March 20th, 2023 – Norwood MA
Today, well over 300 educators, community partners, clinicians, and professionals affiliated with the Department of Youth Services, or with the Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) gathered in person at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Norwood for the Fourth Annual DYS Racial Trauma Conference. The theme for this year’s conference was Building Pathways to Promote Healing. The conference offered both inspiration and professional development for attendees, built on the significant work that has been accomplished in this area with the education workforce and their colleagues over the past several years. The ongoing goal has been to deepen the program’s collective understanding of how racial trauma impacts youth involved in the juvenile justice system in MA., and how educators together with other 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 conference was opened with a welcome from Todd H. Gazda, Ed.D., J.D., Executive Director of the Collaborative for Educational Services; and from Ja’Net Smith, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Operations for DYS. Smith talked about how her personal experiences shaped her own approach to and passion for the work, and encouraged attendees during the day of events to go deep and personal in their pursuit of understanding. Cecely Reardon, J.D, MSW; Acting Commissioner of DYS noted that the real work happens when we are together, and that this work requires brave and difficult conversations. “There is much to be hopeful about,” said Reardon. “Our young people have so many strengths – if we are prepared to see them and believe in them.”
The conference keynote speaker was Hasan Davis, J.D. He is an international speaker, trainer and consultant, preparing leaders and professional teams to support clients navigating any number of personal and social challenges that threaten to limit their access to meaningful educational, work, and community experiences. As a youth, Hasan experienced poverty, disability, educational failure, and early involvement with the justice system. Through the continuing support of his “Hope Dealers,” Hasan had access to meaningful programs and opportunities that helped him navigate these challenges. In time, he became a fierce self-advocate. Hasan earned his Bachelor of Art in Communications from Berea College, and his Doctor of Law from the University of Kentucky. He has served as Director of the Lexington, KY Youth Violence Prevention Project, the Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, and Vice Chairman of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. He is a Pew Civic Entrepreneurship Fellow, a Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leader Fellow, a Council of State Governments Henry Toll Fellow, Annie E. Casey Children and Family Fellow, and Education Trust Family Engagement Fellow. Davis spoke about the importance of the stories of the youth we serve, noting that there are important questions to ask: “How do we make them strong in the broken places so that they can navigate a world that does not yet believe in their value? How do we make the young people the heroes of their own stories?” He went on to talk about what it means to be a “Hope Dealer” in this work. “If you choose this work, hope is mandatory,” Davis said, “because you cannot give what you do not possess.”
A series of workshop sessions followed the keynote, including Charmain Jackman and Aleesha Young on Decolonizing Clinical Practice: What Clinicians Need to Know about Racial Trauma; Hasan Davis on Pages From a Hope Dealers Handbook; Kenann McKenzie-DeFranza on Balancing Joy and Urgency; Azmera Hammouri-Davis on The CapoEthic MethodTM: Resolving Conflict and Cultivating Classrooms of Care and Curiosity; Ed Walker on Communicating Across Cultures: Becoming a Culturally Responsive Educator; Briana Wales-Thaxton on Building Relationships Through Radical Listening; Tom Chang on Culturally Responsive Thinking Routines; Aleesha Young on Assessing and Addressing Racial Trauma in BIPOC Youth; and Charmain Jackson on Culturally-Responsive Clinical Supervision: Strategies for Engaging in Effective Cross-Racial and Cross-Cultural Supervisory Relationships.
CES Director of the Education Initiative, Woody Clift notes that deep thanks go to Lorelle Allessio, CES Asst. Director of Professional Development, who led the conference organizing team in designing a meaningful event for all. Clift said, “The conference is an instrumental part of our system-wide efforts to cultivate a shared understanding and common language across disciplines regarding the impact of race, racial trauma, power, and privilege on the lives of our youth and colleagues. The conference also allows us the time and space to reflect, exchange ideas, and learn new strategies to counter implicit bias, dismantle white supremacist culture, and create optimal learning conditions for all our students.”
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.