Innovative Efforts Steering Young Black Males on the Right Path

Images of Black youth on television news screens haven’t always fostered a positive outlook or narrative in society, particularly for Black male youth.


The U.S. Department of Justice found Black youth in Michigan are five times more likely to be detained compared to their white youth counterparts, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.


Similar studies and open narratives amongst the Black community have showcased the disproportionate level of Black young boys and men who fall into legal jeopardy in a system that is quick to incarnate people of color because of harsh juvenile discipline instituted in schools, therefore creating a school-to-prison pipeline.


In 2020, a new community engagement project headed by the Urban Learning and Leadership Collaborative (ULLC) partnered with Wayne State University School of Social Work researchers and local partners to support young Black males and the effort to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.


Social injustice glared on television screens everywhere during the height of George Floyd’s murder and ignited the passion behind Shantalea Johns, WSU Social Work Lecturer, and Megan Hicks, a WSU Social Work Assistant Professor, to partner with The Yunion, a nonprofit organization in Detroit focused on very innovative initiatives serving youth and families.


“The school-to-prison pipeline is such a tragic concept that disrupts the healthy development of Black youth,” Hicks says. “CATTA strives to disrupt this negative trajectory for young Black males and sets them on a path for academic success, reduced involvement with the criminal/legal system, and have a greater sense of purpose in their lives. I am so excited for this opportunity to collaborate with The Yunion to highlight a much-needed project for Black young men.”


Cave of Adullam Transformational Training Academy (CATTA) intervention headed by The Yunion aims to reduce risk outcomes involving young Black males, teaching boys to spot their negative emotions early and proactively, reducing their exposure to being influenced by negative life outcomes and bad decision-making.


“Our boys don’t need more discipline. They need more love,” said Jason Wilson, Founder & CEO of The Yunion. “When I began to develop this program, there were a lot of bootcamp and scared straight programs. That’s where a lot of the schools were sending boys who were having issues with self-control and insubordination, but all they were doing was traumatizing the boys and not really healing them.”


Wilson says his school allows young boys to be able to drop their guard and to dismiss outdated and misleading notions of “no pain, no gain, big boys don’t cry, what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.”


He believes having young Black boys come to terms with their pain and anger, instead of hiding it, allows them to express their humanity.


“When you allow a young boy or even a man to express that, now he’s able to access the other gambit of emotions that GOD has given him and therefore utilize his emotional intelligence. As men, we’re not usually verbal processors because we’re taught to suppress those emotions.”


The Yunion’s two decades have been so impressive across the community that the service currently has more than 800 boys on the waitlist to get into its globally acclaimed transformation program.


The school also became the subject of an ESPN Film documentary produced by renowned actor Laurence Fishburne, which premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and won Best Documentary.


“The Cave is more than a martial arts facility; it’s a safe space for young men and boys to drop their guards and gain emotional stability. Our approach goes beyond discipline, we give them love and guidance to help them develop into comprehensive men,” said Wilson.


The Yunion has reached more than 17,000 youth through its prevention programming, workshops, and conferences, empowering Black male youth specifically and their families.

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