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Celebrating Black History Month

08 February 2021 |

February 1 marked the start of Black History Month. For those of you who identify as Black, this month offers an opportunity to celebrate and honor your beautiful and also painful history and heritage. For everyone else, February is a month-long opportunity (knowing it is an all year, every day, never-ending journey) to unlearn and relearn things we have been taught about Black history.

As our team met to talk about how we wanted to recognize this month, one person suggested we share this article, that describes the influence Dr. James Comer, the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine had on the field of social and emotional learning (SEL). Comer’s School Development Program, started in 1968, in many ways launched the concept of whole child development – introducing the idea that a child’s social development, family context, and experiences outside of school have an influence on their academic development. I came across Comer’s work often in my graduate studies and previous roles in research, so I was surprised to hear that many of my colleagues were not familiar with him.  It made me think about other influential Black leaders who deserve to be uplifted for their contributions to the fields of child and youth development and social and emotional learning.  

Karen Pittman, for example, played a foundational role in the emergence of positive youth development which shifted the adolescent development field from a focus on viewing young people from a deficit perspective (i.e., problems to be fixed) to viewing youth as having many strengths that simply need to be nurtured so they can thrive. This piece describes Pittman’s role in developing the five C’s of positive youth development (confidence, character, connection, competence, and contribution). Pittman recently stepped down from her role as the CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment where she spent the past two decades championing the phrase she coined “problem-free isn’t fully prepared.”

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the towering child’s rights advocate, Marion Wright Edelman. Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, she dedicated her entire life and career to racial justice and championing the rights of underserved children, particularly children of color and those with disabilities. She is credited with the expansion of Head Start and coining the phrase “Leave no Child Behind” which unfortunately was undermined when the Bush Administration turned it into an education policy focused on high stakes testing. Listen to a Ted Talk with Edelman here.

All three of these influential leaders have inspired an entire generation of scholarship and practice and are personal heroes of mine. I invite you to read their stories – perhaps you will see some of their work reflected in your own. 

–Elizabeth Devaney, MM
Director, Whole Child Connection

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