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Understanding the Importance of Spirituality, Self-Identity, and Resilience in Youth Development

By Gale B. Frazier, Ph.D.*

Presented by Omni Virtual University





Where do we begin?

To understand the importance of spiritual grounding in the lives of Black youth, we must start from the framework, origin, and history of African people. From the beginning, our ancestors believed in the spirituality and essence of our people, the genesis of one’s existence. The term “spirituality” implies that human beings have been given an inner consciousness to direct and guide them…the “ways of knowing", i.e., epistemology. This belief system governs one’s behaviors, mores, and conscience to provide psychological, ethical, and spiritual well-being for people with this understanding. This is where this journey begins.

Throughout the Middle Passage and subsequent enslavement of African people within the United States, it was the understanding of spirituality and belief in God that provided a source of strength for our forebears. It was this inner awareness that produced the balance, harmony, power, and fortitude to persevere and overcome the cruel realities and hardships in our lives; it was that which helped produce a greater sense of self-awareness, wholeness, and peace. Many of our forebears cultivated their spirituality in the United States through the Black church which served as the cornerstone and bedrock for growth, development, and expressions of the inner-self that sustained them throughout the ravages of racism within this country.

The basic understanding and core beliefs relative to spirituality :

  • Human beings cannot divest themselves from their cultural and/or spiritual reality.

  • The cornerstone of an African- centered consciousness is an understanding of a spiritual/supernatural existence.

  • Spirituality and religiosity are not the same: One does not have to be “religious” to be a spiritual entity.

  • Spirituality is viewed as a fundamental domain of human development.

  • Black youth are spiritual beings and they express their level of spirituality (or lack thereof) in the classroom, as well as in their interactions with others, whether they know it or not.

The stakeholders, teachers, educators, caregivers, and so forth must have a genuine and vested interest in creating an atmosphere of success for our Black youth by providing the climate and tools necessary for them to learn and thrive in a caring, safe, and peaceful environment.

Our forebears brought, to the Americas, a holistic view and inherent understanding of community, the relationship between human beings,i.e., the relationship between the living, dead (afterworld), and the yet unborn. They understood that spirituality embraced all aspects of life (Roberts, 2000). There has been a disconnect within all facets of life among many of our Black youth. Their mis- and under-education are the precursors to an "underclass" existence—intentional and by design. This failure can be attributed to a myriad of sociopolitical and educational barriers and substructures.

From the perspective of self-awareness, most of our Black youth do not know who they are. They lack an understanding of “knowing” or having a “sense of belonging.” Because of this, they neither know where, how, or if they "fit" within any context. Their sometimes volatile behaviors are indicative of the residual effects of sustained trauma. They lack the spiritual grounding necessary to help them navigate the daily turmoil, trials, and tribulations of life which further contribute to their Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

The small, repeated events and offenses in a child’s life that create “the cumulative harm effect,” are reflected within the following elements:

  • Chaotic environments

  • Aggressive environments

  • Punitive environments

  • Inconsistent practices

  • Instability

As an adult child of an alcoholic, I fully understand the long-term consequences and effects associated with living in an environment with an unstable parent. I lived in unpredictable conditions that resulted from my father’s capricious and volatile behaviors. Feeling safe was always a concern for me as a child. I was always “on pins and needles” because of his addictive behavior. I was most often afraid and apprehensive because of his frequent, abnormal behavioral patterns- his outbursts and inconsistencies. These fearful feelings were pervasive among my siblings and me. Over an extended period, I began to realize how my life as an adult- and my interactions with others- was adversely impacted by my father's behaviors. [ Is it possible that his dysfunction resulted from Adverse Childhood Experiences and/or PTSD, i.e., "Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder" [Ancestor Patricia A. Newsome]? Or, could it have been another of the innumerable cases of the "cumulative harm effect"?]

My own spirituality has been tested on many levels. Trust and attachment issues were problematic for me. My personal Adverse Childhood Experiences have resulted in my desire to help Black youth understand their significance and purpose in life and help them to overcome such adversities. Living a life of terror and fear can be life-altering. My ACEs were not unique. Many of our youth experience greater degrees of trauma.

Because children are, in part, products of their environments, it is necessary to ensure that their spiritual grounding and awareness are intact. The presence of qualified and loving caregivers is essential. The need for creating stable environments that foster resilience and healing must serve as the incentive for alleviating childhood trauma. Yet, this is where both the public schools and the "Village" have faltered. The public schools have neither the capacity nor the will to do this work on behalf of our youth. This system has proven to be inept and contradictory in its approach and methodologies for addressing the needs of Black children. Therefore, we, the "Villagers", must establish our own schools and support our youth by providing them with the essential tools to grow, to become productive, and to have wholesome lives.

Sustained violence and exposure to violence can have long-lasting, and significantly negative effects on an individual's mental health, resulting in depression, suicidal behavior, and such. The necessity for the regulation of emotion and copings skills is essential to become spiritually grounded and strengthened- traits that are not prevalent in Black youth for they are skills that must be modeled and taught. Having grown up in an environment where the lines between normal and abnormal behaviors were often blurred and/or skewed I understand how difficult developing these traits can be.

Without our own spiritual fortitude, it is difficult to assist our youth in developing and maintaining resilience in the face of Adverse Childhood Experiences. It must be emphasized that the public schools are not the institutions with which to address these elements- nor should we expect them to do so. The buck must stop with us, the African-centered Village. Most recently, the Eurocentric public-school agenda has been focused on tolerance, multiculturalism, and Gender issues including who may use who's washrooms, etc. Because a Black agenda does not "fit" this context, implementing an African-centered curriculum in a classroom setting is deliberately absent.

The Public schools are grounded in a Eurocentric worldview that is contrary to the developmental, inspirational, and spiritual needs of Black youth who have yet to recover from the evils of Miseducation and PTSD,i.e., "Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder".

This identity crises among our Black youth has interrupted their natural growth and developmental patterns. The Eurocentric pedagogy that emanates from the Eurocentric worldview devalues the relevancy of spirituality and, thus, devalues what Black children and youth need. What we are now experiencing are youth who are misguided and detached- who lack direction, mentorship, support, and love. In many cases, the "Village" has failed them. We have accepted the lie of the oppressors and others who tell themselves, the world, and US that Black youth have now become the enemy. So, the dismal plight of our youth has become exacerbated by both institutional and "Village" abandonment which, in turn, contributes to their lack of direction and Impairment, as well as psychological and/or physical death.

What must we do?

Establishing the connection between self-identity, spirituality, and resilience is quintessential in helping children overcome Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). There is a great need to provide our youth with appropriate tools, supports, and protection. It is crucial that we acknowledge the extensive impact of childhood trauma in changing the trajectory of their lives. As adults, we must look toward creating mechanisms that will foster wellness and recovery rather than placing a band-aid on deeply embedded wounds that have not healed. We must be cognizant of the fact that all areas of life are impacted by sustained trauma. Biological, emotional, cognitive, and social scars create long-term effects which can result in extreme­­­­­­­­­­­­­ and dire consequences when left unattended.

We, the Village, must ultimately become the principal caretakers of our own children and youth. We must work toward creating environments conducive to growth that has protective components in place- those which will provide barriers from maltreatment. Such protective factors would include providing assistance for the parents and guardians, providing opportunities for positive engagement in extracurricular activities, academic assistance, and mentorship as well as developing coping skills and strategies, providing safe spaces, and other such support structures.

In essence, we must diligently work toward restoring the family, re-discovering spirituality, reforging, and reconnecting the communal connections. In essence, when we become intentional about our children and youth, we will begin to see a brighter future for our families and our people.

Here and Now is where the work begins.

*Gale B. Frazier Ph.D., National Black Agenda Consortium---Certified Trauma Professional Educator

Blog Notes:

  1. Self-Identity/Self Awareness: the understanding of self within the context of culture, humanity, and connection with the universe

  2. Resilience: the ability to “bounce back,”/rebound after adversity. It is the quality or property of quickly recovering the original shape or condition after having been pulled, pressed, and crushed (Mecourri, 1995, p.33)

  3. American School Counseling Association

  4. Africentric Christianity--- J.D. Roberts

Suggested Reading:

Teaching Black Students: Best Practices---Michelle Foster, EdD. Claremont Graduate School

Culture, Spirituality, Religion, and Health: Looking at the Big Picture—Medical Journal

To Save the Blood of Black Babies, Kiarri T.-H. Cheatwood

Between the World and Me. Ta- Nehesi Coates

Best practice models:

Ontario Curriculum—Geoffrey Canada

The Harlem Project

"Growing Pains" The Rev. Ms. Denise D.Tracy an H3O Art of Life Blog


Recommended Viewing


Triumphing Over Trauma - The H3O Art of Life Show


Homicide and Suicide in the African-American Community- The H3O Art of Life Show


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