Racial socialization-based research 'EMBRace' to open program in Detroit

Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 2:43pm

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Design by Hibah Chughtai

Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race is a research program at the University of Michigan involved with helping Black parents and children confront racial stress through dialogue. 

Alum Emma Schmidt, a program coordinator with EMBRace, said the goal of the program is to reduce parent and adolescent racial stress, as well as promote bonding for the families in the program.

“A lot of the work we do centers around racial socialization, which is basically talking to children about what their race means and what the social consequences surrounding race are,” Schmidt said. 

The EMBRace program received Institutional Review Board approval in winter 2020 and was set to launch its intervention program in Detroit this summer. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, EMBRace leaders postponed the program due to restrictions on working directly with Detroit residents.

With the delay and limited ability to do in-person work, research assistants such as Public Health senior Nia Watkins have been doing transcriptions and observational coding of videos from the EMBRace program in Philadelphia, as well as weekly lab meetings.

“The program has been done in other cities, most recently in Philadelphia,” Watkins said. “I know that there’s been a lot of positive responses there; we’re looking at a lot of that data.”

Watkins said her involvement in EMBRace gave her the ability to understand perspectives on current racial tensions from those outside her age group. 

“As a member of EMBRace, I’m thinking like how are young kids experiencing this, what are they thinking when they see this and how are their parents talking to them,” Watkins said. “I think I have a broader array of thought looking at these topics, because I just realized that there are younger kids who also have to deal with this and it’s not just me and people my own age.”

The program — which was founded by Dr. Riana Anderson, University researcher and assistant professor of health behavior and health education — is an eight session family program that brings Black parents and their children together for conversations about race, cultural pride, discrimination and stress management.

Schmidt said the plan for the program is to have families with children between the ages of 10 and 14 meet for an hour and a half each week to engage in conversations surrounding race. These conversations can be facilitated through a variety of techniques such as role playing, debating and art projects.

Schmidt got involved with EMBRace after taking PUBHLTH 308: Black American Health: A Focus on Children, Families, and Communities with Dr. Anderson as an undergrad.

“(The class) was mostly based on racial disparities in Detroit, and structural barriers and structural racism,” Schmidt said. “It was eye-opening for me (that) as a white person, I could be able to use my privilege and power and education and my middle class status to be able to try and help people and try to reduce these barriers that so many people don’t even recognize.”

With the international protests against police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd and prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks, Schmidt said she felt EMBRace’s research has been emphasized.

“We know that kids as young as seven recognize and know what’s going on with racism and police brutality, so I think that just stresses how important it is to promote psychological well-being and be able to discuss cultural pride,” Schmidt said. “It’s important that families talk about these issues in a healthy way rather than putting them off because they’re hard and difficult things to talk about.”

EMBRace does not yet have a set date to launch in Detroit, but is providing updates through their social media.

Public Health master’s student Asia Island, a research assistant with EMBRace, recently launched a Black Lives Matter resource guide for social media. The 24-page continuously updated guide includes resources regarding mental health, anti-racism, donations and petitions. 

Island said she started the guide after she struggled to find a centralized place for important resources during the emergence of widespread anti-police brutality protests last month. As a resident advisor, she wanted to consolidate information for her residents. Although she had meant the guide for a small number of people, it currently has 850 views.

“It was intended just for my small Michigan community,” Island said. “But of course I decided to open it up to everyone, and now it’s in people’s (social media) bios and being spread about. I’m happy about that, I’m happy that people are being informed.”

According to Island, she’s been using what she’s learned through the research to process the current Black Lives Matter movement. 

“(I’ve been) using those things that Dr. Anderson has instilled inside of that intervention inside of my own personal life to kind of navigate and understand it,” Island said. “I just reflect, internalize and navigate this current BLM space … which is using some EMBRace practices.”

Island said her EMBRace research team members have been “absolutely amazing” during this time.

“They understand, more than maybe some other labs even what we’re going through,” Island said. “With Dr. Anderson being a clinical psychologist, that is additional help for a lot of us … she does give us the space to work through what is on our mind.”

Daily Staff Reporter Iulia Dobrin can be reached at idobrin@umich.edu.