By Sam Piha
Dr. Shawn Ginwright is Associate Professor of Education & Africana Studies, College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. He has been an important voice for understanding how we address the needs of youth of color within our youth programs. Dr. Ginwright was a speaker at a recent How Kids Learn conference on the topic of how we view social emotional learning in our work with young people of color. His brief presentation is worth a second look.
We also asked Dr. Ginwright a couple of questions. We offer his responses below.
Q: People sometimes remark that youth development principles are color blind. However, in your presentation, you spoke to the importance of context and of young people's understanding their own racial identity and experience. Can you say why you think this is important?
A: Conventional youth development models rarely consider racial, ethnic, gender, sexual identity as an important marker, and pathway for development largely because the models aim at overgeneralizing young people. However, for young people of color who experience racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression identity is a critical element in the developmental process because it builds healthy self reflection, growth and collective esteem.
Q: We hear a lot about the term "agency". Can you briefly describe what this is and why it is important that we promote a sense of agency? Is there an issue of equity when we talk about and look for opportunities for developing a sense of agency?
A: Agency is critical for young people of color because it opens a pathway toward action to address issues they find important. Research also has demonstrated that agency, the ability to act and have a sense of control over one's life is a critical (but often understudied) developmental component. Researchers have also concluded that agency fosters hope among young people. In communities, schools and neighborhoods bereft of hope, agency opens possibilities to act to create the communities young people want to see.
Q: We hear about the achievement gap and the opportunity gap. Can you share your views on this?
A: The achievement gap is a misused term that tends to place academic performance entirely on students. However, a more apt term is “opportunity gap” because it more accurately calls into question the structure of policies that make it incredibly difficult for young people of color to perform in schools. The responsibility is on schools, and school systems to foster an environment for learning. To say "achievement gap” presumes that the responsibility for learning is only on students.
Shawn Ginwright is a leading national expert on African American youth, youth activism, and youth development. He is an Associate Professor of Education in the Africana Studies Department and Senior Research Associate for the Cesar Chavez Institute for Public Policy at San Francisco State University. In 1989, Dr. Ginwright co-founded Leadership Excellence Inc. with his friend Daniel Walker. Leadership Excellence is an innovative youth development agency located in Oakland, California that trains African American youth to address pressing social and community problems. In 2002 he also created the Research Collaborative on Youth Activism, a network of scholar activists who study, advocate and support youth organizing efforts around the country. Dr. Ginwright currently serves on the Board of Directors for the California Endowment and other boards.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.