The Making Youth Matter Mentoring Program (MYMMP) is a collaborative partnership between the University’s School of Social Work and our local school district. The MYMMP provides an intensive mentoring relationship to students and represents an intervention designed to interrupt youth being funneled to the school-to-prison pipeline (STPP) utilizing a strengths-based perspective. The MYMMP was intentionally created to support youth who are at an increased risk of entering the STPP, with the goals of (1) providing positive supports to students in order to allow them to fully participate in their school and community, and (2) interrupting and/or mitigating the risk of youth involvement in the juvenile justice system.
Guided by the goals of empowerment, youth involved in MYMMP engaged in participatory action research through Photovoice. Photovoice is a research method designed to empower marginalized groups and involves the taking of photographs and sharing of stories in order to give voice to participants’ experiences (Wang & Burris, 1997). Our Photovoice project, implemented over two years, focused on creating a photographic description of strengths and concerns in our community while also providing an avenue to support and encourage youth voice and empowerment.
The mentors in the MYMMP began the project by presenting information about Photovoice to the youth they were mentoring and their parents/guardians. The first step of the project involved the youth capturing photographs of things in the community that represented both strengths and challenges. The youth and their mentors then had the opportunity to discuss the photographs in a series of meetings. The project ended with a community event where the youth showcased their photographs and shared their stories. Key stakeholders from the community were invited to this event in order to raise awareness and begin dialogue around the strengths and challenges that youth face in the community.
Utilizing the SHOWED method developed by Caroline Wang (1999), the mentors ask students questions about their photographs, such as “what do you see here”, “why does this problem or strength exist”, and “what can we do to educateothers about this problem or strength”. Thematic analysis of the narratives associatedwith the photographs was conducted. Themes related to strengths that emerged included: basketball; connecting with mentors; making goals; and, opportunities/resources in the community. Themes related to challenges that emerged included: violence; crime; racism; and, lack of resources.
Conclusion and Implications:
This research project underscored the importance of engaging youth as leaders, partners, and collaborators by focusing on their strengths, perspectives, and experiences. The Photovoice project not only provided important information about the strengths and challenges youth experienced in their communities but also highlighted a way in which universities can partner with youth and their communities to advance youth voice and address pressing social justice issues.
Wang, C. C. (1999). Photovoice: A participatory action research strategy applied to women’s health. Journal of Women’s Health, 8(2), 185-192.
Wang, C. C., & Burris, M. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education and Behavior, 24(3), 369-387.