our campus partners included the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions at MSU and the Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male at OSU. We visited both campuses for onsite recruitment and data collection at different times throughout the semester. OSU students, faculty, and staff were enthusiastic about the YBMen Project, as evidence by their willingness to participate and share information about the study with students in their networks. Similarly, staff at MSU were gracious in allowing our research team to share and present information about the YBMen Project at various campus events—student panels, resource fairs, and workshops.
This year we saw more young Black men participate in the YBMen Project than ever before! This is a direct reflection of the commitment offered by our campus partners and we appreciate the tremendous effort they put forth. We would not have been successful in our efforts to connect with Black men on either campus without their guidance and support. We look forward to continuing our relationships with both institutions, and would like to send a special thank you to:
- Dan Thomas and James Moore (OSU)
- Kelly High-McCord, Murray Edwards, Genyne Royal, and Jasmine Lee (MSU)
The YBMen Project was implemented with young Black men at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) during the Fall 2016 term. Our team spent 2017 cleaning, transcribing, and managing the qualitative, quantitative, and Facebook data collected during this iteration of the project. We will analyze these data and share the results in mid-2018.
Check out how hip hop works to break down stigma surrounding Black men and mental health!
NBC NEWS (Featuring quotes by our director Dr. Watkins)
YBMen in the News!
Check out YBMen Project Manager, Janelle Goodwill, in a podcast with The University of Buffalo (2017):
Episode 224 – Janelle Goodwill: How Media Influences Young Black Men’s Conceptualization of Masculinity?
Check out the Founder and Director of the YBMen Project, Dr. Watkins, as she speaks at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute Science Symposium (2017):
What is Next for the YBMen Project?
Our team is committed to developing low-cost, high impact health promotion programs that utilize social media to engage and support the health of young black men. We are currently working to expand the YBMen Project, as requested by participants.
Looking ahead, we plan to carry out the YBMen Project in several locations across the United States and Canada, focusing on different health issues affecting the lives of young Black men. The YBMen Project not only improves the the living, learning, and working conditions of young black men, but also the conditions of their families and communities.