Two hundred and ninety educators, community partners, clinicians, and professionals from both the Department of Youth Services (DYS) and the Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) gathered online on Tuesday, April 11th for the Third Annual DYS Racial Trauma Conference. The theme for this year’s conference was Liberatory Education and the Whole Child: Healing racial trauma and promoting wellness, educational equity, and healthy identity development. The conference built on the significant work that has been accomplished in this area with the education workforce and their colleagues over the past three years. The ongoing goal has been to deepen the program’s collective understanding of how racial trauma impacts youth in the care and custody of DYS, and how educators and practitioners can be proactive in creating therapeutic classroom spaces where students feel safe, can engage in authentic learning, explore their identities, talents, skills, and realize their aspirations moving forward.
The agenda for the day held opportunities for deep conversation and perspective. Cecely Reardon, J.D, MSW; the Acting Commissioner of DYS opened the morning’s remarks. Reardon has been Acting Commissioner since January 2022, and prior to that, was the General Counsel for DYS. She has also been the Attorney in Charge, Youth Advocacy Division, Roxbury Office, Committee for Public Counsel Services. Reardon set the stage for the importance of continually deepening our understanding of these issues. Said Reardon, “What we ‘get’ as white people is just the tip of the iceberg. And there is so much lurking underneath.”
The conference keynote speaker was Vanessa Prosper, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist with over 20 years of clinical experience working with racially and ethnically diverse children, adolescents, adults, and families. Dr. Prosper has developed and conducted a multitude of local, national, and international presentations focused on raising mental health awareness, demystifying mental health stigma, child and adolescent mental health, and educating others on cultural competency. She spoke about the psychological impact of Racial Trauma, and how that impact might be mitigated through trauma-informed approaches when working with BIPOC students.
Dr. Prosper provides school-based clinical services as clinical coordinator at Boston Latin school and sees patients within her private practice, while teaching graduate classes as an adjunct professor at Boston College, Lesley University, and William James College and now as part-time Associate Professor of the Practice within the Counseling Psychology Department of Boston College. Noting that we live in a time when COVID-19 has exposed things that have been swept under the rug, Dr. Prosper offered valuable frameworks for recognizing triggers and trauma, and thinking about approaches that might better support youth, provide healing, and build trust.
A series of nine different workshop sessions followed the keynote, including interactive presentations by CES Social Justice and Equity Specialists Safire DeJong, Ed.D., and Tom Chang, M.Ed. on Building a Culture for Relational Equity Work; Edward Walker M.Ed., Founder/President Independent Consultants of Education on Checking Your Culture Gauge; Hilda Ramirez, M.Ed., Executive Director of the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University on “My Future Self”; J. Stuart Ablon, Ph.D., Director, Think Kids at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Thomas G. Stemberg Endowed Chair in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School on Using Collaborative Problem Solving to Interrupt Explicit and Implicit Bias; Harrison Grigsby, Hip Hop Artist/Educator/Mentor, and Prince Nwankwo, Co-Facilitator on Deeper Than Rap: Empowering Youth Authenticity Facilitated; Christian Bijoux of Bijoux Consulting Group on A Statement is Not Enough: A Community Development Model to Eliminate Population Disparities; Kenann McKenzie, Ph.D., Executive Director Generous Listening and Dialogue Center Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University on Using Listening and Dialogue to Create Restorative Communities; Edith Bazile. Education Consultant on Liberatory Education across the Content Areas: Literacy as a Practice of Liberation; and Alberto Guerrero, LMSW, Ph.D., Lecturer, Smith College School for Social Work presenting Because it’s Broke, We Gotta Fix it: Reenvisioning Educational Spaces by Centering BIPOC Students.
The conference ended with a presentation from Shawna Boles, Psy.D, MSW, on the Elder Project – a research initiative aimed at gathering the collective voices of people with 10+ years in DYS or Human Services, speaking about resiliency, values, and meaning making. Boles shared her subjects’ perspective about their work being rooted in values, but finding joy in the successes of youth that are often expressed in the small moments. She reflected on the many ways in which those doing this work sought to find resilience and gain inspiration, and ended the day with a fresh and positive approach to centering self-care when doing the work to provide care for others.
According to CES Director of the Education Initiative, Woody Clift, the conference “continues to demonstrate our commitment to social justice and equity throughout our educational program and provides educators together with their colleagues a space to pause, reflect, listen, and learn about the intersections between race and trauma, including how to interrupt bias and oppression, and design educational experiences considering this knowledge.” Said one conference attendee, “While addressing the issue of Racial Equity the conference also addressed the needs of all students and the teachers.”
The Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, MA, manages the DYS Education Initiative on behalf of the MA Department of Youth Services. This initiative, spearheaded by Director of Education Woody Clift, Ph.D., provides a range of educational services, including college programming, career exploration, and high school education to youth across the Commonwealth who are in the care of DYS.