“Unfortunately, across California, suicide rates among Black youth doubled between 2014 and 2020.”

“Unfortunately, across California, suicide rates among Black youth doubled between 2014 and 2020.”

Anthony Bernier | Dec 2022 |

What fake news is this!?

This claim, highlighted in a recent youth writing program’s newsletter, was obviously designed to shock and awe readers into understanding the urgent necessity for the program’s contribution to the youth community.

But it’s crap. It’s fake news.

First and foremost, troubled or not, Black youth deserve access to quality experiences and opportunities as valued and important members of the community. Their stories, positive and negative, deserve to be cultivated, documented, shared, and respected.

Second, trumpeting a program’s self-serving claims unethically misrepresents reality. Readily available public information reveals two dimensions of this all-too common strategy among many youth programs.

Black youth suicides, tragic as they are, represent numbers far too small to extrapolate larger patterns. Also, the actual numbers reveal the following about being young and Black in California: 11 suicides in 2014; 23 in 2021; but then a return to 11 in 2022. It represents behavior by one in 30,000 Black youth annually, not tragedy sweeping the youth population. Of course, each instance is a horror for the individuals and families involved. But the program could have just as easily (and equally unethically) claimed that Black youth suicide between 2021 and 2022 had been cut in half!

Nevertheless, neither claim is useful and both would come freighted with highly negative implications.

Beyond ignoring how Black youth just deserve quality opportunities, and beyond manipulating statistics, another relevant objection should apply to this and any other youth program advancing similar fake news claims. What possible evidence does the program offer demonstrating a causal behavioral link between its program and any specific behavioral outcome (suicide, drug abuse, grades, reading levels, or anything else)? What possible evidence could the program offer?

Answer: none.

The role of a youth writing program is to cultivate, facilitate, and promote the voices and writing of young people. That’s a difficult enough job. It’s a worthy enough job. And when done well it can enrich the lives of young people, their families, and their community.

Why are these positive goals founded in treating young people as valued citizens, rather than tragedies waiting to happen, so frequently viewed as insufficient?

Why do programs constantly lay claim to outcomes that are none of their business, claims they can’t prove, claims that only reinforce misrepresentations of youth itself as broken, at-risk, and even dangerous? Not even full-time and experienced teachers make assertions like this – so why do we accept the claims of these otherwise well-intended non-profit programs?

Don’t bother with that old saw about what funders want to hear. Funders benefit from hearing about what youth derive from crafting, drafting, writing, editing, documenting, and being respected for their work.

The next time you hear a program trumpeting fake, alarmist claims and trying to get away with making connections between what they do and other things for which they have nothing to do, call them out and ask them why they don’t believe that kids simply deserve what they offer.

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