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The Healing Circle Project is a partnership with Dream Academy Houston to examine the effectiveness of Healing Circles in reducing symptoms of trauma and promoting psychological well-being for adolescents exposed to community violence, traumatic loss, and associated stressors. A good description of the healing circle process can be found here. We are partnering with Dream Academy and Worthing High School in Houston to train the school staff on how to deliver Healing Circles in a school setting, so that healing is accessible to students.  We are using quantitative (self-report surveys) and qualitative (focus groups) to examine the feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness of the Healing Circles.


In collaboration with colleagues from the Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research in the School of Public Health, we are examining risk and protective factors for suicidality among Black youth in Texas.  Texas has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the United States, but there is limited data on the experiences of Black youth in both urban and rural areas of Texas and how the rates of and factors associated with suicidality may be affected by limited resources/access to mental health services. This project seeks to provide a statewide comprehensive assessment of suicidality among Black youth in Texas. We will also examine sociodemographic risk and protective factors associated with suicidal ideation, suicidal plans, and suicide attempts.    


The AGED (Age and Gender Effects on Desensitization) Project is utilizing secondary data analysis on existing data to enhance our understanding of potential gender and age effects on emotional desensitization and physiological hypersensitization to community violence exposure among Black adolescent girls and boys. The study will utilize longitudinal data from three existing datasets: the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (Earls et al., 2002), the Pittsburgh Youth Study (Loeber et al., 1998), and the Pittsburgh Girls Study (Keenan et al., 2010). The project extends our previous research on the dual processes of emotional desensitization and physiological hypersensitization in African American male adolescents exposed to community violence (i.e., Gaylord-Harden, Bai & Simic, 2017; Gaylord-Harden, So, Bai & Tolan, 2017; Gaylord-Harden, So, Bai, Henry & Tolan, 2017).


The purpose of Project Achieve was to identify the individual, school, peer, family, and community factors that predict academic functioning and social-emotional behavior in male students of color. Specifically, the project examined the unique and interactive effects of factors that are associated with fewer social and emotional difficulties and higher levels of academic functioning for male adolescents of color. The project was a collaborative effort between Urban Prep administrators and researchers from the PACCT Lab at Loyola University Chicago.   Although the study examined the prevalence and impact of stressors in the lives of the students, the project utilized a strengths-based approach and measured key strengths and assets embedded within individuals, families, peer relationships, schools, and communities that may enhance the academic and social-emotional well-being of the youth in the context of stressors. Approximately 500 African American adolescent boys (grades 9th - 11th) completed survey data on exposure to violence, attitudes towards violence, life stressors, coping strategies, depression, anxiety, PTSD, social skills, peer and parent support, extracurricular activities, academic motivation, parent involvement in school, sense of belonging in school, and perceived neighborhood quality.  

Project Achieve


The aim of the Y-ACSI project was to develop and validate a coping measure for African American youth that assesses culturally- and contextually-relevant coping strategies used by African American youth.  Research on coping in childhood and adolescence has been limited with regard to ethnicity and SES. Existing measures of coping may not encompass the strategies employed by African American youth, failing to account for context- or culture-specific strategies, and thereby limiting our understanding of resilient processes in this population.  In 2005, our research team conducted several focus groups with approximately 150 African American adolescents (grades 6th–8th) to discuss experiences of stress and coping.  We transcribed the audio tapes of the focus groups and used content analysis to generate items for the coping measure.  The resulting list of coping strategies was reviewed for clarity and cultural relevance by 3 experts on cultural processes in African American youth.  The current version of the measure is called the Africultural Coping System Inventory – Youth Version (Y-ACSI).  The Y-ACSI contains 34 items that are rated on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = Not at all, 2 = used a little, 3 = used some, and 4 = used a lot) and grouped into 4 factors:  Emotional Debriefing examines attempts to manage stress by expressing oneself emotionally and creatively; Spiritual-Centered Coping concerns spiritually-based attempts to manage a situation; Maintaining Harmony investigates coping through creating a harmonious balance with environmental stimuli and others; and Communalistic Coping investigates coping through relationships with others.  To date, the Y-ACSI has been used and validated with approximately 300 African American youth living in urban communities.  


The purpose of the Family Focus Project was to examine a model of resilience for African American youth that would identify factors (individual and family) that protect against the psychological effects of stress.  We collaborated with and collected data at Family Focus, a family-support community agency that serves families in Chicago and surrounding areas.  Our participants are African American youth in grades 4th through 8th and their families.  Parents and their children completed a packet of surveys assessing how youth cope with stress, how youth are socialized by their parents to cope with stressors, what stressors they are coping with, the parent-child relationship, how parents cope with stress and psychological outcomes for youth.  In addition, we have collected data on racial identity and parental socialization of racial identity.  We answered a number of questions with these data.  For example, does parental support predict more adaptive coping in youth?  How do African American parents socialize their children to cope? Do parental influences on coping vary by family structure or child gender? Current research findings indicate reports of parental support are associated with youth coping and parental socialization of specific coping techniques (disengagement coping) are associated with specific youth coping (disengagement coping). 


The Anxiety and Depression project proposed to understand the common (negative affect) and specific (physiological hyperarousal and anhedonia) features of depression and anxiety in African American youth.  In this project, the PACCT lab examined neuropsychological, psychological, and social factors that may explain both the commonalities and the differences between depression and anxiety.  To achieve this goal, we collected data with two samples of African American youth in the sixth – eighth grade: a community sample recruited from schools and a clinic-based sample recruited from a community mental health center. Youth completed survey data on stressors, coping strategies, depression, anxiety, executive functioning, and racial identity, and one-year surveys on anxiety and depression.  Findings demonstrated that the three-factor structure of the Tripartite Model is a valid representation of anxiety and depression in African American youth.  Further, stressors and coping strategies show specific associations to features of depression and anxiety.

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