February 2021




  • Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers (9.8 percent vs. 6.1 percent)
  • Between 2015 and 2018, rates of depression in Black youth increased from 9 to 10.3%
  • 90% of incarcerated youth in NJ who were sentenced as adults were Black or Latino

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Radical Healing in Black Youth

 By: Melissa Donadio, M.A.

February is Black History Month which, honors and brings attention to the history of the Black population in the United States. Currently, 13.4% of the population identifies as Black, including approximately 15% of youth (United States [U.S.] Census Bureau, 2019). The Black community includes many diverse cultures that are united in their experiences of historical oppression within the country. These experiences include racism and discrimination, or the act of treating someone differently due to race, which lead to disparities in education, finance, housing, mental and physical health, and other areas of social functioning. Research shows that the cumulation of these experiences can have negative effects on individuals’ mental health and raises the risk for depression and anxiety (Noh & Kaspar, 2003; Graham, West, Martinez, & Roemer, 2016). Likewise, research is currently exploring the relationship between racism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suggesting that racism is a form of chronic stress (Carter, 2007). Despite the oppression faced by the Black community in the U.S., they have shown strength and resilience, which can be utilized as a form of healing.

Traditionally, psychological approaches to trauma focus on coping with distressing experiences and helping individuals manage their emotions. However, using this approach with Black youth would continue to keep the status quo of learning to exist within a racist society instead of helping them create a more equitable society where their mental health would not be harmed by discrimination. From this perspective, healing is a concept that scales up coping by moving beyond the goal of merely surviving within an oppressive society to thriving (Watts, 2004). Thus, radical healing can be used in place of coping to actively resist oppression in the U.S. (French et al., 2019).

Radical healing involves becoming whole in the face of identity-based traumas, which are psychological injuries felt because of one’s membership in an oppressed racial group (Neville et al., 2019). It encourages personal and collective actions that promote living a life with dignity, which is necessary for freedom from all forms of oppression (Neville et al., 2019).

Therefore, radical healing in Black youth can be accomplished by focusing on their experiences as part of a community with a shared history of a collective struggle. Within this context, healing involves identifying sources of racial trauma, engaging in collective resistance against the source, and fostering hope to prevent reoccurring trauma in their community (French et al., 2019). For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement, which was largely promoted by Black youth, can be considered a recent form of radical healing.

In response to police shootings of Black individuals and common racist policies implemented by police departments, the Black community coined the Black Lives Matter Movement. According to Ginwright and Cammarota (2002), this slogan gives others permission to practice courageous love and to celebrate and protect the dignity of all people. It is rooted in an understanding that in order for a society to be truly free of oppression, the humane treatment of Black individuals must be a central part of the country’s political analysis and policy solutions (Ginwright & Cammarota, 2002). In addition, the movement brings visibility to the voices of Black youth by highlighting their struggle to be treated as equal to their white peers and providing space for youth to collaborate with their elders. Moreover, radical healing can also be promoted within community organizations.

Community organizations, such as schools, places of worship, and charities, are common places for the Black community to gather. Community organizations provide three pathways to radical healing in Black youth, including pathways to critical consciousness, action, and well-being (Ginwright, 2011). For example, by providing pathways to critical consciousness, or understanding, Black youth can increase their political awareness and acknowledgment that society is responsible for many quality-of-life problems (Ginwright, 2011) that they may experience. Further, this acknowledgement is necessary for youth to take part in activism to address social and community problems. In other words, community organizations can help Black youth view the world from the perspective of community members rather than victims (Ginwright, 2011). Secondly, activism provides pathways to action, which can encourage individuals to reclaim power over social conditions that they wish to improve. Activism can take the form of strategizing, researching, and organizing to change policies that are harmful to the Black community. Lastly, community organizations offer a pathway to well-being by assisting Black youth in taking control over internal and external forms of oppressions (Watts and Guessous, 2006). Having collective power and control promotes a sense of purpose, optimism, hope, and agency (Ginwright, 2011) which subsequently foster resilience in Black youth and can protect against depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Overall, research suggests that social movements and community organizations can serve as spaces for Black youth to engage in radical healing in a society designed to marginalize their existence.


  • Black Youth Rising is a book designed to encourage radical healing within the Black youth community.
  • Shawn Ginwright is an author, professor, and activist who specializes in radical healing in the Black youth community.
  • Resources for parents and youth to promote discussions of race-based trauma.
  • Resources for the Black Lives Matter movement and protestors.
  • A podcast hosted by psychologist Dr. Neville focusing on the psychology of radical healing.