April 5, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today we’re featuring a MindSite News Original about the activists of the Young Women’s Freedom Center in California and their effort to do two vital things: heal themselves and fix the systems that have placed so many young people of color behind bars. We also look at a burning debate over neurodiversity, hear from a psychologist about anxiety so intense it makes kids stop talking, and look at a Miami program that uses the wisdom and experience of incarcerated men to help younger people avoid gang life. And more.


Lucero Herrera, a staff organizer at the Young Women’s Freedom Center, teaches Marianna Hall, 3, daughter of youth organizer Kayla Hall, a power pose on March 28, 2022. | Photo: Camille Cohen, San Francisco Standard

Revolution from the Inside Out

A new generation of activists from the Young Women’s Freedom Center is working to change the system while struggling to heal from their own traumas. In the process, they are pioneering an organizing model based on the premise that personal healing and political transformation go hand in hand. “We have to be in a situation of power in order to make a change, but until then, we have to start with ourselves,” says 21-year-old Tenaya Jones.

Writer Nell Bernstein profiled the work of the women – OGs and youngsters alike – who are working to be more effective changemakers, and photographer Camille Cohen from The San Francisco Standard, our partner on this project, captured their dynamic images.

Read the full story here.


Working inside out to help at-risk youth in South Florida

Incarcerated people are working in concert with city officials, detectives and gang prevention specialists to help youth avoid prison in Miami, according to a Next City story written by Ryan M. Moser, who is currently imprisoned in Florida. The Positive Peer Leadership program (PPL) was founded in 2016 at the Everglades Correctional Institution by an inmate who once sat on Death Row. The program has become a way for former gang members to help violence-prevention activists and strategists be more effective in their work – and to help younger, fellow inmates chart new paths.

“Incarcerated residents can relate to the teens we’re trying to help,” said Wayne Rawlins, project manager of the Anti-Violence Initiative in Miami Dade County. They “have a unique perspective on community violence because many of them were drivers of it in the past.”

PPL has developed strong connections with local leaders and activists and organizes an annual summit inside a county jail. The next step some hope for is to connect with teens in-person, either outside or in. “I haven’t been able to talk to the kids face-to-face,” said Dexter Dukes, PPL’s president. “But when I get paroled next year, I’ll focus on mentoring at-risk juveniles and giving back what I’ve learned.” 

A neurodivergent’s conundrum

Illustration: Shutterstock

Does a movement that pushes us to accept all cognitive and mental differences actually help people feel better? Shayla Love, a self-described “neurodivergent” Vice News writer trained a critical eye on the neurodiversity movement in a deeply reported article that includes interviews with scholars, physicians, and mental health professionals who describe themselves as “neurodiverse.” 

Love writes that while the term was coined in the autism community in the 1990s, its use has broadened to encompass many variations in brain function, including conditions like ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and depression. Proponents consider variation to be “a fact of life,” not “problems to be fixed” and suggest that society needs “to accommodate for difference by creating environments in which those with differences can thrive as they are.” 

Naturally, there is pushback. In a piece titled “Against Neurodiversity,” neuroscientist Moheb Costandi argued that the movement could actually “romanticize” disabling conditions. “There are now groups of self-advocates who celebrate depression and schizophrenia,” he wrote. “This could also be related to the growth of pro-anorexia websites, as well as the more recent emergence of ‘addiction pride.’” 

For Love, the debate brings up a thorny question: “When should I try to change or ‘treat’ my mental differences, and when should I embrace them as naturally occurring diversity?”

When children stop speaking

Illustration: Shutterstock

As we all know, anxiety has spiked during the pandemic; in its extreme forms, it can cause children, especially, to simply stop talking. In a column for Psychology Today, Washington DC-based clinical psychologist Veronica Raggi described a story she heard from a parent:

My 4-year-old son hasn’t spoken at his preschool since he started in the fall. He listens and follows instructions, but spends the entire day in silence. In contrast, his speech comes tumbling out as he exits the school building. He is talkative and expressive at home, but when he is at school, he is mute. Not one word, all day, every day.  

When anxiety manifests itself this way, it is called selective mutism, Raggi explains, and “is characterized by an inability to speak in certain social settings, such as with teachers and peers at school, extended family, and in public settings.” She writes that the condition impacts children’s ability to communicate with others and can delay a child’s ability to develop friendships, demonstrate academic growth and advocate for their needs outside of home. 

Without effective treatment, the behavioral traits can carry into adolescence and adulthood, making the condition harder to treat. For families, the shortage of clinicians trained to manage the condition further exacerbates the challenge of the condition. According to the American Psychological Association, only 4% of clinical psychologists specialize in working with children – and even fewer are trained to treat selective mutism.

Why do you think they call it dopamine?

Dopamine, says Stanford Medical School psychiatrist Anna Lembke, had a great evolutionary purpose: It kept us motivated in a world where we constantly searched and struggled to meet our basic needs. But in a world of greater abundance, like the one we inhabit today, dopamine in excess can lead to addiction. Through social media, sugar, and even sex, our brains are in a constant state of dopamine-triggering stimuli, she says, “making almost every behavior drugified.In an episode of NPR’s Life Kit, Lembke talked about the latest research detailed in her book, Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, and some of the best ways to escape what she calls “the firehouse of dopamine.”

She urges us to refrain from pursuing a dopamine high by fasting from regular pleasure- seeking practices that we may struggle to live without – social media, reality TV, sugar, or any of the substances we traditionally define as addictive, like gambling, drugs, or alcohol. She also suggests practicing radical honesty: “If we tell ourselves stories that aren’t true, we’ll repeat our mistakes. But if we’re ruthlessly honest about how we’re flawed and how we’ve contributed to our own problems – we can work on those mistakes and navigate the future differently.”

In other news…

To reduce harm and fight the opioid epidemic, the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan is offering a vending machine that distributes free naloxone kits to anyone who needs them, MLive reports. The medication can rapidly reverse opioid overdoses in emergency situations. The local nonprofit Home of New Vision provided and stocked the initial kits.

Dr. Marcy McKeithen, a Detroit-based veterinarian, opened a mobile vet service to ensure that anxious pets can get vital medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read about her practice, Motor City Vet Care, in The Detroit News.

Is too much change overwhelming you? Electric Literature has compiled a list of books to read whenever you feel uprooted. They include Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz, The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernández and Infinite Country by Patricia Engel. See the entire list here

The American Psychological Association has a new leader in Baltimore native Thema Bryant. A profile in The Washington Post paints a picture of a woman who isn’t afraid to shake things up. Psychologist Shavonne Moore-Lobban told the paper about the time Bryant started singing in the middle of giving a talk at the APA convention. “When a member of the audience said later to her, “I didn’t know we could sing at APA,” Bryant responded, “I didn’t know you couldn’t.” She is also an ordained elder in the AME church, a tenured professor at Pepperdine University, an outspoken survivor of sexual assault and sister of mega-pastor Jamal Bryant, who recently went on a hunger strike for voting rights.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.

We Interrupt This Program to Bring You #BlackJoy

We Black people—Black Americans in this case—know hard times, but our lives also sparkle with joy.

Librarians’ Mental Health Threatened By Book Bans, Abuse And Harassment

Some librarians used to make jokes about Fahrenheit 451 as they pushed back on threats. No longer.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...