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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

Keyword: youth

Our goal with the Project POWER (Promoting Options for Wellness and Emotion Regulation) school-based intervention is to evaluate the potential benefits of a trauma-informed coping skills program called RAP (Relax, be Aware, and do a Personal Rating) Club for the emotional health and academic success of eighth grade students.

We compared RAP Club with a health education program called Healthy Topics, which we expect will have different kinds of benefits. Over the past four years, our team partnered with 29 Baltimore City Public Schools. We worked with each school for one year to deliver the programs. We trained school personnel in how to continue offering the programs in the future if they wish. This is a brief update and summary of our work so far. We are starting to analyze data on how the programs impacted students and look forward to sharing outcomes with schools, families, and other audiences.

See our latest report to our partner schools below:

RAP Club infographicpg1

RAP Club infographicpg2

Study funders: Institute of Education Sciences (R305A160082; PI: Mendelson); Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1R01HD090022; PI: Mendelson)

Pairing substance use prevention education for middle school students with sexual health education will help educators address risk and prevention factors common to both, according to a new journal article by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Adolescent Health researchers.

Published in the journal Health Promotion Practice, “Supplementing Substance Abuse Prevention With Sexual Health Education: A Partner-Informed Approach to Intervention Development” lays out the partner-based process used and details the pilot program delivered to seventh- and eighth-grade students.

The authors – Terrinieka W. Powell, Meghan Jo, Anne D. Smith, Beth D. Marshall, Santha Thigpen, Asari Offiong and Sophia R. Geffen – write “[t]his streamlined approach may minimize the inefficiencies of multisession, single-purpose interventions.”

This “partnership approach” can also serve as a model for other educators and researchers working on other evidence-based programs.

Access the full journal article here.


by Rastehuti Missouri

When another brother becomes a hashtag falling a victim to unfortunate circumstances we face - we used to be the supreme race;

Why you mad at me ‘cuz we ain’t got the same color face;

Used to get sprayed with hoses but now we sprayed with mace;

Rather riot than protest ‘cuz we taking a stand -  won’t sit around while the police kill another black man. 

The worst they getting is fired not no time in the can.

How old do I gotta be to be considered a threat? 

They out here killing kids too;

They shot Tamir in his chest!

But Karen get on the cameras like she all in distress; 

She let whites loot while stabbing blacks -  I guess she needed a check.

Kap took a knee for our rights;

George Floyd took a knee to the neck!

And no black on black crime is not a thing -  ‘cuz its no such thing as white on white; 

Forever screaming ‘I cant breathe’ as we continue the fight; 

We call em 12, but they ain't 12, they know the difference between wrong and right.

Beat the Streets with Our Feet marching from day to the night!!

Martin Luther the thing was peaceful but they shot him on sight;

Malcolm was speaking facts and he was shinning his light;

Got him killed on the inside -  his own people took his life 

Black lives matter and we know, yes;

Supreme beings all over the U.S. rather show us looting before they show a protest;

And all lives matter is just a protest to my protest!

We won’t stand down ‘til all the officers are underarrest!

Mr.Floyd Fly High - I know your fam in distress;

Oh Dereck, you in the jungle with apes now no gun no vest.

Revolution will not be televised, ‘cuz they don’t know how we live;

They don’t know what it’s like fearing for your life - seeing those lights even though you a kid.

They killed Mike Brown when he was 17, he ain’t get a chance to live.

 So why should you 'F' the system?

 ‘Cuz we need freedom too! 

By Todd Allen Wilson, Communications Specialist, JHSPH Center for Adolescent Health

The youth coordinator of the JHSPH Center for Adolescent Health’s Baltimore Youth Diaries project, Jada Johnson, recently challenged me.

“Mr. Todd, you know they say our lives don’t matter because we’re in gangs and we kill each other. You know something about that, you should write about it.”

She’s not wrong, I saw someone make that exact, tired racist argument in the comments section of a news story the day before.

The thought of writing a personal essay was uncomfortable, but I can’t challenge Jada and her peers to share their truths without being willing to share my own.

The personal essay is not my forte. For a brilliant essay by a master of the form written from the perspective of a black Baltimore native please take the time to read D. Watkins’ Huffington Post piece “Only A Mile And A Big World Separated Us: An All American Story Of Two Boys From The East Side of Baltimore,” with photos by Devin Allen.

If you’d stopped by my office, attended a meeting with me or seen me walking the halls of the School of Public Health building you would never guess that 30 years ago on a hot Sacramento summer night I held one of my closest friends as he died after we had been ambushed by a rival gang.

I met Paul on the first day of middle school. Almost eight years to the day later he had been gutted and I watched as his intestines spilled out of his body.

It broke me, leaving a scar on my soul through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s a scar that still often feels like an open wound.

PTSD has been a struggle that delayed me fulfilling my potential, I have worked hard with lots of help and plenty of chances to redeem myself. A privilege most often denied black youth, who are often officially and legally categorized as gang members by gang task forces across the country just for walking down the street together.

But let me be clear, I was a gang member.

While our gang – which was not a white supremacist nor Nazi skinhead gang -- didn’t have a business component like dealing to it, as a gang member I attacked people violently and was violently attacked; I damaged property and tagged walls; I have stolen things; I have been shot at; I had illegal guns in my possession – though I never shot at anyone; and even dropped off drugs for dealers who were friends because I was going that way.

All of these are crimes we associate with gangs and then use that as an excuse to lock-up black and brown young men and women and if not kill them outright essentially throw away the key.

I have never been arrested, nor spent anytime inside a jail or prison cell.


I knew that then; I know that now.

In 1990, my black friends and peers doing the same thing at much the same level that I was were called “super-predators.” They HAD to be stopped!

Straight from a cop’s mouth, myself and my white friends and peers were “dumb-ass kids that need to get [their] shit together.”

That contradiction didn’t sit well as I had friends and acquittances that would fall under the “super-predator” tag. Either we’re all “super-predators” or we’re all “dumb-ass kids.”

Hint: We were all just adolescents that lacked the supports and social structures needed for us to seize the opportunity of youth.

I grew up in a rough, diverse working-class neighborhood on the edge of the city’s major, black-majority slum. Our community, which included a public-housing complex, had a small park with a public pool, where we spent a lot of our summers. Most people, like my dad and other relatives, worked in the trades.

Little League coaches included a white California Highway Patrol motorcycle cop and a black pimp – I had good relationships with both them and their sons. (The cop’s son has done prison time; the pimp’s son is dead.)

The cop had the best Fourth of July barbeques with piles of illegal fireworks that he had “confiscated” from others. We’d heard older kids talk about people being shaken down by cops.

At the same time, I would be at my black friends houses when their parents had given them the “yes sir, no sir, how can I get this over with as quickly as possible, sir” lectures before we headed out the door.

And I saw on the streets that play worked like a charm for me every single time, while it was totally hit-or-miss for my friends and peers of color. With my blond hair, blue eyes and “Ritchie Cunningham” demeanor I soon became “the police-whisper” for whatever group I was hanging out with.

My parents came of age in that same neighborhood in the late-1960s, early-1970s and I found books on our shelves that helped me make sense of the contradictions I saw all around my world.

I was grounded a lot and a voracious reader. In middle school I read James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice,” and Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s “Black Power.” They answered a lot of questions, and “Black Power” laid out a path to being an ally.

By the time I was in a gang, I knew that the cops weren’t looking at me when I was in public and I knew why.

In the gang I found a structure, a support system, order and deep bonds that made a confusing, dog-eat-dog world a lot less scary. It gave me a sense of control, power, cache and voice that I couldn’t find anywhere else.

There was a comfort in our communal shout of “kiss my ass” to a society that seemed to give us the finger every single day.

I’ve always thought the most basic motivations at work in joining a gang are the same that lead well-off kids to join white frats and sororities, which I view as socially and legally sanctioned gangs. Before you quibble – I have been in multiple fights with frat boys, instigated by them while they call out their frat name. In my world, that’s a gang – especially when you factor in other criminality we often see in the news.

Our dominant society definitely does not consider them super-predators. And as opposed to being “dumb-ass kids who need to get [their] shit together,” these young people are seen as kids who have their shit together but are just being kids, who will have great networks in the professional world.

The common denominator being adolescence.

I’m not saying, however, that adolescence is a dangerous time and we just need to hope and pray each kid finds their way through it.

Not at all. Adolescence is an opportunity for young people to express themselves and find their place in the world on their terms.

Instead, I see it as an indictment of a systemically racist society that does not offer equitable supports, security and resources to all our young people.

Life experience has shown me that the dominant white society hasn’t just failed our young people of color, but for the most part hostilely written off and devalued the lives of black youth.

No one has ever begrudged me becoming a public-school teacher or riding in a presidential motorcade as part of the press corps because I was a gang member – but had I ever done time, I would never have passed the required background checks.

Again, I have struggled to build an incredibly privileged life, with a lot of help from the current system. Sympathetic people made sure I had the supports I needed. I know white privilege gave me an advantage.

Over the 30-year span from the night my friend died until now, from my view it seems that the conditions and expectations for black youth by the dominant society, legal and justice systems have gotten harsher from what was already brutal.

And they still get tagged as gang members just because they are standing in a group with two other black or brown kids.

As an ally it is my responsibility to help build an equitable system that doesn’t treat black youth as de facto second-class citizens, whose lives must be controlled lest they get out of control.

The are a plethora of promising policy paths informed by strong science on adolescent development including community schools, trauma-informed services and teaching, diversion rather than arrest and authentic youth engagement that show small-scale success across the country and point us in the right direction.

Many of them cost far less than police departments, jails and prisons.

And they have been and will be attacked as “radical.”

Really, they are just part of a major humane, equitable realignment and overhaul our civic structures and institutions need to finally eradicate the racism baked into the system.

If that’s radical, then in addition to being an ex-gang member and ally, in the words of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was assassinated by Chicago police in 1969, “I am a revolutionary.”

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