Young Black Men, Masculinities, and Mental Health Project
Transforming Gender Norms * Enriching Mental Health * Engaging Social Support
Volume 1, Issue 4 July 2018
The YBMen Director’s Corner
Greetings YBMen enthusiasts, partners, and friends!
I hope you are taking some time for yourself this summer to relax and enjoy the long, warm days. Though we are actively celebrating Men’s Health Month (June) and Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (July), we are also deep in data analysis, growing our brand, and building our network of partners, collaborators, and supporters.
What better way to spend the summer?
The summer months are always busy for us here at the YBMen Project, as these months tend to be when we are deep into the data we collected during the previous academic year; and this summer is no different. We continue to mine the qualitative, quantitative, and Facebook data we collected during the 2017-2018 academic year from the 350+ young Black men from Michigan State University and Ohio State University. This project, generously supported by the Stephen C. Rose Legacy Foundation (The Steve Fund), allowed us to implement our largest iteration of the YBMen Project to date. Though we are still in the middle of producing results from our data collection efforts, our team continues to work with our campus partners to transform gender norms, enrich mental health, and engage in social support with young Black men across the Midwest and around the world.
This summer newsletter comes at a great time, as the cool summer evenings are giving us some much needed time to reflect on our accomplishments over the past few years and to plan for the future. As you scroll through our newsletter, I hope you enjoy learning more about our growing team, as well as our growing network of partners, including Healthy Men Michigan, actor/producer J. Mallory McCree, The Pillow Talk Project, the JED Foundation, and The Steve Fund.
Here’s to new and exciting adventures ahead,
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 YBMen Project Manager, Janelle Goodwill!
Understanding the Conditions and Cost of Resilience for Black Youth?
By Natasha Johnson, Project Manager
The YBMen Project
Melvin, a 17-year old Black student, was required to transfer to Reach Higher Alternative High School (RHAHS) because of his attendance problems at his previous school. Difficult life circumstances (i.e., his father’s demanding work schedule) forced Melvin, the eldest child, to bear the weight of caring for his three younger siblings. This led to challenges with Melvin’s ability to attend school regularly and he was expelled because of his severely low attendance. RHAHS allowed him flexibility in completing his coursework and was conveniently located in a neighborhood not far from his home. Although Melvin needed an additional two years to complete the requirements for his diploma, he persisted and graduated. Teachers at RHAHS raved about Melvin resilience, strength, and persistence. They noted that he was brilliant and had confidence in his ability to excel in college. One teacher stated, “If more students were as resilient as Melvin, maybe the district’s dropout rate would be lower.” This teacher’s statement places the onus of student success heavily on the student without consideration for the systemic barriers that may make it impossible for some students to persist.
What exactly is resilience and why is it so heavily researched?
Resilience is the ability to succeed despite risk exposure (e.g. difficult life circumstances, trauma experiences; Dumont & Provost, 1999). Previous research on resilience has included an investigation into social factors (e.g., social support, positive role models, etc.) and individual characteristics (e.g. adaptive coping strategies) that contribute to young people’s ability to overcome difficult life circumstances.
What conditions create risks for which resilience is necessary to persist? Whom do these conditions affect the most?
Health, economic, and education disparities between Black and White youth are well documented and represent an institution of systematic inequality. Essentially, systems like schools are structured such that Black youth are at risk for encountering obstacles that are manifestations of these disparities. For example, Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers for similar infractions (United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2014). Inequitable disciplinary practices ultimately impact the ways in which Black youth engage with the education system. One study reported that students who had been suspended or expelled were five times more likely to drop out of school compared to students who had not been suspended or expelled (Suh & Suh, 2007). Black students are often taught to work twice as hard. But the reality is that they must also be twice as good, twice as patient, twice as calm, twice as understanding, twice as forgiving—this is resilience. We prepare Black students to endure and persist because they are often confronted with racial and socioeconomic barriers that jeopardize their chances for success.
What does resilience cost?
We must begin to consider the mental and emotional tax of resilience. As we become more interested in how students are resilient, we move our attention away from focusing on why they need to be resilient in the first place. We must critically assess systems that create and maintain oppressive conditions, for which Black youth must be resilient to navigate. Melvin is just one of the thousands of students trying to navigate the minefield of obstacles associated with systemic oppression.
We must be resilient to persist, but we must also be mindful of the cost.
- U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights 1 Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline) March 21, 2014.
- Dumont, M., & Provost, M. A. (1999). Resilience in adolescents: Protective role of social support, coping strategies, self-esteem, and social activities on experience of stress and depression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28, 343-363. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1021637011732
- Suh, S., & Suh, J. (2007). Risk factors and levels of risk for high school dropouts. Professional School Counseling, 10(3), 297–306.
J. Mallory McCree is doing awesome work breaking down mental health awareness barriers with his movie “Mr. Talented.” To follow the campaign, click here:
YBMen in the News!
Check out this new paper led by Janelle Goodwill and published in Psychology of Men and Masculinity: “Media representations of popular culture figures and the construction of Black masculinities.”
Dr. Watkins and the YBMen Project were featured in the May 2018 edition of Healthy Men Michigan’s E-Newsletter:
Dr. Watkins recently did a podcast with Dr. Jodi Jacobson Frey from Health Men Michigan for The Barbershop Group:
What is Next for the YBMen Project?
Our goal is to develop low-cost, high-impact health promotion programs that utilize social media to improve and maintain the health of young Black men. We are currently working to expand the YBMen Project, as requested by our 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.
The *new* YBMen Project website will be rolling out in fall 2018, and we look forward to sharing it with you. Our new website is being designed by Keith F. Miller Jr., founder/director of The Pillow Talk Project (http://thepillowtalkproject.com/). Keith is also promoting mental health and masculinity awareness among men of color.