Black Youth Rising: Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America

By Johnson, Tabora A. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Black Youth Rising: Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America


Johnson, Tabora A., The Journal of Negro Education


Black Youth Rising: Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America, by Shawn Ginwright. New York: Teachers College Press, 2010, viii + 179 pp., $29.95, paperback.

Researcher and community activist Shawn Ginwright is a modern-day agent of healing who has captured the stories of African American urban youth in a very humanizing and real way in his newly published book, Black Youth Rising: Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America. While many researchers are busy seeking to understand and describe what is "wrong" with today's Black urban youth, Ginwright advocates a new approach, rooted in social action and activism. He draws on the voices and experiences of Black youth, along with his own experience with activism and healing, to promote a new model for healing the trauma of historical oppression experienced by many in the Black community.

In the Introduction, Ginwright states that the purpose for writing this book was "to create a new dialogue regarding what constitutes activism among black youth in post-civil rights United States" (p. 12). After a comprehensive read of the entire book, one will find that this goal has been succinctly accomplished. Readers are challenged to move beyond the paradigm of "fixing" Black urban youth to a model of "action." In the modern era many programs and educational organizations have often been ineffective and insufficient because of their inability to thoroughly understand the stories and needs of urban youth. This work calls for radical healing, arguing that "through caring relationships, community connections, political consciousness, and cultural identity Black youth reengage in civic life by addressing issues that are closely connected to struggles in their everyday life" (p. 144).

Through interviews with youth engaged in the programs provided by Leadership Excellence (LE), an organization in Oakland, California, founded by Ginwright, readers are given a chance to humanize Black urban youth through reading their stories. These young people's lives have been transformed by the myriad of programs LE offers and the care, commitment, and sense of community LE provides for them.

In the first chapter Ginwright offers an overview of the geography of Oakland by taking a written bus ride through Oakland to show its racial, economic, and social diversity. As the birthplace of one of the nation's most notable Black activist organizations, the Black Panther Party, Oakland stood at the forefront of the Black Liberation movement during the 1960s and 70s. However, the author theorizes that the "urban trifecta," which he defines as the "demise of the Black Panther Party, the exodus of blue-collar jobs, and the influx of crack cocaine. . . transformed the nature of black radicalism in urban America" (p. 42) - including Oakland.

Chapter 2 highlights how care and commitment can foster activism in youth who have experienced trauma in their communities. Chapter 3 uses lessons from Camp Akili, a five-day camp created in 1989 with the intention of healing the trauma of Black youth in urban environments, to explore "one approach to building and sustaining community life among black youth" (p. 80).

Chapter 4 "explores the ways in which young black men (ages 5-20) in an all male afterschool program support group discuss their fathers, manhood, racism, violence, and rage with love, compassion, and care" (p. 106). Ginwright starts the chapter by sharing his daughter's question to him, "Daddy, are they dangerous?

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