The aim of this study is to understand the experiences of disadvantaged and impoverished African American youth living in high crime, high poverty communities, aspects of their resilience termed self-efficacy and grit, and how a cross-age peer mentoring after school and summer program enhanced their self-efficacy and grit. The mixed methods design makes it possible to 1) understand the program’s impact on self-efficacy and grit as traditionally understood using standardized scales, and also to 2) explore how the youth experience their own growth in self-efficacy and grit using their own culturally-distinct meanings. Youth voices ground understanding the meanings of these essential concepts for this group of highly stressed youth.
Self-efficacy and grit are strongly related to academic success and thereby to exiting poverty. They can be powerful internal resources for African American youth in racially segregated and impoverished urban communities. While research has illustrated the effects that self-efficacy has for African American youth, there is very little research that shows the effect after-school programs have on developing self-efficacy and grit among disadvantaged African American youth. The study’s context of Chicago, with its history of racial segregation and prevention of African Americans from entering the mainstream, makes the study’s findings applicable to similar other urban U.S. environments which need effective remedies for massive social injustices. Cross-age peer mentoring programs consist of high school students mentoring elementary or middle school students and have the advantages of serving two youth for the cost of one while building a positive social network that can endure when the intervention concludes.
This study employed a quasi-experimental mixed methods design. Elements of a Community-Based Participatory Action approach were utilized to collect qualitative data. Data were collected from a convenience sample of 70 African American Youth mentors in the form of field notes, exit interviews and peer-to-peer interviews. Open thematic coding with axial coding was performed, and 90 percent inter-rater reliability was achieved. All sources of qualitative data were uploaded and analyzed in Dedoose, a cross-platform app used to analyze qualitative and mixed-method data.
The results from the quantitative analyses demonstrated that cross-age mentoring programs enhanced youth mentors’ self-efficacy and grit. Themes emerged illustrating that a culturally distinct form of self-efficacy and grit were increased. Youth experienced self-efficacy and grit as developed through collective, “like a family” processes and understood as communal phenomena. Group affirmation was significant for youth to achieve individual goals. Self-confidence was affirmed by group support experiences and by being a mentor. Results can be understood in the light of traditional African values of ubuntu and omoluabi.
Conclusions and Implications
In sum, the cross-age peer mentoring program enhanced self-efficacy and grit among urban African American youth. Moreover, the collectivist African American culture of urban youth played a significant role in how goals were planned, executed and achieved. More research is needed, particularly in the area of scale development, when measuring components of resilience among disadvantaged urban black youth to capture the unique role of their culture.