$1-million grant backs research on marginalized urban youth

A York University social work professor has been awarded a $1-million Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grant by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Professor Uzo Anucha received the funding for her project “Assets Coming Together for Youth: Linking Research, Policy and Action for Positive Youth Development”.

The grant, totalling $1 million over five years, will bring together the expertise, knowledge and resources of 24 collaborators, including community partners such as the Toronto Police Service, university-based researchers and youth. Seven team members, including Anucha, are part of York University’s School of Social Work in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies; others include researchers from Brock University, McMaster University, the University of Calgary and the University of Windsor.

Left: Professor Uzo Anucha

Anucha’s research team will concentrate on youth in Toronto’s Jane-Finch community, who, like youth in other marginalized urban areas, have been the focus of negative public discourse. The project will focus on promoting the assets of these youth rather than addressing youth problems. Researchers will approach the project from a social justice perspective that recognizes the social, political and economic forces youth in the community face. The overall goal is to develop a comprehensive youth strategy that will outline how marginalized urban communities like Jane-Finch can make use of their community assets to support positive youth development.

“Although our CURA project is situated within the specific context of the Jane-Finch community, our findings will address theoretical debates and policy issues that are applicable to youth in other marginalized urban communities,” says Anucha. “We hope that this project will generate local-level data that can inform other communities of tested and effective positive youth initiatives and increase public awareness of how communities can create pathways to assets for youth.”

Stan Shapson, vice-president, research & innovation at York University, says that the CURA grant will help to create a critical dialogue within the community on how best to mobilize and support the development of marginalized youth. “The exchange of knowledge from Professor Anucha’s project will be very valuable in helping to build the capacity of youth to take leadership roles in addressing important issues in their communities and lives,” says Shapson. “It will also play a critical role in reframing negative public discourse about Jane-Finch youth to a public discourse that is supportive of positive youth development policies.”

CURA grants were established by SSHRC in 1999 to facilitate stronger collaborations between community organizations and university researchers in order to develop increased capacity and new community-based knowledge on critical issues important for social, cultural and economic development of Canadian communities.