UofL researcher seeks more equity in youth development, involving young people in decision-making

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Aishia Brown

Aishia Brown, a faculty member at UdeL’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences, is studying how to break down the barriers young people face as they transition to adulthood. Supported by two new foundation grants, Brown and a team of researchers and practitioners from SPHIS’ Social Justice Youth Development Research Center are developing a professional development program for youth development professionals. UofL News caught up with Brown to learn more about his research aimed at tackling the root causes of inequality.

News from UdeL: What are the main difficulties faced by young people in transition to adulthood?

Brown: It is important that we don’t just think of young people as ‘the future’. They hold a lot of power now, whether adults want to acknowledge it or not. For example, we have a number of young people across the country who are currently advocating for safer school environments related to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the passage of censorship bills that prevent them from learn more about the history of the world we live in. I believe that one of the biggest obstacles facing young people today has to do with systemic racism and oppression. These are the root causes of many of the problems facing young people today.

News from UdeL: How to facilitate the success of young people throughout life?

Brown: Adults, especially those in positions of power, should learn the importance of understanding how critical it is to have young people from historically excluded backgrounds around the table when making decisions that directly affect them. , them and their communities. These young people should be able to have a say in the policies that are created and enforced, not just in education, but in every system that impacts their well-being. This includes our political, social, economic and educational systems.

News from UdeL: You hold a PhD in recreation, parks and tourism science with a concentration in youth development. Some of your work examines recreational healing spaces. Can you explain the meaning and how these spaces are so important for the development of young people?

Brown: When it comes to youth development, we tend to see it only through the lens of education. However, what we do know is that the education system does not always have the capacity to support young people in the context of their communities. We also have ample evidence of certain groups of young people, such as black and brown youth, who are pushed out of school into the criminal justice system due to inequitable policies and practices that exist within the education system. Armed with this knowledge, I focus my work on community spaces where young people find refuge and safety. These spaces, such as a community center, boys and girls club, summer camps, have the power, resources and capacities to cultivate healing spaces for young people to recover from the oppression they experience at school or in their communities.

News from UdeL: Tell us about the professional development program you are creating.

Brown: The professional development program uses the Social Justice Youth Development (SJYD) framework, an approach focused on adopting principles and practices that help close the gaps created by inequities and access to opportunities for young people.

First coined by San Francisco State University researcher Shawn Ginwright, SJYD is an approach to youth work engagement that shifts the focus from changing youth behaviors to recognizing the role that systemic racism and oppression play in the lives of youth from communities. which have historically been excluded.

Since its inception in 2010, a number of youth development researchers and practitioners, myself included, have embraced this framework as a tool to cultivate social change in their communities by engaging with young people in ways that redistributes power between youth and adults. SJYD creates opportunities for the voices of young people to be placed at the center of decision-making on ways to address issues that directly affect them and their communities.

News from UdeL: Before joining the SPHIS faculty, you did a post-doctorate at UofL, in collaboration with the Youth Violence Prevention Research Center (YPPRC). How did this work build your current research?

Brown: My work with the YVPRC has focused on integrating the SJYD into youth violence prevention research. This helped the YVPRC team shift the discourse around the cause of youth violence as interpersonal behaviors to focus more on structural violence. During my postdoctoral work with YVPRC, I learned that a number of youth development professionals wanted to use SJYD approaches in their work with young people, but did not have the tools, resources or support to do so. integrate into their daily activities. They needed not only training support, but also funding, which is why the professional development program we are building is focused on both youth development professionals and organizations and funders. youth-serving funds.

News from UdeL: In the long term, what do you hope will be the result of your research?

Brown: I hope youth development professionals, youth-serving organizations and funders of youth development work incorporate more equitable approaches into their policies and practices to integrate SJYD into the broader system of youth development. youth development. I also hope that through this process of creating space for more equity within the youth development system, the voices of young people will not only be heard, but will also have decision-making power.

News from UdeL: Do you have anything else to share?

Brown: We are currently recruiting youth for a Youth Advisory Council to help us lead the development work of the professional development program for youth development professionals in Louisville. Also, I always try to amplify the voices of young people whenever I have the chance. I would like to take this opportunity to elevate the work of young people at the Food Literacy Project in Louisville and encourage anyone reading this to check out their virtual photovoice exhibit.

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