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Dr. Howard C. Stevenson’s, PLAAY: Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth

NOVEMBER 29, 2017

Because I’ve been working in the youth development field spanning thirty years, it is rare to identify new programming that combines culturally specific, evidence-based, and research-informed practices that can benefit the youth mentoring field.

Fortunately, I stumbled across such a program called PLAAY, Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth developed by University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Howard C. Stevenson and his team of practice-based experts in the city of Philadelphia.

The program title was both compelling and intriguing, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find information save inaccessible journal articles.

Ironically, after my initial discovery of PLAAY, it was years later, when I began working at MENTOR that I finally was able to read more about this innovative program.

Dr. Howard C. Stevenson’s edited book, “Playing with Anger: Teaching Coping Skills to African American Boys through Athletics and Culture” provides an important overview of the essential components of this intervention in various chapters: understanding hyper-vulnerability of African-American boys; the roots of culturally relevant anger; why Black males need cultural socialization; teaching emotional empowerment through basketball and martial arts and the significance of rites of passage empowerment.

Similar to author, Alex Haley, in his book, Roots, who discovered his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, after years of searching, I had a similar “eureka moment” after reading the various chapter titles that reflected my professional and personal work with young African-American boys and men primarily because I had been searching for culturally relevant, evidence-based research that targeted black boys and young men.

Many adults, including youth workers and mentors, misidentify normal developmental behaviors of Black youth and misinterpret these coping skills which invariably contribute to Black boys becoming “missed, dissed and pissed” (Stevenson, 2013). As a recently published article contends, “Black male youth have a unique set of experiences in our society (greater vulnerability to unwarranted harassment by law enforcement) and consequently may require that mentoring programs account for these experiences and make explicit to be culturally responsive. In fact, many Black boys often receive conflicting messages regarding “normative behaviors” resulting in their need to navigate multiple cultural contexts “across school, home and neighborhood settings” (Hurd, Neblett and Sanchez, 2017).

Fortunately for me, I was able travel to UPENN this past August and meet with Dr. Stevenson and several staff that ran a PLAAY program in a Philadelphia school. Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth or (PLAAY), promotes racial socialization as a method for reducing anger and aggression for youth and parents. In addition, it provides its participants both racial and gender literacy strategies for managing stress during intense face-to-face conflicts so these students can “perform better in the classroom and in neighborhoods.”

The program reinforces the importance of movement by leveraging the physical activity of basketball with culturally responsive group therapy in an effort to “enhance participants’ capacity to challenge racial and gender stereotypes, develop interpersonal and school achievement skills, and build stronger bonds between parents and their children.”

PLAAY incorporates a holistic set of activities that reinforce protective factors including martial arts anger reduction (MAAR), cultural pride reinforcement (CPR) and community outreach through parent empowerment (COPE).

Finally, the racial and cultural literacy anchoring the PLAAY intervention includes media literacy (decoding messages and images related to African American males in all major media forms), use of a violence alternative/cultural socialization curriculum, a culturally relevant atmosphere that encourages debate and cultural expressiveness and the teaching of history, culture and academic skills.

Research of PLAAY participants demonstrate increased rates of school attendance, increased levels of homework completion and school engagement, while showing decreasing rates of school assaults and referrals to the principal’s office.

For more information, see the links below:


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