Youth Voice: The Meaning of Wellness Has Changed Header


Youth Voice: The Meaning of Wellness Has Changed. The Community Needs to do the Same.

Zaynah Burch

What are the biggest barriers to wellness young people face? The findings of a new five-city Center for Promise study of young people—by young people—might surprise you. Here’s one Philadelphia youth researcher’s perspective.

At first I was shocked. Out of 108 surveys of young people, from the suburbs of Philadelphia to low-income housing areas in the city, 80 percent of respondents felt like African Americans were the most targeted by the police.

But after a few minutes, I wasn’t surprised to hear the results, because I feel the same way, especially with the overwhelming amount of protests against African American men being targeted and killed by the police. I have a clear view of how awful this world is and how we tend to cover up issues and seek ways to go around them instead of facing them head on.

Barrier to Wellness cover
Barriers to Wellness, led by the Center for Promise, is the first youth-led assessment conducted simultaneously in multiple U.S. cities. Find out more here.

With the media at our fingertips, it's easy to capture the discrimination against people of color and people from a low-income background, yet people continue to deny these issues.

In the end, I decided this one statistic from our research was reaffirming. We found out that so many other young people see these issues for what they are. Maybe now we can figure out how to face them.

What Needs to Change

As we continued to survey people, the meaning of wellness changed for me. At first I thought that the meaning of wellness meant you ate healthy or worked out periodically. But now, it means being aware of what is not working in your life and being proactive about improving it.

Schools and communities can take steps to improve interactions between African Americans and the police. Here are three:

  • By educating young people on their rights, we could help them be more knowledgeable and mindful when interacting with police officers.
  • Within our schools, we can create safe havens where students can go and talk about issues they are having and find solutions for them.
  • We can have town meetings where people from the community meet with city officials and create solutions and talk about how we can better recognize issues and find ways to move forward, not backward.

By taking these steps, maybe we would be able to limit the amount of hostility that has built up.

Different Cities, Same Problems

After we finished our research project, all the youth researchers from the five different cities convened in Washington, D.C. at a conference hosted by America’s Promise Alliance. Not only did we get to meet the other researchers, but we presented our findings to executives from Target and other leaders.

Threats to Health and Wellbeing
Threats to a young person’s health and well-being experience by youth at the peer, neighborhood, and community levels. Find out more here.

While interacting with the other youth researchers, I became more aware of issues that young teens nationwide face today. Although we might have come from different cities, we shared the same problems -- stereotypes, social media, community violence, teen pregnancy, and drug use.

It was also interesting to sit in a room and talk through these issues with executives from Target. I thought I would feel nervous or intimidated, but surprisingly I did not. I could feel the sincerity in their eyes when they spoke on ways to improve wellness, not just in our community but everywhere. When topics became serious and heavy, it felt awkward, but everyone was still respectful in the way they got their points across.

As the trip came to an end, I felt accomplished. I felt as though I represented the city of Philadelphia well. And I felt like I was able to shine a light on these issues, exposing them to the people who actually have the power to bring changes to a community that desperately needs them.