UNCG Campus Weekly

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Stephanie Irby Coard meets President Obama, gives him report

It’s not often that a college professor, after heading up a national task force, has the opportunity to place the resulting report in the hands of the President of the United States.

Dr. Stephanie Irby Coard, an associate professor of human development and family studies, did just that, handing the report, “Resilience in African American children and adolescents: A vision for optimal development,” to President Barack Obama during his visit to Raleigh on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Written by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Task Force on Resilience and Strength in Black Children and Adolescents, the report encourages a major shift from an emphasis on risk to exploring the complex interactive process of resilience in African American youth.

The task force recommended how the problems faced by African American children and youth should be addressed in the areas of research, practice, education and policy. It sets a new vision for optimal development in African American youth in the contexts of peers, families, schools and communities, involving the broad areas of identity development, emotional development, social development, cognitive development and physical health and development.

So Coard’s goal was getting the report into the hands of the President. She and other members of the Task Force have been disseminating the report since it was released in fall 2008. She recently found that persistence does indeed pay off when she was invited to attend Obama’s speech in Raleigh.

“I have ‘pushed’ this report in any outlet that I could and have stuck with it. I finally got a plug from a connection who recognized how passionate I was about the report’s content and how hard I had been pushing it,” Coard said. “I was surprised to be invited to see him speak at N.C. State University on Wednesday. I was in shock.

“The invitation came from a member of the President’s staff, who told me that there was no guarantee that I would meet him personally. However, I was guaranteed that he would receive the report. This was not planned at all; as a matter of fact everything was very last minute and very specifically detailed. I accomplished my goal and I am beyond thrilled about it.”

The report began making the rounds in Congress in fall 2008, when the APA’s Public Interest-Government Relations Office distributed 200 copies of the report at the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference and distributed the report to all 42 members of the caucus.

“When you look at the research on black teens and adolescents, the majority of studies tend to be deficit-focused,” Coard said. “We know a lot about black teen violence, a lot about black teens and pregnancy, a lot about educational disparities. What we don’t know much about is the resilience and strengths of African American youth thriving even in the face of adversity. We know about the negative things but we don’t know much at all about the kids who are doing well and why they’re doing well.

“What we wrote proposes a ‘Portrait of Resilience’ on what is making kids thrive in the midst of adversity. We asked, ‘What does this look like?’ We were challenging researchers, policymakers, practitioners, educators and funders to shift their lens and look at these children, not at-risk but at-promise.”

Coard had worked with the PI-GRO staff, the foundation and the Congressional Black Caucus staff to have a congressional resolution sponsored, based on the report. In 2009, the report got a boost from Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who used it as the basis for his resolution recognizing the importance of fostering resilience in African American youth. Co-sponsors with Hastings were Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX); Grace F. Napolitano and Barbara Lee (D-CA); and Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands).

“The resolution served as a statement of the House or Senate’s position on the issue and places moral weight behind changes in public policy,” said Coard. “It was a powerful tool in APA’s future advocacy on Capitol Hill on specific legislation that directly affects African-American youth.”

Coard joined UNCG in 2006, coming from Duke University where she was a research scientist in the Center for Child and Family Policy. Her research interests are prevention of conduct disorder, aggression and violence; racial, ethnic and cultural influences on youth and families; racial socialization processes, racial identity development; and practical and culturally relevant approaches to parenting.

By Steve Gilliam