Background and Purpose
Black and Latinx youth organizers in the United States have established local and national-level anti-gun violence organizations that have positively impacted individuals, communities, and policy. These organizing spaces are avenues of healing for its members while also sites of microagressions and discrimination that leave youth of color feeling unsafe and unprotected. Our qualitative study explores youth Black and Latinx organizers’ approach and experiences of healing and coping inside organizing spaces.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted on phone and Zoom with 17 young people from September to April 2022. Youth identified as Black (60%), Latinx (35%), or Afro-Latinx (5%), were based in the U.S., between the ages of 18-25, and were engaged in anti-gun violence organizing. The sample was 60% female and located in states across the U.S. Half organized with community-based organizations where their peers were majority Black and Latinx, and half organized with national-level organizations where their peers were majority white.
Youth were recruited purposively through Twitter and Instagram based on their affiliation with anti-gun violence organizations. The 1-hour interviews, which were recorded and transcribed, explored youth’s motivations in their organizing work, experiences of discrimination within organizing spaces, and their healing process afterwards. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to code the transcripts for core concepts, followed by memoing and discussion with the team to identify overarching themes.
Based on our analyses, we argue that Black and Latinx youth organizers have a nuanced understanding of healing as being a collective endeavor. Rather than view healing as an individual task, respondents highlight the emotional and social implications of sharing traumatic experiences with others. Black and Latinx youth seek out community-based anti-gun violence organizations to facilitate healing in this regard, not only from gun violence, but also racism.
Within community-based organizations, healing often occurred as an entire organization. As part of collective healing, young people shared traumatic experiences with peers with common identities to process and heal from exposure to gun violence. Josh mentioned, “talking to people that are in similar situations to me, like, even if it's not like a therapist sometimes, but just talking and communicating [with] people who actually understand what I'm going through. Like, it helps so much... just being around people with the same type of feelings as you has definitely been healing for sure.”
Compared to national-level majority white organizations, Black and Latinx youth tended to seek out and form community with other Black and Latinx who shared more similar experiences of gun-violence in order to prioritize their healing processes.
Conclusions and Implications
Our results showcase how young Black and Latinx organizers conceptualize and experience healing and coping from gun violence in organizations and how that influences individual and communal well-being. Youth are intentional about how they engage with specific organizations but further research is needed on the difference in organizational structure in community-based and national-level organizations. The study offers insights for organizations on how to create healing spaces inclusive to Black and Latinx youth’s experience with gun violence.