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The Ever-Present Problem of Teen Drug Use

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This year it seems every discussion has been centered around a different former child star or teen idol who has become involved in yet another drug or alcohol-related crime, incident, or even full on meltdown. Whether it was the untimely death of Cory Monteith, Lindsay Lohan’s legal trouble, or Amanda Bynes involuntary committal, drugs and/or alcohol abuse were at the center.

Lindsay Lohan in court with attorney Shawn Holley

Lindsay Lohan in court with attorney Shawn Holley

Sadly, these sort of news stories are neither new nor unique. Although their drug rehab stints receive far more attention, drug addiction is not limited to former child stars. Teen drug abuse is a widespread problem that has become woven into the fibers of our society.  Unfortunately, it does not seem to be going away anytime soon.

The War on Drugs

Throughout the ‘80s and the ‘90s, there was a great push to reduce drug and alcohol use amongst teenagers. Programs such as D.A.R.E. and the “Just Say No” campaign from Nancy Reagan became  well-known and part of popular culture. However, these programs are largely considered failures.

After considerable research and feedback from students, data suggests the best deterrents to teen drug use is parental involvement and peer support groups. Implementing new initiatives such as the “keepin’ it REAL” program encourages positive lifestyles that include a drug and alcohol free culture coming from their peers instead of authoritative figures disguised as catchphrases.

The Legacy

Overall, have we seen a long term drop in teen drug and alcohol use? Unfortunately, it seems that the answer is no. Illegal drug use has remained steady, perhaps dropped slightly, but alcohol use is just as prevalent as ever, and there has been a rise in prescription drug abuse among teens. In fact, a recent CNN article stated that about 47 percent of teenagers have admitted to using illegal drugs. Furthermore, in one survey, 39 percent of teenagers admitted to drinking regularly, and the number who drink occasionally is even higher.

A Solution?

So why is it that this is one problem that we simply cannot eradicate? Part of the problem is that drugs and alcohol are inherently linked with teen pop culture. Pop artists sing about taking drugs, movies are filled with teenagers at parties with alcohol, and everything around teenagers tells them that these substances are necessary in order to have a good time and live a glamorous life. So perhaps part one of getting our kids away from drugs and alcohol, is to get them away from our kids.

Changing an entire culture is a tricky and a near impossible task. However, a more realistic goal might be to identify ways to increase children’s self-esteem when they are young as well as prepare them pitfalls of drug use and peer pressure. Teaching our kids about the ins and outs of drug use, and helping them to understand their long term effects, can be the most important thing that we as parents can do. This in turn means that, in order to help teach kids, we first have to educate parents.

Teenagers are not exactly well known for listening to their parents, but if their parents make an effort to educate about the dangers from a young age, it can make a real difference when the time comes to make their own decision. We cannot possibly hope to eradicate drug and alcohol abuse among all teenagers, but if we are going to make an impact, we will have to do it one teenager at a time.

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Hyrum Taffer is a freelance writer and lover of life. I'd like to help others battling drug addiction and share my experiences.

          
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Culture

Is the #MeToo Movement Leaving Black Women Behind

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Oscar Award Winning Actress Lupita Nyong’o

Women have been sexually exploited for centuries and its foundation is heavily rooted in American history. But what about the black woman and her story? With all of the sexual harassment allegations and mayhem involving big names such as Weinstein, Moore, Spacey and now Matt Lauer; it should come as no surprise that black women are included in the ever growing list of victims.

However, it couldn’t be the further from the truth. It has been amazing and yet difficult to digest the responses to the black women who have come forth with allegations of sexual harassment. The skepticism and scrutiny in which many have been subjected to is both distasteful and heartbreaking. How is it that in 2017 our stories still don’t matter?

It is of strongly held opinions that the black woman was the original victim of what we now know to be sexual abuse/harassment/violence. The historic amnesia that America has denied for centuries has found a way to rear its ugly head only for the sake of whiteness and other contemporary motives yet the black woman is still forgotten.

Lest we forget that it was the black woman who was raped, killed, exploited, molested and subjugated to adapt to cultural norms that she may never receive full acceptance into despite her many contributions and heavy influence on this culture. Rooted in racist ideology that perpetuates systems of superiority, power, and control; it is evident why the black woman’s story is unbelievable.

Pair that with a century’s long narrative that has painted a picture of the black woman as an over sexualized seductress whose very anatomy is both revered and seen as threatening, and we now have plausibility to deny anything that comes out of her mouth claiming victimization. When a black woman claims that she has been victimized, why is she automatically seen as the perpetrator or instigator?

Case in point, Harvey Weinstein quickly refuted claims from Oscar-winning actress, Lupita N’yongo, but for the most part remained silent on claims from other women. It is important to note that N’yongo is the only black woman who has come forth with allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. Weinstein. Are we to believe that Weinstein had an ‘off switch’ when it came to Lupita N’yongo? Pssshhh, I think not!

Surely people are not naïve to the fact that black women have and continue to experience sexual harassment and exploitation at alarmingly high rates. In fact, a quick Google search on black women and sexual harassment will render a host of information chronicling our fight against sexual harassment.

One will even learn how it was the struggles of a collective group of black women that helped shape sexual-harassment laws and the many protections it provides on the books today. It is also important to note that when the perpetrator of sexual misconduct is a black male whose victim’s are typically black women, little to no attention is brought to these issues.

For instance, when you hear the name, R. Kelly, not only is it synonymous with music and pop culture, but you may also think ‘affinity for young girls’ as well. Despite decades of suspicion, allegations, and videos of sexual misconduct, Kelly’s career has persisted and even thrived. This is an unlikely paradox given the current environment that has resulted in many high-powered men losing nearly everything they have worked for.

Even Bill Cosby was shunned for his actions. So why the difference? Again, when you compare Kelly up against other men, the only real difference is the victims. Kelly’s victims are typically young black girls and women whose lives and stories simply don’t hold as much value as their white counterparts.

There is little doubt that the black woman’s mind body and soul has been invaded in an effort to dominate the very space that she occupies. Slavery taught us that while the black male was indeed the head of the family, leader of the tribe and physically capable to withstand formidable circumstances; it was the black woman who was the driving force behind black people’s survival.

Even still today, she has had to take on all of these roles in the absence of the black male due to the continuous assault on his life while attempting to maintain some semblance of normalcy for both herself and her family.

Somewhere along the way, black women were placed at the bottom of the barrel and devalued or perhaps she was never valued at all. Society has stripped her of every human right you can think of. She has been poked, prodded, studied, raped, exploited, coerced, deprived, abused, and so on and so forth.

History has shown us that the black woman is a part of one of the most disenfranchised groups and that despite the many strides she has made in overcoming adversity, society still seeks to invade her space, steal her virtue all while denying her claims that give truth to her existence.

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Culture

Why We Are Just Learning About Harvey Weinstein?

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Photo Credit: People Magazine – Courtney Love and Harvey Weinstein Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Venturelli/WireImage

Why has it taken almost three decades for Harvey Weinstein’s absurdities and gross sexual misconduct to come to light? He was a champion of women’s rights, an avid supporter of the progressive movement and a sought-after democratic donor. How did the people not know? Was there some oath of silence friends, colleagues, and staff members took which protected this man for so long?

While some may plead the fifth, it is clear that sexual harassment and discrimination against women is commonplace in Hollywood and unfortunately throughout mainstream and greater society, but it still doesn’t answer the question of why it took so damn long for the public to learn about Weinstein’s behavior. Sure there were non-disclosure agreements and possible gag orders that were strategically attached to pitiful sums of money to hush Weinstein’s multiple victims, but even still the question remains, Why?

Some believe that the answer is simple, misogyny. The misogynistic views that have been embedded in the very fabric of this countries DNA and have been allowed to permeate throughout American culture since this nation’s founding is definitely a good starting point. This misogynistic culture has caused many to turn a blind eye when they see it happen or remain silent when they encounter it themselves. The real kicker is that holding misogynistic views isn’t just a male-only issue.

Women perpetuate these views too which is evidenced by how many women voted for Trump despite the Access Hollywood tapes. Not that it is right, but perhaps the culture of misogyny that has persisted over the years has made it okay for both men and women to perpetuate and accept less than ethical and violent behavior against women.

With a long history of disrespect, disregard, and marginalization of women in this country, it would be ludicrous to ignore the influence that this attitude towards women has had within families, communities, and society as a whole. Despite the historical context that helps explain the 20+ years of silence, the question of why still remains. There have been many strides towards inclusion and improved parity for women. Women have continued to evolve and remain outspoken in various efforts to advocate for themselves and close disparity gaps, so again, why was this allowed to continue for so long?

Outside of the obvious cover-up and threat to one’s reputation; undoubtedly there is a certain intimidation that comes with “going public” about issues like this, especially when your livelihood, reputation, and in extreme cases, your life, is on the line. A victim is even more subdued when the perpetrator holds clout such as Weinstein, Cosby, and others who have been ousted for similar acts.

Arguably so, the tolerance for this type of behavior and misconduct is steadily dwindling and is a strong indicator as to why the people are just now learning about Weinstein’s gross behavior. Still, look at how long it has taken to get here. The tolerance for this type of behavior has to be high, for goodness sake, Trump was recorded on tape bragging about grabbing women by their meow’s, yet he was still elected the leader of the free world. This seemingly renewed assault on women has resulted in a call to action for individuals to protect rights that were hard-fought for and losing them would be a detriment.

This new movement of resistance has definitely brought light to the multiple injustices experienced by women as well as exposed several high-powered individuals and corporations for their unscrupulous behavior. However, as with any major change, hitting people in their pockets have always garnered both attention and change when all other forms of advocacy and protesting have been exhausted.

The threat of bad publicity and potential boycotts has been the impetus for many public apologizes, forced resignations/terminations, policy changes, and organizational change and perhaps is the reason why we are just learning about Weinstein’s actions. The Weinstein Company has since fired Mr. Weinstein in an effort to save face.

While the power of the purse has definitely seen many individuals stand on the side of “right” and condemn the actions of Weinstein in an effort to save face and maintain their bottom line, many of these same individuals such as Ben Affleck has been ousted for being perpetrators of illicit behavior against women themselves. So not only does the question of why still linger, but the question of what does it really take to resolve these kinds of issues arises as well? Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones. For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to ”

So not only does the question of why these allegations lingered for so long is burned into our minds, but the question of what will it really take to resolve and address these kinds of issues in today’s society remains? Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones.

For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to “make it” but were victimized, perhaps some made peace with their new-found success and opportunities and chose to put the Weinstein experience behind them. Either way, it’s good that the skeletons are no longer in the closet.

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Actor Terry Crews Comes Forward About Being Sexually Assaulted by Hollywood Exec

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Actor Terry Crews takes to Twitter to discuss being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood Executive in the wake of the firing of Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault after years of accusations.

Actor Terry Crews

Did you hear the Expendables star say last year?

How is it the criminal justice system doesn’t seem to be able to touch these folks?

Power and privilege keep a lot of people silent.

He just validated a whole lot of women who deal with this on the regular. It’s not easy to come forward.

There is strength in numbers and knowing you are not alone.

Both men and women are affected by sexual assault and rape culture, and it will take more men becoming advocates as well as coming forward to tell their stories because they have stories too.

Reactions from Twitter

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The Y Wants Everyone to Take a #SelfieWithSomeoneNew

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Today, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) is launching a new social media campaign, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew. Inspired by the Y’s new “Us” national campaign creative, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew is an opportunity to highlight how the Y uniquely brings people together. To help raise awareness for the campaign, the Y will partner with long-time member and supporter, actor Ethan Hawke.

Photo Credit: (YMCA of the USA)

The Y is encouraging people to meet someone new, strike up a conversation and discover what they have in common, then, take a selfie and post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #SelfieWithSomeoneNew and tag @YMCA.

Whether it’s a new neighbor down the street, a parent at your child’s school or a person you see every day on your commute home, the Y hopes people will take a few extra moments to get to know one another in order to build a stronger, more connected community.

To encourage participation, the Y is partnering with Oscar-nominated actor, Ethan Hawke, a long-time Y member and former Y camper. To help drive momentum, Hawke will be taking a selfie with someone new at his local Y while encouraging others to do the same.

“I am excited to support the Y and help shine a light on the work they do,” said Hawke. “They are so much more than a gym. They create community. I started going to the Y as kid when my parents didn’t know what to do with me all summer. Since then, the Y has been a staple in my life; my refuge when I am an out of work actor, or the place that has taught my children to swim. I hope we can raise awareness about everything the Y does in communities all over the country.”

Because of the Y, people who may not have met otherwise, come together, whether they are kids in an afterschool enrichment program, adults in a cancer survivorship group or families volunteering. These are natural and easy ways for people to find commonality and even unity among perceived differences.

“For more than 160 years, the Y has brought people together – no matter their differences – and helped build stronger, more connected communities,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, Y-USA. “#SelfieWithSomeoneNew is a great way to illustrate how we can all take small, but meaningful steps towards unity with something as simple as a photo.”

The Y is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 22 million men, women and children – regardless of age, income or background – to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in more than 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. ymca.net

For more information on how to participate in the Y’s #SelfieWithSomeoneNew campaign and to learn more about the Y’s “For a better us.” campaign, visit ymca.net/forabetterus.

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Have You Heard the “Suicide Prevention Anthem 1-800-273-8255”

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MTV – VMAs

National Suicide Prevention Month begins on September 1st, and MTV officially kicked off the awareness month with a performance of “1-800-273-8255” by Logic along with Khalid and Alessia Cara at the VMAs. The song’s title just happens to be the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the performance also included a group of suicide attempt survivors who came on stage wearing shirts with the number to the suicide helpline.

The song begins from the perspective of someone who wants to die and feels there is no one there to care about what happens to them. The opening hook for the song states, “I don’t want to be alive, I just want to die today, I just want to die.” Some may take an issue with the beginning of the song, but it can not be understated the importance of identifying those feelings in order to seek help.

A recent study which included 32 children’s hospital across the United States revealed an alarming increase in self-harm and suicidality in children and teens ranges from ages 5 to 17 over the past decade. Also, the School of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Birmingham released a recent study stating, “Children and young people under-25 who become victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to enact self-harm and attempt suicide than non-victims.”

The second hook starts with “I want you to be alive, You don’t gotta die today, You don’t gotta die.” The song moves from a place of darkness to a place of support. When someone expresses suicidal thoughts, it is critical to not dismiss their feelings or minimize the weight of the issues preventing them from wanting to live. The Center for Disease control list death by suicide as the number 1 cause of death in the 15-19 age group. According to the National Data on Campus Suicides, “1 in 12 college students have written down a suicide plan as a result of stresses related to school, work, relationships, social life, and still developing as a young adult.”

John Draper, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in an interview talked about the impact the song is already having. Draper said: “The impact has been pretty extraordinary. On the day the song was released, we had the second-highest call volume in the history of our service. Overall, calls to the hotline are up roughly 33% from this time last year.” via CNN

“I finally want to be alive, I don’t want to die today, I don’t want to die” are the lyrics and the tone in which the songs end. Then, it leads into an incredibly woke statement by Logic, and here is a sample:

“I am here to fight for your equality because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally at that is why we must fight!” – Logic VMAs

The trend for suicide deaths is on an upward climb. A 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control state there were twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. It’s time we end the stigma and myths surrounding suicide attempt survivors “doing it for the attention.” Suicidal thoughts may be an ongoing struggle instead of a one-off event to prevent. In this case, we need to arm loved ones and at risk individuals with information as well as tools and resource to manage their mental health status.

Suicide Warning Signs

Another useful resource is the Crisis Text Line in which users can send a text to a trained counselor and typically receive a response within 5 minutes. Texters can begin by texting “START to 741741” to get connected.

Mental Health providers and practitioners are always looking for ways to connect and reach those most at risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviors, and pop culture often has a direct connection to those who are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, a recent study identified a link between 13 Reasons Why and suicidal thoughts in which it found “queries about suicide and how to commit suicide spiked in the show’s wake.”

However, unlike Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why“, this song is already showing that it will have the opposite effect by increasing queries and online searches about the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you have not seen this powerful VMA performance, I urge you to check it out.

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What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach Us About Working With Young Black Men

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A young Black man sitting on a couch, talking to a TV show host

We need to look to the history of Black men in the United States in order to understand the seriousness of what happened to DeMario Jackson.

This season, the “Bachelor” franchise has taken on the topic of race relations in a fairly head-on fashion for mainstream television. For years, the series has been (aptly) criticized for featuring primarily White contestants.

After a season in which a Black woman was cast for the first time as the “Bachelorette,” the franchise’s summer follow-up series, “Bachelor in Paradise,” included several Black men and women in search of love. But let’s hone in on the story one man in particular, Demario Jackson.

Mr. Jackson, a Black man, joined the Mexico-based “Bachelor in Paradise” cast in hopes of finding a partner. As the television show is known for its sexual antics and hookup culture, it was no surprise when Mr. Jackson quickly became involved with Corinne Olympios, a White woman. The two met, flirted and over the course of a day of drinking, became sexually intimate.

All of this took place in public, with cameras rolling and with cast-mates walking by from time to time. The day after this incident, producers stopped the show as a third party had filed a complaint about Mr. Jackson’s behavior with Ms. Olympios vis-à-vis alcohol consumption and consent to sexual activities.

Ms. Olympios claimed that she did not remember any of the night due to her heavy drinking, but later, for a time, claimed that she was a victim of sexual assault (and had to endure the pain of “slut shaming” as well). Of the event, Mr. Jackson has stated “It was 100-percent consensual. She hopped in my arms, she pulled me into the pool…I think people wanted it to be something different. They wanted the angry Black guy and this little, innocent White girl. But it wasn’t.”

In the end, an external investigation (paid for by Warner Brothers) determined that no wrongdoing took place, and Mr. Jackson’s name was cleared. Unfortunately, this did not occur before the press reported on the incident in some very racially charged and unfair ways – but ways that are not unfamiliar to the Black community. So egregious was the coverage, that at least two of the White female contestants from “Bachelor in Paradise” decided to step up and defend Mr. Jackson’s honor, a refreshing change.

One of the silver linings of Mr. Jackson’s suffering is that our society has the opportunity to revisit longstanding stereotypes about the aggressiveness and/or sexuality of young Black men, especially as it relates to White women.

Helping professionals need to know that our country has a long and shameful history of portraying young Black men as sexual predators and/or perpetrators. Starting in the late 1900s, our country saw a rise racial tension that correlated with the number of lynchings of Black men.

In fact, between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 reported lynchings, 72.7 percent of which involved Black men. It is widely understood that these race-based lynchings were instigated by White people who felt the need to protect White women from Black men. This presumption has followed us to the present day, where many people believe that Black men rape White women more than White men do, something that has been shown to be false.

We must remember that the young Black men that we work with as social workers live with the spectre of history, and are often warned about interacting with White women during “the talk” with their parents. That is, the talk about what it is to live as a young Black man in the United States in an age where racism is alive and well.

Perhaps a father would tell the tale of Florida’s Rosewood massacre, in which many Black men died as a result of a White woman claiming that a Black man had assaulted her. Or perhaps a Black father may tell his son the story of 14 year-old Emmett Till, a young Black man accused of whistling at and making physical advances to a White woman in a candy store. Mr. Till was murdered as a result of his alleged actions – even though decades later, his accuser has admitted to making up the most damning part of her court testimony. The media treatment of DeMario Jackson felt no different to me than what Emmett Till faced.

So, how can we act on this as helping professionals working with young Black men? We are tasked with seeking social justice, but in the case of young Black men, we must also look inside ourselves for ways to promote racial justice. We must challenge ourselves to be aware of damaging stereotypes that may be held about young Black clients.

As helping professionals, we must be committed to reflective practice and be on the lookout for these stereotypes within ourselves as well as among others involved with the clients we work with. We must work to prevent such stereotypes from impacting the lives of the young Black men in schools, universities, community organizations and both the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

We need to do this anti-racism work as the social work profession has been accused of failing Black men many times before. For example, Dr. Waldo Johnson, Jr. addresses this failure in his book Social work with African American males: Health, mental health and social policy. In this text,

Dr. Johnson talks about how Black men suffer from being stereotyped as reckless (at best) and characterized as having a lifelong disregard for or commitment to society in general. While most Black men do not fit into this stereotype, it persists nonetheless, often as a result of media images.

In the post-Charlottesville era, it is vital for social workers – especially White social workers – to take a stand against the stereotyping of young Black men. This is especially important work to engage in given what we know about how White social workers may hold negative racial biases as a result of living in a society defined by White supremacy. It is time to stand up for racial justice in all of the settings we work in, let’s let DeMario Jackson’s ordeal make a difference for young Black men in the United States.

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