OC NAACP Reaching Students
Rising Above Racism
By Dianne Anderson
In Orange County, where Black students make up just a small percentage at local elementary schools, it’s easy for kids to lose their sense of self in a sea of faces where few or none of the others look like them.
A new program from the Orange County Branch NAACP wants to help them understand their place in the challenges they face, much of which may not even be in their vocabulary, but they know something is off.
Growing up in a county where they are in the extreme minority, they need a place to share their feelings.
“If you don’t have a sense of belonging then you have psychological stress. It begins an unraveling of psychological imbalance, and questioning oneself, and that’s just us as adults. Try to imagine the children,” said Dr. Loretta Jordan, a member of the Orange County Branch NAACP.
Through their new program, Black Youth RISING (Resilience, Inspiration, Significance, Invaluable, Noteworthy and Gifted), students will learn to recognize what it is they are experiencing and feeling. In the process, they prepare for the societal rigors of adulthood.
Chances are, just by being Black in America, they will encounter racism and psycho-social challenges into the future. She said that the development of coping mechanisms and strength-building skills should start now.
Through their upcoming Zoom meetings, kids will have a safe place where they can experience a sense of community and understand the emotion behind the disparities.
In looking over the local demographics of schools the program could serve, they found that in some cases, there was only one Black student – at most four – in schools with over 100 students per grade level.
That level of isolation can be harsh and confusing. She said connections with other Black students are critical for healthy psychological development.
Jordan, who holds a master’s in clinical psychology and a doctorate in psychology, said the early years of disparities can lead to later depression and identity crisis. Her dissertation was on “The Biracial Experience within Constructs Created by the White Majority.”
She is Black and Mexican, and grew up through her own journey of self-exploration in Los Angeles at a time when little or no psychological support existed.
“It was like who do you belong to? Are you the Mexican race? Are you the Black race? You’re light-skinned, you got the good hair,” she said.
But whether Black kids or biracial kids, growing up in a predominantly white county are certain to deal with daily conflict that they may not understand or know how to express.
Jordan said the chapter saw the need to help local kids be self-aware, encouraged, and persist to the next grade level through higher education.
Black Youth RISING was framed with architecture in mind, with mentors building up students with activities focused on pillars of strength. Meetings will be held on Zoom where students will talk about resilience in their own lives, and share moments that they may have witnessed such as a hurtful situation.
“They are the proverbial fly in the bowl of milk,” she said. “They’re not knowing what to do with these emotions, they don’t even know how to identify them. That’s why we’re presenting them with the quality strength-building mindset.”
Retired educator, Dr. Fred Calhoun, said the program also reaches kids with other needs, including math and language skills, particularly in building up self-confidence.
Calhoun, president of the Orange County Branch NAACP, knows what it’s like growing up in an all white community. It wasn’t easy.
He was sent to Orange County to live with relatives in 1957 when his father was involved in civil rights education lawsuit in Atlanta, and there was a threat on his life. Calhoun attended Valencia Park Elementary school in Fullerton.
Recently, he contacted his childhood school, and the principal wrote back saying they were happy to work with the NAACP and the program.
“It was very delightful for me because it was over 60 years ago when I entered that school and I was the only Black kid in that school that I recall. I was ten,” he said.
Calhoun, Ed.D., also sits on RSCCD’s diversity advisory board, and feels strongly about those early years as being critical for Black students. It can make or break them.
With a recent round of funding support for the program, he believes the idea is being embraced, and he wants to see it grow further.
“One of the schools wanted to know if we could go a little higher to fifth and sixth graders that have those same needs too, I think we’re going to do that. We’re trying to focus on students with the greatest need,” he said.
For more information on the program, contact https://naacp-oc.org/ or