New project addresses youth violence in Jamaica and Canada

andrea davis

CERLAC Deputy Director Andrea Davis leads new project initiative

In recent months, CERLAC Deputy Director Andrea Davis has been leading an effort to develop a new project initiative on youth violence in Canada and Jamaica. Her effort has thus far resulted in the submission of a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant proposal requesting $174,053 for a 24-month initial phase of the project. A summary of the proposal follows.

Youth and Community Development in Canada and Jamaica: A Transnational Approach to Youth Violence

The strength of this initiative resides in the diverse range of participants and the commitment of its partnerships. The project brings together six university and community organizations in a new and exciting coalition. It also assembles an impressive multidisciplinary team of researchers as co-applicants and collaborators. The partnership situates this select group of researchers and community workers within an emerging body of research that confirms the success of culturally based programs in reducing violence among youth. The partnership expands this research in two critical ways. It adds a transnational perspective and uses an approach that combines arts-based programs with social history and literature.

The partnership, thus, brings into dialogue youth, researchers, community activists, and students in Canada and Jamaica to explore how arts-based programs and the use of the humanities may help black youth address the social and cultural challenges they face. The partnership employs a holistic approach to youth development to engage youth who because of poverty, racism and the effects of violence are often assumed to be most "at risk." Rather than assuming that some youth are always-already at risk, the initiative seeks to examine how physical and systemic violence intervene in the lives of young people and disrupt their desires to function as engaged citizens. Since violent crimes in Toronto have been linked consistently with performances of Jamaican masculinity, this partnership allows us to determine whether a greater understanding of Jamaican society might help black youth in Toronto achieve the positive identity formation needed to challenge unhealthy behavior, including violence. This partnership responds directly to SSHRC's connection program in its facilitation of the multidirectional flow of research knowledge across disciplines, institutions and national borders. It also corresponds to SSHRC's insight program in its commitment to building knowledge and understanding between the two countries and encouraging engaged citizenship.

Activities over the two years are designed to create four strategic outcomes: change the behavior and action of youth; inform ongoing research; change public policy; and increase public awareness. Key audience groups include youth, researchers and community practitioners, local decision makers and policy makers, media, and the general public. By allowing youth to participate in constructing new pathways to social and civic engagement, the partnership seeks first to empower these youth. For researchers and community practitioners, the objective is to determine whether transnational arts-based programs can, indeed, help youth develop more holistic approaches to development. Will these programs be more successful in reducing youth violence and creating engaged citizens? What are the benefits and the challenges involved in engaging questions of youth violence across national, cultural and disciplinary borders? Local decision makers and policy makers will be interested in the answers to these questions and will be encouraged to use research findings to shape public policy. The media and general public will benefit from increased awareness.

The partnership encourages youth to shape and disseminate research through the use of youth forums, qualitative interviews, six-minute short documentaries, artist collective residencies and public arts performances. Community and university partners will combine knowledge, techniques and experience to produce, translate and disseminate research through conference papers, refereed journal articles, reports, policy papers, and a book. At a pedagogical level the partnership will also train students in community-based research, problem formulation, research design, data collection and analysis. The partnership will evaluate outputs and short-term outcomes through a number of indicators, including the success of performances, interviews, testimonies and statements, and website activity.

Participating CERLAC Fellows and other partners: CERLAC: Vermonja Alston, Honor Ford-Smith, Carl James, Michele Johnson, Alan Simmons and Patrick Taylor. The partnership also includes three other researchers from York (Humanities and Fine Arts) and researchers from University of Guelph, McMaster University, University of Ottawa, Goddard College in the United States, and the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. The two institutional partners are CERLAC and Institute of Caribbean Studies at UWI. Community partners include Jamaica Youth Theatre in Kingston, Jamaica; the Woodside Development Action Group in St. Mary, Jamaica; and Nia Centre for the Arts in Toronto.