Preventing Youth Violence among African-American male adolescents

Homicide in this nation is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15 – 24 years, at an average of 13 victims each day. Among homicide victims in 2010, almost 90% of them were male. While these statistics are shocking and speak to the need to take measure to prevent youth violence more seriously, the racial disparity within youth violence is even more alarming. The homicide rates in 2010 among African-American males 10 – 24 years of age was at 51.5 deaths per 100, 000 population, among Hispanic males was at 13.5 deaths per 100,000 population and among non-Hispanic, white males was at 2.9 per 100,000. Hence, the number of deaths caused due to homicide for individuals between the ages of 10 – 24 years was almost 20 times more for African-Americans than for White males. What are the reasons for this discrepancy? My intervention attempted to answer this question and examine the risk factors, specific to Black communities, that cause youth violence. Using that information, my intervention aimed to eliminate all those risk factors, and hence, reduce youth violence.

In this study, 300 African-American eighth grade male adolescents from an at-risk urban inner city neighborhood participated in yearlong training sessions. The training sessions focused on five main risk factors of youth violence specific to Black male adolescents. Teachers were asked to select those Black students who had consistently demonstrated skill deficiencies in relating to their peers and those who had a history of aggressive and violent behavior practices. The ages of the participants ranged between 12 – 14 years. There was one experimental group (training sessions were not administered to this group) with 138 students, and a control group (training sessions were not administered to this group) with 142 participants.

Research shows that increased violence is consistently associated with poor school attendance and higher academic performance relates to lesser delinquency. Hence, to study the effectiveness of this intervention, it was hypothesized that the by the end of the experiment, the mean GPA of students in the experimental group would have improved, compared to the control group. Also, the average suspension rate of experimental group would have decreased post-intervention, compared to the control group.

The first training sessions included treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Research shows that minority males are more exposed to violent crimes than any other group. And consistent exposure to violence can lead to the development of PTSD. Because youths with PTSD are not given the appropriate attention they deserve, they do not know how to recover from it. Hence, they develop coping strategies where they simply start mirroring the violence they are exposed to. Hence, a counselor was provided that provided individual counseling to the students and also taught students first aid and evacuation procedures, so that the student felt safer in emergency situations. The second training session involved cultural excursion trips where the students got a chance to learn more about the African and African American cultural heritage. This was done to instill a sense of pride and belonging (which is more difficult for people who belong to two different cultures are less sure about which one they are really a part of) and increase their self-esteem (which would, in turn, reduce delinquency). A third part of the intervention was making adolescents more aware of the implicit messages of violence, crime and sex conveyed by the media (rap music, hip-hop, etc.). It is impossible to completely eradicate the negative influence of media in this age of consumerism, but making people more informed and aware of the implicit messages could help in reducing the influence. In the intervention, this was done through class discussions and activities centering on rap music. The fourth training session involved improving the interpersonal communication skills for youths as research shows that most violence erupts when arguments escalate into physical aggressions. The training sessions simply included role-plays among the students and a peer role model where desired behaviors were demonstrated. The last part of the session included teaching parents social capital mobilizing skills within the family and community. This was done so that the parents were better able to provide their children with a social support system, because otherwise Black males adolescents looked for a support system within street gangs, etc. which could have a bad influence on them.

The results of this study were consistent with the hypothesis where the mean GPA improved and suspension rates decreased for the experimental group, hence, proving the intervention effective.

While there are various prevention programs that aim to reduce youth violence particularly among African American males, they are overly diffuse and do not focus specifically on the unique circumstances and lifestyle of African American youth. Hence, this intervention is unique as it focuses exclusively on African-American male adolescents and the problems they face resulting from their ethnicity. The main limitation of this is that culturally tailored interventions are more difficult to implement than generic interventions. This is because sometimes the minority group might feel discriminated against and think they are incompetent and need saving from a majority group. Thus, they might be unwilling to cooperate or put their 100% in the study. However, to reduce this effect, all of the trainers who were administering the training sessions were African-Americans to enable better connectedness and ensure cultural sensitivity.

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