Rites of passage: creating liminal spaces for Black youth

By Brandon Jones M.A.

Transitions from one developmental stage to the next are very challenging periods for all human beings. Black youth, many of whom suffer from identity crises caused by trauma, are particularly strained.

Black youth face difficulty during critical transitional periods and the negative cultural implications precipitated by these difficulties. Youth development programs and initiatives that serve Black youth have been adding cultural paradigms (rites of passage) to assist with this development and transition.

There is a concept, liminality, that has become more popular of late. This concept is defined as relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process. A liminal space is the time between the “what was” and the “next.” It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.

This is a vital time for many Black people transitioning in a world of high expectations and demanding high levels of responsibly, standards informed by a foundation of inequality. How do Black youth transition without having prosocial influences that focus on healthy identity, empowerment and healing?

In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rites, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status, but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold (adulthood) when the rite is complete.

This is a concept that is not discussed in schools, households, or community organizations. However, it might be an important thing to understand for the healing of the Black community.

We do discuss how Black youth have lost our traditions of rites of passage. Today’s society has not clearly defined the way our males transition to men and females transition to women. In fact, some may say the intergenerational trauma that plagues our community has vastly impacted our path into adulthood.

It is often stated that the way Black males become men is defined by having to take to the streets prior to turning 18. Also, the rites of passage for many females transitioning to women have been defined with involvement of sexual activity and/or conception of a child. These are just two examples of the major life events that have somehow morphed into our current cultural custom.

When we become aware of our own liminality, most of us, if we’re honest, don’t know who to become or how to navigate the transition. We often miss the real potential of “in-between” places and either stand paralyzed in our current situations or flee to a place of unknowns.

As Black people who care about the future of our future generations, we must deliberately create liminal spaces and opportunities that counter the impacts of intergenerational trauma and promote the positive development and evolution of our community.

If we approach the liminal spaces of Black youth intentionally and within community, rather than staying paralyzed, running away, or going at it alone, we can boldly approach it and confidently move forward into our futures with productivity and success.

Rites of passage can take place in your very own home. However, to influence a desired result you must be willing to set an expectation of what is to “happen next.” We should prepare the next generations to meet the demands of modern society and set them up for prosperous lives. The generations to come desire that from you and me.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

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