Bocknek awarded $50,000 to explore the effects of joy in Detroit families

Erika Bocknek, Ph.D.

Erika Bocknek, Ph.D., associate professor of educational psychology, was awarded a $50,000 grant from Brilliant Detroit and Great Start Collaborative-Wayne for a new initiative, “Brilliant Joy in a Box.” The six-month project investigated the role of joy in positive family processes.  

The Black community in Detroit has always been resilient and joyful. At the same time, Black Detroiters have been disproportionately impacted by racism and systemic inequities; these structural issues have been exacerbated by COVID-19. While many families have used quarantine as an opportunity to spend more time together, some also experienced additional pandemic-related stressors, including grief and economic hardship. This stress has significantly affected the mental health and well-being of children and their parents.  

Family interventions must continue to draw upon the long-standing strengths within Black families that have allowed them to cope, survive and thrive. This desire to highlight existing positive family processes led the research team — which includes co-principal investigator Lauren Mims, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational psychology at Ball State University, and Wayne State doctoral students Addison Duane and LaKenya Hill, who serve as co-investigators — to explore activities and practices in which families already engage that are joyful and ways to amplify them. The team is also excited to investigate how joy contributes to buffering stress and supporting mental health.  

According to Bocknek, who also directs the Family Resilience Laboratory in the Wayne State College of Education, joy connects us to others and the best parts of ourselves. Joy also, as frequently highlighted in the Black community, serves as healing justice and resistance to racism, and helps build capacity for coping and emotion regulation.  

Brown family members with their monthly subscription box

The Brilliant Joy in a Box project sought to support families in demonstrating the significant impact of joyful family engagement on children’s development and mental health. During the first six months of this year, 100 Detroit families — including 266 children from eight neighborhoods — received customized subscription boxes from Culture Brands LLC’s subscription service called Because of Them We Can. The purpose of the intentional, culturally relevant, and highly engaging boxes was to promote learning, interaction, celebration, and pride through learning about Black history and Black icons, including Wally Amos (“Famous Amos”), Mae Jemison, and Lisa Leslie.  

The project will be evaluated by measuring family interactions and parents’ reports of mental health and stress exposure at its beginning and end. Investigators will also conduct qualitative interviews with families to learn about their perspectives on joy, thriving and mental health. The research team hopes to combat the deficit framing in their respective fields while also highlighting positive family processes in Detroit.  

“We have worked diligently with our partners Brilliant Detroit, Great Start Collaborative-Wayne, and Ball State University to generate additional ideas for culturally tailored family engagement and learning activities that will support children of all ages”, Bocknek says. “We are excited to see how families put these boxes to use to spark connection and joy during this pandemic. COVID-19 has been stressful for us all; we’re excited to highlight pockets of joy in and around our community.” 

Thank you to the Brown and Franklin families for allowing their photos to be used on the website and in the e-newsletter.

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