Volume 53   Number 3 Summer 2020

Student Issues

Edited by Joy Agner, University of Hawai’i at Manoa & Camilla Cummings, DePaul University

Examining Processes of Resilience among Black youth: A Youth Participatory Action Research Approach

Nickholas Grant, M.A. & Helen Neville, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

As a recipient of the SCRA Student Research Grant award, I have made significant progress on my dissertation research that is focused on examining processes of resilience among Black youth who face violence in their communities. Black youth and communities continuously show strength despite various adversities, such as violence, and can sustain their well-being and adapt. Researchers often refer to this phenomenon as resilience. Most resilience studies on Black youth who face violence, however, adopt an outcome-based approach that focuses primarily on reduced psychological outcomes in the face of risk. This approach decontextualizes Black youths’ experiences and perspective and provides little understanding of community strengths and resources as indicators of resilience (i.e., community resilience). Given the lack of youth perspective in resilience research, there is also little theoretical guidance on resilience processes that Black youth view as important in their communities.

To address these gaps, my dissertation work has been focused on developing a youth-centered model of resilience that reflects the lived experiences and perspectives of Black youth. Specifically, I want to capture which community and structural level resources Black youth perceive as important to promote community resilience. To do so, I prioritize: (a) centering Black youths’ perspectives throughout the research process, (b) exploring how Black youth construct meaning around feeling well, satisfied or accomplished the context of communities with high reported shootings, (c) identifying community resilience processes that Black youth perceive in their communities, and (d) contextualizing the social and cultural relevance of perceived processes. In doings so, I can highlight unique pathways by which Black communities seek and receive support to combat issues such as gun violence. Unlike previous studies that used broad, outcome-based measures of protective resources, I can illustrate context-specific ways these variables may serve to promote resilience within communities impacted by gun violence.

By way of accomplishing these research aims, I have been utilizing grounded theory and participatory action research methodologies. Specifically, I am employing constructivist grounded theory methods throughout a youth participatory action research project (YPAR) to explore how Black youth construct meaning of resilience in their communities. Over the course of three-years, I co-constructed a research investigation alongside Black youth by actively engaging them as co-researchers in a YPAR project called #PowerUp to address gun violence. PowerUp was designed to help adolescents (ages 13 – 19 years old) engage youth in social issues in their community and to find ways to contribute to the health and development of those communities, using a youth centered approach. During this project, youth reflected and engaged in interactive discussions of project related tasks to further their knowledge of and create meaningful solutions to address gun violence. While doing so, this offered an opportunity to inquire about and continuously collect and analyze data regarding resilience as youths’ ideas developed and expanded with each phase. By using both methodologies in tandem with one another, I can centralize and contextualize Black youths’ perspectives, while simultaneously developing a model of resilience processes. With the support of the SCRA Student Research Grant, I have completed the last two phases of the #PowerUp project, which, in turn, helped me develop a preliminary youth-centered model of community resilience.

In terms of project related activities, #PowerUp has completed the data analysis and action and dissemination phases. For the data analysis phase, youth learned and applied photovoice methods as a means of data collection and analysis. Youth took over 187 photos in communities with high reported shootings to identify and discuss what contributes to gun violence, potential assets within these communities, community needs, and potential recommendations for addressing gun violence. During these discussions of photographs, we also inquired more directly about resilience, requesting the youth to code, free write, and discuss three prompts related to phase one: (a) What were the major themes that characterize the neighborhoods with high gun violence?; (b) What represents spaces in which keep community members safe from gun violence?; and (c) What is needed/missing in order to keep the community safe from gun violence? Once complete, youth conducted a thematic analysis to create themes related to each of these prompts. The final list of themes was used to inform the last phase: action and dissemination. 

For the last phase of #PowerUp, youth presented their project findings to a larger public audience with the overarching goal of fostering awareness and creating change. Youth translated their photovoice findings and analysis into digital stories, which are 2-4-minute narratives told in a digital format. In fact, funds have helped support youth researchers and members of the #PowerUp team (including youth researchers) attend two national conferences, including the Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race Research Conference held at the University of Texas at Austin and the American Psychological Association Annual Convention in 2019. After both conferences, youth were struck by how much others wanted to hear their stories, which fueled their interest and motivation to talk to their own community violence trauma task force. Youth then identified key stakeholders with whom they would like to discuss their findings, including, the local community coalition and trauma and resilience initiative, family and peers, and city officials. Youth presented their findings to community stakeholders to advocate for resources/recommendations to address gun violence and are now coordinating with community-based organizations to host a teen summit and create a public mural. Youth mentioned how often they are overlooked and silenced, so they wanted to cultivate a teen summit that will provide opportunities that focus on the needs of teens, including professional development, social support services, job attainment, and additional space to discuss issues Black youth face. Issues surrounding gun violence are often off the radar of the broader college community, and for this reason, youth wanted to spread awareness, acknowledge, and celebrate the lives lost to gun violence through a public mural. 

Completing these phases of the project has had great implications for my dissertation research. Each phase of the project allowed for a more in-depth investigation of resilience processes, especially during the photovoice analysis and the action and dissemination phase in which there was more analysis, reflection, and discussion of their own lived experiences in communities with high reported shootings. Consistent with constructivist grounded theory methods, I continuously collected and analyzed data throughout using inductive logic, comparative analysis, theoretical sampling, and theory construction strategies. In doing so, I was able to (a) understand how Black youth constructed meaning of resilience in their communities; (b) identify which community resilience factors were salient for Black youth and how these factors promoted a sense of well-being within Black communities; and ultimately (c) co-construct a preliminary model of community resilience processes.

Based on three years of continuous data collection and analysis in the #PowerUp project, preliminary results showed that there are multiple community processes that help people navigate and cope with the challenges related to gun violence. Ultimately, there was one core process that emerged within this model: Power through Black Community and Unity. This core process suggests that there are perceived sources of power, care, and positive representation when Black people from the community became involved and were united to support others (including youth) through adversity. In relation to this core process, there were three main processes, including Collective Care, Shared Racial Understanding, and Supportive Teen Services. Collective Care are actions taken on behalf of the community to protect and care for others to create trust and connection (e.g., neighborhood gatherings). Shared Racial Understanding are actions that provide a sense of shared understanding of one’s racial experiences. Specifically, having shared understanding from other positive Black adult figures (e.g., mentor) provides solace on behalf of youth who live in violent context and require support and guidance among those who identify as Black. Lastly, Supportive Teen Services are interpersonal and community resources that are dedicated toward engaging and supporting the needs of teens. Youth stressed the importance of dedicated spaces (e.g., after school programs) for teens where they could vent their feelings and/or engage in fun activities, so they can avoid the “bad things” like gun violence.

In conclusion, the support of the SCRA Student Research Grant has been key to the progression of my dissertation research and the #PowerUp project as a whole. Currently, I am finalizing my youth-centered model of resilience, and I am optimistic that I will defend before the end of the academic school year. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside amazing youth co-researchers and provide an empowering experience that, according to the youth, “gave me a sense pride and purpose in our work.”