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The Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth (PLAAY) is a culturally responsive behavioral and emotional trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapeutic (CBT), violence/microaggression devaluation, and physical activity intervention. It was developed by Dr. Stevenson in 1995 for youth and caregivers and teaches strategies for managing stress during intense face-to-face conflicts so that youth can perform better in their classrooms and communities. PLAAY hopes to help Black youth regulate the stress they and other marginalized youth experience related to behavioral, academic, and racial conflicts in face-to-face relationships at schools and in their communities.

A key aspect of PLAAY is the use of physical activity (basketball) to ignite stressful face-to-face conflicts where in-the-moment stress reduction strategies can be learned, practiced, and applied to current school, classroom, and community conflicts. Pilot randomized controlled trial efficacy research has demonstrated the positive influence of PLAAY on anger expression for Black male youth (Davis et al., 2003) but more implementation of the project in different community settings is necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of this program for girls and youth with other marginalized identities.

The PLAAY curriculum targets racial risk and protective factors (racial socialization, stress, self-efficacy, coping, and competency) to help youth reduce the stress they experience during encounters in their relationships. Specifically, PLAAY is constructed to enhance youth capacity to challenge racial and gender stereotypes, develop interpersonal and school achievement skills, and build stronger bonds with family members.

Major assumptions of PLAAY are that Black youth who are exposed to violence (physical, racial, gendered) that is 1) systemic/distal (neighborhood, school) and/or 2) proximal/interpersonal (peers, teachers, family relationships) will struggle to skillfully modulate physical, emotional, and cognitive trauma-based threat reactions before, during, and after perceived and anticipated microaggressions. Racial and gender discrimination in schools is a form of violence (Boyd et al., 2023) and undermines achievement (Bryan et al., 2018). PLAAY integrates racial literacy mindfulness and social–emotional learning training that has shown promise for buffering racism and improving the mental health of Black people (Griffin et al., 2020; Zapolski et al., 2018).

Major research and therapeutic goals of PLAAY include building skills of racial/gender literacy and affirmation and cognitive-behavior trauma mindfulness to prevent trauma from mismanaging violence/microaggression encounters. By increasing Black youths’ 1) positive appraisal/reappraisal; 2) emotional regulation flexibility; 3) coping self-efficacy; 4) confrontation coping; 5) retaliation restraint decision-making; 6) racial/gender self-affirmation; while reducing their 8) threat-based rumination; and 9) violence retaliation behaviors/incidents, we expect to improve Black and brown youth academic engagement and achievement.

Major community objectives of PLAAY are to 1) partner with community agencies, leaders, and caregivers in school, after-school, clinical, and neighborhood programs; 2) train community institutions in youth violence retaliation risk reduction and racial literacy; 3) support community agencies and institutions to implement PLAAY to reduce youth rejection sensitivity and improve youth academic engagement; and 4) gather evaluation data so that the PLAAY intervention can be upscaled and applied to other neighborhoods and communities.

Format. Through the physical activity of basketball (45 minutes) and the emotional processing of culturally responsive group therapy (45 minutes), PLAAY consists of a 20-session, 10-week psycho-educational racial literacy curriculum designed to fit within in-school, after-school, and community recreation contexts. We recommend maintaining a ratio of two trainers for every 10-12 youth participants.

Theory of Change and Hypotheses. The PLAAY curriculum is based on RECAST theory, which proposes that youth can successfully navigate social, racial, and gender conflicts in the moment (ITM) of the conflict if exposed to racial socialization and literacy strategies. Since most racial encounters are stressful, participants usually use avoidance or overreaction to cope with the stress. While avoidance reduces racial stress temporarily, it leads to ineffective resolution of racial conflicts that lead to harmful emotional health outcomes.

PLAAY targets the reduction of elevated levels of emotional rejection, stress, and trauma from 1) exposure to violence and 2) experience of gendered racial, inferiority microaggressions. PLAAY promotes the increased usage of effective coping strategies (mindfulness, coping self-efficacy, and assertiveness) within neighborhood and school contexts that indirectly influence student academic engagement and achievement. Key racial literacy skills developed include reading (racial awareness and knowledge), recasting (racial mindful stress reduction), and resolving (competent engagement and decision-making) racially stressful encounters.

The PLAAY project is supported by the SAMHSA National Network to Eliminate Disparities (NNEDLearn). NNEDLearn brings education, recreation, health, justice, and government leaders as a 4–6 person team to receive training on evidence-based culturally responsive interventions. For over a decade via NNEDLearn, Dr. Stevenson has annually provided PLAAY training for these leader teams, amounting to over 50 organizations trained from more than 40 cities. 

The following shortlist of community-based organizations are initiating or implementing PLAAY: