What leads a young person away from violence?
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Families torn apart by loss, unexplained, sudden, violent. Young dreams cut short and gone forever. Stories of youth violence are increasingly commonplace in the media, but what do we make of these stories?

The causes of youth violence are so complex, it sometimes feels as though they can never be fully understood, let alone mitigated.

York University researcher Andrea Davis, though, devotes her days to decoding those complex causes and effects, laying bare the historical and social contexts that help explain how youth violence becomes so pervasive and devastating.

Through her research, Davis works with community partners to help black youth in Canada and Jamaica challenge physical and systemic violence, and find new paths toward social and civic engagement. Her work helps young people form new social identities through participation in the arts, social history and literature.

Contrary to what many people believe, she has found that African diasporic youth view physical and gendered violence as stemming from what are known as issues of “systemic violence.” In particular, young people say the alienation that comes from poverty in Jamaica and racism in Canada leaves youth vulnerable to physical violence.

“Rather than assuming that black youth are naturally pre-disposed to certain behaviours, the initiative examines how racism and poverty, as well as physical and gendered violence intervene in the lives of youth and disrupt their desire to function as engaged citizens,” Davis says. “Since blackness in Canada is largely reduced to a problematic performance of Jamaicanness, by allowing Canadian and Jamaican youth to engage in conversations about their lives and develop collaborative arts-based projects, we give Canadian youth access to the complexity of Jamaican society and culture that can help them redefine their own identities.”

Black Canadian youth consistently find that their histories and experiences are excluded from school curricula. By helping young people rearticulate their social identities, Davis seeks to change the behavior and action of those most affected by violence.

The circumstances that result in those distressing news stories are complex, but through the work of researchers like Andrea Davis, they are decipherable. And once you know what the real causes are, it makes it more possible to do something about them.

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