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Playing with Anger: Culturally Relevant Intervention for African American Boys Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth (PLAAY) Project. Howard C. Stevenson, Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania Applied Psychology and Human Development Graduate School of Education

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Playing with Anger: Culturally Relevant Intervention for African American Boys Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth (PLAAY) Project

Howard C. Stevenson, Ph.D.

University of Pennsylvania

Applied Psychology and Human Development

Graduate School of Education

focus of talk
Focus of Talk
  • Success and failures of collaborative attempts at cultural attunement in research and intervention
  • Cultural goals, challenges, and successes of the PLAAY Project
    • Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth
  • Examples of PLAAY Strategies
mutual voices of resistance
Mutual Voices of Resistance
  • Appreciating the passive and active voice of resistance from ethnically diverse persons
  • Uncovering researcher’s voice of resistance to appreciating “difference” in racial and cultural realities, research design and interpretation
    • Researcher refusal to explore their own racial/cultural realities
  • Appreciate the cultural style of Black resistance
      • Knowing of Tuskegee and “being a guinea pig” are different
      • How folks “curse you out” or “smile” is important
        • Embrace being cursed out
plaay collaborations
PLAAY Collaborations
  • Focus on 300 rejected Black male students
  • Discipline school is a rejecting context
    • Serious assault or weapons violation for admission
    • Some of teachers, staff, and principal also struggle with rejection histories
  • Collaboration with multiple constituencies
    • Black Penn Undergraduates as staff
    • School cultures
    • Neighborhood cultures (West Phila)
  • Based on psychological benefits of racial socialization research
    • Stevenson, H. C. (2004). Boys in men’s clothing: Racial socialization and neighborhood safety as buffers to hypervulnerability in African American adolescent males (pp 59-77). In Niobe Way & Judy Chu, (Eds.) Adolescent boys in context. New York University Press: New York.
    • Stevenson, Jr., H. C. (2003). Playing with anger: Teaching coping skills to African American boys through athletics and culture. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Publishing, Praeger.
attunement in context
Attunement in context
  • Bonding with staff and teachers who share a cultural worldview about the stigma plight of African American males
  • Bonding with school security guards to not enact “patrol and control” strategies
  • Village-making is a collaborative enterprise
    • Bolstering multiple supportive relationships in school context
    • Multiple adult staff share caretaking in therapy contexts
failures at collaborations
Failures at Collaborations
  • Some rejected personnel lost hope in intervention and the youth
  • Our emphasis on youth led to some staff feeling undermined
  • Shifting principals reduced collaborative benefits
successes at collaboration
Successes at Collaboration
  • Increased “safe” teachers and staff within the PLAAY model
    • Kids could access these safe people when PLAAY was out of building
  • Integrated into 2nd & 3rd periods of curriculum
  • Served as crisis intervention team at school during Philadelphia’s largest murder spree
the plaay project staff

The PLAAY project staff

Howard C. Stevenson, Ph.D. Wanda Lassiter, R.N.

Gwendolyn Y. Davis, Ph.D. Elaine Cassidy, Ph.D.

Vernita Williams, M.S. Ed. Pamela Zamel, Ph.D.

Saburah Abdul-Kabir Nimr Hassan

Chad Lassiter, M.S.W. Brother Robb Carter, M.S.W.

Russell Morris, M.A. Erick Espin, M.S. Ed.

Juana Gatson, B.A. Teri Herrero-Taylor, Ph.D.

Diane M. Hall, Ph.D. Dana Fry, Ph.D.

University of Pennsylvania

you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Plato (427 AD – 347 AD)

what is current status of culturally competent services
What is Current Status of Culturally Competent Services?
  • National calls for cultural competence are hollow (Bush Commission, APA, 2003; US DHHS)
  • Culturally relevant interventions are new
  • Underutilization, blocked access, and limited mental health resources for African Americans add to cultural mistrust
  • Cultural competence needs to be tailored to context and experiences of adolescents
    • More about “doing” than “talking”
what are the basic assumptions of plaay

What are the basic assumptions of PLAAY?


Cultural Style


missed dissed pissed
“Missed, Dissed, & Pissed”
  • Relationship is key to behavior change
    • Includes relationships with personnel of school
  • Black youth are “Missed, Dissed, & Pissed” because of
    • excessive distancing, disrespectful “patrol and control” social strategies (disproportionate incarceration, expulsion, detention, etc)
  • Relational, proximal, & cultural interventions are required to counteract inhumanity of current helping systems
many have lost the meaning of hope
Many have lost the meaning of hope
  • Sole responsibility to protect one’s image-”Last Man Standing”
  • Overexaggeration or undervaluation of one’s self image
  • Sadly, coping can reduce fear of calamity
  • Internalizes dehumanized identity
  • Lack of racial socialization skills
    • Alertness to discrimination, Coping with antagonism, Cultural pride reinforcement, Cultural legacy appreciation, Mainstream endorsement
attachment to youth is key
Attachment to Youth is Key
  • Insecure relationships (misattunement) with caregivers lead to internal representations that bias social perceptions and cognitions
  • (Heard & Lake, 1986; 1997)
  • Misattunement leads to youth resignation or destructive requests to meet attachment needs (Speltz, DeKlyen, & Greenberg, 1999)
what are the benefits of attunement secure close relationships
What are the benefits of attunement(secure, close relationships)?
  • Attunement experiences can change how youth see themselves, enhance social competence, reduce defensiveness
  • Attunement means intense engagement in the world of the other
  • Psychotherapy is the place “to restore relationship through attunement (McCluskey, 2002)”
cultural attunement is also key
Cultural Attunement is also key
  • The successful matching of a youth’s internal emotional state by a caregiver that promotes social and emotional development and well-being (McCluskey, Hooper & Miller, 1999)
      • “I feel understood by you”
      • “You can handle what I have to say”
      • “It is safe to express my true emotions
      • about this situation”
      • “You can help me better understand my experiences in the world”
What is in a Culturally Affirming Therapeutic Relationship?(Clark, 2003; Hoskins, 1999; Zamel & Stevenson, 2004)
  • Humility
  • Acting with reverence
  • Mutuality
  • A position of “not knowing”
  • Proximity
  • Playfulness and laughter
Cultural Attunement in Relationship and Socialization Approach (CARS)Relationship, style, & socialization
  • A culturally affirming relationship is central to engaging youth
  • A youth’s cultural style, expressions and values should drive intervention process
  • Cultural socialization should be explicit
    • Alertness to discrimination; Coping with antagonism;
    • Cultural Pride Reinforcement; Cultural legacy appreciation
    • Mainstream fit endorsement
african american psychology assumptions nobles 1991
African-American PsychologyAssumptions, Nobles, 1991
  • Both-And
    • Life is “perpetual alternation of opposites”
    • Spirit and body are one
    • Knowledge comes through engagement
  • Communalism- Village Making
    • Identity of individual is never separable from the socio-cultural community
    • One is human if one belongs to community
plaay preventing long term anger and aggression in youth
PLAAY -Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth
  • MAAR- Martial Arts Anger Reduction
  • CPR- Cultural Pride Reinforcement
    • Anti-Violence Cultural Socialization Curriculum
  • TEAM - (Teaching Emotional Empowerment through Athletic Movement) Basketball
    • Intervening with Emotion during Play
  • COPE -Community Outreach through Parent Empowerment
  • ROPE- Rites of Passage Empowerment
maar key aspects
MAAR-Key aspects
  • Self-defense (physical and mental)
  • “Testing Limitations” increases frustration tolerance
  • Internal self- & anger-awareness & control
  • Awareness of body control & balance
  • “Heart” - courage to face oneself (Bell, 1998)
  • Focus, breathing, moving meditation
  • Spontaneous engagement
cpr cultural pride reinforcement
CPR-Cultural Pride Reinforcement
  • Teaching culturally relevant critical consciousness through
    • music, video, hip-hop, role-play, current events
    • Spontaneous engagement
  • Ten, 1-hr weekly sessions
    • Violence, manhood, racism, sexism, pride, relationships, intimacy, fear, death, trauma,
  • Barbershop debating style
  • Cultural Socialization focus
    • Teaching, Acting, Talking


Play as self-expression

  • Basketball is cultural pop game of identity expression
  • African psychology view of movement (Boykin & Toms, 1985)
  • During “play,” frustration tolerance can be expanded
  • Spontaneous engagement
coaches and elder skills affection correction and protection
Coaches and Elder SkillsAffection, Correction, and Protection
  • Reframe distorted beliefs and cognitions about hostililty of others and definition of self
  • Identify and distract potential conflict
  • Use own personal style to influence others
  • Physically mediate conflicts
  • Teach basketball skills for social competence
culturally relevant intervention
Culturally Relevant Intervention
  • Challenge society’s pathologizing hype of Black males with “both-and” principles
  • Appreciate the functionality of violence within male-dominated context
  • Build trust daily in the small moments;
    • Embrace, don’t run away from anger of youth
  • Reduce emotional & physical distance between helpers and youth
elements of culturally relevant intervention cont
Elements of culturally relevant intervention, cont.
  • Provide alternative rationales and maps for managing insecure masculinity behaviors
  • Explicitly teach cultural socialization strategies to youth & parents (COPE)
  • Appreciate and touch the playful moments, movements, culture, & style of Black youth
  • Intervene during rough moments of boys’ emotional life
  • Students were randomly assigned to Control and PLAAY conditions
  • Control students received standard programming provided to all students within the discipline school curriculum including remedial academic and counseling services
  • The PLAAY condition included cultural socialization and movement intervention components
results continued
Results, continued
  • No significant differences were found between PLAAY and Control conditions for rejection sensitive angry or anxious feelings
  • PLAAY students showed significantly lower levels of retaliation cognitions than Control group at Time 2
  • When teachers observations were included, PLAAY students with poorer behavioral adjustment showed greater improvement than counterparts in Control Condition
  • Culturally relevant strategies reduced rejection sensitive cognitions but not feelings
  • Cultural socialization strategies heighten awareness of social conditions
  • This awareness may increase anger but may increase healthy psychological responses to social conditions

Culturally relevant skills of helpers(Burton, L. M., Winn, D., Stevenson, H., & Clark, S. L. (2004). Working with African American clients: Considering the “homeplace” in marriage and family therapy practices. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30 (4), 113-129.)

  • develop a critical consciousness by exploring one’s cultural, economic, gender, and political identities as they interact with participants
    • What does it mean for me as a researcher working with Black youth to be a raced person?

(2) approach African Americans using a di-unital or “both/and” framework;

(3) approach African Americans using a communal framework; and

(4) socialize participants to develop their own critical consciousness and understand the cultural role and meaning of homeplace in their lives.

  • Align with resistance in Black Communities (Fantuzzo & Stevenson, 2004)
  • Client’s cultural style and phenomenology must shape intervention research collaboration process (entry, engagement, analysis, & dissemination)
  • Intervention and collaboration have to be proximal so that phenomenology of participants can rub off and vice-versa; and to change how youth frame experiences
  • Cultural context determines unique meaning & worth of collaboration
  • Explicit cultural socialization intervention models require close collaborative bonds in order for village-making to take root