Supporting cultural differences provides for greater impact
Margaret L. Woods, President/CEO, Independence: A Family of Services.
V 2 I 2 – May 2017
Youngsters who attend culturally inclusive programs are more likely to appreciate and better understand their own backgrounds and the backgrounds of others, have positive experiences, achieve better program and developmental outcomes and learn the benefits of a diverse environment. Youth learn to understand that differences are good and to appreciate others’ right to hold different ideas and beliefs. They learn that discriminating against other ideas and behavior is not acceptable.
People are defined by their culture. This means groups share a core set of values, customs, and interpersonal styles that influence individuals’ behavior. While the children participating in the program may belong to certain groups, many may not belong to any one culture. Programs have the opportunity, not only to model cultural competence and value multiculturalism, but to also impart these increasingly important skills and values to their participants.
Culturally sensitive education has the potential to promote healthier psychosocial development for youth of all cultures throughout childhood and adolescence. Ultimately, these children will be better prepared to enter a multicultural workforce and society.
In our experience at IFS, we found that culture and ethnicity are assets to the development of youth. Especially youth who have experienced trauma. Having a strong sense of self-worth, a close identification with a group, and having an understanding of one’s own history are personal assets that create a sense of pride and high self-esteem.
As one might expect, self-esteem is critical for emotional stability and the positive development of teens. Studies examining drug use among African American and Puerto Rican adolescents found that knowledge of cultural history and ethnic identity diminished drug use. Using culturally infused components, such as a Rites of Passage program and culturally relevant and responsive mental health services , helps us combat “self-medication” when teens seek ways to deal with trauma.
Culturally responsive programs incorporate activities and materials that encourage youth to transcend their own cultural comfort levels. This in turn helps them to communicate better and develop better conflict management skills and use them more effectively. By involving program participants in projects that demand collaboration across cultures, they will not only learn to work as a team with those who are different from themselves, but they will also experience success in aiding their communities.
Let’s value multi-culturalism as a means to strengthen our youth. It will only have a positive effect and enhance the future of our community.
 Prevention Works! (1999). Prevention Alert, 3(5). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. Retrieved December 11, 2006 from http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/govpubs/prevalert/v3i5.aspx.