"The Backstory of
a New Reality"
A Jaw-Dropping Unmasking of Urban Youth Violence
By Dr. Shirley Plantin
Many professionals who work with urban at-risk youth don’t know the extent of the harsh reality these children are living, which ultimately makes their programs, services, and interactions with the youth ineffective. The Backstory of a New Reality contains the down-to-earth and grim information that professionals in several sectors need to know in order to make a positive and lasting impact. Service providers, schools, law enforcement officials (including lawyers and judges), healthcare providers, faith leaders, parents, students majoring in Criminal Justice, Psychology, Social Work, Public Health, and more will benefit from reading this unfiltered truth.
This book is for people who work with, want to work with, or are invested in urban at-risk youth ages 7-19 years old. Urban, as it relates to this body of work, means “situated in a city.” Whether they are low-income or affluent, this age group is engaged in gang violence, depraved sexual acts like bestiality, sex and human trafficking, and drugs.
They’re desperate to be seen for who they are at home and at school. They’re fighting to keep themselves whole at home, and because that fight is so hard and seemingly futile, everything boils over, and they take it out on each other on the streets and, ultimately, on our communities. This body of work is needed in order for all of us in this field to truly understand the many roots of youth violence and how we can assist in promoting effective urban youth conflict resolution.
It is true that kids/youth ages 7-19 are smoking fentanyl, flakka, molly, and dirty blunts. Healthcare providers are behind the curve, so they are unable to relate or engage with youth when they arrive in emergency rooms as victims of gun violence or overdosing on dangerous street drugs.
Many professionals who want to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth only focus on the present or assume that every child can be served by one (cookie-cutter) method. On the contrary, every problematic youth they encounter has a Backstory. You may have a middle schooler who is responsible for taking care of his younger siblings, but all the teacher sees is a student who never does his homework. There is a Backstory, and it is critical to keep this reality at the forefront of our work.
The youth’s Backstory may be social trauma, sexual trauma in the home, cultural trauma, and/or economic trauma. The manifestation of economic trauma is the source of role reversal in the home. The youth have access to a lot of money, primarily because many gang members commit identity theft to facilitate credit card and tax frauds. The parents don’t ask questions, because they know they need the money. This role reversal is killing 2 the parents. It’s hard to brag that your child is taking care of you when you know they’re making dirty money. This is also part of the parent’s economic trauma.
This generation of at-risk youth don’t love life, and they don’t fear death. Their mindset is that they won’t live past 18 years old, so they might as well embrace death. Because of this, they don’t make long-term plans. They’re concerned with what’s quick, easy, and flashy. This “live fast, die young” mentality is leading them to dangerous and reckless behaviors.
Their world is fueled by social media likes, because that is where their efforts may result in some validation. Party promotions, gang recruitments, trafficking, and bullying are all done online through various social media platforms. Many professionals don’t have a true grasp of how powerful this E-Reality subculture is for our youth. It’s a potent subculture inside the larger culture of social media.
Like an infectious disease, youth violence is contagious. It’s a public health issue. Opioids are abused at drug parties, where the price of entry is to bring every drug in your parents’ drug cabinet. Girls are getting gang-raped at these parties, and then the violation is posted online. The Backstory of a New Reality will set you on the path to connecting the dots so that you can prevent or intervene (treat) the learned behavior that is youth violence.
In the meantime, an increasing number of at-risk youth are being diagnosed with either a Learning disability (LD), Emotional Handicap (EH), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These diagnoses are leading to bullying, so the diagnosed child starts skipping class/school and becomes truant. They overcompensate for their disability and outcast status by enacting violence, often being the quickest to pull the trigger.
Last, but not least, at-risk youth who are affluent are falling through the cracks, because “they don’t fit the profile.” The affluent kids are connected to their lower-income, but equally troubled, peers through social media, music, fashion, virtual games, challenges, and parties. But very often, this group is given a pass for their risky behaviors.
Teachers, law enforcement officers, and juvenile diversion programs, among others, attest that there is an increase in affluent kids getting arrested. They don’t love life, and they don’t fear death either, but their reasoning is that money can get them out of anything. Because of their financial privilege, as well as their parents’ concern with social standing, the problems of affluent at-risk youth often go unaddressed.
Urban youth are in a state of emergency. The Backstory of a New Reality illustrates in painstaking detail why we need human capital to effectively tackle the multi-layered problem that is youth violence. We need real education and sincere partnerships, which must include the youth. Urban Youth Competency needs to be a valued skill. These kids don’t need our sympathy, but they demand our empathy. That means, consider what’s happening with every client physically, psychologically, emotionally, etc. Furthermore, it means understanding and relating to their Backstory.