Skip Navigation

Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

Keyword: baltimore

by Jada Johnson

Ed. Note: WIth a deeply reflective look at her life, Jada Johnson offers the first in our Baltimore Youth COVID Diaries, a series of works to document the effects of COVID-19 on Baltimore's young people in their own voices.

Since Corona has come amongst us my biggest fear has been being completely behind and possibly at risk of failing myself, school and others around me because of serious procrastination throughout the years. 

Feeling like I’m behind on everything has been a heavy burden on me and my pockets because it has stopped me from reaching my full potential and lowered my chances of getting the job of my dreams that eventually leads me to the land where financial troubles no longer exist. 

I also tend to self-sabotage. This created a lot of doubt and skepticism in me because I became conditioned to always believe I would never be good enough. To this day I struggle just a little bit. 

Recently there have been many opportunities coming my way which has heightened my level of belief in myself and lowered my tendency to self-sabotage. Overall it’s allowed me to focus on other problems I face within myself. 

With all of the chaos I created within myself, I began to have low self-esteem. I saw everybody else around me succeeding and exceeding expectations, while I wasn’t even walking the speed limit of some of my younger peers. 

It weighed heavily on my mental health. My low self-esteem kept me from seeing my true beauty. I would not post pictures of myself, join in other peoples pictures, or allow people to post pictures of me on social media because I thought that I was not as pretty as my peers. 

Keeping myself in such a tight closet kept me from going outside and enjoying time with my friends, attending events and even participating in any high school memories. 

To this day I regret allowing my self-esteem to hinder me. I’m not saying that it doesn’t still shadow over me, it just isn’t a burden now. 

Procrastination became my strategy for high school. After trying and failing Freshman Year, instead of revamping my plan of attack, I got scared and ran to hide. 

Sometimes as I walked the halls of Western High School I felt like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t belong because the first year was such a struggle. 

As  Sophomore Year approached I tried to learn how to be an effective high school student. Then my grandmother passed away and I decided Sophomore Year wasn't going to be one for the books. 

After a long summer of grief, I decided to go back my Junior Year and fake the happiness until it became true, but that didn't work either because of my home environment. 

Senior Year came and I was completely done taking loss after loss, so I decided to flunk most of my year.

Once January hit Western put me out and I was completely shattered. I transferred to a school that I thought was beneath me and reacted negatively by not going to school at all. 

Then Corona came and I just put my hands up and thought that I should surrender completely and be a failure. 

As time set in and Corona got worse I began to self reflect. I took this time to evaluate my friends and myself. I had recently become a part of Heart Smiles in January, but I wasn’t as serious about being successful so I didn’t really try to get any opportunities. Soon enough I had noticed that not taking HeartSmiles seriously was a bad idea. 

After joining HeartSmiles and attending Winning Wednesdays, which is led by a mother full of love, it helped me love myself a little more and move toward success. In Winning Wednesdays I started to focus on what I was good at instead of what I was not good at. 

That's when I came across journalism and writing. But not only did I see my full potential, people around me began to see it as well. One person who saw me was Ms.Joni, who has given me endless opportunities to show my true talent.

Honestly, even though all of these things happened to me before Corona, I feel like these things made my quarantine become a successful time of self-reflection and repair. I am actually quite thankful for Corona and all of the people who have assisted me in this time period. It has really helped open my eyes and see the clearer side of things. 

Even though I still struggle a little day by day with procrastination; having nothing but time on my hands has allowed me to turn what I saw as a  burden into a small worry. 


Ed. Note: This study was published before the COVID-19 Pandemic, which has made food insecurity worse in Baltimore and across the country.

Baltimore youth are well aware that they lack reliable access to food, and that the stigma and embarrassment associated with food insecurity often leads teens to engage in risky and dangerous behaviors just to eat.

They also have solutions, according to a new qualitative study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The 53 young people from six disadvantaged neighborhoods across the city who participated in the study – half of whom qualified as food insecure – told researchers that they, or peers they know, resort to prostitution, drug dealing and theft to ensure they have food.

These adolescents were clear that the stigma of food insecurity and the embarrassment of participating in food programs keep them from relying on social safety nets.

“I think mostly people are embarrassed if they don’t have a lot of food they don’t talk or don’t even try, like don’t even go to these little donations because they are embarrassed, they don’t expect people to understand, they expect people to judge them and all that,” said one young woman who participated in the study.

Many of the teens (ages 14 to 19) who participated pointed out that the food options they do have access to, primarily fast food outlets and convenience stores, are low quality and unhealthy. They compare food served at their local schools with “jail food,” and describe it as nearly inedible. Some have even observed that major grocery stores sell low quality foods at outlets in their neighborhoods as compared to the same outlets in more well-off suburbs.

“I will say like they also have like a Target up on Mondawmin and like that . . . I’ll say that even the products that they got at the Target they weren’t like Target quality, like if you go out on Towson like they had better fruit selection, better food selection in general and I just didn’t think that is so fair,” one study participant said. [Ed. Note: Since this study concluded the Mondawmin Target in West Baltimore has closed.]

In addition to agreeing that healthier, better quality food needs to be available, participating youth suggest that food assistance programs should include other services young people need – such as job training and employment programs that go beyond traditional “summer jobs” programs.

“That can help me like throughout the rest of my life. Not just something that just going to benefit me just for this time period in my life. That is going to help me get another job,” another study participant said.

Participants suggested to researchers that including food assistance as part of a broader suite of services youth need can go a long way toward avoiding the stigma and embarrassment of participating in these programs, making it more likely that food insecure young people will take part.

With an estimated 6.8 million young people ages 10- to 17-years-old in the United States facing food insecurity, the study’s researchers conclude that not only should food insecurity among adolescents be a high priority for researchers, but youth voices are essential to developing successful strategies and solutions.

The authors – Kristin Mmari, Asari Offiong, Susan Gross and Tamar Mendelson – note that while food insecurity has been widely studied among younger children, there is limited knowledge on this issue in relation to adolescents. The results of this study support the findings of a larger, earlier qualitative national study by the Urban Institute and Feeding America.

“In both our study and the Urban Institute/Feeding America study, young people stressed that food insecurity needed to be addressed more broadly, with several youths mentioning the need to combine services with job training,” the authors said.

Study participants came from disadvantaged neighborhoods in Baltimore that border food deserts, including Violetville; Morrell Park; Cecil Kirk (Greenmount East); Oliver (Midway); Coppin Heights/Eastwood (Greater Rosemont); and Forest Park (Park Heights).

The study, “How adolescents cope with food insecurity in Baltimore City: an exploratory study,” was published May 2019 in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

For more information on this research and related work contact Dr. Kristin Mmari at

Wide Angle Youth Media offers media production training for Baltimore youth. Wide Angle students (over 4,000!) have made 200 films about their neighborhoods and experiences. 

Violence in Baltimore: A Community in Chaos from Wide Angle Youth Media on Vimeo.


CAH's director, Dr. Philip Leaf, was featured in Violence in Baltimore: A Community in Chaos, which was made by Wide Angle's Spring 2017 Mentoring Video Project students. 


Making Connections Matter from Wide Angle Productions on Vimeo.


Wide Angle Youth Media produced this film for the Bloomberg American Health Initiative's Making Connections Matter Conference. Some of the young people featured are members of the Youth Leadership and Advocacy Network. 

youth in discussion

The Youth Leadership and Advisory Network (YLAN) started in 2014 with a call to action from Dr. Philip Leaf, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health, to impact a wider net of young people in Baltimore City.

For 22 years prior to YLAN, the Center for Adolescent Health had a Youth Advisory Committee that met weekly—teaching youth about research practices, protocols, and how data is translated into youth programs and services.

CAH’s community relations director Katrina Brooks explained, “Over that period of time, we were able to impact their lives personally because [members] had another level of support beyond family and community. They had folks that could help them with personal goal setting, resources, and supports for academics, and referrals to services needed to improve their health and wellness.”

The Center was unable to offer that level of support to every adolescent in Baltimore City, but staff realized they could bring together youth and youth-serving organizations and provide professional development, technical support, and access to funding resources.

And so, the Youth Leadership and Advisory Network was born.

YLAN was designed to connect youth leaders throughout Baltimore City and help leverage resources to empower their voice in the decision-making processes that impact their wellbeing. There are more than 45 organizations affiliated with YLAN. The Network also collaborates with the Mayor’s Youth Commission, which is a body of youth that represents Baltimore’s 14 city council districts.

YLAN gives youth leaders the opportunity to discuss complex issues and brainstorm solutions in their own way, said Rashad Staton, a program assistant at Family League of Baltimore.

Representatives from youth-serving organizations and agencies send representatives, largely youth themselves, to share updates and connect.  The general meetings give a time for members to learn about initiatives and programming all over the city. Brooks serves as an administrator and adult ally to the youth representatives of YLAN.

“It allows a space of young people to learn early to not fall victim to working in silos, but to work collaboratively. It's a shared space of young people learning what other young people are doing,” Staton said. By attending YLAN general meetings, young people can understand what resources are out there and make partnerships with other organizations.

The members of YLAN build from the general meetings to collaboration between the councils or organizations they work for. “You can start seeing these conversations actually start and are ignited in these meetings. The next thing you know, they’re on a panel or they're doing a collaborative event together,” Staton said.

In the upcoming months, YLAN members are collaborating with Rebkha Atnafou, executive director of The After-School Institute, and the Baltimore City Health Department to plan the annual Youth Sexual Health and Leadership Conference, which will be held at UA House on Saturday, December 2. The conference will feature workshops, seminars, and discussions about sexual health, but with an emphasis on holistic wellness and physical activity. Students will have the option of attending a Zumba class, play basketball, or chill out in a trap yoga class in between going to workshops.

“Our partners at UChoose from the Baltimore City Health Department will be leading the sexual health focus at the resource fair and workshops that they provide around healthy relationships and healthy sexual activity,” Brooks said. Following the daytime programming, the conference will end with an evening concert.

“I think this conference will be a model of how it should be done. When you're engaging youth about an issue that can be very, very, very hard to even break through with, but [the conference] allows them to speak up for themselves and give them a voice and platform,” Staton said.

Although she prefers to work behind the scenes, Brooks’ hard work does not go unnoticed. She was recently honored with a Guiding Light Award for her efforts by Empowering Minds of Maryland’s Youth, a nonprofit that establishes youth outreach programs. 

By: Lauren Burns