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Youth violence: Saving our legacies with a bottom-up approach

by Dr. Bobbie Shaw-Hunter —

At Churches-Families And Communities Together (C-FACT) National Training Institute, research-based, cultural, and family engagement approaches are used to address the multiple factors that impact youth violence and promote positive youth development and well-being.

As executive director, I believe that effective and long-term solutions to youth violence include using bottom-up approaches. Bottom-up approaches incorporate including local community members to be involved in every decision that impact their lives and neighborhoods.

Ineffective solutions are made with top-down approaches that are made by decision-making authorities, without input, buy-in or trust from community members, who will be the recipients of the service.

Bottom-up approaches require deep work with the community and a partnership that goes beyond the brief initiatives. This means getting to know the work that has been done, the needs, interest, and capacity of the community. This approach recognizes the strengths and power of reciprocal relationships and value the collective wisdom and remembrance of the well-being of the community. Without including community members and youth in the development of solutions, effective resources are lost.

Family-Centered and Engagement Approach to Decrease Youth Violence

According to an article by Kumpfer, K. L., & Alvarado, R. (2003) “Effective parenting is the most powerful way to reduce adolescent problem behaviors.”

Providing interventions for youths and placing them back into the same environments with poor risk factors and without increasing protective factors is ineffective, not transformative and youth violence continues. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Poor Family Risk Factors to include:

  • Authoritarian childrearing attitudes
  • Harsh, lax, or inconsistent disciplinary practices
  • Low parental involvement
  • Low emotional attachment to parents or caregivers
  • Low parental education and income
  • Parental substance abuse or criminality
  • Poor family functioning
  • Poor monitoring and supervision of children

However, to decrease youth violence, effective family engagement approaches with family protective factors must be incorporated.

Building Power Through Spiritual and Cultural Alignment

Spiritual and cultural alignments involve helping our youth know and align themselves with a Spiritual Being, whom I call God; and helping them learn and develop an appreciation for the importance and significance of their cultural goals.

These alignments connect us to our morals, beliefs, rules, values, language, literature, music, social norms, and traditions.

In a February 2022 article headlined Polling Matters, Religion and Wellbeing in the U.S.:Update, Frank Newport reported on findings that update a long line of studies confirming the connection between religion and well-being.

And, I strongly recommend that the life-living principles of Kwanzaa be embraced year-round and aligned with all aspects of transformative processes.

The following is from an article Practicing the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa by Titilayo Bediako (December 2022). I believe in knowing and practicing these Kwanzaa principles with our youth.

The first principle of Kwanzaa is Umoja, which means Unity. Unity focuses on African Americans working together with their families and with their community to make life better for all their people.

The second principle of Kwanzaa is Kujichagulia. Kujichagulia means Self-Determination. Self-Determination means to believe in yourself and to be powerful in mind and in body. It means to only do things that make a person strong, and not to do things that hurt yourself.

The third principle of Kwanzaa is Ujima, which means Collective Work and Responsibility. It means that African Americans work with each other. This includes sharing all the work and treating each other like sisters and brothers, whether we are blood relatives or not. This means to give your best and to do your part.

Ujamaa is the fourth principle of Kwanzaa, which means Cooperative Economics. This means to learn as much as we can in school to create our own resources, which include businesses, food, schools, books, computers, cars, bicycles, and all the things that a people needs to live and be happy.

Nia is the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, which means Purpose. Purpose means to always have a reason behind everything we do. Purpose means to study about our ancestors who made great sacrifices, which included giving their lives so that life would be better for all African Americans. Our purpose as Black people should make life better for those coming behind us so they will be able to make their lives better from our examples.

Kuumba is the sixth principle of Kwanzaa, which means Creativity. Creativity is all of the things we do that show our great talents and our ability to be great. This includes the way we learn, the way we dance, the way we draw, the way we comb our hair, and the way we give our best to everything we do to make ourselves better.

Imani is the seventh principle of Kwanzaa, which means Faith. Faith means to believe in ourselves, our parents, our mwalimus (teachers), other mwafunzis (students), and the Creator. Having Faith allows us to believe that we can and will give and do our best at everything we do. When we have Imani and give our best, we create Black Excellence.

(Dr. Bobbie Shaw-Hunter is executive director of Church-Families And Communities Together (C-FACT) National Training Institute. Visit cfact4families.com; email: [email protected].)

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