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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

This month, we're featuring a guest post by Dr. Stephanie Akoumany, the founder and CEO of Bloom. Bloom curates leadership, mindfulness, wellness, diversity, equity, inclusion, and conflict resolution conferences, programs, and online courses for schools, universities, nonprofits, and businesses.

Dr. Akoumany earned her Ph.D. in American Studies at University of Maryland, College Park in May 2018. She is a proud former Baltimore City Public Schools student and a graduate of the Bryn Mawr School.

She organized and hosted the 2019 Bloom Wellness Summit for girls and educators held here at JHSPH in partnership with the Center for Adolescent Health. We asked Dr. Akoumany to reflect on why wellness is an important component of a young person's development.

Young girls and educators at the Bloom Wellness Summit.

By Dr. Stephanie Akoumany 

How Educators and Parents Can Help Girls Thrive

When you were in middle school who and what did you need to thrive?

Over the last 9 years, I have spoken with hundreds of students, and they consistently say they wish they had more meaningful relationships with the teens and adults in their lives. They want advice about navigating cyberbullying, peer pressure, dating, academics, implicit bias, microaggressions, and experiences with racial tokenism.

As educators how can we best help them? It’s imperative to provide meaningful and consistent opportunities for young people to share who they are and who they want to be and what resources they need to thrive. We also have to ask ourselves these same questions and understand what wellness means to us.

Research shows that when students consistently learn and practice mindfulness, social-emotional learning, and self-care, these strategies can help them feel more balanced and empowered when confronting everyday challenges.

Schools should aim to address the seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, intellectual, academic/occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. Princeton UMatter Wellness has several resources for adults and young people to learn more about wellness and create goals for achieving wellbeing.

My Take on Wellness

We feel most “well” when we believe we have the freedom to express ourselves, create our own realities, design our lives, make healthy decisions, embrace growth mindsets, take on empowering habits, cultivate honest relationships, and lead productive lifestyles that help us achieve our goals.

Optimal wellness is also being able to tap into our passions, rediscover who we are, follow our hearts, make mistakes, learn lessons, follow our instincts, and take calculated risks that fulfill our spirits. It starts with a belief that we are worthy.

Once faculty and administrators set their intentions to cultivate school cultures that support health and wellness, they just have to plant seeds of change (for programming, curriculum design, and student experience), and watch their communities bloom.

What Girls Say They Need

For my dissertation, I led a longitudinal[TM2] research study to learn about 55 black middle school girls' resilience strategies and perceptions of their life experiences and interpersonal relationships at a Baltimore City public school from 2010 to 2013. I found that when girls are given the time to engage in mindfulness meditation, storytelling, play, dance, art, self-expression, and community building they can build on the social-emotional learning, self-care, and resilience strategies they already have. The Bloom Wellness Summit helped girls to do just that.

2019 Bloom Wellness Summit

We brought 30 girls and 7 educators together from Baltimore City public, charter, & independent schools to engage in powerful discussions and activities about the effects of stress and how self-care, visual and performance art, yoga, music, storytelling, mindfulness meditation, and healthy living practices can help girls and educators live their best lives.

  • Our guests learned how to deepen their mind-body connection through AfroFusion dance, meditation, and yoga.
  • They engaged in powerful joint discussions about each other’s experiences, hopes, and dreams for creating inclusive school communities that support student and educator wellness goals.
  • The girls and their educators learned how a tech industry CEO strives to create work life balance, prioritize wellness, and create products that contribute to women’s health.
  • Our guests also played, created, shared, and listened to music from ukuleles. Participants shared their own stories, found their own rhythm, and used their voices as they learned frequently used chords on ukuleles.  

Thank you to the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, Bryn Mawr School, Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School, and Friends School of Baltimore for sharing your stories, brainstorming solutions, and creating blueprints for girls’ wellness programs at your schools.  

I would like to thank Dr. Terri Powell and Dr. Tamar Mendelson, and the entire Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health team for seeing Bloom’s vision and partnering with us to make the Bloom Wellness Summit a reality! You all are amazing!

Thanks to our workshop leaders Aliyah Moneá - Founder of Organic Movement Atelier, Ms. Jamila Sams, M.Ed. , Founder and CEO of Go to Ms. Sams, Dr. Tanesha Leathers-Braxton, Arion Long Founder and CEO of Femly, and musician Kathryn Para for leading such fun and engaging sessions!

Thanks to our amazing partners Honeygrow Charles Village, Pure Raw Juice Federal Hill, and Tropical Smoothie Cafe Halethorpe for helping us provide the girls and their teachers with healthy wraps, HoneyBars, and juice!  

Thanks to Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland School of Nursing Professor Rhonda Smith Wright and Lynn Desamours for setting the tone for a wonderful day and helping us stay organized!

If you want to attend, speak at, or sponsor the 2020 Bloom Wellness Summit please visit https://justbloom.io/wellness-summit.

Bloom offers Bloom & Flow wellness programs and online courses for schools, non profits, and businesses. Bloom & Flow sessions will help participants have fun, express themselves, improve social emotional-learning skills, build community, set goals, and learn how to enter flow states so that they can tap into their creativity and productivity in and out of school. 

Terri Powell, a faculty associate of the Center for Adolescent Health, partners with community organizations, churches, and schools to improve adolescent health. In recent years, she noticed that parental substance use disorder kept coming up in conversations with young people.

This led Powell to look up articles and ask colleagues about substance use prevention for youth whose parents had a substance use disorder (SUD). She wondered, "What's being done with the kids who are also in families where there are parents who are abusing drugs?" While research on substance use prevention has grown in recent years due to the opioid crisis, she felt like the children whose parents have a SUD were left out of the conversation.

More than six million youth in America live with at least one parent with a SUD. In Baltimore, which has nearly 19,000 heroin users annually, familial drug use is not uncommon. Many parents with SUDs cannot adequately care for their children because of incarceration, homelessness or housing instability, extended periods of drug use and disengagement from responsibilities, or enrollment in an intensive drug treatment program. As a result, their children experience neglect, family conflict and violence, leading to higher risks for emotional and behavioral problems. These youth are also at high risk for a range of negative outcomes later in life, including substance use, interruptions in educational attainment, incarceration and disconnection from the workforce (see references at end of post). “There seemed to be a gap in what was available for kids to directly affect their wellbeing and help them. So I [decided], ‘Okay, I want to create something.’”

Powell received a career development award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant #: 1K01DA042134-01A1) in 2017 to develop new expertise in substance use among urban African-American families, and partner with churches to prevent substance use and sexual health risk behaviors among urban African-American adolescents with a drug-abusing parent. Powell named this project, Better Together because she believes that there is strength in collaborations and we are all better together. Her research teams consists of one research assistant (Morgan Prioleau) and two graduate students (Asari Offiong and Quiana Lewis).

The goal of this research is to prevent drug abuse among youth and help provide useful resources and services. Prioleau, the team’s research assistant, added that the team wants to offer support to vulnerable adolescents that promotes their health and well-being in a sustainable way.

During its first phase, Powell and her team are interviewing young people (ages 18-25) in Baltimore who have been affected by drug abuse and adults (25 and older) who work with or care for a young person who has been affected by drug abuse. In the second and third phases of the project, Powell and her team planned to revise an evidence-based intervention to benefit adolescents with a drug-abusing parent and test the efficacy of the redesigned intervention with Black churches. However, Powell’s aims have shifted due to what participants have discussed during their interviews. “We’ve found that both parents who use drugs and their kids are saying, ‘I have a lot of basic needs that are not met,’” she said. Powell believes these basic needs like food access, housing security and safety must be addressed first before working on the adaption of the evidence-based intervention.

“I believe if we're able to create a sense of safety and stability now, then we will effectively change the trajectory. As we are helping young people meet basic needs, we can also still educate them about their susceptibility,” she explained. As the team finishes Phase 1, they are brainstorming how they can make their resource hub come to life.

“It could be an actual place. It could be an app. It could be a person to coordinate the things that already are there. Maybe we don't need a something new, maybe we just need to figure out a good way to disseminate it to young people who need it,” said Powell. As the project moves along, the study team will identify how to track health and educational outcomes as well as well-being in the young people who use the Better Together services.

The interviews have caused Powell to reflect on her career as a researcher. Nearly 15 years ago, Powell wrote in her graduate school application essay that she wanted to normalize success. “Over time, [the focus of her research] has looked different. Now it's the same for young people who have substance abusing parents. I want more kids to feel well adjusted and supported than those who don't,” she said.

We do too and are excited to see what the Better Together team develops. Stay tuned!

For more information or to participate, please call or text the team at the Better Together Project (410-925-7573). You can also send them an email (projectbetter2gether@gmail.com). They’d love to hear from you!

References

Skinner ML, Fleming CB, Haggerty KP, Catalano RF. Sex risk behavior among adolescent and young adult children of opiate addicts: Outcomes from the focus on families prevention trial and an examination of childhood and concurrent predictors of sex risk behavior. Prevention Science. 2014;15(S1):70-77.

Ross SL, McBride BJ. Baltimore mayor’s heroin treatment & prevention task force report. July 2015.

Grant BF. Estimates of US children exposed to alcohol abuse and dependence in the family. Am J Public Health. 2000;90(1):112-115.

Barnard M. Between a rock and a hard place: The role of relatives in protecting children from the effects of parental drug problems. Child & Family Social Work. 2003;8(4):291-299.

Klee H. Drug-using parents: Analysing the stereotypes. International Journal of Drug Policy. 1998;9(6):437-448.

Barnard M, McKeganey N. The impact of parental problem drug use on children: What is the problem and what can be done to help? Addiction. 2004;99(5):552-559.

Ronel N, Levy-Cahana M. Growing-up with a substance-dependent parent: Development of subjective risk and protective factors. Subst Use Misuse. 2011;46(5):608-619.

Velleman R, Templeton LJ. Impact of parents’ substance misuse on children: An update. BJPsych Advances. 2016;22(2):108-117.

Adamson J, Templeton L. Silent voices: Supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse. 2012.

Suchman NE, McMahon TJ, Zhang H, Mayes LC, Luthar S. Substance-abusing mothers and disruptions in child custody: An attachment perspective. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2006;30(3):197-204.

Silverman K, Schonberg SK. Adolescent children of drug-abusing parents. Adolesc Med. 2001;12(3):485-491.

Kang S-, Magura S, Shapiro JL. Correlates of cocaine/crack use among inner-city incarcerated adolescents. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 1994;20(4):413-429.

Youth Advisory Board Members Inspired After Arts Showcase in New York City 

Jerome Waters and his family

Jerome Waters, a member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health’s Youth Advisory Board, organized a concert in New York City to showcase the talent of young musicians and artists. The showcase included five performers from Waters’ Humble Beast Movement record label who emphasize positive messages in their music. Additionally, about 15 teenagers from Baltimore and New York competed for the chance to perform at Waters’ upcoming summer concert series. The Center for Adolescent Health’s communications specialist, Lauren Burns, had the chance to talk to Waters and Joni Holified, Waters’ mentor and founder of HeartSmiles, a Baltimore-based organization passionately dedicated to motivating, inspiring, and empowering Baltimore's youth.

Lauren: How did you promote the showcase?

Jerome: Mostly [through] social media from my team here in Baltimore. We actually reached out to a few New York people that could promote for us, a couple of organizations, and they helped us get it together and bring out a New York crowd. We found who were the hottest performers [and] upcoming artists from New York City and we said, “You guys, are you interested in this opportunity?” And a lot of them took it, and brought their friends along as well.

Lauren: I think the big point of Humble Beast Movement is that the musicians and artists that are connected with HBM have a positive message. Why is that so important to you?

Jerome: Positive music it gives them [HBM artists] more of an outlet in different arenas to express themselves.
Women performing

Joni: Especially in Baltimore, being able to allow [adolescents to do] something that they're passionate about, something that they gravitate towards and be able to turn that into something positive can oftentimes mean the difference, literally, between life and death for some young people. We have several young people who suffer severely with depression and the only way that they are able to deal with and cope and manage that depression is through music. 

Lauren: What makes you committed to creating opportunities for young performers in Baltimore?

Jerome: So many talented kids and talented people are all really just left by the wayside because they don't know the business and they don't understand what music can do for them. There's so many lost talents that they can't even generate revenue from them because they don't know how, so it's my job to teach them how and get the youth out of poverty. We have a couple of artists right now coming up and getting paid for their music as we speak so it's a good feeling. 

Joni: It's just important for us to still be able to feed to them that positive message. Music is a universal language. Music breaks a lot of barriers between people. Music is one of those things that we all can sit around and gather around and bring us together regardless of our backgrounds, our cultures, our different experiences, and all that, so when you think about music and art a lot of times it is a common denominator when you think about things that bring people together genuinely.

Lauren: What was your favorite part of the event?
Group of performers

Jerome: When we went to New York we all worked together. Everybody was from Baltimore; we were one team. We moved as one. So it was so much easier for us to support each other. Every Baltimore artist that came up to the stage, everyone cheered for one another. It was a great feeling. I feel it was important.

Joni: It was an amazing feeling to see the kids buzzing on social media, they're still talking about it. It’s still the talk of Baltimore--the HBM trip to New York. I can't go in any high school or in any public place right now without somebody asking me, “When can they go to New York with HBM?”.  It's just brought so much hope and so much positivity back to the city for young people who want to push on.

Bloomberg American Health Initiative Researchers meet with the US Surgeon General

Dr. Tamar Mendelson, Director of the Center for Adolescent Health (CAH), and Dr. Kristin Mmari, CAH evaluation lead, recently published a report on opportunity youth as part of a supplement issue of the journal Public Health Reports entitled, “From Local Action to National Progress on 5 Major Health Challenges: The Bloomberg American Health Initiative” (November/December, 2018).

As members of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, Mendelson and Mmari lead a work group on risks to adolescent health, which has a core focus on addressing the issue of opportunity youth, adolescents 16-24 who are not working or in school.

Earlier in January, Mendelson, Mmari, and other members of the Bloomberg Initiative, met with the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams. As Surgeon General, Dr. Adams develops reports on critical public health issues, and his office publishes Public Health Reports to inform the American public how to live safer and healthier lives.

While all focal areas of the Bloomberg Initiative were discussed at the meeting, two key topics were highlighted: opportunity youth and the opioid epidemic. Mendelson and Mmari discussed applying a public health approach to reduce the number of opportunity youth in the U.S. by improving coordinated data systems, consolidated services and funding, and scaling up interventions.

Opportunity youth are at higher risk than their more connected peers for health problems, criminal behaviors, incarceration, chronic unemployment, and early death. Mendelson and Mmari say opportunity youth are deserving of more attention by public health practitioners because there are serious societal economic and health costs if the young people continue to struggle with unemployment and financial hardship as they age.

“He was really engaging. He really cares about health equity, and community health and wellness,” Mendelson said. One of Adams’ top priorities is community health and economic prosperity, so Mendelson and Mmari particularly emphasized in their presentation how opportunity youth are linked to the economy.

In particular, Mendelson and Mmari highlighted that opportunity youth have been estimated to cost $55 billion per year in lost tax revenues alone. They also discussed how opportunity youth are less likely to own a home, have lower earnings, report worse physical and mental health, and are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system compared to their more connected peers. By investing in opportunity youth, it is possible not only to reduce these economic costs but also to benefit entire communities and contribute to the reduction of health inequities.

In an interview with The Hub, Mmari called for early intervention, “If kids aren’t showing basic language acquisition… or if we know parents are in jail or abusing substances, these are clear signs they need extra support,” she said. By adolescence, kids may already be on a path to disconnection.

Mendelson and Mmari are excited to further develop a relationship with the Surgeon General’s Office and increase awareness of opportunity youth as a public health issue. “It was really encouraging. The whole group left feeling enthusiastic,” Mendelson said.

An amazing group of young people from Baltimore City serve on a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) that provides guidance to the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health (CAH) and the Risks to Adolescent Health focus area of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. YAB members range in age; most are in high school, college, or the workforce. The YAB meets regularly - usually every two weeks - to give their input on issues central to the mission of CAH and the Initiative. YAB members take an active role in developing projects in partnership with CAH and the Initiative and in disseminating findings to stakeholders in the community.

We want to spotlight the talents and achievements of the YAB and their commitment to promoting the health and well being of adolescents in Baltimore. This inaugural Youth Advisory Board Spotlight features Jerome Waters.

Jerome's Humble Beast Movement 

Jerome Waters

Jerome, 17, is a senior at Franklin High School in Baltimore County. He is the founder of Humble Beast Movement, a clothing brand and music label. Building his business is only one part of what makes Jerome tick. As a graduate of Joni Holifield’s HeartSmiles Entrepreneurship Program, he’s also passionate about youth advocacy and supporting his peers. Jerome was recently awarded a $20,000 grant through the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund to launch an after school program in which he will train middle and high school students in music production and entrepreneurial skills. He recently chatted with Lauren Burns, the Center’s communications specialist, and discussed his commitment to youth development, business, and giving back.

Lauren: How did you decide to apply for a grant through the Youth Fund?

Jerome: I wanted to do something for the youth, because I'm already involved in a lot of youth and community work. I came up with the idea of a project that helps youth express themselves through music and create revenue for themselves through that music. I needed something to help me push this project further so that's why I applied for the grant.

Lauren: When will the program start? What will the students be doing?

Jerome: Right now, they're learning the earning basic foundations of business through Ms. Joni [Holifield]’s program HeartSmiles. They’ll transfer to my program in November, and they [will] actually learn how to run a fully operational state-of-the-art studio. They'll produce their own music, make their own music, and record themselves. Eventually, they'll graduate and move to booking other slots for other people, actually mixing and mastering their music as well.

Lauren: So it’s kind of like a production lab.

Jerome: Yeah, my [company] Humble Beast Movement is a label and management team.  I'm looking for new artists, new talent that can help my team out, and I can help them out as well.

Lauren: When did you become interested in youth and entrepreneurship?

Jerome: Well, since I was young I was always selling stuff, like just selling stuff in my house. Anything I could find. Like my old toys. I started to push myself more. And about a year and a half ago, I developed this whole brand--Humble Beast Movement-- this whole idea of being humble but being a beast, and that was like a whole movement, that kinda helped me see a difference in myself and the people around me. Once I really realized what being "humble" meant I started to see that other people wasn't humble. The people that I was hanging with, the friends that I had, the family that I was around, wasn't the right people to be around because they weren't humble.  It was kind of taking away from the whole idea of what I was trying to do.

Lauren: What does "humble" mean to you?

Jerome: It means you can be the best in the world at whatever you do, but never taking away anyone else's credit or trying to down somebody else, but uplifting them and helping them be better. That's my whole idea, that just being the best you can be, but helping other people do the same.

Lauren: How do you juggle all your responsibilities with Humble Beast Movement, launching your program, and work supporting HeartSmiles?

Jerome: I prioritize by the day. I never know what could pop up the next day, the next week, next month, or year. But I just stay ready for whatever comes my way. And then I just kinda keep positive people around me that keep me disciplined and motivated. Because I know that if something gets too hard, or something gets too stressful, the old me would have just gave up, quit, but now that I have powerful people that can help me go further, I can't.

Lauren: What are your plans for the future?

Jerome: I'm still looking at college. I want go to somewhere close, because I wanna be able to still run the [music production and entrepreneurship] program. I'm focused in on building a Humble Beast Movement to the next level, signing other artists, and being able to send them on tours. I got big dreams that I really want to accomplish.