Silence is Not an Option: Oral History of Race in Youth Development Through the Words of Esteemed Black Scholars

Keshia L. Harris, Corliss Outley


The study of race has been silenced in many areas of science including youth development research. We present this commentary in response to an invitation to address the impact of racism on the field of youth development for the Journal of Youth Development. Through oral history narratives, the paper synthesizes an antiracist agenda from the perspectives of 6 Black scholars: Tabbye Chavous, Michael Cunningham, Davido Dupree, Leoandra Onnie Rogers, Stephanie Rowley, and Robert Sellers. The narratives depict each scholar’s perspective on race research that informs youth-serving programs and the study of race in research of children and adolescents, particularly Black children. We selected scholars based on their commitment to supporting research that helps children of color thrive, and who have in-depth knowledge about racist ideologies and practices that have persisted since the inception of the science of youth development. Each scholar offered thoughtful critiques regarding racially biased measures and methodologies, the problematic use of deficit-oriented language, and the challenges that scholars of color encounter with advancing in the field. While the scholars expressed a consensus that the field has struggled to name racism in research and practice, they share hope in the complexity of future race research and practice that centers culture and context in youth development studies and programs.


racism; oral history; Black youth; deficit framing; youth development

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