Methods:The present study analyzes peer-to-peer interviews and 383 ethnographic field notes. Data were collected between 2017-2021 from a purposive sample of 221 Black and Latinx youth participating in a human rights-based after school and summer program grounded in critical pedagogy. Youth co-created the peer-to-peer program evaluation protocols. Field notes were completed for each session using Emerson’s model. The qualitative analysis approach used identified initial themes which then were linked in overarching axial codes. Inter-rater reliability exceeded 90% before coding of all data began.
Results:Findings suggest youth:
- Eschew pathology-based programs assuming they need help with violence engagement;
- Find human rights-oriented programs free up their identities from internalized negativity;
- Value a humanistic, trauma-focused support group model for developing strengths from mutual caring from peers and instructors;
- Make use of programs to build collective-based identities that resist societal oppressions and sustain their dignity;
- Appreciate participatory program planning that enable them to constructively reveal and shift community problems resulting from profound structural violence.
Results suggest youth care about their communities and want to be agents of social change, but often feel powerless in doing so. Data also suggests that a participatory program model may help youth feel organized, knowledgeable, and empowered to address problems across life domains, and more politically engaged in addressing hardships. A prevailing assumption is that interventions should result in measurable change in pathology-focused traits in marginalized youth. But youth perspectives emphasize the problem lies within society, manifesting as oppression, and they experience enhanced well-being by developing strategies of resistance and emancipation.
Conclusions/Implications:Findings suggest that youth resist traditional notions assuming they need clinical “change” due to psychopathology. When social interventions are not matched to youths’ priorities, and start with overly negative assumptions about clients, the disappointment they engender can aggravate feelings of dehumanization, alienation, and internalized oppression. This study also illuminates the youths’ existing strengths, alter practice methods of youth program engagement and service design, and impact policy by highlighting conditions of oppression that may otherwise remain uncaptured by more empirical research methods.