Graduate student’s advocacy makes the difference for troubled minority youth

A Carlow graduate student is advocating for fairness in dealing with troubled minority youth and for better treatment with their mental health and behavioral issues.

Terrel Williams, pursuing a master’s degree in secondary education, is an education liaison for the Allegheny County Office of Children Youth and Families in Pittsburgh, Pa. He visits various area schools to represent and advocate for students, most of whom are in the foster care system.

In May 2021, Williams presented a virtual workshop titled “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” in which he discussed how youth of color often become repeat criminal offenders, and the need to disrupt the “pipeline” for those trapped in the cycle.

The presentation was part of Carlow’s Sister Mary Hickey Educator Workshop Series.

“It is more likely that a young person of color will be punished a bit more harshly in school,” said Williams. “Punishment for young Black males or females often involves suspension, expulsion and most likely juvenile time. Their information is put into the justice system, which starts a pattern of being a repeat offender. The youth will be branded as a troublemaker and most likely will end up in jail.”

Williams, 39, said many issues can be triggers for youth in trauma, and in schools without proper mental and behavioral health safeguards in place, they are often punished instead of rehabilitated.

“I grew up in the Hill District. I know the greatness of my community’s legacy and I know the trauma associated with its downfall,” Williams said. “I’m blessed that I was able to make it out of my community, so I always reach down to pull people up if I can. Carlow’s education department inspires me to be great to help others become great.”

Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in theology at Carlow. He said two theology instructors also inspired him.

“Most of what they taught me was about humanity and justice,” said Williams. “The one thing they always drilled in my head is that when you see people, you have to see the image of God in them. For some reason, call it fate, call it destiny, call it God, I have always been put in a position where I’m around kids who are suffering, and maybe where others see a bad kid or a struggling kid, I see a kid that God has touched.”

Anthony Ferguson, special project assistant at PPG Perry High School, said Williams is dedicated and consistent in finding the best solutions for helping his assigned students succeed.

“He is patient with the students, listening to their needs and requests that they feel will help them achieve their goals,” said Ferguson. “Terrel genuinely cares about the kids.”

Keely Baronak, education department chair, said Williams represents the best of Carlow.

“His engagement in graduate courses and his willingness to share his experiences with other students and educators across the region is a powerful force,” said Baronak. “Terrel’s personal/lived experience growing up in Pittsburgh, coupled with his professional experience and educational preparation at Carlow, have uniquely positioned him to advance equity and social justice in his role with CYF.”

Williams plans to use his education and experience to oversee education liaisons serving minority and at-risk youth.

He and wife Kiona live in Brookline with their children, Kaysaun, Timia, Ryan and Terrel Jr.

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