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“Can't Thrive By Yourself, You Know?” How Poor People of Color Experience Thriving In An Urban Community

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"Can't Thrive By Yourself, You Know?" How Poor People of Color Experience Thriving
In An Urban Community
LeLaina Romero
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
under the Executive Committee of the Graduate School of
Arts and Sciences
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
2010
UMI Number: 3447923
All rights reserved
INFORMATION TO ALL USERS
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
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a note will indicate the deletion.
UMT
Dissertation Publishing
UMI 3447923
Copyright 2011 by ProQuest LLC.
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©2010
LELAINA ROMERO
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ABSTRACT
"CAN'T THRIVE BY YOURSELF, YOU KNOW?" HOW POOR PEOPLE OF COLOR
EXPERIENCE THRIVING IN AN URBAN COMMUNITY
LeLaina Romero
Themes of deficit and pathology pervade research in urban communities,
particularly research focused on poor people of color. This study aimed to explore the
meanings, processes, and experience of thriving for poor people of color living in an
urban neighborhood. Thriving is a positive process that is theoretically distinct from
constructs such as resilience, which emphasize the outcomes of traumatic or stressful
events. Because poor people of color living in urban environments can experience the
trauma and stress of oppression (e.g., classism, racism) on a continual basis, this study
focused on thriving as a process that may occur within oppressive contexts. Twenty-one
self-identified Black/African American and Latino/Hispanic adults participated in semistructured open-ended interviews exploring their experiences of living in their
community and the ways that they understand thriving within their community context.
Constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006) guided the analysis in order to develop a
theory of thriving that emerged from the voices and experiences of participants.
The theoretical model that emerged from the data suggested a core narrative of
feeling valued and feeling that their community is valued as necessary to thriving.
Participants talked about numerous conditions that support feeling valued and barriers to
feeling valued that exist in their community. These conditions and barriers existed at
multiple systemic levels. Participants defined thriving as the actions they take that
support feeling self and community are valued. Most actions were related to helping
people and being involved in the community. Participants described numerous challenges
in the community that made it difficult to take such actions, but also described supportive
conditions such as friendliness and the peace of the outdoor environment. The importance
of feeling valued implies that thriving is a relational construct for these participants.
Results indicated that racism and poverty create concrete obstacles to thriving in
this particular urban neighborhood. In addition, participants described supportive
conditions for feeling valued such as friendliness, community support, and a peaceful
environment near the ocean. Within extraordinarily challenging circumstances,
participants described a need to "strive" in order to thrive. Suggestions for further
research include continuing to explore thriving as a strengths-based process that can
occur within oppressive circumstances, fostering action that supports people feeling
valued through approaches such as participatory action research, and further exploring
the role of mutuality and other relational factors in thriving for poor people of color.
Implications for practice and training include a need for more attention to poverty and
classism in multicultural counseling and expanding the roles of mental health
professionals in addressing oppression as a source of distress for people of color living in
low-income urban communities.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
i
List of Tables and Figures
vi
Acknowledgements
vii
Dedication
x
Chapter 1
INTRODUCTION
1
Oppression
1
Psychological Consequences of Oppression
2
Racism and racism related stress
2
Poverty and classism
4
Thriving in Oppressive Contexts
Thriving
7
7
Processes and Sources of Thriving in Oppressive Contexts 9
Chapter 2
Critical consciousness
9
Mutual empathy and mutual empowerment
10
Purpose of Study and Researcher Worldview
11
LITERATURE REVIEW.....
14
Oppression and Mental Health
14
Racism
16
Poverty and Classism
18
Oppression in Urban Communities
19
The Deficit Perspective
21
Theoretical Models of Thriving
24
Empirical Studies of Thriving
28
Individual Processes and Sources
28
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Relational Processes and Sources
32
Spiritual Processes and Pathways
34
Community and Political Processes and Pathways
35
Research Questions
38
METHODS
40
Context of the Study
41
Engaging the Community
41
Community Description
43
Participants
44
Procedure
45
Data Collection
45
Data Analysis
47
Initial coding
49
Focused and axial coding
50
Theoretical and selective coding
50
Memo-writing
50
RESULTS
52
Core Story: Thriving through Feeling Valued and Feeling that My
Community is Valued
55
Feeling I am Valued
56
Feeling My Community is Valued
57
Conditions that Support Feeling Valued
Individual Conditions that Support Feeling Valued
Positive self-perceptions
59
59
59
Family/Relational Conditions that Support Feeling Valued. 60
ii
Supportive relationships
60
Mutual support
61
Seeing positive changes in family
61
God and faith
62
Cultural/Community Conditions that Support Feeling
Valued
63
Friendliness and community support
63
Community resources
64
Outdoor environment
67
Community pride
68
Racial/ethnic pride, harmony, and belonging
69
Sociopolitical/Institutional Conditions that Support Feeling
Valued
71
Opportunities for employment
Barriers to Feeling Valued
71
72
Individual Barriers to Feeling Valued
73
Substance abuse
74
HIV/AIDS
74
Depression
74
Incarceration
75
Individual attitudes and behaviors
75
Family/Relational Barriers to Feeling Valued
77
Substance abuse
77
Violence
78
Parenting stress
79
Community/Cultural Barriers to Feeling Valued
111
79
Poverty
80
Violence
82
Substance abuse and HIV
84
Problems with community services
86
Racial/ethnic tension and conflict
89
Cultural isolation and disconnection
93
Devaluation of women
94
Homophobia
94
Sociopolitical/Institutional Barriers to Feeling Valued
Lack of political representation and voice
96
Racial profiling and disrespect by police
97
Unemployment
98
"Striving to Thrive: Actions that Support Feeling Valued
Chapter 5
96
99
Working
101
Helping People
103
Community involvement
103
Helping my family
105
Reaching out for Help
106
Taking Care of Myself
107
Staying Positive
107
Praying to, Believing in, and Serving God
108
Summary
1 09
DISCUSSION
Hl
Summary
112
Meanings of Thriving
IV
113
Experience of Thriving
114
Sources of Thriving
115
Mutuality
116
Critical consciousness
118
Working/employment
119
Community Contexts and Thriving
120
Race, Gender, and Thriving
121
Race and thriving
121
Gender and thriving
123
Strengths and Limitations of the Study
124
Strengths
124
Limitations
126
Implications and Future Directions
128
Implications for Research
128
Implications for Training and Practice
1 30
Conclusion
133
REFERENCES
135
APPENDIXES
145
Appendix A Interview Protocol
145
Appendix B Excerpt of Transcript with Initial Codes
146
Appendix C Example of Focused and Axial Coding Process
148
Appendix D Examples of Memos
149
?
List of Tables and Figures
Table 1
Participant Demographics
152
Figure 1
Emergent Theory of Thriving
154
Vl
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
My educational journey and this dissertation would not have been possible
without my parents, Linda and Luis Romero, who have supported me unconditionally and
encouraged me to follow my dreams ever since Head Start. My mother was always proud
of me when I brought home good grades, but made sure to tell me that she would love me
no matter how "successful" I was. My father expressed his pride in many ways, and we
had conversations about music and other important things that helped me stay connected
to life outside of school. Both of my parents have been incredibly patient and loving over
the past seven years with a process that was strange and unfamiliar to all of us. They
encouraged me to rest and take care of myself when I needed to, and worried about me as
much as I needed them to worry!
My large extended family and chosen family of friends has been my inspiration.
We have struggled, and we have celebrated, and this project was so much about honoring
both of these processes in urban communities. I have a large family of aunts, uncles,
cousins, nieces, etc, and I want to honor those who came before me: My grandparents
Saul and Betty Rosenbloom, and Julie Romero, and my aunts and uncles: Marlene,
Carmen, Felix, Leticia, Wally, Nora, Cesar, Jackie, Joan, and Steven. My brother Luie
and I have grown closer as I have become an adult, and my nieces, Lisa and Lennise,
inspire me to be a part of creating a better world for the future.
I have friends who are like sisters and brothers who have held me up and believed
in me through many transitions. They have especially helped me finish this dissertation.
Writing can be a lonely and painful process, and they have always reminded me that I am
not alone, and that I am working for what I believe in. Raejeana Gilmore, Jenny
vii
Weatherford, Myrna Caban, Chad Harris, Hana Malia, Liz Abrams, and Molly Talcott- 1
have so much faith in friendship because of you. I also want to thank my friends and
colleagues in the program- Christina Capodilupo and Greg Payton, I feel like I have been
walking this path with you from day one and I value your friendship. Along the way,
many others have inspired me with their compassion and passion for social justice. I want
to especially thank Kolone Scanlan, Luci Bratini, and Melissa Corpus for this. You are
powerful women of color, and I know that we will stay connected and inspire one another
in our work and lives overall. There are three more amazing women for whom I am
incredibly grateful: Sheila Graham, Lisa Rosenzweig, and Chelsea Dize. We have
journeyed together for many years, and for the past two years we stuck together through
the internship and dissertation processes. I cannot imagine having persevered without
you.
During the past year, I have worked to transcribe, analyze, and finish writing.
Without the incredible support of my fellow interns at the University of Texas at Austin
Counseling and Mental Health Center, the weight of work would have felt unbearable. I
am grateful for the seven amazing social work and psychology students who surpassed
my expectations of what professional community could be, and I am often in disbelief
about the friendships that have formed in such a short period of time. Thank you, Winnie,
Blake, Erica, Amy, Brittany, Korina, and Elizabeth. I also want to thank all of the
supervisors who have guided and encouraged me along the way, helping me to stay
balanced and find my voice and pace as a therapist. I want to especially thank Chris
Brownson, Diana Darner, Alicia Garces, Sarah Sloan, and Mark Zentner for modeling
compassionate supervision and keeping up with me during the wild ride of writing a
viii
dissertation and searching for a job while working as a full time counselor!
I have had several mentors throughout this journey. Dr. Marie Miville has been
supportive from the start of my doctoral studies. She has encouraged my passion for
social justice and affirmed the type of work that I want to do. She has also helped me to
remain realistic about my goals, reminding me that this is only the beginning of my
professional journey. Dr. Laura Smith has been an inspiring mentor in many respects. I
feel that fate brought us together and I look forward to our continued collaboration
working on issues of poverty, social class, and community empowerment. She has also
helped me recognize my strengths as a counselor and a teacher. I have also been able to
foster relationships with feminist mentors that have sustained so many parts of who I am.
Thank you so much to Kathryn Norsworthy and Leonore Tiefer for connecting me with
feminist community and demonstrating that you can continue forging new paths
throughout your career. You are inspirational activists and friends.
This dissertation would not have been possible without the women that I have
spent the last several years with in "the little white house of big dreams," the CBO where
Laura and I started our first PAR project. I wish I could name each of you. It was an
honor to collaborate with you, and I learned so much about myself through that process. I
truly believe in expanding the roles of counselors, and you were open to me practicing
those roles. Without you I would have never been able to talk to twenty-one amazing
community members! I am thrilled to work with you on the next steps of this project, and
to witnessing the ways that you continue to thrive.
LeLaina Romero
May 2010
IX
DEDICATION
This dissertation, along with the work of the past seven years, is dedicated to the memory
of my "lil' bro Leny," my older brother who we lost so quickly. I have grown up with
you close to my heart and often wonder what kinds of conversations we would be having.
We lost you to violence and I have been pulled to healing work and creating change in
communities in large part because of you. My journey back to New York for graduate
school was a part of a much needed mourning and healing process. I love you
tremendously.
?
1
Chapter 1
INTRODUCTION
Urban communities in the United States have long struggled against structural
oppression, particularly racism and poverty. Racial and economic stratification have their
roots in the slave trade and colonization of indigenous people, and people of color living
in urban communities continue to face barriers built and perpetuated by racist policies
and practices. In the social sciences, the impact of oppression can be seen in monolithic
and pathological portrayals of the urban poor, the majority of whom are people of color
(Kelley, 1997). The impact of oppression on the lives of people living in urban
communities can have serious mental health consequences, resulting from devaluation
and unequal access to resources. However, it is difficult to disentangle an understanding
of these consequences from the racist and classisi lenses through which they are seen by
social sciences, the media, and other institutions. Thus, a critical pathway for
psychologists and other social scientists to understand mental health processes of
individuals living in urban communities is through their voices and lenses.
Oppression
Watts, Griffith, and Abdul-Adii (1999) describe oppression as both a state and a
process. Oppression as a state or outcome results from an unequal distribution of power
and resources. Oppression as a process refers to the mechanisms through which this
unequal distribution is maintained. Understanding oppression as both a process and an
2
outcome points to the need to address both its structural causes and their effects,
including the impact on mental health. In addition, these authors distinguish between the
political and psychological aspects of oppression as "[coexisting] and mutually
determined" (Watts, Griffith, & Abdul-Adii, 1999, p. 258).
The negative consequences of oppression can be seen in various ways, from
differences in health problems among people of color and people living in poverty, to
higher incarceration rates, particularly for Black and Latino men who live in areas with
staggering unemployment rates. In psychology and other mental health professions, the
consequences can be seen in higher diagnoses of depression and other disorders among
certain populations (e.g., poor women of color; Belle & Doucet, 2003).
Although there is evidence that oppression has a negative impact on mental
health, it is important to consider the historical pathologizing of people from oppressed
groups, including the application of negative labels that have serious public policy
consequences (e.g., "welfare queen," "deadbeat dad"). These labels have strong racial
overtones and are applied to people of color without regard to their diversity of
experience (Kelley, 1997; Kushnick & Jennings, 1999). Here, the focus will be the
psychological consequences of racism and poverty, which can be clearly seen in urban
communities. A discussion of deficit perspectives of poor people and people of color will
follow, pointing to a need for understanding positive conceptions of health from the
perspectives of people experiencing oppression.
Psychological Consequences of Oppression
Racism and racism-related stress. Summarizing various conceptualizations of
racism, Harrell (2000) defines racism as
3
A system of dominance, power, and privilege based on racial-group
designations; rooted in the historical oppression of a group defined or
perceived by dominant-group members as inferior, deviant, or undesirable;
and occurring in circumstances where members of the dominant group
create or accept their social privilege by maintaining structures, ideology,
values, and behavior that have the intent or effect of leaving nondominantgroup members relatively excluded from power, esteem, status, and/or
equal access to societal resources, (p. 43)
Several researchers have discussed and investigated the effects of racism and
discrimination as chronic stressors for people of color, particularly African Americans
(Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996). The stress associated with racism can be overt or covert,
resulting in devaluation through verbal rejection, discrimination, or physical attack
(Allport, 1954, as cited in Smith, 1985, p. 540). In the context of everyday racism, Utsey
and Ponterotto (1996) discuss the daily hassles of having to defend against or avoid the
onslaught of constant discrimination (Essed, 1990, as cited in Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996).
They describe racism and its impact as omnipresent, cumulative, and multidimensional,
occurring at individual, institutional, cultural, and collective levels (Essed, 1990; Jones,
1972, as cited in Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996). Their conceptual framework and scale
defines individual racism as racism "...experienced on a personal level," institutional
racism as racism embedded in institutional policies, cultural racism as the impact of
cultural practices of one group being upheld as superior to another, and collective racism
as the organization of Whites or non-Blacks to restrict Black peoples rights (Utsey &
Ponterotto, 1996, p. 490).
The impact of racism on health and well-being is well-documented. Racismrelated stress is correlated with physical health problems such as hypertension,
cardiovascular reactivity, cigarette smoking, and physiological arousal (Harrell, 2000, pp.
47-48). In addition, racism is related to depression, general psychological distress,
4
substance abuse, eating problems, psychosomatization, violence, and trauma-related
symptoms (Harreil, 2000, p. 48). More recently, Carter (2007) presented a
conceptualization of race-based traumatic stress, calling attention to the fact that trauma
models do not consider racism as a precipitating event that can induce trauma.
The Surgeon General's supplemental report on culture, race, ethnicity and mental
health cites the continuing impact of racism and discrimination on the quality of life of
racial/ethnic minorities. This discrimination and racism takes place on an institutional
level and in individuals' daily lives. The report discusses the impact of racism on mental
health through three major pathways: 1) decreased self-worth through internalization of
negative stereotypes, 2) institutionalized socioeconomic inequities, and 3) racism-related
stress directly leading to psychological and physiological problems (USDHHS, 2001).
Unfortunately, the medical model of mental disorders that pervades U.S. mental health
services does not adequately account for or address environmental factors in mental
health symptoms.
Poverty and classism. Poverty is a lack of resources necessary for living.
Certainly lacking such resources leads to stress in poor people's lives. In the United
States, it is defined by government agencies, but the experience of poverty is influenced
by regional and other factors. The American Psychological Association Task Force on
Socioeconomic Status (2007) summarized research on the impact of socioeconomic
status (SES), inequality, and class on biopsychosocial aspects of well-being. For various
indicators of low SES (e.g., years of education, occupational status, income), there are
deleterious outcomes, including increased mortality and higher incidence of mental
illnesses such as depression. Health psychology research indicates that those living in
5
poverty are more likely to face both acute and chronic stressors. Developmental
psychology points to the numerous risk factors children in poverty face (APA Task Force
on SES, 2007).
In 2006, the federal poverty threshold for a family of four was $20,614 (U.S.
Department of Health & Human Services, 2007), but many economists and social
scientists question the formula used to calculate this figure. The threshold is calculated
using a formula that was developed in the 1960's, based on the cost of food for a family
multiplied by three. This formula fails to incorporate rising housing and healthcare costs,
not to mention the need for childcare in most American families. Several economists
have proposed new formulas for calculating the income that families need to meet their
basic needs, and the results of these formulas suggest that families in the United States
need an average two times the federal poverty threshold to simply survive (Boushey,
Bracht, Gunderson, & Bernstein, 2001). Even using this definition, which underestimates
the number of people living with a lack of material resources, 12.3% of the U.S.
population was living in poverty in 2006 (36.5 million people). Poverty rates vary
significantly between racial groups in the United States. The poverty rates for Blacks,
Hispanics, Asians, and non-Hispanic Whites in 2006 were, respectively, 24.3%, 20.6%,
10.3%, and 8.2% (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, & Smith, 2007).
Racial disparities in wealth are even more staggering. Wealth is defined as the
sum of assets (e.g., savings, property) minus debts. The median net worth for White
households in 2001 was $121 ,000. For Black households, the median was $19,000, and
for Latino households the median was $11 ,500. Even as the gap in income between races
decreases very slowly, wealth disparities have stayed the same or increased (Collins &
6
Yeskel, 2005). Though not all people of color experience poverty, and not all poor people
are people of color, it is important to understand the impact of poverty and inequality
intersecting with racism in urban communities, where concentrated rates of poverty are
found, particularly among Black and Latino people (Jennings & Kushnick, 1999).
In addition to the material effects of poverty and inequality, classism (oppression
based on social class privilege) has negative psychological consequences. Perpetuation of
class superiority and inferiority often results in distancing from poor people (both
cognitive and behavioral) through stereotypes and exclusion of poor people from
mainstream institutions. In addition, people who are poor can experience outright
discrimination and invalidation in their everyday lives (Lott, 2002).
Distancing from the poor occurs in psychological research and mental health
practice. Poor people have been disenfranchised within the mental heath care system in
the United States, through the closing of community health centers and through
imposition of White middle-class expectations for clients. In addition to not being able to
access services because they are not locally available, people living in poverty are likely
to drop out early when they do enter treatment (Smith, 2005).
In sum, both poverty and racism can create situations of chronic adversity and
stress. For people of color living in poverty, mental health and well-being must beunderstood in the context of structural oppression. In addition, it is crucial to see people
from oppressed groups as more than their struggles. The concept of thriving captures a
sense well-being that is not simply the absence of pathology used in many
conceptualizations. It connotes "flourishing," a process that neither necessitates nor does
it preclude adversity or suffering (Poorman, 2002).
7
Thriving in Oppressive Contexts
Thriving
People experience adversity in various forms, from isolated traumatic incidents to
situations or even lifetimes of chronic stress. Though these situations pose challenges to
experiencing a sense of well-being, many people are able to survive and even transcend
adverse conditions. To understand the ways in which individuals survive and cope with
stress, social scientists have studied phenomena such as resilience, coping, hardiness,
endurance, and stress-resistance. Werner and Smith (2001) define resilience as "the
dynamic process that leads to positive adaptation within the context of significant
adversity," (p. 3). However, terms such as resilience, hardiness, or coping emphasize
survival, "bouncing back," or the mere absence of problems in the context of adversity,
and do not capture a sense of positive, growth-oriented well-being that can occur despite
or within adversity (Poorman, 2002). In this paper, the focus will be on thriving, a term
that suggests positive outcomes beyond adaptation to one's circumstances. Ickovics and
Park (1998) state that thriving ".. .represents something more than a return from
equilibrium...following a challenge" (p. 237).
Though thriving has a different connotation than resilience and related constructs,
the few studies on thriving have typically focused on traumatic events, life-threatening
illnesses, and other "extraordinary" stressors (Blankenship, 1998; Joseph & Linley,
2006). Two relatively recent grounded theory studies (Coddington, 2006; Poorman,
2002) emphasized growth and mutual connection in definitions of thriving. In particular,
the focus groups that Poorman (2002) conducted with women who have experienced
abuse and/or status-related oppression (e.g., racism, sexism) indicated that there is a
8
dynamic relationship between adversity and thriving.
This study aimed to understand the experience of thriving within the context of
poverty and racism that people of color living in poor urban communities endure. Though
most research on thriving has focused on a process that occurs after a specific event, in
this study it was approached as a fluid process that can occur before, during, and/or after
adverse events or conditions. The purpose was to understand thriving within the
sociopolitical context of oppression, different from concepts such as resilience, which
specifically focus on responses to stress and trauma. Thriving is a positive process that
may be experienced differently depending on context. Therefore, the experience of
thriving may be influenced by oppressive contexts. However, research on thriving with
oppressed groups is limited. Most research with oppressed groups focused on positive
psychological experiences employs concepts such as resilience and hardiness, which tend
to emphasize the importance of negative experiences rather than exploring individuals'
own understandings of their lives in context.
As a strength-oriented concept, thriving is important for several reasons. One is
that generally speaking, research focused on mental and physical health has emphasized
pathology, leading to a narrow understanding of the experience of well-being (Ickovics &
Park, 1998). Another important reason to focus on strength rather than deficit
perspectives is that research on marginalized or oppressed groups (e.g., people of color,
women, poor people) has especially focused on pathology or deviance (Allen, 2000;
Belle & Doucet, 2003; Reid, 1993). Understanding positive experiences and growthoriented behaviors in the context of oppressed people's lives can lead to a deeper, more
holistic representation of their experiences as well as providing a broader basis for
9
counseling interventions.
Processes and Sources of Thriving in Oppressive Contexts
While this study was grounded in the voices of participants, it is important to
acknowledge the researcher's worldview and expectations. Based on the literature and a
critical multicultural feminist worldview (described below), it was anticipated that critical
consciousness and mutuality would be important processes related to thriving. In most
research on resilience and thriving, poverty is defined as a risk factor that can be a barrier
to recovery from trauma, rather than a chronic stressor in and of itself (Blankenship,
1998; O'Leary, 1998). Poverty and racism (or other forms of oppression) are rarely
studied as contexts for thriving. Based on the theory and research available, two potential
pathways for thriving in the face of chronic adversity were proposed: critical
consciousness (Friere, 1971) and mutuality (from relational cultural theory; Miller &
Stiver, 1997). Most research on thriving focuses on individual protective or enhancing
factors following a stressful or traumatic event. Critical consciousness and mutual
empowerment de-emphasize the individual and place thriving in sociopolitical context.
Critical consciousness. Liberation theory, critical social theory, and resistance
theory propose the importance of critical consciousness as a "valuable response to
adversity," (Massey, Cameron, Ouellette, and Fine, 1998, p. 339). Critical consciousness
is an awareness of one's position and responsibility in an oppressive hierarchy, first
defined by Paolo Friere (1971) in his literacy work with Brazilian peasants. The concept
of critical consciousness directly addressees the sociopolitical context of oppression,
which could shed light on factors often considered in resilience and thriving research. For
example, "sense of control" or "environmental mastery" is repeatedly seen as an
10
important factor related to thriving, resilience, and well-being (Lachman & Weaver,
1998; Ryff, 1989). These concepts suggest that an individual's perception of control over
her/his circumstances has positive implications for well-being. However, it is possible
that a woman of color living in poverty may have low sense of control or environmental
mastery, but may still be thriving because of a realistic appraisal of what she can and
cannot control within her social context. She may be taking part in collective action to
improve her circumstances while reporting that there is little that she can do on her own
to solve her problems. In the next chapter, awareness of racism and racial pride will be
discussed as factors that can contribute to thriving in oppressive contexts.
Mutual empathy and mutual empowerment. According to relational cultural
theory (RCT), mutual empathy, or individuals in a relationship ". . .engaged together in
the thoughts and feelings of the situation" leads to mutual empowerment (Miller &
Stiver, 1997, p. 29). Mutual empowerment is a growth-promoting construct composed of
what Miller and Stiver refer to as "the five good things." These components are: zest in
emotional connection ("vitality, aliveness, and energy" of connection with another
person), action (feeling empowered to act in and out of the relationship), knowledge
(increased understanding of self and other in the relationship), sense of worth (feeling
worthwhile in the relationship leading to general feelings of worth), and greater sense of
connection/desire for more connections (pp. 30-34). Mutual empowerment suggests a
relational rather than individual approach to thriving, which may be crucial for groups of
people negatively impacted by an oppressive hierarchy such as poor people and people of
color (O'Leary, 1998, p. 435). Poorman's (2002) grounded theory study on the meanings
of and factors that contribute to thriving suggests that mutuality is essential to the
11
experience of thriving.
The cultural component of RCT suggests that individuals do not only have
relationships with one another, but also with groups as well as cultural and political
institutions. Racism and poverty may damage relationships on multiple levels. However,
a strengths-oriented perspective recognizes the inherent ability of all people to experience
positive human processes such as thriving no matter the barriers. The history of structural
oppression, expressed in part through the deficit perspective in the social scientists,
demands that we use a different lens in understanding those who live in oppressive
contexts.
Purpose of Study and Researcher Worldview
This study sought to understand the meanings and processes of thriving for people
of color living in poor urban communities. The researcher conducted interviews
employing a constructivist grounded theory design to explore the meanings, process, and
sources of thriving among Black and Latino adults living in subsidized housing in an
urban neighborhood in the Northeastern United States. This project was connected to a
larger participatory action research (PAR) project with a community-based organization
(CBO) in this neighborhood. This study aimed to bring the voices of people of color
living in poor urban communities closer to the center of the canon of social science
research that has the potential to influence policy and practice.
PAR and constructivist grounded theory imply a particular worldview, one that
suggests that structural oppression exists and should be of immediate concern for social
scientists. Human suffering will not be alleviated where injustice prevails. As the
12
primary researcher, it is important that I acknowledge my worldview, biases, and
experiences. I write this paper as a woman of color who grew up in a working poor
family in the same city where the project is taking place. I am a multiracial (Latina
(Puerto Rican)/White) woman of color who is also queer. My family moved away from
this urban area to a more suburban area in the southeastern United States when I was still
in elementary school. Throughout my life, my family was upwardly mobile in terms of
income, though my parents have always held working class jobs and values. My
educational experiences and racial privilege played (and continue to play) significant
roles in my own class experiences, allowing me to be the first generation of my family in
the United States to enroll in college. I returned to the urban area where this project is
taking place to pursue a doctoral degree in counseling psychology focusing on well-being
in community contexts. I was drawn to working with a low-income community of color
because of the generation before me, who came of age in public housing and faced
numerous barriers, including inadequate education, substance abuse, domestic violence,
incarceration, and HIV. Throughout all of this, there have been periods of thriving for
many members of my family. I also know that many members of my family do not trust
mental health providers and systems, which has in part driven my desire to create
services that are relevant to people in their contexts and from their worldviews.
If I were to label my worldview, I would say that I take a critical multicultural
feminist stance on political and community issues. To me, this means acknowledging
oppressions (sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, etc.) and understanding the ways in
which oppressions are interconnected. It also means that there is hope to ending
oppression, that we each have the tools to create a different way of seeing and living in
13
the world, no matter our identities and experiences. The following chapter will review
research on oppression and its consequences, particularly in low-income urban
communities of color, and will summarize research on thriving in these contexts. It will
end with the research questions that are the focus of the present study.
14
Chapter 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
This review of the literature will focus on processes of thriving experienced by
people living in oppressive circumstances, particularly racism and poverty in urban
communities. The review will begin with the relationship between oppression and mental
health, highlighting the lived consequences of oppression and how a deficit perspective in
the social sciences reinforces oppression. Before turning to empirical studies on thriving,
theoretical models of thriving and resilience will be examined. Following this is a
summary of potential pathways to thriving within the context of poverty and racism,
highlighting emerging knowledge about thriving processes in low-income urban
communities of color. The review will end with a rationale for a qualitative study on
thriving in low-income communities of color and will include research questions for the
current project.
Oppression and Mental Health
Oppression, or ". . .the experience of repeated, widespread, systemic injustice"
(Deutsch, 2005, p. 10) has serious consequences for mental health through material
deprivation and lack of access to resources and opportunities, and through a continued
experience of being devalued by those from the dominant group. In the United States,
where material and social resources are distributed unequally based on race, social class,
15
and other social identities, experiences of deprivation and devaluation are common for
people from groups that are considered subordinate. Here, the focus will be on the
consequences of racism experienced by people of color and classism experienced by
people who are poor.
It is important to keep in mind that racism and poverty are deeply interconnected,
both globally and in the United States. Manning Marable (2000) places these
intersections in historical context in his critical analysis of social and economic
institutions and practices in the United States. He emphasizes the gross
underdevelopment of Black people, beginning with slavery and continuing through today.
Distribution of resources, rights, etc. is built on a foundation of racial inequity, and some
argue that capitalism demands some sort of inequality (i.e., a surplus of laborers at hand
at all times to benefit the machines of profit for elites) (Marable, 2000).
The people who comprise this labor surplus, mostly people of color, have been
historically exploited- enslaved, threatened, and underpaid. This applies to Latinos in this
country as well. For example, Puerto Ricans are among the most "consistently poor"
groups in the United States, highly concentrated in poor urban communities, and
historically exploited for cheap labor. For example, in the 1950' s large numbers of Puerto
Ricans were encouraged to move to Midwestern and Northeastern cities for low-paying
manufacturing jobs (Jennings, 1999, p. 89). The wealth of White people in the United
States continues to accumulate at the expense and to the detriment of people of color.
People of color have been essential to the great economic gains of White people. In fact,
Meizhu Lui (2006) points out that during slavery Blacks were wealth for many Whites.
What follows is a discussion of the psychological consequences of racism and
16
poverty/classism.
Racism
Racism is oppression based on race. Watts-Jones (2002) defines racism as ". . .the
institutionalized emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and social policy practices that assume
and/or promote the cultural, biological, and socioeconomic superiority of people of
European descent" (p. 592). This definition includes the individual, institutional, and
cultural levels of racism outlined by Jones (1972, as cited in Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996).
The devaluing of people of color can lead to negative emotional outcomes such as
low self-esteem, anger, and guilt. Examples of stress caused by racism include
". . .cultural barriers to achievement, the lack of resources to succeed, and the futility of
effort in a perennially hostile white society" (Nikelly, 1999, p. 312). The impact of
racism is seen in the higher incidence of a number of mental and physical health
problems for people of color (e.g., depression, substance abuse, cardiovascular disease)
(USDHHS, 2001).
In an analysis of the mental health consequences of social injustice, Sheppard
(2002) discusses the link between systemic racism and higher rates of schizophrenia for
young black Afro-Caribbean men in the United Kingdom. Examples of racism these men
experience are high rates of unemployment compared to the general population, daily
harassment, and housing discrimination. These stressors are related to a known construct
that is correlated with relapse of schizophrenia symptoms, known as "expressed
emotion," comprised mainly of hostility and critical comments (Sheppard, 2002, p. 784).
Thus, oppression of men of color can lead to higher rates of experiencing and diagnosing
17
mental disorders. This does not mean, however, that men of color are more biologically
vulnerable to mental illness. The combination of race-related stress with a tendency to
over-pathologize people of color (discussed in the next section) contributes to these
higher reported rates of mental illness.
Related to the direct impact of racism on the economic and social opportunities of
people of color, race-related stress has an impact on mental health. Hobfoll's (2001)
conservation of resources theory identifies three conditions under which stress is
experienced: when one's resources are threatened with loss, when one's resources are
lost, or when one is unable to gain necessary resources after investing considerable
resources (Hobfoll, 2001). Certainly, people of color experience these conditions in the
context of racism. Several studies have identified racism-related stress as a unique
predictor of psychological distress (e.g., Utsey, Giesbrecht, Hood, & Stanard, 2008;
Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996). Negative self-perceptions resulting from devaluation, in
addition to persistent threats to individual and collective resources can have a tremendous
impact on health and well-being.
People of color can react to racism in a variety of ways. Reactions to racism can
be active or passive. Passively accepting racism has been linked to negative health
consequences (e.g., alexithymia, Peters & Lumley, 2007). Two key responses to racism
that Watts-Jones (2002) discusses are rejecting racism, or internalizing racism.
Internalized racism can have devastating effects on mental health. As Watts-Jones (2002)
states:
.. .it is an experience of self-degradation and self-alienation, one that promotes the
assumptive base of inferiority. It is the experience of being "Primitive." What
enjoyment or privileges we accrue are by virtue of abandoning our identity in
order to approximate that of the extolled group (pp. 592-593).
18
This is not an inevitable outcome, nor is it mutually exclusive from rejecting racism and
claiming an empowered identity. Healing from internalized racism requires
consciousness about racism and its effects, related to the concept of critical consciousness
discussed in the introduction. In sum, racism has numerous effects on mental health,
ranging from tangible health effects to negative self-perceptions. Research has shown that
poverty and classism also have a negative impact on mental health, intersecting with
racism for poor people of color.
Poverty and Classism
In their comprehensive review of the impact of neighborhood context on
individual outcomes, Shinn and Toohey (2003) synthesize experimental studies
demonstrating the positive impact of living in high SES neighborhoods on outcomes such
as educational achievement of children, higher pay and job benefits, safety, physical and
mental health of parents and children, and youth delinquency and behavior problems. In
these studies, families from public housing were moved to more affluent areas in a
randomized control group design (Del Conte & King, 2001; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn
2002, Rubinowitz & Rosenbaum 2000, as cited in Shinn & Toohey, 2003). Negative
consequences of poverty include increased mortality, higher incidence of mental illnesses
such as depression, and constant confrontation of both acute and chronic stressors. (APA
Task Force on Socioeonomic Status, 2007).
In addition to the material effects of poverty and inequality, classism (oppression
based on social class privilege) has negative psychological consequences. Perpetuation of
class superiority and inferiority often results in distancing from poor people (both
cognitive and behavioral) through stereotypes and exclusion of poor people from
19
mainstream institutions. In addition, people who are poor can experience outright
discrimination and invalidation in their everyday lives (Lott, 2002).
Distancing from the poor occurs in psychological research and mental health
practice. Poor people have been disenfranchised within the mental heath care system in
the United States, through the closing of community health centers and through
imposition of White middle-class expectations for clients. In addition to not being able to
access services because they are not locally available, people living in poverty are likely
to drop out early when they do enter treatment (Smith, 2005).
As stated in the introduction, people of color are overrepresented among poor
people in the United States. Income disparities between white people and people of color
are striking, and these disparities are staggering when wealth is considered (Collins &
Yeskel, 2003). In addition, groups of people can have completely different experiences in
the same setting because of factors such as racial discrimination. For example, the
positive impact of high SES is greater for white children than black children. These
disparities and intersections are seen especially in urban communities (Shinn & Toohey
2003).
Oppression in Urban Communities
From the above, it is clear that the intersection of racism and poverty can have
negative effects on poor people of color, and people of color are overrepresented in poor
urban communities. The concentration of people of color living in urban poverty has its
roots in failed civil rights policies following the decline of industrialization in the United
States in the mid-20th century, and continued racism in real estate, education, and other
social institutions. By 1990, almost half of people living in poverty in the United States
20
were concentrated in urban cities. The majority of these individuals were (and continue to
be) people of color. Political and economic realities bar poor people of color living in
urban communities from economic opportunities available to the white middle class
(Slessarev, 1997).
Wandersman and Nation (1998) review theories explaining the ways in which
characteristics of urban neighborhoods explain negative outcomes. One such theory is the
neighborhood disorder model, which implicates signs of neighborhood decline such as
violent crime in increased anxiety and other negative mental health consequences (Shinn
& Toohey, 2003). Another theory is the structural characteristics model, which points to
the link between demographic characteristics (e.g., low socioeconomic status, residential
mobility) and negative mental health outcomes. A final theory reviewed is the
environmental stress model, which points to the common experience of stressful life
events, daily hassles, and environmental stressors as predictive of mental health
problems. Studies coming from all three perspectives demonstrate that people living in
urban communities are vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems.
The harmful consequences of oppression exist alongside incredible strength and
will to survive and thrive. It is important to acknowledge both the reality of oppression
and the incredible possibilities of strength of people from oppressed groups. The
structures of oppression are real, just as the strengths of individuals in the face of
oppression are real. People have multifaceted reactions to oppressive contexts, and it is
important for social scientists and mental health professionals to understand these varied
narratives. However, understanding of people from oppressed groups, particularly poor
people of color living in urban communities, has been mired in a deficit perspective.
21
The Deficit Perspective
There is a tendency in society that is reflected in social science research to ignore
contextual variables such as oppression in understanding people's lives, while
simultaneously blaming individuals for negative circumstances (Shinn & Toohey, 2003).
This is especially true for people of color and poor people. In public policy, the media,
and the public imagination, "attacking the poor" rather than attacking the structural
problems of poverty is common (Slessarev, 1997, p. 2). Poor people of color are viewed
through deficit and pathologizing lenses that have been termed "internal defect models"
(Humphreys & Rappaport, 1993, p. 896). These models emphasize internal, individual
deficiencies and neglect the role of the environment in understanding problems such as
mental illness and substance abuse. The deficit perspective pervasive in public policy can
be seen clearly in the increased pathologizing of substance abuse during and after the
Reagan administration in the 1980's. (Humphreys & Rapport, 1993). In a shift away from
community mental health programs that were developed during the I960' s and 1970's,
the Reagan administration drastically cut almost all social programs that supported poor
people. Instead, the government began to attack substance abuse as a key social problem,
and criminal sanctions were the solution. The government ignored or denied economic
disinvestment in poor urban communities and other structural factors that contributed to
the drug trade and substance abuse (Humphreys & Rapport, 1993).
As inequality increases in the United States, efforts to hide poverty and inequality
increase. For example, there is an emphasis on getting homeless people "off the streets"
22
in large cities, which is different from efforts to decrease homelessness and poverty
(Süsser 1996). In addition, distinctions are often made between the "deserving and the
undeserving poor" (Süsser 1996, p. 412). The "undeserving poor" receive the most
attention in the media and social sciences, and almost all of that attention is negative.
Those considered undeserving are those experiencing problems with public institutions
such as the criminal justice system, child protective services, or mental health system.
The "deserving poor" are those "who manage to avoid interaction with public
institutions," and are neglected in social discourse (Süsser 1996, p. 412). Thus, the poor
are largely pathologized in public images.
The deficit perspective can also be seen in media portrayals of poor people of
color. In an analysis of media portrayals of poverty, Bullock, Wyche, & Williams (2001)
found that the media reinforces negative stereotypes of poor people, particularly in the
aftermath of welfare reform. Television shows and newspapers reinforce negative
stereotypes about poor people and portray poverty as a choice people make rather than as
a direct result of lack of resources. Labels such as "the poor," "the underserved," and "the
disenfranchised" have been used by popular media and academia to describe people
living in poverty.
Poverty and welfare are associated with people of color, particularly Blacks and
Latinos. People of color who are perceived to be poor are viewed with disdain by many.
In a study on stereotypes of 17 groups in the United States, Fiske, Xu, Cuddy, and Glick
(1999) found that welfare recipients were disliked, disrespected, and perceived as lacking
warmth and competence among a sample of mostly white female undergraduate students.
Lott (2002) discusses the use of terms such as "racial minority" and "inner city" as codes
23
for low income. This conflation of race and class in some ways reflects real racial
inequalities that exist in this country. However, the perception of people of color as poor
(and vice versa) is also an example of insidious racism.
As can be seen above, out-groups, such as people of color and poor people, are
often viewed as lacking humanity by those in the dominant group (Lott, 2002). In a study
on attitudes toward the poor with a sample of Midwestern college students, participants
associated the following attributes with poor people: uneducated, unmotivated, lazy,
unpleasant, angry, stupid, dirty, immoral, criminal, alcoholic, abusive, and violent
(Cozzarelli, Wilkinson, & Tagler, 2001). Certainly the "internal defects model" is evident
in these beliefs.
People of color and poor people are pathologized and viewed from a deficit
perspective in United States mental health care systems. According to Garb (1997, as
cited in Nikelly, 2001), Black and Latino people are overrepresented in public mental
health institutions. They are also more likely to be medicated with antipsychotic drugs. In
addition, Black and Latino people are treated as more prone to violence in the prison and
mental health systems (Garb, 1997, as cited in Nikelly, 2001 , p. 312). As stated in the
introduction, poor people are seen as less amenable to long-term insight-oriented
therapies (Smith, 2005). Poor people are diagnosed with severe mental illnesses at higher
rates than middle class people are (Garb, 1997, as cited in Nikelly, 2001).
It is easy to focus on the problems of poor people of color living in urban
communities in a sociopolitical context that denigrates poverty and demonizes behaviors
that are often the consequence of inadequate social and economic support (e.g., substance
abuse). In such a context, the "deficits" of middle-class and upper-class white people are
24
easy to see as problems of individual character, or to ignore altogether. The reality is that
the ways in which individuals, families and communities survive and thrive are complex
and multiply determined for people in all contexts. However, because urban communities
are viewed through the lens of pathology, complex, multiply determined stories of
thriving are virtually absent from public discourse, including psychology and mental
health services discourse. Thus, this study focused on thriving in these contexts. A review
of models of thriving follows, ending with a summary of research on thriving among
people of color, poor people, and people living in urban communities.
Theoretical Models of Thriving
As mentioned in the introductory chapter, people of color living in poverty face
chronic stress and adversity, rendering the concept of thriving both crucial and complex.
The models of thriving that follow assume more often than not that traumatic and
stressful events are anomalies that violate ". . .fundamental assumptions that have
provided structure and meaning to life. . ." (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 1998, p. 360). This does
not take into account individuals born into stressful circumstances, who must learn to
cope with high levels of stress on a daily basis. For people from oppressed groups, events
characterized as traumatic in the thriving literature may be considered normal. For
example, Blankenship (1998) found that most people she interviewed living in urban
poverty have either experienced or witnessed violence. This does not mean that violence
or other stressful circumstances do not have an impact on the urban poor. They may,
however, be perceived differently than they are by people in other contexts. In addition,
definitions of thriving include the ". . .mobilization of individual and social resources. . ."
25
(Ickovics & Park, 1998; p. 237), implying that individuals who do not have such
resources are not as likely to thrive. This implication typically exists without mention of
power relationships or positions within the social hierarchy (Blankenship, 1998). These
factors will be taken into consideration in the review of thriving models.
O'Leary and Ickovics (1995; as cited in O'Leary, 1998) propose four potential
outcomes to challenging circumstances. Individuals or groups may succumb to challenge,
failing to recover and remaining at a low level of functioning; they may survive
challenge, continuing to function, though in an impaired manner; they may recover from
challenge, returning to their pre-challenge or baseline level of functioning; or they may
thrive following challenge, growing beyond their baseline level of psychosocial
functioning to "flourish." Thriving is considered a "transformative" process (O'Leary,
1998, pp. 429-430). While these concepts may apply to persistent adversity, this theory
assumes "profound" challenge, such as illnesses, traumatic accidents, victimization,
immense loss, or existential crisis. Because of the focus on exceptional events, the
opportunity for thriving is perceived as rare.
Joseph and Linley (2006) review several theories of thriving. Only one of these
theories, the biospsychosocial-evolutionary theory (Christopher, 2004, as cited in Joseph
and Linley, 2006) takes contextual factors explicitly into account. In this theory, growth
from traumatic stress is seen as the adaptive, evolutionary norm for human beings. The
negative effects of trauma are understood as ". . .a failure to adequately modulate the
normal adaptive trauma response" (Christopher, 2004, as cited in Joseph & Linley, 2006,
p. 1046). This conceptualization assumes that trauma impacts human beings biologically,
psychologically, and socially. In addition, though there is a universal stress response, the
26
specific dynamics of the response vary by individual. Though this is a biopsychsocial
model, the major emphasis is on universal processes, and the sociopolitical context of
trauma is not addressed. In addition, the focus still is on traumatic events rather than
more pervasive experiences of oppressive contexts. A strength of this theory for the
purpose of this study is the view of thriving as a normal response that most people can
experience.
Theories of thriving emphasize out-of-the-ordinary traumatic events and stressors.
In addition, studies that use these theories are likely to see stressors such as poverty as
risk factors impeding post-traumatic growth rather than as chronic stressors in and of
themselves (O'Leary, 1998). There is a need to understand the ways in which individuals
thrive in the context of oppression. One study, using grounded theory methodology,
conceptualized thriving as a "dynamic, variable, and balanced" process (Poorman, 2002,
p. 55). Four focus groups on the meaning of thriving were conducted with women who
have experienced status-related oppression (e.g., racism, sexism), and/or abuse as adults.
Using grounded theory analysis, the researcher developed themes in collaboration with
the women who participated in the focus groups by holding subsequent focus groups
where themes were validated.
The women who participated in this study viewed thriving as a dynamic process.
The factors that determined thriving and the meanings of thriving were interrelated. The
following themes emerged across groups: 1) thriving is dynamic, 2) thriving is variable
rather than static, 3) thriving is a state of balance, 4) thriving involves individual
perceptions, resources, and motives, 5) thriving involves a specific relationship with
adversity, and 6) thriving involves specific qualities of the interpersonal environment
27
(Poorman, 2002, pp. 55-57). Thriving was viewed as a somewhat cyclical process that
involves periods of rest and activity.
Emphasized in several themes was the importance of mutuality (e.g., deriving
personal power from giving to others, relationships characterized by reciprocal support
and love). The participants viewed experiences of adversity as potentially facilitating
thriving. For example, confronting injustice can motivate people to grow and be
compassionate. However, the relationship between thriving and adversity was not seen as
linear, as is apparent in some theories (growth that occurs after a traumatic or stressful
event). Instead, this relationship was seen as dynamic, and involved processes such as
self-awareness in the face of adversity, resisting and rejecting negative forces, and
pushing against one's limits (Poorman, 2002).
This emerging theory of thriving is in keeping with the assumptions of the present
study; namely, that thriving is a process that can occur at any point in an individual,
family, or community's experience. Adversity is not a necessary condition of thriving,
but context must be taken into account in understanding how people thrive and what the
sources of thriving are. An important point in the Poorman (2002) study was that after
some discussion, one focus group determined that one does not need basic survival
resources to thrive. This is in contrast with other theories of positive human functioning,
such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which states that people must have certain needs
met in order to achieve self actualization.
Empirical studies that address positive outcomes in the context of poverty and
racism are reviewed below. It should be noted that most of these studies do not focus on
thriving specifically. In fact, very few studies have examined thriving as a process, and
28
few studies focus on the meanings and experiences of thriving. Studies on resilience have
been reviewed as well, though resilience focuses more on risk versus protective factors
rather than on positive processes per se. However, studies on resilience, particularly
qualitative studies, may be related to thriving processes, particularly as individuals
describe moving beyond surviving or basic functioning. Another important aspect of
these studies is that while many focus on cultural and gendered contexts, those that do
tend to be about women and not men. This is a significant limitation that will be
addressed in the present study, which will focus on men and women in their racial,
cultural, economic, and gendered contexts.
Empirical Studies on Thriving
Individual Processes and Sources
Studies on poverty and thriving typically look at how individuals cope with major
stressors in the midst of poverty or low SES. In a study with 189 low SES HIV-positive
women (47.6% African American, 32.8% White, and 19.6% Latina), Updegraff, Taylor,
Kemeny, and Wyatt (2002) investigated the benefits and losses resulting from HIV
infection. Participants were asked six open-ended questions about the impact of HIV on
various life domains. In addition, the researchers measured depression, anxiety, SES,
trauma history, chronic burden, social support, and optimism. Participants' responses
were more positive than negative when asked how they think about themselves, how they
feel they have changed as individuals, and their life priorities. Responses to questions
about changes in romantic relationships and how the women viewed their bodies were
significantly more negative than positive. Positive changes were significantly positively
29
correlated with SES, but negative changes were not associated with SES. Depression and
anxiety were related to SES in expected directions. White participants reported a higher
SES, and African American participants reported higher social support than both White
and Latina participants. This study focused more on the adverse event of an illness (HIV)
and did not explicitly address the context of poverty and/or racism.
In a qualitative study with 54 African American (18), Puerto Rican (17), and nonHispanic White (19) women living with HIV in New York City, multiple themes of
thriving were uncovered (Siegel & Schrimshaw, 2000). The majority of the women
(83%) reported at least one positive change attributed to living with HIV/AIDS, and most
reported more than one positive change. Many of the women reported being motivated to
change health-related behaviors. In addition, they reported that they set more positive
goals for themselves (e.g., education) in light of the HIV diagnosis.
In an interview study with single mothers living in homeless shelters, (n= 64;
70% African American) women named finding larger meaning in their experience,
prayer, thinking positively, patient endurance, and getting distance from their problems as
some individual coping strategies. This study did not assess the effectiveness of these
strategies, but many women described them as helpful (Banyard, 1995). In addition,
spirituality seemed to play a large role in dealing with the stressful circumstances of
being homeless. Though this study focused on survival and coping strategies, the factors
uncovered can be seen as routes to thriving in the face of the chronic adversity of
homelessness (and racism for the women of color in the study).
Self-efficacy or personal control often emerges as a factor promoting thriving
among poor women (Turner & Noh, 1983; Ennis, Hobfoll, & Schröder, 2000). This
30
refers to a feeling that goals or outcomes are within a person's control. In a large-scale
quantitative study using hierarchical regression analysis, Ennis, Hobfoll, and Schröder
(2000) found that mastery was a resilience or buffering factor among White women in
their study, but not among African American women. The sample consisted of 1241
single inner-city women, 55% of whom were Black. This finding is compelling, as levels
of mastery were not significantly different in the two racial groups. It may speak to
White women valuing mastery more than Black women in this sample, or to the additive
impact of race-based discrimination for Black women. A feeling of mastery may not be
relevant for poor Black women to overcome the combination of adverse conditions
created by poverty, racism, and sexism.
Todd and Worell (2000) conducted a study on resilience with low-income,
employed African American women. They used both qualitative and quantitative
measures to examine the role of supportive and problematic social ties, downward social
comparison, and self-efficacy in predicting resilience (as measured by psychological
well-being). One measure of downward social comparison predicted higher resilience.
No relationship was found between self-efficacy and resilience in the quantitative
analysis, but the women frequently mentioned self-efficacy as a resilience factor in
interviews. Resilience was defined in this study as the "ability to keep going in the face
of hardship or to face difficult times and still do Ok'," (p. 121). The study was limited by
the use of a measure of psychological well-being as a proxy for resilience. Also, the
instruments used have not been validated for use with low-income, African American
women. Again, this study focused on resilience rather than thriving.
In some stressful circumstances, individuals report improved self-perception. In
31
the qualitative study described above, Siegel and Schrimshaw (2000) found that several
HIV positive women in their study felt that their diagnosis made them ". . .stronger, more
caring, and improved their attitude toward life" (p. 1549). Some of the strength that they
experienced was related to their ability to advocate for themselves, which could be
related to the concept of critical consciousness discussed earlier.
Hurd, Moore, and Rogers (1995) conducted interviews with 53 African American
parents focusing on parenting strengths. Parents (defined as primary caregivers)
identified a number of individual sources of strength. However, all of these seemed to
exist in familial and community context, as is probably true for most "individual"
processes and sources. These sources were an emphasis on achievement and effort, an
ability to foster self-reliance in children, an emphasis on the importance of education, and
the importance of developing coping skills in light of life's inevitable pain and
challenges.
Abraido-Lanza, Guier, and Colón (1998) examined thriving specifically within
the context of chronic illness and poverty among Latinas using mixed qualitative and
quantitative methods. Sixty-six Latina women with rheumatic diseases (e.g., arthritis,
lupus) participated in this longitudinal study in which two interviews were conducted
three years apart. Most of the women were living in poverty, had about 9 years of
education, were born outside of the U.S., and were unemployed due to disability. In
addition to the interviews, the researchers measured various factors related to illness as
well as individual and social resources. The authors identified eight domains of thriving
from the interviews. Four of these were individual factors: gained positive attitude,
appreciation of life, personal strength, and patience, or taking things one day at a time.
32
The other domains were relational and spiritual and will be discussed below. However,
when understanding processes of thriving in context, "individual" sources of thriving
may be relational or spiritual as well, particularly for people who emphasize
connectedness and mutuality. This is often true of women and people of color. The data
from this study point to the importance of relational, individual, and spiritual/meaning
dimensions of thriving.
Relational Processes and Sources
Social support is a commonly named factor in thriving. Quantitative results from
the study described above (Todd & Worell, 2001) indicated that problematic social ties
were negatively correlated with resilience, but no relationship was found between
supportive social ties and resilience. Although no quantitative relationships were found,
during interviews many women named informal social support as important to their
ability to "keep going" and do "ok." This discrepancy between the qualitative and
quantitative data is another limitation of the study: women often named social support as
a vital resilience factor when interviewed, but the quantitative measures of social support
did not capture this experience. It is possible that social support enhances thriving in
ways that were not captured by the quantitative measures.
In Banyard's (1995) qualitative study with single mothers who were homeless,
89% of the women in the study named social support as an important coping strategy.
They described support received from family, friends, shelter staff, and shelter residents.
As mentioned before, the vast majority of this sample was African American (70%). In
the large-scale study by Ennis, Hobfoll, and Schröder (2000) described above, social
support was found to buffer against stress in African American women, but not in White
33
women. The buffering effect increased as material loss increased, indicating that social
support may be a crucial factor buffering against the devastating consequences of
poverty. This research highlights the importance of social ties in the African American
community.
Quantitative studies of resilience with men and women of color also emphasize
the importance of social support (Brown, 2008; Utsey, Bolden, Lanier, & Williams,
2007; Utsey, Giesbrecht, Hook, & Stanard, 2008). Again, these studies focus on
resilience rather than thriving, and do not include individual or group narratives of the
meaning or process of thriving. However, it is important to note that the study by Utsey et
al. (2007) recruited African American participants from urban communities. Over half of
the participants in this study had incomes below the federal poverty level. Most studies
on resilience focus on children, and when they focus on adults they use convenience
samples from university populations. In this study, the researchers found that both
traditional resilience factors (cognitive ability, family adaptability and cohesion, and
social support) and culture-specific coping predicted resilience in this sample.
Particularly important were spiritual and collective coping. The authors recommend
employing a qualitative design to create deeper understandings of African American
resilience.
Many HIV positive women in Siegel and Schrimshaw's (2000) qualitative study
stated that they felt closer to their children, family, and friends after disclosing their HIV
diagnosis. Some women also reported that they appreciated and valued these
relationships more. The importance of family was stressed in an ethnographic case study
with four African American families (Mosley-Howard & Evans, 2000). Kinship bonds, or
34
caring for and maintaining connections with extended family, were seen as vital
resources for these families.
In the study focusing on African American parenting strengths described above,
Hurd, Moore, and Rogers (1995) found that parents relied on their connections with
family members (e.g., as role models) to support them in their parenting. In addition, they
emphasized that respect for others was very important.
In the study cited above focusing on thriving among poor Latinas with chronic
illnesses, Abraido-Lanza, Guier, and Colón (1998) found that appreciation of family and
friends were two important domains of thriving. In addition, empathy was a significant
factor. This may be a reflection of the importance of relationships for women, as
described in numerous feminist theories (Miller & Stiver, 1997). However, relational
contexts also may be important in men's thriving. There are no studies to date that
explicitly examine meanings and processes of thriving with men of color.
Spiritual Processes and Pathways
Spirituality and religion were common coping strategies named by women in
Banyard's (1995) qualitative study with single mothers who were homeless. In Siegel and
Schrimshaw's (2000) study with HIV positive women, many reported greater spiritual or
religious faith following their HIV diagnosis. Although these factors can be considered a
source of individual strength and often take place in religious institutions that provide
social support, they can inform values and norms that characterize the nature of the social
macrosystem, particularly in the face of poverty and racism, bell hooks (2000) discusses
the historical significance of religion and spirituality in creating a feeling of solidarity
with the poor and encouraging values of living simply. Spiritual practices and religious
35
institutions are often vital sources of strength for people of color. Eugene (1995)
describes the healing aspects of the Black church, particularly for Black women. She
states that through music, Black churchgoers actively confront sources of suffering. The
church also can provide a sanctuary for those who are struggling physically,
economically, psychologically, and/or spiritually. In addition to providing a safe space
the church often offers practical help and social support in the form of prayer and
interventions with struggling family members. For example, in Mosley-Howard and
Evans' (2000) ethnographic case study with four African American families, the role of
spirituality and/or church was emphasized as an important source of strength in the lives
of their families. In addition, parents in the study on parenting strengths described above
(Hurd, Moore, & Rogers, 1995) found that fostering spirituality was an important source
of strength for African American families.
Abraido-Lanza, Guier, and Colon's (1998) mixed-methods study with poor
Latinas experiencing chronic illness pointed to two spiritual dimensions in understanding
thriving: appreciation of life, and enhanced spirituality or faith in God. Appreciation of
life was also included above in the section on individual processes and sources. However,
the domains of thriving do not necessarily fit neatly into these systemic categories, as
they are highly interdependent.
Community and Political Processes and Pathways
Community involvement and political participation are complex factors that occur
at the individual level (i.e., an individual chooses to engage in such activities), but these
behaviors are informed by and eventually can influence the broader social context in
which people live. Abrahams (1996) conducted a qualitative interview study with 50
36
women (11 Latina, 39 White) who were involved in their communities in some capacity.
She questioned whether women's community involvement is "benevolent service, social
action, capitalist exploitation, or empowerment," (p. 768). Her belief is that it can be all
of these things. This question highlights the nature of resilience factors: community
participation can buffer against negative consequences of poverty, but like social support,
this participation may also act as a stressor or risk factor.
The women in the study volunteered for a variety of types of organizations. The
vast majority of women were middle-class, as defined by education, income, and cues
from the interviews. A major difference between the natures of participation for Latina
versus White women was that race/ethnicity was very salient for Latinas involved in the
Latino empowerment organization. In addition, Latinas emphasized contributions to their
community as important in their work, as opposed to the White women's emphasis on
maintaining and enhancing their family's well-being and social status. For Latinas in this
study, community involvement seemed to represent being a part of a community and
improving the conditions of one's ethnic group. Community involvement and political
participation may have benefits for individuals from oppressed groups as they see the
fruits of their labors unfold, but they also can directly impact one's social context by
changing oppressive conditions through community education, policy change, or other
processes (Abrahams, 1996). The role of critical consciousness in thriving is highlighted
by this study. Critical consciousness and community participation may have a mutual
influence that promotes positive outcomes for individuals facing chronic adversity. This
study highlights the importance of understanding thriving processes in racial, cultural,
and gendered contexts.
37
Cultural factors are important in contributing to the strengths of people of color.
In the ethnographic case study with African American families discussed above (MosleyHoward & Evans, 2000), pride in cultural heritage, teaching children about racism
overtly, and negotiation between two cultures were important sources of strength in
family life. Hurd, Moore, and Rogers (1995) also found that fostering self-respect and
racial pride was very important to African American parents. Similarly, quantitative
studies have found that cultural or racial pride is an important aspect of resilience among
people of color (Brown, 2008; Spencer-Rodgers & Collins, 2006; Utsey, Bolden, Lanier,
& Williams, 2007). One study found that racial pride was associated with higher levels of
psychological distress. This could be because with cultural pride comes awareness of
racism, and perhaps higher sensitivity to its effects (Utsey, Giesbrecht, Hook, & Stanard,
2008). These studies highlight the potential role of critical consciousness in thriving
processes, discussed earlier.
In a rare study focusing on resilience among Latino men, Spencer-Rodgers and
Collins (2006) found that both perception of group disadvantage and a positive sense of
self as a racial being predicted resilience among 198 Latino students at two West Coast
universities. Although the majority of the sample perceived that they were disadvantaged
as Latinos, this did not significantly predict lower resilience because of the importance of
buffering factors such as private regard, group attachment, self-esteem, and a positive
racial identity. The students were diverse in terms of socioeconomic status. However,
replicating this study with community samples of Latinos, and engaging in qualitative
research to understand the meaning and experience of these processes are important next
steps.
38
Delgado (1997) points to a need to focus on community strengths in reducing
poverty in low-income urban communities. He conducted interviews with seven Latina
beauty parlor owners in a northeastern city with a high concentration of Latinos. The
business owners expressed a willingness to be involved as leaders in community change,
but had never been contacted by local politicians or social service agencies. Their
businesses were often sites of social and economic support, particularly for people
experiencing stressful family circumstances such as alcoholism or domestic violence.
These women felt connected to the needs of their community and believed they played
important roles as business owners for Latinos in their neighborhood.
In sum, there are many factors that may contribute to thriving among low-income
people of color living in urban communities. These factors exist at multiple contextual
levels. However, studies of thriving in urban communities are rare to nonexistent. Most
studies of strengths in urban communities focus on resilience rather than thriving. In
addition, few studies focus on the meaning and experiences of thriving, particularly in the
voices of low-income people of color. This study aimed to contribute to understanding
the meaning, processes, and sources of thriving among low-income people of color living
in a particular urban context using qualitative methods so as to create a rich
understanding of this construct in the voices of participants who are rarely heard in public
discourse.
Research Questions
1 . What are the meanings of thriving for Black and Latino adults living in a lowincome urban community?
39
2. How is thriving experienced by Black and Latino adults living in a lowincome urban community?
3. What are the sources of thriving for Black and Latino adults living in a lowincome urban community?
4. How do Black and Latino adults living in a low-income urban community
understand the influence of their community contexts on their experiences of
thriving?
5. How do Black and Latino adults living in a low-income urban community
understand connections between race, gender, and thriving?
40
Chapter 3
METHODS
This study used a grounded theory approach to understand the meanings,
processes, and sources of thriving for low-income people of color living in an urban
community in the northeastern United States. The study was connected to a larger
Participatory Action Research (PAR) Project taking place in this community. PAR is a
research stance, defined by Kemmis and McTaggart (1988) as "collective, self-reflective
enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality
and justice of their own social...practices," (p. 5). The project has focused on the wellbeing of a specific neighborhood, focusing on concerns about substance abuse and
individuals returning to the community from incarceration. I proposed a qualitative study
on thriving among community residents who are low-income people of color to counter
depictions of pathology, with the aim of using the information gleaned to take some kind
of action that will benefit the community. My interest in this topic came from dynamic
conversations about the complex meanings of emotional well-being described by the peer
educators throughout our work together. Though derived from the PAR project, the
qualitative study at hand is a stand-alone project. The PAR project is described here as a
context for the study and because it is a part of the way I established a relationship with
the community for the three years preceding data collection.
The PAR project took place through a collaboration between a grassroots
41
community agency located in a low-income urban community and counseling psychology
researchers from a university within the same city. The agency serves primarily women
of color affected by substance abuse, HIV, and domestic violence, though outreach
activities and workshops involve the entire community. Our research team has worked
with peer educators in the organization to define and address social problems that they
see in their community. All of the peer educators are women of color (self-identified as
Puerto Rican, Latina, Hispanic, Black, African American, Argentinean, Cuban, and
biracial; some identify as more than one of these). Most are low-income and receive
some sort of public assistance. As a counseling psychology student who was raised in the
same city, I was interested in what the peer educators had to say about what they feel
their community needs to be healthy. Through our discussions, an interest in drawing out
narratives of thriving emerged.
Context of the Study
Engaging the Community
I began working with the CBO involved in this PAR project in March of 2006,
co-facilitating workshops and support groups with a faculty member for the peer
educators. Over the first few months of the collaboration, the research team began
discussing PAR with the staff and the peer educators. They were interested in beginning
such a collaborative project. The PAR project officially began in October of 2006 with an
eight-week introduction to PAR principles and general research methods. The group
began to identify the strengths and needs of their community. The PAR team consisted of
ten peer educators (all women of color from the community or surrounding areas), one
42
university professor (a white woman), and two graduate students (one white woman and
one multiracial/Latina woman, the primary researcher of this study). Employees of the
organization, particularly the Peer Coordinator, Executive Director, and Program
Manager, participated in the project as needed, and reviewed aspects of the project that
reflected upon the agency.
The initial focus of the project was on impending community "revitalization"
projects and their lack of attention to poor people, particularly poor people of color.
Members of the PAR team were concerned that affordable housing and jobs for people in
the community were not a part of the vision of real estate developers or the local
government. Over time, the problem of development seemed overwhelming and the
group expressed a sense of powerlessness in tackling such a large issue. We worked
together to identify problems and potential solutions that were smaller in scale so that we
would be able to accomplish small goals along the way. We began work on gaining
community support for a transitional living facility for recently incarcerated women
living with HIV and/or substance abuse problems. This facility was proposed by the
executive director of the agency, and she had been struggling to obtain political and
economic support. In addition, we maintained our focus on the impending changes in the
community by planning a documentary on community members' perceptions of the
neighborhood and their feelings about proposed developments.
In the context of this project, I proposed a qualitative study on thriving in their
community focused on low-income people of color. The peer educators were invited to
collaborate in developing an interview protocol and help with recruitment of participants.
A few peer educators who were long-time community members participated in the study.
43
Because of time constraints, peer educators were not directly involved in the process of
data analysis.
Community Description
The community is an economically neglected area of the city, located far from the
downtown area but with a rich history of being an entertainment area for the wealthy in
the early 20th century. In 2000, the population of the area was 51 ,205 (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2000). The racial makeup of the community in 2000 was as follows: 55.3%
White, 29.2% Black or African American, 18% Hispanic or Latino, 7.6% other, 3.8%
Asian, .5% American Indian and Alaska Native, .1% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific
Islander. Unfortunately, more recent statistics on the community were not available.
Although the majority of residents in this zip code are white, there is a large
concentration of Black and Latino residents in the poorest areas of the community,
particularly in public housing.
In terms of economic characteristics, the employment rate is much lower than for
the United States at large: 41 .4% of the people over age 16 were employed in the area in
2000, versus 63.9% for the United States. The median household income in 1999 was
$21 ,281 , compared to $41 ,994 for the United States. The poverty rate (percent of
individuals living below the poverty level) in 1999 was 32.1%, compared to 12.4% for
the United States. These statistics are typical of neglected urban areas in the United
States, populated mostly by people of color and negatively impacted by loss of industry
and white and middle class flight in the late 20th century (Kelley, 1997).
44
Participants
Participants were adult residents of the community who self-identified as
Black/African American or Latino/Hispanic, recruited through word-of-mouth, handing
out flyers, and snowball sampling. Peer educators, who have first-hand knowledge of the
community, recruited participants through announcements at churches and other
community organizations, and during informal conversations with neighbors. The
majority of participants were recruited by peer educators, most likely because of their
level of involvement in the community. I recruited one participant through street
outreach. The credibility that I had through three years of work with the CBO was a
crucial factor in recruiting participants, and it is clear that this project would have been
impossible without the peer educators.
Twenty-one self-identified Black and Latino adult women and men who resided
in the community and received public assistance of some kind (e.g., public housing,
TANF funding, WIC) participated in interviews. Some participants were familiar with the
CBO because they had received services there or knew someone that had. As mentioned
earlier, three participants were peer educators at the CBO that had lived in the
neighborhood for decades. Table 1 presents demographic characteristics of the
participants, using pseudonyms to protect confidentiality. Participants used a variety of
labels to identify racially and/or culturally. Thirteen participants identified as
Latino/Hispanic (e.g., Puerto Rican, Hispanic, NuYorican), and five identified as Black
or African American (one identified as Black and Haitian). The remaining three
participants described multiracial/multiethnic identities (Black/Puerto Rican,
Dominican/African American, Puerto Rican/Italian). Twelve participants were women
45
and nine were men. At first, male participants were difficult to recruit. About halfway
through data collection, a male volunteer at the CBO helped recruit men that he knew in
the community by handing out flyers on the streets surrounding the organization.
Participants' ages ranged from 18 to 58 years old, with a mean of 41.5 years old.
The majority of participants were in their 40's and 50's. Efforts were made to recruit older
and younger participants as the study progressed. All but three participants were parents.
Fourteen participants lived in public housing. Those who did not live in public housing
received other forms of public assistance, such as disability benefits or food stamps.
Several participants who lived in public housing received other benefits as well. The vast
majority of participants were unemployed, and none were employed full-time. Level of
education completed varied greatly. Six participants had less than a high school
education, six completed high school or had a GED, and nine had completed some
college or had a 2 or 4-year college degree.
Procedure
Data Collection
Participants in the interviews engaged in an oral and written informed consent
procedure explaining the purpose of the study, their rights, and risks and benefits of
participation. Time was provided for participants to ask questions before and after the
interviews, and contact information for the primary researcher was given in writing.
Participants were compensated with a round-trip public transportation pass for
participating in the study. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed for analysis. I
conducted and transcribed all interviews both because of the significant time investment
46
involved and to stay connected with the data throughout the study, as analysis and data
collection occur cyclically in many types of qualitative research. An advanced
undergraduate student specializing in urban studies, creative writing, and history
volunteered to serve as a peer reviewer for the data analysis. She grew up in the city and
had a deep connection to the community. The peer reviewer was trained in grounded
theory approaches to data analysis, described in the next section.
A semi-structured open-ended interview protocol was designed in collaboration
with the peer educators (see Appendix A). The questions were designed to be open and to
elicit narratives of participants' experiences in the community as a context for their
perceptions of thriving. Although in Chapter 1 assumptions about important factors in
thriving were presented, the interview questions did not focus on these constructs (critical
consciousness, mutuality). In grounded theory, themes emerge from the data directly.
Chapter 5 will return to these constructs. However, follow-up questions were added to
refine the theory emerging from the data. For example, the question, "What does this
community need to thrive?" was added after the first two interviews, as participants
talked about this naturally as they connected community experiences to their own
thriving. One of the questions, "What does thriving mean to you?" was followed by a
presentation of my definition of thriving for the purpose of this study. Though I wanted to
understand the meanings of thriving from the perspective of the participants, I also
wanted to understand how they saw themselves doing well and feeling good above and
beyond surviving, ensuring to unpack the construct of thriving presented in Chapters 1
and 2. Participants were also asked about demographics, such as racial/cultural
identification, age, highest education level completed, and years in the community. These
47
were asked orally rather than in a written survey in the interest of building rapport with
participants.
The duration of interviews varied greatly. Most were about 30 to 45 minutes.
However, the range was from 10 minutes to two hours. Even in the very brief interviews,
participants answered all questions and rich data was collected. Some participants wanted
or needed the round-trip pass and expressed that they had places to be. I decided not to
turn people away who were interested, as long as we could get to all of the questions.
Participants seemed interested because they wanted to talk about their community,
regardless of the interview length. Participants who shared longer narratives appeared
comfortable with and interested in sharing their personal and community experiences.
Most of the interviews took place in offices at the CBO, and two took place in a quiet
area of the neighborhood public library when space at the CBO was not available.
Data Analysis
This study used a grounded theory approach to analyzing data (Strauss & Corbin,
1998). Grounded theory approaches strive to generate theory grounded in the voices and
experiences of the participants. Throughout the process, it is important for researchers to
reflect on their own preconceived notions about the concepts being studied. These can
help create understanding of the narratives collected from participants, but they can also
hinder the discovery of themes rooted in the participants' experiences. Fassinger (2005)
states that grounded theory approaches have "paradigmatic flexibility," ranging from
post-positivist to critical theory understandings of knowledge. The perspective of this
study is rooted in social constructivist thought, meaning that there is no objective truth,
only the multiple meanings that people create in dynamic interaction with their social
48
environment, which includes interpersonal relationships, community, and sociopolitical
identities such as race, class, and gender (Cresswell, 2007). Both the peer reviewer and I
took a critical multicultural feminist stance to grounded theory, acknowledging that there
is no one social reality for any individual or group, and that knowledge is co-created in
qualitative research between the participants' descriptions and perceptions and the
researchers' interpretations and interactions with the participants and the data (Charmaz,
2006, p. 132). A critical multicultural feminist approach recognizes the reflexivity of the
research process (Oleson, 2007) and attends to participants' and researchers' relationships
to power and social structures. Oleson (2007) defines reflexivity as "the manner and
extent to which the researchers present themselves as imbedded in the research situation
and process, (p. 423). Through writing memos throughout the data analysis process and
having dialogues about the codes and categories with the peer reviewer, a reflexive
process was created.
The peer reviewer was given articles and book chapters on grounded theory and
coding procedures. She also looked at examples of write-ups of grounded theory studies
and had the opportunity to ask questions about the process. Though I completed the bulk
of the analysis, the peer reviewer's questions and challenges to codes were acknowledged
and discussed until we both came to agreement about the best codes and categories that
reflected the participants' voices. This process helped ensure that multiple views of the
data were a part of the analysis, rather than the primary researcher's perspectives
dominating the process.
There are multiple steps in grounded theory analysis. The process is somewhat
cyclical, as analysis occurs throughout the data collection process. Data are constantly
49
compared to one another. Codes or themes are generated by the researchers, and these
codes are then compared with subsequent data. The process of coding involves creating
categories to describe segments of data. In other words, codes allow researchers to
organize vast amounts of data (Charmaz, 2006). Coding procedures for this study are
described below. Throughout the process, the peer reviewer read all codes and shared her
reactions both in writing and through conversations. She asked questions about codes that
were not clear or did not appear to be grounded in the data, and offered suggestions for
codes that I did not think of during the process. The purpose of this monitoring of data
analysis was to insure that coding procedures were being followed and were consistently
grounded in the data, and to increase the trustworthiness of the data (Fassinger, 2005).
Other criteria for trustworthiness that will be evaluated in chapter 5 were consequential
validity, which "assesses the success with which research achieves its goals of social and
political change," (Patton, 2002, as cited in Morrow, 2005, p. 253), and evaluation of
subjectivity or making biases explicit throughout the research process (Morrow, 2005).
Initial coding. Initial codes involve openness to the words on the page, and when
possible these codes use the words of the participants directly. Specific terms that
participants use are called "in vivo codes" and are crucial in keeping the analysis rooted
in the meanings and experiences of participants (Charmaz, 2006, p. 55). The purpose of
initial coding is to ".. .spark your thinking and allow new ideas to emerge" (Charmaz,
2006, p. 48). This process can take place word-by-word, line-by-line, or incident to
incident. Initial coding also helps researchers to see where additional data is needed. In
this study, data were reviewed line by line and initial codes were generated to describe
ideas incident by incident in the data. The peer reviewer read all coded transcripts and
50
sent her responses back to me. We talked through major differences in our perceptions as
we moved to the process of focused coding. An excerpt of a transcript with initial codes
in footnotes is presented in Appendix B.
Focused and axial coding. Focused coding, or using significant and frequent early
codes to sort large amounts of subsequent data, follows initial coding (Charmaz, 2006, p.
57). These are more conceptual codes, rather than the very specific codes generated by
initial coding. Following focused coding is axial coding, which details both "properties
and dimensions" of each category (Charmaz, 2006, p. 60). This allows continued
organization and conceptual analysis of increasing amounts of data. Researchers are able
to move from parts of data to a more coherent whole in describing the emerging theory
from the voices of participants. Axial and focused coding occurred simultaneously in this
study. Rather than applying pre-conceived ideas about properties and dimensions, axial
coding was only used when differences in conditions for categories emerged from the
data directly. Examples of focused and axial codes appear in Appendix C.
Theoretical and selective coding. Charmaz (2006) describes theoretical codes,
which ". . .specify possible relationships between categories you have developed in your
focused coding," (p. 63). They are the codes that allow integration of information into a
coherent whole. Strauss and Corbin (1998) refer to a process called selective coding,
which helps to integrate the theory through identifying a central organizing category.
Aspects of these overlapping approaches were used in this study, facilitated by the
process of memo-writing throughout analysis.
Memo-writing. An important and ongoing process in grounded theory is memowriting, which allows researchers to organize and connect ideas throughout the process
51
(Charmaz, 2006). It is a way in which researchers constantly engage with the data,
recording ideas regarding comparisons of data that emerge throughout the process.
Memos are an open space to explore emerging theory and record unanswered questions
throughout the grounded theory process. It is important for researchers to take the time to
reflect upon and record ideas as they emerge. Thoughts about the ways in which data are
related can be lost without continual writing as data collection proceeds. While
spontaneity is key in memo-writing, it is important for researchers to develop a system
that will ensure memos are written regularly. In this study, memos were written
throughout the process of data collection, transcription, and analysis. Memos became
more complex as data analysis progressed, helping move from initial to
theoretical/selective coding. I wrote memos that included dialogue with the peer reviewer
as well as my own reflections on the data analysis. Examples of two memos are presented
in Appendix D.
Data analysis continued until a theory emerged that connected the major ideas
identified in the transcripts. In this study, a core category emerged that is described in the
next chapter and helped anchor the various themes of the study. The peer reviewer and I
came to this category together as we grappled with multiple ideas that seemed to connect
participants' perceptions of their experiences of thriving in their community. For some
time, we struggled with the idea of relationships as central to thriving, but not all data
supported this. As we continued to analyze the data, we realized that all of the themes
appeared connected to the importance of feeling valued and feeling that the community is
valued.
52
Chapter 4
RESULTS
An emerging theory of how community members who participated in this study
understood their thriving is presented in Figure 1 . The figure represents community
members' experiences of thriving within their community context. A core narrative
emerged from the data, which is depicted by the two circles on the right side of the
diagram. Strauss and Corbin (1998) define a core category as one that can "...pull the
other categories together to form an explanatory whole," (p. 146). They emphasize that
this central or core category is the researchers' interpretation of how the themes fit
together. However, as with all aspects of grounded theory, the core category is firmly
rooted in the data. The category must appear frequently and must be related to all other
major categories (Strauss & Corbin 1998, 146-147).
In this study, a core narrative emerged around participants thriving through
feeling valued and feeling that their community is valued, and how these experiences
mutually inform one another (i.e., feeling that the community is valued enhances feeling
valued, and vice versa). Themes from the interviews highlighted the importance of
feeling valued by self, other people, and institutions. Feeling valued was described
throughout the interviews as both integral to and at times interchangeable with thriving.
The left side of the diagram depicts the key influences on feeling valued. The middle box
represents the actions that participants take to support feeling valued. These actions by
and large represented participants' own definitions of thriving. There is a mutual
53
influence between these actions and the feeling that self and community are valued (i.e.,
the more valued one feels that self/community are, the more likely they are able to take
actions that support feeling valued; the more actions one takes, the more valued one
feels). Feeling valued helps people to thrive, and thriving, or taking specific actions
described later in the chapter, helps people to feel valued. The top box represents
conditions that support feeling valued at multiple systemic levels (individual,
family/relational, community/cultural, and sociopolitical/institutional). The bottom box
represents barriers to feeling valued at multiple systemic levels. These supportive
conditions and barriers 1) have a direct impact on feeling that self and community are
valued, and 2) influence feeling that self and community are valued through impacting
participants' ability to act in ways that support feeling that self and community are
valued. The barriers and supports represent the context of thriving in the community.
Arrows represent influences rather than causes. A solid arrow represents an influence that
enhances and a dashed arrow represents an influence that impedes or makes something
difficult.
The specific supportive conditions, barriers, and actions are listed below the
diagram. Bronfenbrenner's (1977) theory of ecological development influenced the
organization of themes. Social ecological theory has particular relevance for
understanding individuals' experiences within communities. Participants' lives exist at
multiple systemic levels that are related to one another, from the microsystem or
immediate context to the macrosystem or larger institutional structures that are more
removed from participants' lives. These systems interact with one another to form
mesosystems. The social ecological systems were broken down into individual,
54
family/relational, community/cultural, and sociopolitical/institutional because these broad
categories appeared to capture and organize the ways that community members talked
about their experiences. There are no direct or linear relationships between these systems,
but they are certainly intertwined as will be apparent throughout this chapter. For
example, substance abuse and violence arose as barriers at multiple systemic levels,
particularly individual and community/cultural. Participants talked about the availability
of drugs and alcohol in the community and often connected this to their own individual
struggles with substance abuse. The distinctions made between systemic categories are
made in part to simplify and organize the data, and in part to illustrate the salience of
multiple contexts to participants' sense of feeling valued and thriving.
The components of the model are described below, using direct quotations from
participants to provide examples of themes. The use of direct quotations emphasizes the
importance of participants' voices in qualitative research. For this study, I decided to
transcribe and present the words of participants as I heard them, reflecting nuances of
grammar and accent that will give readers as close of an idea of what participants
sounded like, rather than "sanitizing" their language by converting to Standard English.
This was a difficult choice to make, however. Crozier (2003) described this tension in a
discussion of research with Black parents. Representing the dialect of participants from
oppressed and marginalized groups can re-create sociopolitical hierarchies rife with racist
and classisi ideology, and in essence continue a process of "other-ing" participants.
However, converting language to Standard English reduces the authenticity of the data
represented, as well as reinforcing the idea that Standard English is the correct way of
speaking and dismissing cultural differences in language. I decided to represent all
55
transcripts in the words as they were spoken to the extent possible. This included my
words as well, as to pretend that I always speak using "perfect" standard English would
be inauthentic. However, all of the quotations presented in this chapter represent the
participants' narratives. This manuscript is written in Standard English and conforms to
conventions of academic culture, which differs from the ways that participants and I
conversed. It is also important to note that I recognize that I speak in different ways
inside and outside of the academy. By quoting participants as closely as possible to the
language that they used, I attempted to represent their voices authentically while
highlighting the social class power and culture tensions that always exist in research.
Using terminology similar to that of Richie et al. (1997) and other grounded
theory studies in counseling psychology (e.g., Gomez et al., 2001; Noonan et al., 2004),
the following descriptors will be used to depict participants' responses: a) "the
participants," "community members," "the majority," "most," "usually," and "often,"
indicate the majority, or more than 10 participants; b) "some," "several," and "a number"
indicate 5 to 10 participants' responses; c) "a few" and similar phrases indicate responses
from 4 or fewer participants. At times, more specific terms will be used (e.g., "all,"
"one," "seven").
Core Story: Thriving through Feeling Valued and Feeling that Mv Community is Valued
Throughout the interviews, participants shared ways that they felt their
community was valued (or not), and the importance of feeling valued to thriving. The
questions "How long have you lived in [community]?" and "How has living in
[community] impacted your well-being?" led to complex narratives of personal,
56
relational, and community experiences of feeling valued and seeing ways that the
community is valued. As participants talked about times in their lives when they felt they
were thriving and about what helps them to thrive, connections between community
conditions, actions, feeling valued, and thriving became apparent.
Feeling I am Valued
Participants talked throughout the interviews about the centrality of feeling valued
to thriving. Dora captured this theme as she talked about what the community needs to
thrive. She stated that people in the community need spaces where they can go to "...feel
better about themselves. Know their self worth, that they do count." Later in the
interview she explained why people in the community are suffering and what they need:
Some people don't know how to change, they need help. People need to feel more
comfortable in their bodies, in themselves. The majority of people here don't even
like themselves. They hate themselves. They put on a façade, but inside they're
devastated, broken.
Dora connected the challenges of feeling valued with the conditions of the community.
Similarly, Regina talked about the importance of feeling valued and how important
supportive relationships are to feeling valued: "And to have options and choices, and
that's how people thrive. They just need to know that somebody's listenin' and carin'."
Other participants shared the importance of being recognized as important to
thriving. Edouard and Carla talked about thriving when they were recognized for
academic achievements. Edouard shared a story of feeling good after being recognized by
a high school teacher for learning something quickly. Carla talked about feeling that she
is thriving when she walks through her community as a college graduate:
But for me personally it's a good feeling to walk through my old neighborhood
and, and get the acknowledgement and the support from the people in my
community, not just from my family, but the people in my community who, who
57
supported me through my college years, and they're concerned in what Fm doing
in my life and, you know? So, I would honestly say like, that's the best feeling
that I get out of being in [community] .
These examples illustrate the importance of feeling valued by other people and by the
community at large. More examples will resurface throughout the chapter as conditions
that support feeling valued, barriers to feeling valued, and actions that support feeling
valued are explored. Often, the importance of feeling valued and feeling that the
community is valued appeared interconnected or even inseparable.
Feeling My Community is Valued
Community members interviewed talked about the importance of feeling their
community is valued. They talked about the community with pride. They shared the
unique qualities of the community, focusing especially on the outdoor environment of the
beach and amusements. Participants also expressed the importance of feeling their
community is valued by speaking about how much the community needs. Mark
reminisced about the community throughout his interview: "But this place was, like it
was like a magical place...It was, it really was!" He talked in great detail about the many
landmarks that made the community "magical." Other participants talked about the
community being a "fun" place to grow up. Diana called it "exciting." Elena described
feeling "at peace" in the community, though she contrasted her experience of walking on
the boardwalk with walking on the main avenue, where she does not feel as safe. Ernesto
stated that he prefers this community to other parts of the city.
Participants talked about the ways that they value their community. When I asked
Tonya what it was like to grow up here, she said, "It was wonderful growing up in
[community]. I love [street], I loved the stores that we used to have...I loved the stores, I
58
loved the area, I had a lotta friends here that I've grown up with." Elena talked about her
love for the community by listing the positive aspects of the community:
I'm, I'm happy that I came from here, to be quite honest with you I
uh. . .everything is here, you know, my culture is here, my people are here, my
environment which is I love the ocean and the boardwalk, but it's also the
socialization, you know? The. . .people. . .you get to interact, there's a lot of
interaction because it's a small community.
A few participants talked about valuing their community because they struggled
in the community. The reasons that they struggled will be explained further in the section
on barriers to feeling valued. Elena said of growing up in the community, "It was, it was
hard times, but it makes you better in the end. I don't think it's where you start, it's where
you wind up." Tonya talked about what she learned from her mother and from growing
up in the community:
Uh...by growin' up and seein' the changes that been goin' on the area, and growin'
up basically like in the hood, you know, it taught me how to handle myself in the
streets, and at the same time learnin' what I learned in school, and my mother,
showed me how to balance, you know, how to live in a rough area, and at the
same time how to handle myself. ...outta the area.
Later, she talked about how she embraces the good and the bad in her community:
"I love [community]. You know what I'm sayin', I love it. The ghetto parts, the nice parts.
Just everything." Dolores seemed to agree, talking about her overall experience as
positive after describing her struggles in the community: "And I've gotten something out
of where I lived at. And I can never forget where I came from, which would, you know
help me to become a better person." These descriptions highlight the complexity of the
theoretical model. Barriers and conditions for feeling that self and community are valued
do not lead to thriving in a linear way. Community members interpret these conditions,
and these interpretations impact their experiences. Other participants talked about the
community as both "good" and "bad." Yasmin shared her response to people who say the
59
neighborhood is bad: "You know, and they talk about, yes, [community] also has the bad
part of it, but they have a lot of good." Tonya described the community in this way when
she was asked if she wanted to say anything else: "I think it's a wonderful community and
there are a lotta people that need help."
Some participants talked about how the community is valued by others and how
this impacts them. Edouard summed up the way that others both appreciate and neglect
the community:
Um. ..living in [neighborhood] has its pluses and minuses in regards to other parts
of [city] in general...The winters are very harsh because we live by the ocean, and
the winds get pretty intense at certain parts of the year. The summers are pretty
brutal cuz you know, by the beach and the sun is there. But. . .the thing that makes
the summers enjoyable is the beach itself. And at the same time. . .this part of
[city], sort of gets forgotten a little bit. ..But during the summers...swarms...it's the
only way you can put it. Swarms, legions, throngs of people come from all over
[city] to come to [community]...and urn, I personally find it a little annoying.
The physical environment was by and large described by participants as a something that
supports feeling valued and feeling that the community is valued. However, there are
ways in which it is apparent that people from outside of the community as well as
sociopolitical institutions such as government do not value the community.
As participants talked about the importance of feeling their community is valued,
they described both the conditions that support this feeling and the barriers to feeling
their community is valued (as in Edouard's previous quote). These conditions and barriers
are described in the following sections.
Conditions that Support Feeling Valued
Individual Conditions that Support Feeling Valued
Positive self-perceptions. Several participants talked about feeling good about
60
themselves in the context of intense struggles. Yasmin spoke passionately about feeling
that suffering did not change the core of who she is: "My heart is still the same, it's
loving, it's giving. And through all, all the bad that I've been through, it didn't change
my heart." Mark stated that he feels he is still a good person, even though he does not
have a job. "You still got your heart, you still got your mind." Zaira described seeing
herself as very strong and powerful coming through her experiences with HIV. "I'm not
gonna roll over for, and die for any disease. What is the disease? You know? Something
you gotta fight."
Regina spoke about the importance of accepting where she is today, and
recognizing how well she is doing today:
I've done tremendously well for 19 years, so I think I look actually fabulous...I
don't think I look fabulous, I know that I look fabulous. And not in a conceited
manner, it's just, you know, I take good care, you know I try to rest, I try not to,
you know again, I'm in the balancín' stage.
Diana compared her younger self to who she is now: "Today I carry myself you know,
like a lady, you know. I have morals and standards and principles that I go by...you know.
I have God in my life." Seeing oneself in positive ways was one important factor that
influenced feeling valued.
Family/Relational Conditions that Support Feeling Valued
Supportive relationships. Most participants talked about the importance of
supportive relationships with friends, family, and community members to their thriving.
Felipe described a positive experience with people and relationships in the community
that stands out. He talked about being a part of a gang when he was growing up, and how
this gang acted as his family and supported and protected him when no one else was
around. He did not describe the experience of being in a gang as wholly positive, but
61
shared a lot of experiences of support from fellow gang members. He talked about gang
members "looking out for each other," and providing protection and freedom in a
dangerous environment. Diana also shared that she was a part of a gang growing up, and
stated that they were her "crew" and provided her with a sense of belonging, even though
she also got into trouble with them.
Some participants talked about friends helping them to thrive. Alfonso shared that
a friend helped connect him with services for substance abuse recovery. Edouard stated
that friends are even more important than family to thriving, though he did also
acknowledge his parents' role in his thriving. Connections with others arose throughout
the interviews as extremely important to feeling valued and feeing good about the
community.
Mutual support. The theme of mutual support was connected to positive selfperceptions, supportive relationships, and to actions that support feeling valued (such as
reaching out for help and helping others). A number of participants described
connections between having support available and being able to help others. They also
talked about helping others as important to feeling good about themselves. Valentin
talked about coming from a family that "stuck together." Jacob shared that his
grandchildren, wife, and mother help him to thrive. He shared that he thrives through
helping other people, and through support that he receives. Regina captured the essence
of mutual support in the community when she said, "...you can't grow in isolation. You
have to have a community of people, you have people similarly goin' through the same
things you goin' through."
Seeing positive changes in family. Several participants described the importance
62
of seeing that their family members are doing well, particularly that conditions are getting
better for future generations. Parents especially described thriving through their children,
particularly seeing them succeed and protecting them from negative experiences that they
had growing up. Yasmin shared many examples of how her children are doing well, and
how this helps her to thrive: "Just lookin' at my children and knowing. . .that they're
getting education...And it makes me want to say ok, maybe I made my mistakes, but I
made sure I make it better for them." Zaira talked about seeing her children and
grandchildren going to college as helpful to her thriving. Angela described her mother
helping her to thrive for similar reasons:
And urn, I guess my mother, cuz my mother, she came from a world, my whole
family came from a world ofjust struggling and illiteracy, they don't know how
to read and write and stuff like that. And she kind of pushes me, she pushes me to
do better. And she's like, you know, she shows me, you know, that I don't want
that life for myself or my kids, like, she had to deal with us. So my mother's a big
part of why I wanna go to school and do the right thing.
Seeing these changes contributes to participants feeling valued and therefore thriving.
Parents in particular emphasized the importance of the roles they are playing in their
children's lives.
God and faith. Several participants talked about God and faith as central aspects
of their lives that contribute to thriving and feeling valued. This theme is included as a
relational condition because participants talked more about a relationship with God and
less about church or religion. Mark stated that God is the "main thing" that helps him to
thrive. Zaira talked about the role of her faith in thriving: "What helps me? Knowing that
I can get up in the morning, that there is a God that wakes me up." Regina talked about
her relationship with God as central to her thriving: "I have a wonderful relationship with
my God so, I don't never even have to leave, I can just tell him I need help and then
63
somebody'11 call." Valentín shared that finding the "Christian religion" helped him to
thrive. Dolores also shared that God helps her to thrive. She summarized by saying that
her mother, son, and her own strength help her to thrive, "...but in all reality, I do things
through Him..."
Cultural/Community Conditions that Support Feeling Valued
Friendliness and community support. Related to supportive relationships, most
participants talked about the community as a place where people are friendly and take
care of one another. Charlotte stated: "I mean when you're walkin' in the neighborhood
now somebody's going to stop you, you know and say, you know, speak to you. . .1 find
that people are very friendly, you know, here. . ."
A number of participants talked about people in the community knowing one
another, and how important this is for feeling connected to and valued in the community.
Some people stated this was more true in the past, but several participants stated this has
a positive impact today. Felipe said, "And, I walk down the block, everybody knows you.
You know? They know your mother." Carla described a positive experience of being able
to "run around" the community with her friends growing up. This had an impact on
having adults available for support, according to Dolores: "But we also have the people
that do care about how we grow up and they take all of us and try to keep us positive by
doing things and activities that we would like." She contrasted these experiences with the
struggles of seeing adults in her life who were unavailable because of drug addiction.
Elena talked about the way that community members took care of one another's
children, and how this continues today:
And, and the people that, that are here, they care for each other. It's a lot of
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um. . .love. There's a lot of love and struggle, you know, and they've fostered a lot
of children. You know, whether they did it urn, legally or not. They've actually
taken children under their wing...And they manned them up, or they, you
know. . .helped them out, little, couple a dollars here and there, and they still do
it.. .They still do it.
She went on to give a specific example, talking about her aunt's "open door policy" in
terms of feeding and taking care of people in the community.
Yasmin went into great detail about her experiences of support through very
rough times in the community. She stated that her neighbors and her community have
been her "family." She talked about her community holding her up when she "had no
hope," and she gave many examples of the ways that they supported her. She talked
about general love and support, but she also shared that neighbors helped feed her and her
children, clean and paint her apartment, etc. In summary, she stated "they saved my life."
She connected this support explicitly to this community.
Like Yasmin, Regina described getting a lot of support from the community.
Elena described the impact of the community's support by talking about how she feels
she is a nurturing and social person because of the support and friendliness of the
community. Participants talked about the mutual support and help available in the
community. Candace said "...you also do meet a lot of positive people in [community],
you know, that do wanna help each other." More specifically, Diana shared the impact of
seeing other people in the community do well, and how this inspires her to make positive
changes. Lorenzo also described such an impact. Yasmin summarized mutual support in
these words: "So I've given back to my community [whispers] what they have given to
me."
Community resources. Some participants talked about the availability of services
65
in the community, although most stated that the community was in desperate need of
more services. The services available in the community were described as contributing to
individuals feeling valued. Charlotte described community programs that she noticed
when she started spending more time in the community after she lost her job in another
part of the city:
I was surprised at a lotta things that were goin' on in the community, you know, I
just never got involved because, uh my interests always took me outa the
community...So now that I'm walkin' around and I'm learnin' and Fm seein',
they have a lota different programs...like I never even knew about [CBO] until
2004...
Dolores described various programs that are available, some of which have been around
since she was a child:
Even like in the different buildings they have like tenants that they, they do things
and different activities to keep the kids, you know from off the streets and running
around and getting into the wrong group, you know what I'm saying? The library
also. ..has different group activities and stuff to do...And it's a community library,
this library's always been here . . .
Dolores described the CBO where most of this study took place as a "safe haven" for
women to go to when they are having problems, stating that she feels that she could get
help there if she needed it. She captured the impact of organizations focused on women,
particularly those that provide a space for women to talk and receive support:
So it makes you feel comfortable, you know what I'm sayin', and it also makes
you feel good about being who you are and like, knowing where you came from
and knowing where you are today because of the relationships that you have with
one another, and also the feedback that you get from, from one another...
Some participants also talked about their own personal experiences receiving
services in the community. Yasmin talked about having a therapist and case manager,
stating "It's in the neighborhood. All my services are in the neighborhood." Regina
shared that her home Narcotics Anonymous group is in the community. In addition, the
CBO through which participants were recruited was described as helpful to several
community members in their interviews. As stated in Chapter 3, some participants were
volunteers at the CBO, and others were current or former clients either receiving
education or referral services. Alfonso said of his experiences with the CBO, where he
received referrals for substance abuse treatment, "I thank God for this change and this
program." Zaira described her experiences first receiving HIV education from the CBO,
and then becoming a volunteer:
Um, in, positive, what has impacted me is. . .having an organization like [CBO]
first of all that I've been able to educate myself. That's very important to me,
because of where I found my condition at, I was not so knowledgeable the way I
am. Taking the workshop and learning how to. . .live with it, you know?
Her experiences as a volunteer will be explored further in the section on actions that
support feeling valued.
Angela and Tonya described positive experiences with their children's schools
today, whereas other participants talked about problems with public education, as will be
discussed below. Additionally, two of the participants that are under 30 years old
described positive experiences with youth programs. This is interesting in light of the fact
that, as will be described later, so many participants talked about the lack of services for
youth in the community. At the same time, these two individuals described being
connected with programs through extended family, and it is possible that not everyone
has access to such services. Valentin stated that his involvement in summer youth
programs helped him learn how to take care of and value his community. Dolores talked
about being involved in Boys and Girls Clubs and other activities that helped keep her
away from the "negative stuff like drugs.
Three participants (Yasmin, Felipe, and Charlotte) described today's police
67
presence in positive terms that suggested the availability of support and safety. Most
participants who talked about police described negative experiences, as will be described
below under sociopolitical/institutional barriers. Descriptions of police presence were
connected to changes in the community. Yasmin talked about the community being less
dangerous in part because of increased police presence, and Felipe talked about both a
community and a personal change. He stated that he believes the substance abuse
problem in the community will continue to improve because "the cops are doin' their
job." He also stated that he is not afraid of cops anymore because he is no longer
involved with gangs. Charlotte stated, "But, now, you know I feel pretty safe, because we
have a larger police presence now and everything, so I feel safe."
Outdoor environment. Most participants talked about positive experiences with
the beach, boardwalk, and amusements. These experiences were seen as enhancing well-
being and feeling that self and community are valued. Candace summed up several of
these experiences:
...when I was a kid I had a lotta fun, you got this, the beach is here, you got this
beach front property, this is another positive of [community] . Um, we had the
amusement park, you know...The beach is here, it's the boardwalk. You know, we
have, please, plenty of piers for fishing, and just sitting and checkin' out the
sights...my experience of [community] has been very good.
Community members talked about the positive impact of the outdoor environment.
Charlotte said,
I enjoy livin' in [community] because you know, we're right there near the beach
and everything, and so, you know you, go to the beach, you can't now with the
economy the way it is, I can go on the boardwalk, and feel like I'm somewhere
else [laughs] .
Candace talked about the outdoor environment as a way to feel good in spite of barriers
such as unemployment. In addition to the fun and entertainment that the beach and
68
amusements provide, participants talked about the peace and tranquility of living in a
beachside community. When asked what he likes about living in the community, the first
thing Jacob said was, "the water...boardwalk, fresh air." Ernesto described his experience
of the community starting with the ocean and boardwalk:
Well, it was beautiful because when my mother moved to an apartment it was a
high floor, we had the whole view of the ocean and the boardwalk. So. . .it's like,
when I look at the view it helps me a lot, it like gives me a tranquility...You
know? I like the water, the ocean, and it's very cool in this area...You get a good
breeze comin' in this area.
Participants' descriptions and experiences of the community's outdoor environment
painted a beautiful picture. However, as Elena distinguished, life is a lot different on the
streets and in people's homes than it is on the boardwalk. The contradictions of the
community context will become more apparent as barriers to feeling valued are described
in a later section.
Community pride. Almost all participants expressed pride in their community.
Although the word "pride" was rarely mentioned directly, throughout participants'
narratives there was a sense of pride. This was especially evident when they talked about
the physical environment and the friendliness and support in the community. Participants
seemed to want to talk about their community, and the feeling that I had as an interviewer
was that this was a special place, a "magical" place, as Mark said several times. The pride
was also evident in how some participants launched into descriptions of the community
upon the first question, "How long have you lived in [community]?" A few talked about
defending their community to people who criticize or misunderstand it. Charlotte and
Edouard both talked about being offended or feeling defensive when outsiders talk
negatively about the area. As Charlotte has been able to spend more time in the
69
community in recent years, she said:
You know you could talk to people. And uh so, you know, when Fm out walkin'
now, you know I enjoy it because I get to interact with people. People stop you,
and they just wanna talk...That's the kind of people you have livin' in
[community]. That's how come a lot of times now. . .when I hear people talking
negative about [community], I get offended [laughs] I do! I get offended. Because
it's not like that, you know.
Edouard also expressed that he enjoys explaining the community to people who are not
familiar with it. He described especially enjoying explaining the community beyond the
amusements. Elena shared her growing pride in the community, even with its negative
reputation, particularly in the wake of recent support she has received: ". . .now I'm more
proud to say I'm from [community] than ever before because back in the day, when you
said that you put a stamp on yourself."
Dolores, the youngest participant in the study, spoke with the most optimism
about the changes in the community and expressed how these changes are only increasing
her pride of being from the neighborhood. After talking about how more girls are "getting
their lives together" today, she said:
A lotta people are actually getting help to get their lives together because of the
community is growin'. You know, and is getting stronger, it has strengthstrengthened?...since I, since you know I was a child, so I believe that if it keeps
on goin' in this direction then they won't have anything to say about us. [laughs].
What are they gonna talk about, the stuff that happened in the past?
In this statement she acknowledged the bad reputation that the community has, and spoke
with great hope about the future.
Racial/ethnic pride, harmony, and belonging. Participants talked about the racial
and ethnic make-up of the community in various ways. Some participants described the
diversity of the community as an asset. Others talked about a feeling of belonging as
Black/African American or Latino/Hispanic (many specified Puerto Rican). Pride,
70
harmony, and belonging were themes that were connected to feeling valued in the
community, and feeling good about the community.
Some participants talked about different races and ethnic groups in the
community getting along. A few focused on the community being mostly people of color,
while others talked about three main groups in the community: Blacks, Puerto Ricans,
and Whites (Jewish, Italian, and Russian). Edouard described growing up on a very
diverse floor in his building with people of color from various countries. He described
people of different races showing "compassion and kindness" to one another. Felipe
described Blacks and Latinos in the community as "connected" when he was growing up,
while conflict occurred between people of color and Whites in the community (described
in a later section).
Carla and Cesar both mentioned increasing racial/ethnic diversity in the
community, and described this as positive. Some participants disagreed with this, as will
be explored later. In Carla's words:
I think it's a plus. You know what Fm sayin' because, I mean it teaches you to
respect other people's cultures and, and you wanna know who you're neighbor is,
so you, you know, like. . .your, your cultural knowledge expands because you
have to deal with these people daily and- so to me it's a plus. To some it may not
be.
A few participants talked about feeling a sense of belonging and connection to
other people of color in the community. Valentin described his overall experience this
way: "I fit in, I felt like at home, I felt like [community] was like a little Puerto Rico or
somethin'." Diana described growing up as a Puerto Rican/Italian woman in the
community as "easy" because she identified more with the Hispanic side of her family.
Angela described enjoying cultural events on the boardwalk during the summer. Dolores
71
described positive experiences with Hispanic family and friends. She talked about the
centrality of food to her culture:
Spanish people, Hispanics, they're very, very big on food, like their culture is food
you know? So, it's like, that's how they share tradition with one another, that's
how they get together and gather is with their food and their music and, you
know?
Tonya stated that she had a "good" experience growing up as a Black woman in
the community, and also shared that she did not feel as connected to Puerto Ricans in the
community. She described this experience as one of not fitting into "the way they live."
She described no conflict with Puerto Rican people in the community, stating "I love
Puerto Ricans, though. But I never really identified with them." The discussion above
highlights more detailed narratives of positive experience by the Latino/Hispanic
identified participants. Black/African American participants who shared positive
experiences spoke more generally about their experiences, such as Candace, who
described a "very positive" experience growing up as a person of color in the community.
Candace identified as both Dominican and African American, and seemed to prefer the
term "person of color" during the interview. Tonya captured the importance of racial
pride and belonging to feeling valued when I asked her what helps her to thrive and she
said, "Um.. .being proud of who I am, being proud of my race. Um, liking who I am,
liking my heritages. You know what I'm sayin'? Just likin' where I live. The good and the
bad. I love [community]."
Sociopolitical/Institutional Conditions that Support Feeling Valued
Opportunities for employment. Most participants talked about employment
opportunities as critical for both individuals and the community to thrive. Employment
was described time and again as contributing to feeling valued and feeling that the
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community is valued by self, others, and particularly by government institutions.
However, participants stated overwhelmingly that opportunities for employment do not
exist in the community. Overwhelmingly, participants stated that the community needs
jobs, often as their first response to the question "What does this community need to
thrive?" Mark said, "I think if we can get more jobs...that'd help [community] to thrive."
Elena talked about the need for redevelopment and investment in the community, and
stated, "most of all give them jobs." Lorenzo described the importance of job
opportunities: "...once you have a job and all that, you know, all the rest come easier.
You know, because the first thing is having responsibility." He talked about the
importance of having money and being able to support a family, and went on to talk
about "responsibility" and "confidence," explaining how employment is connected to
feeling valued. Themes of employment and working will resurface as barriers to feeling
valued and actions that support feeling valued are explored.
Barriers to Feeling Valued
Participants talked about a number of barriers to feeling that they are valued and
that their community is valued. These barriers exist at multiple ecological levels that are
interrelated and often difficult to separate. These barriers make feeling valued and
thriving challenging, but were not described as insurmountable obstacles. Overall,
participants shared that it is difficult to live in the community. Yasmin said, "You know
it's really hard in [community] , you know? It's. ..people suffer. There's a lot of people still
suffering." She shared this observation after talking about her own experiences of
depression and living with a partner who was addicted to drugs. Felipe stated, "And uh,
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it's been a rocky road [laughs]...it's pretty rough out here to survive...all these years."
Regina talked about how difficult it has been to raise her children in the community,
saying that it is "takin' a toll."
Dora and Diana both said in different ways that they feel their lives would have
been completely different if they were not raised in this community. Dora stated,
"Sometimes I think I was cheated." Edouard and Angela shared that they experienced the
conditions of the community as "depressing." Angela described the community as
depressing overall as she talked about the problems of crime and substance abuse.
Participants went back and forth between talking about difficult community conditions
and individual and family struggles. Elena summed up the potential outcomes of growing
up in the community, based on her own experiences and those of friends and family
members: "You know, and uh, to be a teenager in the streets at that point only. . .lot of, a
couple of things could happen. For a girl you get pregnant, for a boy, you wind up selling
drugs or you're gonna die from drug addiction. Or you're gonna go to jail." Many of
these experiences will be explored throughout this section.
Individual Barriers to Feeling Valued
Several participants talked about individual barriers to feeling valued. Most of
these barriers were experiences, such as substance abuse. The barrier of substance abuse
appears in the next section as well, as there were some participants who shared personal
struggles with addiction, while others talked about family, friends, and neighbors
struggling with substance abuse. A few participants talked about individual
characteristics, such as laziness, as explanations of community problems and barriers to
people feeling valued.
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Substance abuse. A number of participants shared their own struggles with
alcohol or drug addiction and told their stories of recovery. Alfonso began sharing his
story of recovery as soon as the interview began. He talked about "getting in trouble"
when he moved into the community as a teenager: "I wanted to fit in, it led me to do
worser things. Joining gangs, doing marijuana, cocaine, drinking." He has started and
stopped drinking several times. Jacob also shared that he struggled with drinking, which
was "rough." He has been sober for about 10 years. Diana described becoming an
"addict" when she was young. She stated that she stopped using for her daughter. Regina
described her own drug addiction as a way to cope with trauma, one that she believes was
not effective because it was a way to avoid powerful feelings that needed to be addressed.
HIV/AIDS. While several participants talked about the impact of HIV in the
community (described below), two participants disclosed being HIV positive. Zaira
explained that she was "not educated," and her partner did not use a condom. She
described her struggles being a single mother raising five children and trying to educate
them and protect them from the stigma of HIV. She described the "guilt and shame" that
she went through before becoming educated. Regina described her frustrations with
having to take so many medications. For both participants, there was a period of struggle
particularly around the stigma of HIV but also around medical challenges. They
described struggling less with this today, though it is an ongoing challenge.
Depression. A few participants talked about struggling with depression. Some of
these experiences were in reaction to other struggles, such as Yasmin being hospitalized
when she felt suicidal in the aftermath of an abusive relationship with a male partner who
was addicted to drugs. Edouard shared that he "went through a pretty severe depression"
75
during his first year of college. He also described thinking about suicide ("thoughts of
ultimate self-destruction"). He connected this experience to his struggles with his
sexuality. Regina shared that she has been diagnosed with depression and PTSD, and has
found the diagnoses helpful in terms of understanding her reactions to past abuse and
getting the help that she needed. Depression was described as a barrier, but something
that can be overcome, particularly with social support.
Incarceration. A few participants, all men, shared experiences of being
incarcerated, some more recently than others. Ernesto and Lorenzo talked about spending
much of their lives in jail. Lorenzo has been back and forth between jail and the
community since he was 12 years old. He did a 20-year sentence for drug related charges.
The experience of incarceration was described as a barrier to feeling valued and to taking
action to support feeling valued, such as working. However, two participants talked
about the positive aspects of being in jail. Ernesto said:
And uh. . .in a way I look at it as helpin' me also because maybe if I wouldn't
have got incarcerated maybe I would. . .1 woulda been dead, you know? And it
helped me advance my education. . .or that's the way I got my GED and
everything...So I took advantage of a bad situation. . .
Felipe also shared that he believes being in jail kept him off of the streets and from
getting into more trouble or danger. These experiences were seen as positive only in the
context of the dangerous conditions of the community. However, they do illustrate that
barriers are not always insurmountable obstacles, and do not always predict negative
outcomes.
Individual attitudes and behaviors. Some participants talked about the general
importance of individual attitudes and behaviors, while others talked about characteristics
such as laziness. It is important to note that this theme surfaced in participants'
explanations of other community members' experiences rather than their own. Alfonso
expressed a clear opinion that individual people are more important than the community
or environment in determining outcomes:
Anywhere you go it's not the place, it's you. Any neighborhood you go to there's
going to be good and bad. It's up to you to follow what's good. Some got worse
stories, some lost, some win. But I believe it's not the community it's the people.
Some use people for their plans. But when you know what you want, you can
change, and you can change the community too.
Dora agreed that individual attitudes are important, but she described the problems more
in terms of the way that people feel about themselves, stating that people in the
community "hate themselves." Dora also talked about the importance of changing
people's behavior to change problems in the community: "If the behaviors don't change,
it's still gonna be a fucked up place. How is anything else gonna change?"
Two participants spoke of people in the community disparagingly, reflecting
negative descriptions of people living in poverty encountered in the media and empirical
studies described in Chapter 2. Elena expressed her opinion that people in the community
use "the system" and create their own problems:
I think what it is is that they got lazy. I think they were on welfare, they worked
the system, didn't wanna get off the system, the system was taking care of them.
Why bother. So as a result a that they got lazy and fat, and with the fat, being
obese they got the other ailments.
Similarly, Candace connected the conditions of the community to individual behavior:
"It's like, does anyone go to school anymore? You know, urn, people are not taking good
care of themselves. We have a very large HIV population in this small community...It is
horrible!"
A few participants talked about problems with the way that children and parents
act today. Felipe stated that kids act out of envy. Later in the interview, he said, "I don't
77
know what to say, it's just the parents man. I blame the parents. Big time." He stated that
parents are not setting good examples for their children. Elena agreed, and said that
parents are letting children control things and are not supervising or following up with
them. Although these descriptions of community members existed alongside more
systemic explanations of community problems, they stood out because of the tone of
blame that contradicted most other themes.
Family/Relational Barriers to Feeling Valued
Many participants discussed experiences in families that were very challenging.
They talked about intergenerational cycles of addiction and/or violence. Some
participants explicitly connected these experiences to the conditions of the community,
while others did not. Participants talked about both their own family experiences and
observations of other families in the community. Elena talked about multiple problems,
stating that her family was not very involved in her education, and that she struggled with
witnessing domestic violence, losing a brother who was murdered, and struggling in
school along with her siblings. The majority of participants in the study were parents, and
some talked about the stress of parenting as a barrier to feeling valued.
Substance abuse. Substance abuse in families was described as a major struggle
for several participants. Felipe talked about neglect and addiction in families when he
was growing up:
Oh, there was uh. . .it was loose! There was no real control over the kids. We were
all running like madmen, you know? Our parents, most of the parents were all
alcoholics. My parent was an alcoholic. Most of my friends' parents were
alcoholics or drug addicts. So there was really no control.
Elena talked about the impact of addiction on families:
Some a them have other things, emotionally. . .messed up from their parents, you
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know, parents that gave them up, put them in the foster system, drugging or
whatever, and then the other cousins adopted them and now they're not aware that
this is not my mother. This is just, this is really my cousin.
Dolores talked about addiction in the community and in her family as having a significant
impact on her emotionally:
I mean urn...stuff that I've seen, you know, growing up has I guess, not
traumatized me, because- but it will always be there, it will always be a part of
me. Some stuff was very painful. You know, especially seeing urn, family
members on drugs and addicted and just, you know, seeing how it took over their
lives. You know, and that really I guess emotionally affected me...
She also talked about the impact of her father's addiction: "And also my father was in and
outta jail. He was also a drug addict, he was very addicted to drugs, and that meant more
to him than me." Dora expressed strong feelings about the experiences she had in her
family growing up:
Sometimes I feel like I was cheated. What would our life have been like if we
were adopted and not been with my grandparents? The majority of their kids were
addicts. That was amongst the norm for us. My brother, sister, my own biological
mother. I didn't know anything, and by the time I knew it was too late. I was
caught up.
Felipe talked about his father being relatively absent. He was a heroin addict, and left the
home when Felipe was about 12 years old. These experiences were described as affecting
the ability to have supportive relationships and feel valued growing up.
Violence. A few participants talked about experiencing or witnessing domestic
violence or abuse as children. Elena described her mother as a "battered wife," and also
talked about being hit by her brothers and father. She said that her home life as a child
was unpredictable: "I'm gonna roll through the door, I don't know what's gonna hit me
when I come home." Diana talked about being "overpowered" by her daughter's father,
who was abusive.
Two participants also disclosed being sexually abused as children. Regina shared,
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"I'm a survivor of incest and rape...I was 32 years old before I even told one person. So I
lived with that holdin' all of that, them secrets." Yasmin stated that she was molested as a
child. They described the long journey of coping and support in the aftermath of these
experiences, and how for a long time it was difficult for them to know that they had
worth and value.
Parenting stress. Several participants also talked about their struggles as parents.
Some women talked about being single mothers. Others talked about trying to be
supportive of teenage and adult children who continue to get in trouble with drugs and
are in and out of jail. Diana described her experiences with her daughter when she was
using drugs, stating "I never gave up on her." Yasmin described the challenges of being
"uneducated" and raising two children by herself. Zaira talked about the need to be "a
mother and father" to her kids. Angela described the stress of her daily routine as a
mother. She is married to a man, but she described having tremendous responsibility for
her own children and some of her nieces and nephews. She described the stress as
"normal" to her, but also talked about having "anxiety attacks" later in the interview.
I had my son since I was 13, so I've always been a mother. So far as I can
remember I always had a kid so. The kids is not really too much for me. I mean,
sometimes can get stressful when Fm stressed out. When I'm stressed out, I be
like, oh my god!
She described conflict with her mother and other family members as exacerbating her
stress as a parent. Parenting stress was connected to several other themes, such as
poverty, which can increase stress, and supportive relationships, which can ameliorate it.
Community/Cultural Barriers to Feeling Valued
Participants talked about a number of barriers in the community that make it
difficult to feel valued and to feel that their community is valued. Almost all participants
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talked about poverty, violence, and drugs as significant problems. Other barriers were
related to cultural factors such as racial and ethnic conflict. Diana talked about her own
experiences in the community as barriers to making "different choices":
...but, you know, hangin' out with the people that I hung out and the choices that I
made, I personally feel that if I had- my life would have been different, like if I
didn't grow up in this community, I think maybe I would have made different
choices....I don't think that I woulda hung out with the people that I hung out with,
and did half of the things that I did, cuz I sit back now, reflect on all the people I
hurt, all the chaos that I caused, and all the destruction that I caused, I can't
believe that that was even me...that that person was me, that did that.
Diana talked about the powerful effect of the conditions of the community, even as she
took responsibility for her actions. These conditions described as barriers to feeling
valued are described below.
Poverty. Participants described the impoverished conditions of the community,
including the lack ofjobs and the impact this has on the community, problems with
education and literacy, and easy access to alcohol. The lack of jobs leads to
homelessness, boredom, and other problems. Mark talked about devastating
unemployment:
If you got a job, sooner or later they gonna lay you off, you gonna be laid off.
Don't make no sense. It does not. . .1 think 10,000 jobs has been lost already. And
urn, that's why I, it's hard for people to really find work.
Unemployment is a problem throughout the city, particularly for men of color. However,
several participants agreed that it is hitting their community especially hard. Angela said
that finding a job is even harder in this community because many people lack the
education necessary to get a job, so problems have intensified in the current economic
recession. Mark went on later to say that even if you have a job, you will still struggle
because of the high cost of gas and other expenses. Felipe talked about the boredom
associated with unemployment in the community. He connected this with the lack of
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places to "hang out":
In [community] what's the place for everybody right now, I mean there's not
much to go other than the beach. And most of the guys, they don't go to the beach
anymore. It's boring to them. So they all stand in corners, they in between
buildins. They hangin' out in [park], there's not much thing to do over there
neither. But they all gather in little groups. . .
This problem was connected to crime, violence, and substance abuse, described in
subsequent sections. Also, Elena described local businesses having to close, and Valentin
talked about the problem of having "a liquor store on every corner," which appears to be
connected to joblessness and boredom in the community. Zaira described what she felt
are the biggest problems in the community: "So there's a lack of communication. I think
the biggest problem in a community, in a poor community, is the lack of education and
communication. I really think so."
Not many participants talked about their own experiences with poverty in the
community. Those that did focused on the conditions of public housing. Elena stated that
"...living in public housing certainly urn, makes you feel like at any point anything can
happen." She describes her experiences growing up in more detail:
...living in the ghetto, dealing with poverty, dealing with filth, cold, no heat, no
hot water, bare floors, etc., the whole nine yards, the mice, they're sleeping with
you. I had a mouse in my skirt once. I'm doin' my homework by the radiator.
OK? This is how / lived. My children didn't have to live like that.
Elena's children did not grow up in the community. She just moved back into the
community herself recently, after being away for many years. Valentin also talked about
the dirty conditions in public housing projects and how these conditions encouraged
behaviors like urinating in the staircases or elevators.
Two participants talked about experiences of extreme poverty within their
families. Diana stated:
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You know, we, there was a lot of us in my household, a lot of us. I remember days
that, some days we used to eat pancakes for dinner because- my father used to
make it homemade with the flour. And so you could make a lotta that. You know?
[laughs]
Diana talked about being sent to school dirty and with bugs in her hair because of the
chaos, addiction, and poverty at home. She also shared positive memories with her
family despite poverty. Poverty was clearly connected to a lack of community resources.
It was also connected to unemployment. This will continue to be explored throughout the
chapter. The conditions created by poverty serve as a barrier to feeling valued, and
certainly as a barrier to feeling that the community is valued.
Violence. All participants talked about the problem of violence in the community.
A few talked about experiencing violence, and most participants talked about witnessing
violence. Participants who grew up in the community compared the violence in the
community in the past to today. Although participants disagreed about whether the
community is getting more or less violent, they did share that violence has always been
and continues to be a problem in the community. Diana referred to [community] as a
"bad place" when she was growing up. She said, "There was a lot of muggings
and...killings, and people didn't care at those times. In the 80's it was really, people just
didn't care." Yasmin provided a description and an example: "And we lived in a tough
neighborhood! Because people were coming out dead from the next door house." Other
words used to describe the community's crime and violence aside from "tough" were
"bad," "rough," "dangerous," and "violent." Community members described crimes such
as murder, prostitution, and drug dealing as connected. Angela talked about recent
murders: "And urn, definitely urn, now there's a lot of gangs goin' on with the young
kids, there's a lot of urn. . .not so long ago, I mean, just this week alone like 5 people have
83
gotten killed. Every other day there's a funeral in, on that new funeral home." A few
participants stated that there was always crime in this community, but it has reached a
new level, particularly with young people. Felipe said,
Yeah, these guys are not... they don't have no conscience...There' s no conscience,
there used to be the fist thing, and the sticks. We used to fight with sticks, and our
fists. And now they're comin' out straight up with a gun. They don't. . .they're not
about fighting. They punks. But, it's easy for a punk to pull a trigger. They don't
care. These guys don't care, and that's who's killing each other is these young
kids.
Charlotte emphasized that violence is a problem, rather than crimes such as robbery:
And as far as like urn. . . [community] bein' a bad place, you know, yeah, you
know, crime, crime. . . well not even crime cuz I don't hear talk of people getting
robbed. I don't hear talk a people urn, homes bein' broken into. Mainly what I
hear are the shootings.
To illustrate the violence in the community, Edouard shared three stories that he heard
about within the weeks preceding the interview, including hearing gunshots at night, a
cab driver being shot and killed, and the murder of a mother in front of several of her
children during a robbery.
Participants also shared how violence in the community impacts them, illustrating
the problem of violence as a potential barrier to thriving. Yasmin stated that she felt
"terrified" when someone was following her in the neighborhood early in the morning.
Zaira talked about the need to protect her children when she said, "And then sometimes I
just hear shots and I just gotta tell the kids to hit the, hit the floor!" Felipe also shared that
he worries about his family's safety in the community. Edouard talked about feeling the
need to defend the community from friends who visit and joke about what a "shady" area
it is. At the same time, he talked about the need to be hypervigilant: "I have to be on
guard a bit, keep your eyes open, head on a swivel, make sure, you know. . ."
For a few participants, there was a connection made between gender and violence.
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These participants talked about the experience of growing up as men in the community as
a violent experience in both explicit and implicit ways. For example, when I asked Mark
about his experience as a man in the community, he immediately began talking about
recent murders in the community without connecting this to own personal experiences.
He seemed to be talking about the problem of violent, often gruesome crimes being
committed by men. Felipe addressed the question about growing up as a man in the
community more directly than most, connecting his gang involvement and initiation to
being a man:
To be a man in this community, you had to be tough. I got my beat downs, I used
to walk in apache line. Just to get initiated you had to walk through the line with
like, 20 guys on each side. . .and you get beat down. I remember my mom's face
when I got home, I got lumps all on me. . .Ay, my son, who did this, aah,
screaming, she went outside, yelled at my friends, Fm gonna call the cops ya beat
up my son! I was like, no ma! This was my initiation! [laughs].
Felipe spoke in mostly positive terms about his gang involvement as a way that he
survived in the community as a young Puerto Rican man. Alfonso spoke less directly
about violence and more about other problems related to being a man: "Over here you got
heads and tails- heads are the macho men. Tails, the humble ones. The ones that don't do
drugs, keeps a good job, have a good future. I guess in every nationality it's the same." It
is unclear whether men have a choice of whether to be "macho" or "humble." However,
as his narrative is one of recovery from crime and drug abuse, it seems that he believes
men can change.
Substance abuse and HIV. Participants described problems related to substance
abuse and HIV, both together and separately. Regina observed that addiction is a major
problem today, even with older people:
But there's been, the last 2 or 3 years, a major shift in [community]. And I've just
85
seen it's goin' down and, I think the drugs and, even older people are involved in
drugs that you least expect.. .You know, urn. Cuz the crack and this crystal meth?
You know. Cuz I know a few people in my buildin' who. . .is over 50. And it's
sad. It's real real sad.
Valentin described drugs as the "main" problem in the community. Later in the interview
he stated that because of "dealin' usin' or whatever" a lot of people aren't available to
their children or for themselves.
Jacob explicitly connected addiction to the problem of joblessness in the
community:
Cuz if you ain't got no job, you're gonna be in the corner drinkin' , smokin' reefer,
using crack or somethin', drugs, coke. ..You ain't got nothin' to do, you're
bored. ..And that's when you start, and then the small little things you do,
cuz. . .some people, my friends say oh, I just smoke reefer and drink a beer,
but. . .1, that's as far as I'ma go. Now they on crack, dope, and everything else.
Participants described the problem of HIV/AIDS as connected to problems with
education and substance abuse in the community. Diana talked about ignorance regarding
HIV contraction in the past, and how this has continued in the community to a certain
extent:
I wanted to educate my community on HIV and AIDS. Because when they first
came out in the 80's, they didn't know what it was, you know, it went from a gay
men disease... And then they realized that, you know, heterosexuals, more
heterosexuals were contracting the disease. And so it wasn't no longer a gay man's
disease.
Diana also shared that the people dying from the disease were "the same people that I
was getting' high with," and at first she was afraid of being near people who were HIV
positive. Elena also made a connection between HIV and substance abuse when she said,
"But, and the all the friends that we had turned to drugs and died of AIDS."
Two participants in the study voluntarily disclosed their HIV positive status and
shared personal experiences and struggles related to this, as described above. A few
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community members talked about the negative effects of witnessing drug abuse and
prostitution. Some participants, such as Valentin and Diana, discussed access to drugs
and alcohol in the community by talking about how easy it was for them to purchase or
acquire alcohol when they were under age. Ernesto described how easy it was to get
involved in drugs by describing his own experience:
Uh. . .the bad side was urn, when I came here there was a lotta. . .a lotta drugs in
the area. And you had to be real careful, your parent had to be real careful
in. . .when you go out to the streets, you know, which route you was gonna take.
Unfortunately I took the wrong route, which caused me to urn. . . and uh, took the
wrong road, you know, incarceration, stuff, drug abuse.
Lorenzo, who has spent more than half of his life in jail, became involved in
dealing drugs when he was in high school, after he came back from a juvenile sentence
for accidentally killing a kid during a fight on a subway platform. He stated that the drug
business "messed up my whole life." However, he also talked about the need for people
in the community to make money and feed their families, and sometimes dealing drugs is
the easiest or only option.
Problems with community services. Although most participants acknowledged
that there are some services in the community (after all, most of the interviews took place
inside of a CBO), there are problems with 1) lack of sufficient services, 2) lack of
services for specific populations (especially youth and senior citizens), 3) problems
accessing available services, and 4) problems with funding and sustaining current
services. Additionally, they described problems with politics and government such as
allocation of resources and whose voices are emphasized. This will be discussed under
sociopolitical/institutional barriers .
Angela stated that there are not enough services for people struggling with
87
substance abuse: "[CBO] is the only organization that we have in [community] that helps
people who's on drugs and stuff like that, there should be more of [CBO] around."
Several participants described problems with teenagers not having enough support.
Candace stated that there are programs for younger children, but not enough for teens.
Diana compared the community to a neighboring area where there is more support for
senior citizens:
They have like four different senior citizen community centers. They put together
all these trips for them to go on, you see them standin' out there with their
suitcases waitin' for the bus to pick them up and take them to wherever it is that
they're going to. You don't see that in this community...
When asked about the difference between these two areas, Diana explained that the area
where support is available (which is walking distance from the community) is almost all
White. She stated that there are more supports for Russian families than there are for
people of color. This is further explored in the next section.
Participants also talked about lack of services and public spaces in the community
contributing to various problems such as violence. Felipe spoke of the crowded
conditions and feeling of isolation experienced in public housing: "I think a lotta these
guys, they like in prison in these projects...You know, they're like cell blocks. And a lotta
them find themselves isolated."
Zaira and Candace both spoke about lack of community education and connected
this to problems in the community such as substance abuse and HIV. Zaira stated,
"...there's no program or community center that I can go to educate and help myself and
learn how to use a computer. . .or even to read that will help me help myself." Zaira also
talked about the need to leave the community for HIV services, both because of the
stigma of HIV and the lack of quality medical services. Candace described problems with
88
accessing community services and support. She gave two examples of this, the first
involving problems with accessing recreation in the community:
I think we need access to things. Like, you know, you don't know who may be the
next tennis star, or just like, to enjoy tennis. Here we have to put in a month long
reservation to reserve the tennis courts. And it's people that don't even live in
[community] that they're always on those courts.
She also talked about difficulty finding out what is going on in the community,
particularly for people who cannot read: "There's a couple things up this way. But if
you're not walking on the street, or if you're not, if you don't...stop and read a paper, you
don't know about it because no one's voicing it. No one's voicing it. Not everybody can
read." Charlotte talked about problems related to support and funding for community
services. She described several recreational programs, and how they were in danger of
being cut.
Other participants, such as Angela, described problems with public schools even
as she shared positive experiences with her son's school. Elena described numerous
examples of problems she and her siblings encountered in the community's schools. She
was able to compare the schools in other communities that were predominantly white
when she was bussed out of the neighborhood. Her siblings did not have the opportunity
to leave the community, and she described the impact of tracking:
You know, cuz a lot of uh, my siblings, they got caught up in the system where
urn, if you're a bad kid you're labeled, and you're pretty much urn. . .not
challenged with urn, your education. You're put in the slow or so-called slower
class, you become special ed. ..And you don't get an education...And, you know,
you're constantly being written up. So it's like a punishment for life.
She did not define "bad kid," but she did share various experiences of what it was like to
grow up in the community and come through the school system as Puerto Rican children
living in poverty.
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Racial/ethnic tension and conflict. As stated earlier, participants shared various
perspectives and experiences about the racial and ethnic make-up of the community.
Most participants talked about both racial harmony and belonging and racial tension and
conflict, which included being targets of racism as well as describing conflicts between
racial and ethnic groups. Alfonso connected racial diversity with violence: "This is mixed
cultures here. Growing up, all that was here was Hispanics, African Americans. I never
gave it any thoughts, it was the norm. Shootings, everything was normal."
Several participants talked about racial conflicts and divides in the community.
Edouard described a "schism of racial diversity" on the boardwalk, stating that on one
end of the boardwalk you find mostly people of color, and then there is a point where you
see no Black people at all. Felipe described intense racial conflict when he was growing
up between people of color and White people, saying "It was pretty messed up." He
talked specifically about anti-Semitism, describing a time when a synagogue was burned
down. Diana and Lorenzo described conflict between different races when they were
growing up, including between Blacks and Puerto Ricans. This stands in contrast to other
participants (including Diana) who talked about people of color "sticking together." It
seems that there are times when people of color, particularly Blacks and Puerto Ricans,
get along and stick together in the community, while conflict continues to surface.
Two Hispanic/Puerto Rican identified participants talked about prejudice against
African Americans in their families. Dolores was not allowed to date African American
men. Elena described a similar experience in her family. She wanted to date Black men
because they were closer to her complexion, but the men in her family did not allow it. In
addition, her father did not allow her or her siblings to have Black friends in the house.
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She described her father's attitude toward Black people: "And my father wasn't too
comfortable with that because he thought that the Blacks would mean that they're coming
in and they're going to change you or, you know, they're gonna steal from you, or
something bad is gonna happen." Elena went on to say that in general, Puerto Ricans did
not like Blacks in the community. She also described her father's prejudice against Jewish
people in the community. She summarized and said, "So I understood young that there
was racism on "both sides. ..It wasn't no one sided thing when I was a kid."
In contrast to Carla and Cesar who talked about experiencing the diversity of the
community as positive, a few participants shared negative reactions to the changes in
racial diversity in the community. A number of participants talked about changing
racial/ethnic dynamics in the community related to more Russian people moving in. Most
of them talked about this as a problem, seeing that more resources are going to
White/Russian people in the community. A few participants also talked about the Russian
people moving in as unfriendly. Regina shared a strong reaction to more Russian people
moving in and more people of color moving out:
I just see that uh. . .there's been a whole lot of more people comin' in, most people
of color, or Hispanics has been moved out or shifted out.. .and a lotta Russians
have. . . invaded. I'm gonna, and that's the word I'm gonna use. It may be strong,
but, I feel invaded urn, our buildin' , they not as nice and as friendly as people of
color. . .not that they not of color, I don't know.
She went on to talk about her efforts to be friendly with her new neighbors. Using the
word "invaded" speaks to a sense of displacement that she and other long time
community members who are people of color seem to be experiencing. Edouard spoke of
Russian people in the community as "openly racist."
Elena and Mark talked about changes in terms of more immigrant groups moving
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into the community, making it more diverse than when they were growing up and the
community was mostly Black, Latino, and Jewish. Mark shared that there is more racial
conflict in the community as a result of the increase in diversity:
Wow. It wasn't that many urn, diverse people used to live out here, now it's, now
you got Spanish, Black, you got Chinese, Koreans. It used to be just Jewish
people, Black people, and Puerto Ricans...that's all it used to be. Now it got more
diverse now. You got Chinese, Japanese, Russians. You got, it's like it just
changed, it's like the culture in [community] changed... that's exactly why it's, like
more conflict today because so many diverse people out here.
Later in the interview he shared his opinion that the increase in crime today is probably
connected to the rise in immigrant groups, expressing suspicion about their criminal
histories. Mark's discussion of race was complicated and contradictory. At various points
he expressed that there are no problems with racism in the community, even as he shared
conflicts, experiences with prejudice, and negative reactions. Elena also described some
problems with increased diversity in the community, though she focused more on the way
she has been treated by specific ethnic groups. She wondered if increased police activity
was connected to the increase in the Russian population, and seemed to have mixed
feelings about that (crime is decreasing, but more young people of color are being
targeted by the police). She described two instances where she was treated rudely by
"Indians or Arabs." These accounts speak to a sense of cultural mistrust as the
community changes.
Describing an earlier time, Diana shared her opinion that the increase in diversity
when more people of color came to live in the public housing projects in the 1970's
brought more problems to the community. She stated that a lot of businesses closed and
problems with drugs increased. She also described racial conflict at that time. However,
over time, Puerto Ricans and African Americans came together as "people of color" and
fought less, and "anybody that didn't live in [community] was an outsider." Experiences
related to race and culture were described as complex and often contradictory. A sense of
racial pride and belonging (described earlier) surfaced in the narratives along with
significant barriers of conflict, mistrust, and the experience of being devalued as people
of color.
A number of participants described personal experiences of racism in the
community, even those who overtly claimed there are no problems related to race in the
area. On the one hand, Mark said, "I see no prejudice here." On the other hand, he
described an experience of his family being called "niggers" by a store owner when he
was a teenager. He stated that this event was not the norm in the community, though in
the present day he described being targeted unfairly by police in the community. Felipe
talked about White and Jewish boys calling him and his friends "spies." "We were bums
to them, you know. We was always less than and stuff." Elena stated that to this day she
is still followed in stores as if she is going to steal something, and called this "racial
profiling." She also talked about being allowed to play with Orthodox Jewish children in
the community, but not being allowed into their homes. Dolores talked about experiences
of being stereotyped as a young Hispanic mother and her determination to be successful
in the face of these negative assumptions:
It's still hard but I mean, I'm 18 years old, I live on my own and I, you know, I
have a child and one on the way, and I'm still strugglin', I'm currently in college,
and people look at me, oh she's Hispanic, she's from this, you know, this
community, they automatically stereotype. Automatically. Well, she has two kids,
and she's only 18 years old, that like I'm not gonna amount to anything, I'm not
gonna do something with myself because I already started my life as with, you
know having children. And it's just stereotyping, but in all reality I'm not gonna
let anyone bring me down.
Here, Dolores made a connection between racism and feeling devalued. Though it is
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difficult to feel valued when you are being treated according to negative stereotypes, it is
still possible to feel valued and thrive in the community. It seems that although racial
pride, belonging, and connection are experiences that contribute to participants feeling
valued in the community, conflict and racism also have a significant impact.
Cultural isolation and disconnection. Two participants talked about feeling
culturally isolated and/or disconnected. Edouard stated that he feels alienated and "out of
place" in the community, in part because he does not feel that he has much in common
with other people of color in the neighborhood. As a result, he does not know a lot of
people in the community. He described how he felt after seeing two young people talking
and joking in the elevator of his building: "...but I left the elevator, I left feeling kind
of. . .1 guess now, I guess now feeling bad would be appropriate...I felt bad that I don't
have any friends in the area." His experience is anomalous among participants, but
illustrates the importance of cultural belonging to feeling valued and therefore thriving in
the community.
Lorenzo shared a unique experience (at least in this group of participants) of
struggling to integrate and get along with others in the community after spending so
much of his life in jail. In his words,
Well it was kinda hard, because for me to get adapted to the community again,
you know, bein' around people...it's kinda hard you know, because I'm used to
bein' in a cell all by myself you know, bein' locked up 24 hours a day, you know. I
was in maximum security, stay 23 hours, you go outside for an hour, you know
and, bein' around...the, the, the population or people, you know, stayin' all by
yourself so many years, and then when you come home, you find yourself back,
you know what I mean...
Four male participants shared that they had been incarcerated at some point in their lives.
However, Lorenzo is the only one who talked about the difficulties of transitioning back
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into the community. He was released from jail only six months before the interview took
place. Other participants talked more about their struggles with substance abuse,
described above.
Devaluation of women. Five women who participated in the study talked about
the difficulty of being female in the community, both in terms of relationships with men
and general struggles with feeling valued and empowered. Angela stated that "...it was
really really hard being a woman in this community, cuz everything is male, uh, it was
tough for me to. . .1 just don't know how to do a lot." Because the culture of the
community is male-dominated in her experience, she did not feel supported as a woman
until she connected with the CBO focused on women. She described having a negative
experience as a Latina woman in terms of available options. She stated that Latina
women in the community are encouraged to "go to welfare" if they do not have a job.
Elena described problematic experiences of walking through the neighborhood as a
woman: "I think the men look at me like I could possibly be a street walker. They beep
their horns and they wait and they park and all this kind of stuff." She went on to share
experiences of being followed. Yasmin shared a similar experience.
Regina described problems with men being absent from homes in her
community, and connected this to her own experiences and struggles with men as a
daughter, mother, and partner. For her, these struggles began with being sexually abused
by men in her family as a child. These experiences of devaluation and sexism can be
barriers to feeling valued and thriving.
Homophobia. Two participants came out as gay or lesbian during the course of
their interview. Edouard came out as a gay man, and Candace came out as a lesbian.
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They described very different experiences in the community related to gender and sexual
orientation. When asked about his experience as a Black Haitian man in the community,
Edouard replied, "Well urn. . .1 think uh, being a Black man specifically. . .1 can't pinpoint
any uh, particular instance that urn, that like affected who I am. . .as much as uh. . .an
anecdote or two regarding the fact that I'm gay, and in this community." He went on to
share his experience of having to hide relationships with men in the community, and
being warned by his brother to "be careful" being openly affectionate with any partners.
He described a need to be more careful in his community than in other parts of the city.
He stated that he has not seen any open hostility, but it is generally understood that gay
men should not be openly affectionate, particularly "flamboyant" or "effeminate" gay
men. He described things being different for lesbians:
. . .more often it's women, but I see, sort of, lesbians being affectionate on the bus.
One is usually dressed more masculine and the other more feminine. I'm not sure
if that's intentional to like conceal any kind of, you know, like worry they might
have of being, you know, caught. But I notice that, pretty openly, and there
doesn't seem to be any hostility towards it or anything.
Candace and Diana agreed with this. Diana talked about difference between the
ways that gay men and lesbians are treated when she talked about the need for services
for LGBT youth in the community:
You know, they're walking the street, people judge them, people start with them,
and it's more for the young men than it is for the girls. For some reason in this
community they could see two girls together, but when they see two boys together
they totally get ballistic.
Candace described having more negative experiences as a lesbian outside of the
community than within the community. However, she did not describe her experiences in
the community as overwhelmingly positive either. At first, it seemed that Candace was
describing the community as non-judgmental and open-minded. As she explained further,
however, she stated that people don't judge "outright." As with race, she talked about
people experiencing more overt discrimination outside of the community:
Sometimes I feel out of [community] , you are more, you know, discriminated
against. It is comfortable in [community] to walk around with your head high, as
who you are, that's one thing good about [community] . Nobody really
judges...outright...You know. I'm sure people go home and do whatever they
want. But outright, no.
She stated that you can be whoever you are in the community, but does not quite trust
that people are not judging her behind her back. Being gay or lesbian was experienced as
a marginalized identity in the community that can impact feeling valued.
Sociopolitical/Institutional Barriers to Feeling Valued
Lack of political representation and voice. A number of participants described
problems with political support for the community in general. They described politicians
as distant or uninvolved, making promises that they do not keep, and only appearing to
care about the community during elections. They also described current government
cutbacks in the context of the recession (the interviews took place early in 2009, only a
few months after the massive economic crisis in the fall of 2008). Mark described a
confluence of political factors and their impact on the community:
And uh, these guys are buyin' up this land, and I mean it's, it's destroyin' the
economy around here. And the economy is just like it's flat on its knees. And urn,
when you take away things, it just bring the economy down. You're not buildin'
up, you're taking away. You're not building nothin'. You say you wanna build
things, goin' all the way around and make [community] a big giant amusement
park. No, that's not gonna make [community] survive. I think it's gonna destroy
[community] .
Mark described political problems within the context of proposed changes to develop the
community. Diana emphasized that it seems the changes are not intended to benefit
community members. Several participants mentioned proposed changes to the
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entertainment district of the community as problematic. Angela said, "Yeah, like urn the
amusement park was a big thing for us, that was very positive, which they're tryin' to
take away now." Dolores expressed hope about the community improving, but
acknowledged that people might be displaced.
Given the timing of this study, it makes sense that participants mentioned the
economy frequently. However, it is possible that they would have brought up these
factors regardless, as this community has been economically devastated for quite some
time. Mark talked about the government helping the banks instead of helping the
community. He stated that he feels "we're not really getting' nothin' back." Angela said,
Well, the economy right now is really messed up! I mean, so, I see the, you know,
you know, I don't respect what the people do, but, I see, you know, where they
comin' from because like, some people can't get jobs out here. ..So, they turn to
sellin' drugs, or robbin' just to take care of they family.
Other participants described long-standing political problems. Tonya described
the relationship that politicians have to the community: "Promises, promises. Then when
the votes go, when the people make it to their little uh, spots, you don't here from them
anymore until the next election. Or until somebody needs somethin'. You know?" Similar
to Diana's descriptions of certain areas getting more resources, Candace pointed out the
unfair aspects of the way politicians interact with the community when she said of
politicians, "They, people pick and choose who they want to represent, who they want to
help instead of helpin' everybody as a whole." Participants spoke about lack of political
representation with anger and frustration, and certainly perceived it as a barrier to feeling
their community is valued.
Racial profiling and disrespect by police. Several participants shared negative
experiences with the police, disagreeing with those who stated they feel safer with
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increasing police presence. Some participants explicitly connected these experiences with
racism and "racial profiling," while others left these connections open to interpretation.
Mark talked about being targeted by the police, and stated,
Fm like you know, there are criminals walkin' right past you and you, you
botherin' me. And he gets a little smart with you and stuff like that, I said well,
Fm tryin' to tell you the truth, the person you lookin' for is right behind you,
walkin' right past you. And he be like, you gettin' smart. And I say no Fm not
gettin' smart Fm just tellin' you. The person that you lookin' for.. .is right behind
you.
Zaira described being embarrassed when her family came to visit her, and the cops
demanded to search her brother-in-law for no reason when he stepped outside to make a
phone call. Elena claimed that the cops are unfairly targeting young people of color in the
community. Valentin shared his frustration with cops in the community, stating they
target him as a Puerto Rican man in the community. He hesitated to call this racism,
however, saying, "Racism, with the police, yes. I don't know if it's uh, racism or more
like just stereotypin' , you know?" He shared that he does not have much respect for cops
because of numerous negative experiences where he has been singled out unfairly.
Unemployment. Most of the community members that participated in the study
talked about the lack of jobs in the community as a critical issue and as a barrier to
individual and community thriving, as apparent in previous sections. Candace observed,
"Hey! They hirin' over here, go over there, and, and, the hirin' they, urn, the end of it is, is
the next day. So you got 30 thousand people rushing for 10 positions when they should've
advertise it with 'em..." She expressed frustration, as she herself has been unemployed for
several months.
Several participants talked about the lack of jobs and education in the community
and connected this to problems such as violence and substance abuse, and feeling that the
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community is not valued: ". . .and I think that, you know, the violence has a lot to do with
the fact the children not getting educated. You now, they're not stayin' in school, they're
not graduating. And, so therefore they're, they don't have jobs." Charlotte and other
participants talked about the boredom caused by unemployment. Jacob also connected
this to increased alcohol and drug use. Charlotte also connected the lack of jobs to
problems with politicians not being involved in the community.
Angela captured the ways in which unemployment in the community connects to
other problems:
So, you know. But things like that, still. . .you know, I feel bad for the people that
are goin' through the struggles, but I wish they could find other alternatives,
because, you know, they are also showin' the kids who are growin' now that it's
ok to do that. So. It's just really complicated with the, with the people in this
community. Cuz either they can't get jobs, they have to turn to other things, and
some of the people who could get jobs, I guess there's a way of being, so they're
teachin' little kids to do the same.
Over and over, participants talked about unemployment as connected to substance abuse.
Often, dealing drugs is a viable way to make money where options are extremely limited.
Unemployment surfaced as a significant barrier to feeling valued and feeling that the
community is valued. Participants talked time and time again about working as an action
that supports their thriving. This will be described in the next section.
"Striving to Thrive": Actions that Support Feeling Valued
Participants talked throughout the interviews about actions that are important to
their feeling valued. These actions represented the meanings of thriving to most
participants. The concept of thriving as "striving" came up repeatedly. At first, it seemed
that this was a mistake, that I said "thriving" during the interviews and participants heard
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"striving." This was probably the case for some. However, several participants described
thriving as changing, moving up, accomplishing goals, and reaching for something better
even when they responded to the definition of thriving that I provided. Yasmin's
response to the question "What does thriving mean to you?" was, "After everything I've
been through, I guess I thrived to change." Zaira stated:
Thriving is, it means to me that I am thirsty. There's something that I need to
reach and how to get it, it's like a scale, like a, like a, a ladder ok, so when I thrive
something, I set goals. And then I say, I have to reach this level to accomplish this
level, and I thrive because I want it.
Carla responded, "To me? Well...I thrive for the best every day! Every day I live I, I want
something better, I want more, you know?" Though she seemed to be defining striving,
connections between thriving and striving were made by several participants. Tonya also
talked about thriving as striving when she said of her daughter, "She's constantly thriving,
she's constantly wanting more." Like Carla and Zaira, she talked about thriving as
working toward goals such as furthering education. Candace said that in addition to
reaching for specific goals, thriving can be striving for a different mindset. She
emphasized that thriving is reaching for something better, not just something different.
A few people talked about persevering with individual strength and
determination. Mark described thriving by saying you have to "just keep movin'." Later,
he connected this to the community: "I'm not gonna give up. Cuz you can't give up. You
can't give up on yourself. You can't even give up on the community." Felipe talked about
thriving in a similar way: "Thriving, man. I guess we all have this innate feeling of
survival, you know we must go on no matter what." He connected this idea of
perseverance with striving when he said, "thriving is um, lookin' for that next good
feelin' of something worth livin' for." Zaira described thriving as "the fuel to my
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engine." Edouard talked about thriving as academic success, and described experiences
of persevering to meet his goals. He called thriving "intellectual fortitude." He talked
about experiencing thriving when he achieved personal academic goals he had set for
himself. For these participants, the actions that they take to keep going, to follow the will
to survive, defined thriving.
Working
Most participants described a time when they were thriving as a time when they
were volunteering or working. Some of this seems to be connected to helping people and
being involved in the community, as will be explored in the next section. However,
participants also talked about the importance of being able to support themselves and be
financially independent, and to feel that they have value and are doing something
worthwhile, particularly as people of color. It is important to note that the majority of
participants were not employed, and this most likely had an influence on the importance
of work mentioned throughout the interviews. Working was certainly described as an
action that supported feeling valued for various reasons.
Candace replied, "Any time I was working" when asked about a time when she
was thriving. She talked about representing herself in the community positively when she
worked. Mark described a time when he was working: "I was thriving. I was thriving and
I was doin' good for myself. I didn't have to worry about askin' people for nothin', I
always had. Uh, it was a good, good feelin' you know, to have your own. Cuz you don't
have to ask nobody for nothin' . I was good." Dora also talked about a time when she was
working: "Working for an agency, the pay was good. I was able to make money, save
money. I had dreams and hopes of going to school, studying nursing. Until I started using
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drugs." Felipe talked about thriving through two different jobs he has had, and connected
this to making a difference in his community.
Charlotte described very positive experiences with volunteering in the
community. However, when asked about a time when she was thriving, she immediately
talked about working and how much she misses it. Tonya also talked about thriving when
she was working. She emphasized that she enjoyed working in the community:
"Everything was perfect. I loved drivin' the school bus. I love bein' with kids, I love
interactin' with the principal in the schools."
Several participants talked about working in addition to other positive things that
they were doing as a part of thriving. Regina talked about thriving when she worked at a
CBO, was going to college, and was very involved in her church. After this, she talked
about the need to set boundaries and limits as a part of thriving because she became
overwhelmed with all that she was doing (see below). Cesar talked about thriving when
he was working, married, and owned his own home. Ernesto talked about feeling that he
was thriving when he was working and spending time with "different people" than he did
when he was using drugs.
Diana told a story of a time that she was thriving that included working, and
connected this to family as well:
I was employed. I had a job. You know what I'm sayin', I wasn't dependent on
public assistance. You know? I had a job, I was able to set standards for my
daughter and show her, you know, this is how we live, you don't, you don't live
by, with your hand out. You have to work hard for what you, for what you want in
life. And I was able to show that to her and teach her that because I began to have
gainful employment and, and not only had gainful employment, but also to hold a
job, and to be a full time student, and to be a full time mother and be able to
balance it all. You know, I was able to show that to my daughter.
Some community members talked about volunteering in the community as an
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example of thriving. Volunteering and working were seen as similar processes,
particularly for participants who are not able to work at this time. The connection with
others and making an impact on individuals and the community seem central to thriving.
With both working and volunteering, participants talked about the importance of being
recognized for what they do. However, there is something about earning money and
being self-sufficient that seems crucial to working as an action that supports feeling
valued.
Helping People
A number of participants talked about the importance of helping others to their
thriving. They talked about bettering themselves through helping neighbors, being
involved in their community, and helping their families. Several participants defined
thriving as helping people and making a difference in their lives. Yasmin talked about the
way that she feels when she is able to help someone: ". . .and if I could change one
person, one teenager's life, one person's life. Anybody that comes toward me to get
help. . .that makes my day." Alfonso shared that he thinks about helping others more now
that he feels he is thriving, in contrast to times when he thought more about himself.
Zaira illustrated the concept of mutual support as she defined thriving by saying, "When
you help other people you're helping yourself." She went on to say that thriving is
"...what you have, give it out. It worked for you, now give it out."
Community involvement. Several participants talked about being involved in the
community as a way to support feeling valued. Angela described a positive experience as
a woman being involved in a CBO. Because the organization focuses on women, she
feels that she can see more options for herself as a Latina woman than the ones that she
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typically sees in her community:
And ever since I came here, you know. I have the women, and they inspire you.
They encourage you to go to school, you could do it, you don't need a man, you
don't need that, so, bein' a woman was hard for me, cuz I just thought I could oh,
how am I gonna live? Go to welfare. But now, I look at things differently. I could
be a powerful woman. I could be educated. So, now bein' a woman in this
community now, I think that I'm gonna be somebody.
Similarly, Zaira described becoming "empowered" as a Latina woman through
her involvement in HIV education. She spoke positively of feeling empowered with
knowledge herself, and being able to share that knowledge with other Latinas: "...and as a
Latina woman, I wanted to let other women know that no matter what situation they're
in, they can overcome it. ..Yes. Very important. In my community."
Tonya spoke of community participation as essential to thriving. She went on to
give examples from her experience:
And it was always good, you know, with school, with volunteerin', with workin',
whatever it was I was part of. So that was always thrivin'. I always wanted to
stay...urn, involved with my community, since I was young. You know, no matter
what. If I wasn't workin' I volunteered. When I did go to work, urn...I worked in
the neighborhood, you know, I drove a school bus here, I did everything here.
Candace talked about thriving as making a difference not just to other people but in her
community. Several community members talked about feeling good when they became
more involved in the community. Diana said, "And that's why I came here to [CBO] to
get educated and to give back to my community so that way I could be a part of the
solution and no longer a part of the problem...So that's a good feeling, it makes me feel
good." Yasmin shared her story about becoming involved in the CBO:
Oh, ok when I first came in, I just came in for three weeks. I was answering
phones, they needed somebody for three weeks there. I was like ok, fine, I ain't
doin' nothin' you know, I'm doin' just community work at home and. All right,
all right. All of a sudden everybody just loved! You know, cuz they got along
with me, I was like everybody loved me, you know. I liked it, I came in, I tried to
do the best I could with everything, you know learning again, relearning. Cuz in
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life you're always learning somethin'.
Some of the reasons volunteering is seen as an example of thriving seem to be
similar to those related to employment, particularly for participants who are not able to
work at this time. The connection with others and making an impact on individuals and
the community seem central to feeling valued and therefore thriving. With both working
and volunteering, participants talked about the importance of being recognized for what
they do. However, as described above, working also contributes to feeling valued because
of the ability to be self-sufficient.
Yasmin talked about volunteering in the community as contributing to thriving.
She stated that she "loves" helping teens in the community. Dora stated that "taking care
of people, helping people" helps her to thrive. She went on to talk about the importance
of people knowing that they "count" to other people as important to thriving and "selfworth."
Felipe said, "Yeah. It's. . .it's about feeling good man, I just, I love doing things
that has an impact. I don't care what it is." This seems to summarize the importance of
connecting with others to thriving. It is important to have an impact on others, and to be
recognized for this. Angela, Edouard, Carla, and Dolores gave examples of this. Charlotte
talked about thriving through learning about different people and cultures in the
community. Regina stated, "helping others helps me to thrive...because, then I realize that
I'm not so alone whenever I can help someone else through somethin'." Elena stated that
being more involved in the community, particularly through opportunities to mentor
youth, would help her to thrive. As Cesar said, "Can't thrive by yourself, you know?"
Helping my family. Several participants talked about the importance of helping
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their families to feeling valued and thriving. Diana said, "...for me thriving means to
always better myself. Not, not only to better myself, but to better myself for my family."
Lorenzo also talked about the importance of striving to do better for his son. Carla said,
"I lead by example for my brother." Jacob said that thriving is taking care of his
grandchildren. A common theme that was connected to the importance of helping family
was "I don't want anybody to go through what I went through." Community members
expressed a desire to set different examples for others, particularly their children.
Feeling valued through making contact with people was a pervasive theme in the
study. Participants saw themselves as making a difference in the community and
preventing negative outcomes that they experienced by being involved in their
community and helping neighbors and family members. Helping other people feel valued
was connected to feeling valued and important, and feeling that the community is valued.
As will be explored below, reaching out for help and support was also seen as important
to feeling valued, which highlights the centrality of the conditions of supportive
relationships and community services described above.
Reaching out for Help
Having support is also important to feeling valued, as described in the earlier
section on conditions that support feeling valued. Several participants talked about
reaching out for help during times of struggle as an action that supported their feeling
valued. Regina and Yasmin talked about these experiences in great detail, particularly
reaching out for services. Yasmin talked about learning "survival skills" from her
therapist and case manager, and now knows how to take care of herself when she feels
"down and out." Regina described a similar experience. She said "...I've realized the most
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important thing I think in life is to have somebody to talk to." Both women emphasized
the danger of isolation. Regina said several times throughout the interview, "You can't
grow in isolation." Participants who spoke about recovery from substance abuse talked
about reaching out for help time and time again.
Angela stated that she usually does not talk to people in her life about her
problems, though she shared that she found the interview itself helpful: "But it was good
because I was able to say a lot of things that people don't know. . .you know, the stuff that
I actually go through. ..So it, it felt kinda good." This illustrates the power of reaching out
that Yasmin and Regina talked about.
Taking Care of Myself
A few participants talked about different ways that they take care of themselves as
important to their feeling valued and thriving. Candace talked about thriving through
having the time, space, and freedom to do the things that she wants to do, like taking
walks on the boardwalk or going on vacations with her family. Angela described praying
and spending time alone as important to getting through her "anxiety attacks."
Two participants talked about the importance of balance and boundaries as a part
of thriving. Thriving is connected to helping others, but you cannot help others if you do
not take care of yourself. Regina talked about the importance of setting boundaries with
people that hurt you, because it is very important to love yourself. Elena talked about
thriving as helping people and being a good listener, "and walking away from it. . .when
it's just too much."
Staying Positive
Earlier, positive self-perceptions were described as part of individual conditions
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that support feeling valued. In addition, a few participants talked about staying positive as
an active process that supports thriving. This included maintaining a positive attitude as
well as staying away from negative influences. Mark talked about the importance of
waking up with "happy thoughts" and reframing negative experiences by connecting to
what you do have. For him, God is an important part of this. Similarly, Felipe talked
about thriving as working to focus on the positive:
You can't, you can't allow people to, to break you down. There's only certain
things...you can let in...If you let everything in, you're internalizing everything,
try to be superman for everybody, you gonna kill yourself. You'll destroy
yourself. You just gotta do the best you could man. You look for them happy
days. ..Bein' on the beach, playin' with the kids. ..You know? Seein' moms,
everybody's happy.
Felipe connected several themes here. He talked about the importance of boundaries
discussed above, and of knowing your limits. He also talked about the resources available
in the community to stay positive, such as the beach and the people. Jacob talked about
thriving as both staying positive and staying away from the negative. For him, this is
sobriety: "Oh, everything is comin' in positive, no drugs, no drinkin', no gettin' high."
Ernesto also talked about how spending time with people who were positive influences as
he was getting sober helped him to thrive.
Praying to. Believing in. and Serving God
Some participants talked about the central role that God, church, and prayer play
in their ability to thrive. Zaira talked about her reliance on God through her recovery
from HIV related complications as the "peak" of her thriving:
I went through a. . .a situation that I became paralyzed from my knees down and
my hands. And that just shut my body down, right? And then my mind was full of
things I still wanted to do. And then I went, I dug deep inside to my spiritual. . .but
I also connected it with the physical...So, I was in a. . .a month and a half in the
hospital...Then they sent me to a rehabilitation for three months. And there, using
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their tools and thriving and empowering myself, I said I was gonna walk.
And. . .spiritually, I prayed, and I said God I know you can give me the strength.
And with, with the education of, of rehabilitation and occupational therapy I
achieved my body to function the way I knew it could function again.
She talked throughout the interview about the importance of her "spiritual walk," and
also mentioned the importance of other people (e.g., doctors) to getting through this
period and feeling valued. She went on to connect all of this to her community
involvement, which was described above.
Diana and Valentin also talked about connecting with God/Christ as important to
their thriving. Valentin said that he was thriving when he first found his church. Diana
spoke in more detail about the role of Christ in her thriving:
The time in my life that I felt that I was really thriving is when I first gave my life
to Christ...I mean I'm a Christian now, but when I first gave my life to Christ it
was a totally different experience, like I was a new Christian, and like I was
totally sold out for Christ, I was maybe one of those people that they would say,
oh look at that girl, she's radical, she's a radical, you know, one of them radical
Christians. That was the best time of my life, like, it was like that for five years...
Angela talked about praying as related to thriving for her. Alfonso stated that "believing
in God" helps him to thrive. These actions helped some participants feel valued.
Summary
Feeling valued and feeling that the community valued emerged as a core narrative
in the study, connected to thriving and at times representing what thriving means to
participants. The concept of feeling valued is inherently relational, as will be explored in
the next chapter. Participants talked about factors that influence feeling valued at multiple
ecological levels. These factors were connected in complex ways that were discussed
both explicitly and implicitly by community members. In addition, participants talked
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about actions that support feeling valued as critical to thriving. The ability to take action
is influenced by having support, from micro- to macrosystemic levels. Participants
described conditions in their community that make feeling valued and feeling that their
community is valued extremely challenging. They also described numerous conditions
the community that are supportive of their feeling valued. The emergent theoretical
model suggests that people of color living in poverty in this urban community do have
access to thriving. However, there are numerous systemic barriers that make this process
extremely difficult, rendering it crucial to "strive" if you want to thrive.
Ill
Chapter 5
DISCUSSION
This study explored thriving as a process of positive mental health, of doing well
and feeling good above and beyond survival, from the perspectives and experiences of
poor people of color living in an urban neighborhood. The study attempted to capture an
experience beyond constructs such as resilience and post-traumatic growth, which
emphasize healing, recovery, and bouncing back after a traumatic or otherwise stressful
experience. Rather, the focus here was on processes of doing well and feeling good
within stressful and traumatic circumstances. One assumption of the study was that poor
people of color continually live in stressful and often traumatic conditions resulting in
large part from racism and classism at individual, relational, cultural and systemic levels.
Another assumption was that all people have the ability to thrive, despite contextual
conditions that might render thriving challenging. In the interviews, participants spoke of
numerous intense struggles that they faced in their community. However, every
participant was able to talk about the ways that they thrive, and how and when they do so.
A theoretical model emerged from the data that centered on the importance of
participants feeling valued and feeling that their community is valued. Thriving was seen
as a process of taking actions that support feeling valued. Participants saw their own
actions as central to their thriving, particularly actions that involve connecting with other
people and to their community. This chapter will summarize the results by each research
question posed in Chapter 2. For the third research question, which addresses sources of
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thriving, mutuality and critical consciousness will be explored as they were presented as
potential pathways to thriving in Chapter 1 . In addition, working/employment will be
discussed in depth as this was such a salient theme connected to thriving for participants.
Following this, the strengths and limitations of the study will be reviewed. Finally,
implications of this study for research, practice, and training will be presented.
Summary
This study aimed to answer several research questions about the meanings,
experience, and sources of thriving for Black and Latino people living in urban poverty.
Participants shared rich and varied experiences and perspectives and described the
community context in detail. Overall, they spoke of their community with great pride,
describing its unique qualities, particularly related to the beach and amusements and the
friendliness of people in the community. These narratives existed alongside observations
and experiences of stark realities that community members have to contend with every
day in the community. Within the privacy of their homes and on the streets of their
community, participants described facing intense danger and despair. The narratives
highlighted the tangible effects of racism and poverty while illustrating community
members' efforts to thrive within these circumstances. Poorman's (2002) study on
thriving similarly concluded that adversity does not necessarily preclude thriving. Her
study focused on women who had experienced abuse or oppression. This study adds to
the literature by highlighting the voices of both men and women of color living in urban
poverty. Thriving truly is striving when the obstacles are as intense and overwhelming as
what participants described. The following is a discussion and analysis of the results by
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each research question.
Meanings of Thriving
The first research question was, "What are the meanings of thriving for Black and
Latino adults living in a low-income urban community?" By and large, participants
defined thriving as an active process, as something they do to make their lives better.
Many participants used the word "striving" to describe this process of working to make
things better for them and their loved ones, both now and in the future. The actions that
they take to feel good and do well help to make them feel valued, and help them feel that
their community is valued. This is especially true because another important action that
defines thriving is helping others, including family, neighbors, or their community at
large. Participants talked about community involvement as a proxy for thriving
throughout the interviews. Very few studies have addressed the importance of people's
relationships with and involvement in the community as an important part of thriving,
though many emphasize the importance of social support to thriving and/or resilience
(e.g., Abraido-Lanza, Guier, & Colón, 1998; Banyard, 1995; Brown, 2008; Ennis,
Hobfoll, & Schröder, 2000; Hurd, Moore, & Rogers, 1995; Mosley-Howard & Evans,
2000; Todd & Worrell, 2001; Utsey, Bolden, Lanier, & Williams, 2007; Utsey,
Giesbrecht, Hook, & Stanard, 2008). As stated in Chapter 2, the vast majority of such
studies explored thriving after a challenging event.
Poorman (2002) found that the women in her study viewed thriving as a dynamic,
cyclical process that involves times of both rest and activity. Participants in this study
certainly saw thriving as an active process, and a few emphasized the importance of selfcare and boundaries, highlighting the importance of turning energy inward as well as
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outward. Thriving as a dynamic process is explored further as the experience of thriving
is discussed below.
Experience of Thriving
The experience of thriving was highly related to participants feeling valued and
feeling that their community is valued. Participants talked about the importance of feeling
that they are valued and that their community is valued, both by themselves and others,
including other community members, the community at large, and sociopolitical
institutions. This theme has not been captured by previous studies of thriving. Some
studies have addressed the importance of community participation as a part of feeling
valued, but have not discussed this in relationship to thriving (e.g., Abrahams, 1996;
Delgado, 1997). One recent quantitative study of health promoting factors in working
class families with adolescents found that feeling valued in the family reduced the risk of
depression for adolescents (Reinherz, Giacoma, Paradis, Novero, & Kerrigan, 2008). One
focus group study with African-American men found that feeling valued was perceived
as a positive influence on health, which was defined by the men as "physical, mental,
emotional, economic and spiritual well-being" (Ravenell, Johnson, & Whitaker, 2006, p.
544). Studies specifically focusing on thriving have not discussed the importance of
feeling valued outside of important relationships, nor has feeling valued been an essential
theme connected to thriving. Again, very few studies have addressed thriving as a process
occurring within oppressive contexts.
The experience of thriving was highly connected to the actions people take that
promote feeling valued, as well as to the community context. Action implies energy. Like
Poorman's (2002) grounded theory study with women, participants in this study
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experienced thriving as dynamic. Participants in Poorman's study described thriving "as a
specific type of life energy indicating movement and growth" (2002, p. 55). Participants
in this study talked about thriving as periods of energy and connection with others,
whether through working, community involvement, or connection with God. They also
saw thriving as growth-enhancing, as acting on the will to move up or forward, and to
make sure, to the extent possible, that their families and community moved up and
forward with them.
Sources of Thriving
The third research question asked what the sources of thriving are for Black and
Latino people living in low-income urban communities. Participants talked about sources
at multiple systemic levels. Because one assumption that I made at the outset of the study
was that relationships and mutuality would be important sources of thriving, I was very
careful to ask, "What helps you to thrive?" rather than "Who helps you to thrive?"
Despite this, relationships emerged as an important source of thriving for community
members who participated in this study. The sources of thriving are captured by
"conditions that support feeling valued" in the theoretical model. For several participants,
positive self-perceptions were important sources of thriving. All participants talked about
supportive relationships as sources of thriving, adding to research on resilience and
thriving that captures the importance of social support reviewed in Chapter 2.
Participants named several sources of thriving that were characteristics or
experiences of their community, such as friendliness and community support, and
community pride. Community members also talked about cultural factors such as
racial/ethnic pride, harmony and belonging. This will be explored further when the final
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research question on race, gender, and thriving is addressed. Studies on thriving have not
specifically addressed community factors, or individuals' relationships with their
communities. Psychological sense of community, a construct from community
psychology, may be relevant to thriving in low-income urban communities. Summarizing
research on sense of community ". . .at the intersection of the individual and the
collective, the psychological and the social," Hombrados-Mendieta, Gomez-Jacinto, and
Dominguez-Fuentes (2009) describe the construct as involving "...the sense of
belonging, membership, and personal involvement. It also involves the reciprocal
influence between the individual and the community: integration and the satisfaction of
needs, and connection and emotional involvement," (p. 672). This definition connects to
the importance of community involvement, supportive relationships, racial/ethnic
belonging, and community pride emphasized throughout participants' narratives in this
study. Feeling valued and feeling that the community is valued may be integral to sense
of community as defined by Sarason: "the sense that one belongs in and is meaningfully
part of a larger collectivity. . ." (1974, as cited in Hombrados-Mendieta, Gomez-Jacinto,
& Dominguez-Fuentes, 2009, p. 671). This construct captures the relationships that
community members have with one another and with the community at large, and both
were seen as important in the current study.
Mutuality. As a feminist multicultural concept, mutuality was presented as a
potential source of thriving in Chapter 1 . The ideas of mutual empathy and mutual
empowerment come from Relational Cultural Theory (RCT), developed by what is now
known as the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women
(Miller & Stiver, 1997). Although RCT was originally developed to understand women's
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experiences because of the individualistic white (upper) middle class male bias that has
impacted psychological theory, recent authors have suggested that RCT can be applied to
diverse men as well, as people in general are impacted by relational patterns with one
another, their communities, and social institutions (Jordan, Walker, & Hartling, 2004).
Over the years, the theory has evolved to place connection at the center of human growth
and development, seeing isolation as the main source of human suffering. In addition, the
theory has become more inclusive of cultural factors, paying attention to the impact of
racism, homophobia, and other forms of both oppression and privilege (Jordan & Walker,
2004).
Based on the results of this study, RCT may have relevance for thriving for poor
people of color in urban communities. In particular the concepts of mutual empathy and
mutual empowerment may explain how poor people of color see themselves thriving in
urban contexts rife with dangerous and otherwise stressful, devaluing conditions. A
number of participants talked about the importance of mutual support to their thriving.
According to Miller and Stiver (1997), mutual empathy is a process of people in
relationships "engaged together" in the cognitive and emotional aspects of a set of
circumstances (p. 29). This mutual empathy (or mutual support, as described in this
study) leads to mutual empowerment, which is "growth-fostering" process that is
certainly linked to feeling valued. Several of the "five good things" which comprise
mutual empowerment are relevant to this study. Zest in emotional connection (i.e. energy
and vitality) as well as action (i.e. a sense of empowerment to act both within and outside
of relationships) are connected to the meanings of thriving community members talked
about in the interviews. They saw thriving as very active, and it can be seen as a process
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that empowers them to do better. In addition, sense of worth is another essential
component of mutual empowerment, which is almost synonymous with the core category
of feeling valued that emerged from this study (Miller & Stiver, 1997, pp. 30-34). Mutual
empowerment is a complex and multilayered experience that can help understand the
experience of thriving. Because of its emphasis on culture as well as relationships, mutual
empowerment seems to have strong resonance with poor people of color, at least in
relation to this study. However, RCT is usually applied to psychotherapy, and its
relevance for understanding people's relationships with their communities and
sociopolitical institutions has not been explored extensively.
Critical consciousness. As mentioned in Chapter 1 , critical consciousness, derived
from liberation theory, is consciousness of one's standing in society with attention to
oppression and privilege. It has been proposed as a potentially "valuable response to
adversity," (Massey, Cameron, Oulette, and Fine, 1998, p. 339). Critical consciousness
was proposed as a potential source of thriving for poor people of color in urban
communities because of its relationship to empowerment, to feeling that one can act
despite social injustice, and in fact one may be able to act in ways that will foster positive
social change.
In this study, critical consciousness did not emerge as a distinct source of thriving,
in that participants did not name awareness of injustice or oppressive hierarchies as
important to their thriving. However, most participants did share an awareness of issues
such as racism and political disinvestment. Whether or not this was integral to
participants' experiences of thriving was unclear. In addition, it was difficult to
understand whether individuals' particular understandings of their positionality could or
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should be characterized as critical consciousness. For one, the participants in the study
are the experts on their experiences in the community. I came in as an outsider, someone
who did not grow up in the community and who comes from an academic position of
power not shared by any of the participants. My own privilege could have kept me from
understanding some of the ways that community members did express critical
consciousness. Furthermore, I did not explicitly ask about critical consciousness. Because
this is not something we discuss commonly, it might have been helpful to create
interview questions that could have captured the phenomenon of critical consciousness.
Working/employment. Working emerged as an important source of thriving for
community members who participated in the study, albeit a source that most could not
access. When I asked participants to describe a time in their life when they were thriving,
most immediately began talking about a time when they were working. The fact the
majority of participants were unemployed or underemployed may shed some light on
why working was perceived as so important. Community members shared several reasons
why working was important to their thriving. One was connected to the importance of
helping other people. Working is one way to make a difference, to do something
meaningful. It is also a way to represent one's community and culture positively,
particularly for poor people of color who are characterized as lazy in the dominant culture
(Cozzarelli, Wilkinson, & Tagler, 2001). Working also was discussed as a way to support
oneself independently. This seemed to stem from a desire to be seen as different then the
pejorative ways the dominant culture sees poor people of color, and often the ways in
which poor people of color see one another (Seccombe, James, & Walters, 1998). In a
society that certainly judges people based on perceived social class status, which includes
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working, employment is one way to feel valued.
The findings of this study suggest that poor people of color, including those who
receive government assistance, want to work, which flies in the face of stereotypes about
poor Black and Latino people. Qualitative research in low-income communities of color
suggests that poor people want to work, and that usually they are working (e.g., Fine &
Weis, 1998; Newman, 1999). The working poor make up a majority of our society,
though they are not represented in the media or in positions of political power (Lee &
Dean, 2004; Zweig, 2000). Understanding the relationships between working and
thriving has implications for practice and advocacy, which will be explored later.
Community Contexts and Thriving
The fourth research question was, "How do Black and Latino adults living in a
low-income urban community understand the influence of their community contexts on
their experiences of thriving?" The importance of community context was clear, as can be
seen in the emerging theoretical model. Participants talked about community conditions
that help them to thrive and feel valued, as well as community conditions that are barriers
to thriving and feeling valued. Most of the community conditions that they talked about
were challenging aspects of living in a poor urban community, such as violence,
substance abuse, poverty, and problems with community services. The results of this
study support the need for further exploration of ecological factors in understanding
thriving and other emotional processes in urban communities (Bronfenbrenner, 1977;
Lounsbury & Mitchell, 2009).
Looking at Figure 1 , the number of challenges that participants described that are
a part of their community context is overwhelming compared to the supportive conditions
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in the community. One supportive condition that emerged from the study related to the
physical environment of the community, particularly the beach and the amusements. The
beach gave many participants a sense of "peace" or "tranquility." Participants described a
community context that is struggling under the weight of race and class based oppression,
and still has strengths. As stated in Chapter 2, numerous studies have noted the impact of
environmental stressors in low-income urban communities. However, a recent study
found that the relationship between subjective and objective indicators of quality of life
in urban areas is weak (McCrea, Shyy, & Stimson, 2006). The current study highlighted
the importance of community members feeling that their community is valued. Although
they named "objective" physical conditions as impacting their ability to thrive, they also
spoke about their own relationship with and perceptions of the community.
Race. Gender and Thriving
The final research question addressed participants' perceptions of connections
between race, gender, and thriving. A number of participants talked about issues of race
and gender unprompted, as salient aspects of their experiences in the community. Several
participants did not bring up race or gender on their own. A few barely addressed race
and gender, even when asked about their experience as a person of their
gender/race/culture in the community. Experiences and perceptions of race and gender
were in no way monolithic. Particularly with regard to race, participants shared
experiences and perceptions that were often contradictory, even within individual stories.
Race and gender will be explored separately here.
Race and thriving. A number of participants talked about racism as a part of their
experience, and saw it as a barrier to feeling valued. They described thriving in spite of
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racism, both interpersonal experiences of racism and systemic ways in which they saw
their group(s) devalued. A few participants denied racism as a problem in the community,
even as they shared experiences that seemed racist to myself and the peer reviewer. The
participants who denied racism were Black, and I wondered throughout if my being
Latina and White influenced the ways in which participants talked about race. Most
participants talked about experiences of racism and experiences of racial harmony and
belonging as co-existing in the community. Participants shared positive experiences of
living in a community with so many other people of color. One participant did share
drawbacks to this as she talked about the potential for people to "get stuck" in the
community.
Participants also had various reactions to changes in diversity in their community.
Some welcomed changes that have involved more immigrant groups moving into the
community. Others saw the increasing diversity as problematic, as creating more conflict.
Some participants had especially strong reactions to Russian people moving into the
community, seeing this as an "invasion" or takeover of living spaces and businesses that
were once the domain of Black and Latino people.
Race is not an easy topic to talk about, and is often fraught with emotion. In
addition, people of color often contend with internalized racism (Watts-Jones, 2002).
Participants in this study often seemed to speak of race and racism with candor. However,
as Charmaz (2006) contends, in constructivist grounded theory, the meanings that
participants share, as well as the theory that emerges from the data, are "interpretive
portrayals" of the realities occupied by both researchers and participants in a dynamic
interplay (p. 10). Though these social constructions of reality are true for all aspects of
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the model presented in this study, the complexity of the social construction of race felt
especially salient. Every participant who stated that race did not matter contradicted him
or herself later in the interview. Of course, this is the way in which the peer reviewer and
I read the data. However, our own relationships to race and racism are a part of the
complexity of this constructed phenomenon. Race seemed to hold real power in
community members' lives. Race is a location of struggle (experiences of racism and
racial tension) and connection (racial harmony). Race-related experiences can be
conditions for feeling valued or barriers to feeling valued, and thus are connected to
thriving.
Gender and thriving. Participants gave scant attention to gender in the interviews,
even though I asked them about their experiences in the community as women/men.
Sometimes participants ignored the question completely. Others said that being a woman
did not make a difference. Those who did talk about gender shared bleak experiences,
particularly of violence. Two men talked about violence. One talked about rites of
passage involving violence and aggression in gangs, and another talked about murders
committed by men in the community. When women talked about gender, they talked
about experiences of being devalued, often through violence and abuse or through
assumptions of low expectations from family members and the dominant culture. These
experiences served as barriers to feeling valued and thriving, and make sense considering
our patriarchal society and different expectations for men and women. Women shared
some positive experiences related to volunteering and receiving services at an agency
focused on women. These experiences were described as empowering, and were
examples of thriving through community involvement.
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However, the silence around gender seemed louder than the few narratives of
gender that were shared. For people of color, talking about gender may feel like a
betrayal of their race. Men and women of color experience gender role strain while
simultaneously struggling in a racist society. Women of color have often been absent
from feminist discourse, and thus ". . .many women of color continue to perceive
feminism as a very ethnocentric concept," (Bowman, Rasheed, Ferris, Thompsom,
McRae, & Weitzman, 2001 , p. 782). This is a point of struggle for me as a Latina/White
woman from an academic setting who strongly identifies as multicultural feminist. I
attempted to explore gender in this study and was only able to do so with a few
participants. Factors of cultural mistrust may have impacted my ability to connect with
participants around gender. However, it is also possible that participants in this study did
not experience of gender as salient to their experiences of thriving. The strengths and
limitations discussed below will further unpack the difficulties of understanding complex
constructs such as race and gender in this study and in qualitative research in general.
Strengths and Limitations of the Study
Strengths
A major strength of this study is that it placed the voices of Black and Latino
people of color living in urban poverty at the center of inquiry. Including the voices of
underrepresented groups is crucial to advancing social justice and understanding the
experiences of marginalized identities from the perspective of those who experience
oppression (Charmaz, 2005). Criteria for strengths and limitations of this study are drawn
from construct!vist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2005, 2006), and Morrow, Rakhsha, and
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Castañeda' s review of qualitative research methods for multicultural counseling (2001).
Immersing oneself in the field (in this case, the neighborhood) increases the
credibility or trustworthiness of a qualitative study (Charmaz, 2005; Morrow, Rakhsha, &
Castañeda, 2001). Working in a CBO on a PAR project and in various other capacities
for three years helped me to achieve familiarity with the community and to build trust
with peer educators at the CBO who served as key informants in preparing for the study
and were instrumental in recruiting participants. Even with this investment of time and
relational energy, there were times that I struggled to recruit participants. Familiarizing
oneself with the setting is especially important when working with participants who are
routinely neglected or demeaned by various social institutions. Throughout the interviews
I made my intentions clear and emphasized the value of their voices in research. This
connects to the criteria of usefulness (Charmaz, 2005). Capturing the experiences and
voices of participants renders the research more useful for meaningful social change.
Understanding positive processes in the lives of poor people of color has the potential to
turn deficit and pathologizing perspectives upside-down and has implications for the
ways in which counselors, psychologists, and social institutions relate to poor people of
color and their communities. This is also connected to the criterion of originality, as the
study sought to "challenge, extend, or refine" current ideas about poor people of color
living in urban communities (Charmaz, 2005, p. 528).
Charmaz (2005, 2006) also talks about resonance as a criterion for grounded
theory research. This concept addresses how the categories in the grounded theory
capture the "fullness" of the phenomenon under study (p. 528). Through the constant
reflexive process of coding that stayed very close to the words of the participants, this
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study captured the richness of the experience of thriving in the lives of participants. In
addition, resonance addresses connections between larger social systems and individual
lives where appropriate in the data. The peer reviewer and I paid attention to the ways in
which participants related to systems outside of themselves, including family,
community, and sociopolitical systems. Morrow, Rakhsha, & Castañeda (2001) refer to
this as "thick description," which is useful in counseling psychology research that can
lead toward "psychologizing" all experiences (p. 594).
Working with a peer reviewer increased the trustworthiness of the study. The
subjectivity of the researcher is very important in qualitative research, particularly
constructivist grounded theory, which highlights the interpretive quality of research. This
means that the researchers' assumptions, biases, and reactions to the research are attended
to throughout the study. Working with a peer reviewer allowed me to check out biases, or
at times use assumptions and hunches as useful leads for theoretical categories and
connections between concepts. Through conversations about emerging codes and
categories and memo-writing throughout the analysis, the peer reviewer and I were able
to stay as close as possible to the data while acknowledging our own perspectives and
positionality. Because I spent several years in the community, it was important to have a
peer reviewer who was not involved with the CBO or the PAR project. It is also
important to note that I was still considered an outsider in the community as a middleclass woman who is often perceived as White. The peer educators were critical
informants and made it possible to recruit a diverse sample.
Limitations
One major limitation of the study was that I was not able to use participant checks
127
(i.e., have participants respond to transcripts or analysis, or even to participate as
members of the research team). Because I was not living in the state where the data were
collected during the analysis, working with participants was a challenging prospect. This
limitation will be explored further in implications for research, as I explore the possibility
of further analysis using a participatory paradigm that would involve participants and
other community members.
Another limitation was that interviews were not consistent in length. It is possible
that if some participants had stayed longer or talked more, additional data would have
been collected that could have enhanced the model. However, I decided that all data were
valuable, particularly as I struggled to recruit men. This connects to limitations of the
sample as a whole. Participants who volunteered for the study might have been more
inclined to talk about thriving or about their connection to their community. The sample
also may have been biased in terms of community investment. In addition, convenience
and snowball sampling were used, whereas grounded theory researchers recommended
theoretical sampling (sampling based on the emerging theory's verification and
modification); time did not allow for this sampling approach (Fassinger, 2005, p. 157).
Another limitation of the study was that the only data source came from
interviews. Morrow (2005) discusses triangulation, or obtaining data from a variety of
sources, as a way of increasing trustworthiness and rigor in qualitative research.
Ethnographic methods, which can include field observations, focus groups, interviews,
and archival data, could be potentially useful in further understanding the process of
thriving in low-income urban communities of color.
Despite these limitations, this study does begin to unpack the phenomenon of
128
thriving for this particular urban community, and may have implications for people of
color living in urban poverty in other communities. Because the primary purpose of
qualitative research is not generalizability (Morrow, Rakhsha, & Castañeda, 2001), the
theoretical model in this study represents a local theory of thriving. However, the model
seems to resonate with previous studies of thriving (e.g., Poorman, 2002), and also has
implications for future research, since the core category of feeling valued has not been
explored much in connection to the experiences of poor people of color.
Implications and Future Directions
Implications for Research
The emergent theoretical model is a beginning look at the meanings, process, and
experience of thriving for poor people of color living in urban communities. The model
suggests that thriving is an active process that is embedded in various ecological contexts,
and is highly connected to the experience of people feeling that they are valued and
feeling that their community is valued. Future research could continue to explore the
relationship between feeling valued and thriving. Because thriving was defined as actions
that people take to increase feeling that self and community are valued, research might
further explore these actions. Continuing to use qualitative research methods holds
promise for further understanding the experience of thriving, particularly as there is so
little research to date on thriving. To continue empowering low-income urban
communities of color and countering deficit perspectives, emancipatory research
paradigms such as participatory action research are suggested. These approaches engage
in cyclical processes of gathering information and then using this knowledge to take
129
action that promotes social justice through collaboration with participants throughout the
process (Kidd & Krai, 2005). For the next phase of this project, I plan to present the
results to participants and other community members and engage in a collaborative
process of creating an action plan that involves advocacy.
The current study suggests that community members' interpersonal relationships
are important sources of thriving, in addition to relationships to their community and
sociopolitical institutions. Future research might continue to explore these relationships.
Relational Cultural Theory is a potentially promising paradigm for understanding the
connection between thriving and relationships (Miller & Stiver, 1997). The concept of
mutual empowerment as one that involves energy and action may be a helpful way to
conceptualize thriving in oppressive circumstances.
This study has important implications for challenging deficit perspectives in
understanding the lives of poor people of color living in urban communities. The
prevailing perspective on poor people and people of color has been through a lens of
deficit, focusing on skills, knowledge, and characteristics that people supposedly lack.
Taking into consideration the immense structural barriers faced by poor people of color, a
lens of thriving can provide a more realistic and strengths-based perspective,
demonstrating the efforts that people make to create fulfilling lives while navigating
overwhelming challenges. Future research might look at thriving as a continuum, further
unpacking the nuances of how people thrive and the types of circumstances that foster
this experience. Research also can explore thriving perspectives and deficit perspectives
as parallel ones that may be held simultaneously by mental health professionals in order
to understand how to foster strengths-based attitudes.
130
Perhaps the most significant implication for future research is an understanding of
thriving as a process that can and occur in the midst of stressful and traumatic
circumstances such as those created by racism and poverty in urban environments. This
stands in contrast to prior research that uses thriving as a proxy for resilience or posttraumatic growth, emphasizing the outcome of challenging life events (Ickovics & Park,
1998; Poorman, 2002). The theoretical model presented in this study demonstrates that
people of color living in urban poverty thrive by mobilizing emotional resources to
survive in often harrowing circumstances. To thrive, they must strive. They strive in spite
of barriers that are experienced on a day-to-day basis as immobile. They strive in part
because they have a vision of these barriers lifting one day, if not for them then for future
generations. Research on thriving might continue to explore thriving as a process that
occurs in the face of oppression, not as a potential outcome after a stressful or traumatic
event.
Implications for Training and Practice
Practice in counseling psychology is defined broadly here, recognizing the
significance of the roles counselors can and should play outside of traditional
psychotherapy in order to promote social justice (Goodman, Liang, Helms, Latta, Sparks,
& Weintraub, 2004; Vera & Speight, 2003). These roles include training and advocacy.
Overall, this study suggested that taking a systemic approach to enhance thriving when
working with people of color living in urban poverty is crucial. Counselors and
supervisors must be able to understand the various systems in which clients are
embedded, and be willing to explore the relationships that they have with these various
systems. Understanding the importance of processes beyond the intrapsychic and
131
relational is crucial to thriving.
Awareness of one's worldview and biases is an integral component of
multicultural competence for counselors and supervisors (Arredondo, 1999). Practitioners
must be able to examine and confront their biases about poor people of color in urban
communities. These biases can exist even if mental health professionals come from
similar communities. Practitioners must ask themselves if they can see the potential for
thriving in their clients of color from poor urban communities, and must be able to
process what is in the way of seeing this potential if barriers exist. This can also help
counselors and other mental health professionals to explore clients' own perceived
barriers to thriving. Counseling psychology programs need to develop training modules
that integrate an understanding of classism, as this is often left out of training in
multicultural competence and social justice advocacy (Smith, 2008).
This study has particular implications for social justice advocacy. Participants
spoke throughout the interviews about how they feel about their community, and much of
this was connected to insufficient resources and perceived lack of political representation
and investment in the community. While the study supports the conclusion that poor
people of color living in urban communities can and do see themselves as thriving, this
does not absolve mental health professionals of the responsibility to address unjust social
conditions exacerbated by racism, poverty and classism in low-income urban
communities. People are thriving, but they must expend great effort to do so against
overwhelming obstacles. This study lends credence to the assumption that all people have
the capacity to thrive, which renders it even more important to help remove obstacles that
intensify suffering. Smith, Chambers, and Bratini (2009) state that what we know about
132
oppression suggest that it is a "pathogen" that mental health professionals must work to
address beyond the confines of traditional practice. One way to do this is through PAR,
as discussed above. Counseling psychologists and other mental health professionals can
also engage in political advocacy by using their social power to influence mental health
policy. This study suggests that people of color living in urban poverty thrive through
feeling valued, and that working is one important way that individuals feel valued.
Mental health professionals can advocate for expanded employment opportunities that
help people engage meaningfully in their communities and bring about economic equality
(e.g., paying a living wage).
It is important to note that advocating for jobs alone will not be enough. Although
participants spoke repeatedly about the importance of working to feeling valued and
thriving, poor people of color rarely have access to jobs that increase their social and
political power, particularly in under-resourced urban communities. Psychologists must
continue to explore the impact of employment, welfare, and other economic policies on
the lives of poor people of color, and must advocate for changes that increase the ability
of individuals and communities to thrive rather than struggling to survive. As Lott and
Bullock (2007) have noted, current welfare policies emphasize the "behaviors and
choices of poor and working-class persons" when resources could be better spent
removing structural barriers to people's ability to experience a good quality of life (p.
108). Interventions that focus on fostering thriving will necessarily involve social justice
advocacy, and must integrate this advocacy with an understanding of what a good quality
of life means from the perspective of poor people of color.
Because such changes to social policy will not happen overnight, mental health
professionals can focus on the current capacities of individuals and communities. The
results of this study point to individuals' immense capacity to mobilize the resources they
have. At times, these resources are only internal (e.g., positive self-perceptions, belief in
God) or relational (e.g., friendliness and community support) in the face of multiple
barriers. Psychologists can focus on these resources and recognize people's agency
within the totality of the community context. Additionally, the results of this study point
to an incredible capacity for collective action in urban communities. Psychologists can
contribute to fostering thriving in poor communities of color by helping groups to
identify and mobilize their collective resources. Psychologists can and should clearly
recognize and use the greater political power that they hold as middle-class professionals
to make it more likely that the voices of poor people of color will be heard.
Conclusion
This study explored the meanings, processes, and sources of thriving for poor
people of color living in an urban community using a constructivist grounded theory
approach rooted in a critical multicultural feminist framework. Twenty-one Black and
Latino adults who received public assistance or lived in public housing participated in
interviews. From these interviews, a theoretical model emerged that suggested that
feeling valued and feeling that one's community is valued is an integral part of thriving.
Thriving was defined as taking action to support feeling valued, and participants talked
about numerous actions that are important to them, particularly working and helping
others. Community members described numerous barriers to feeling valued, and many of
these barriers were embedded in their community. They also named conditions that
134
supported feeling valued. The model suggests that thriving is an active process that
occurs alongside oppressive circumstances that are often traumatic and stressful. The
structural obstacles that exist in the community make it necessary for community
members to strive in order to thrive, meaning that they have to use vast amounts of
energy to mobilize the resources that they have to do well and feel good above and
beyond surviving.
According to Lott and Bullock (2007),
Psychologists need to study and write about the strengths, the creativity, the
knowledge and skills of poor people and about their hopes, dreams, and attitudes,
and we need to document how they negotiate meaningful lives. The objective is
not to romanticize the poor but to bring the complexity of such lives into
respectful and clear focus (p. 75).
By exploring concepts such as thriving, psychologists and other mental health
professionals can help understand how poor people of color in urban communities
"negotiate meaningful lives" and bring their voices and perspectives front and center,
challenging marginalization and deficit perspectives. This study has implications for
research and practice that integrates advocacy and understands people living in
oppressive circumstances as having relationships not just with themselves and others, but
with their communities and sociopolitical institutions. Thriving is a process that counters
degrading narratives about marginalized groups. It is a potential pathway for bridging the
artificial gap between mental health practice and social justice advocacy and creating a
world that connects people with one another more meaningfully.
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Appendix A
Interview Protocol
1 . How long have you lived in [community]?
2. How has living in this community impacted your well-being?
3. What is it like being a person of your race/culture/gender in this community?
4. What does thriving mean to you? (after their definition, provided this one: "For
this study, I'm defining thriving as doing well, feeling good, above and beyond
surviving. This could be emotional, physical, or spiritual.)
5. What helps you to thrive?
6. What does this community need to thrive?
7. Anything that you wish I would have asked? Anything else that you would like to
add?
146
Appendix B
Excerpt of Transcript with Initial Codes
V: I lived in [community] 20 years.
I: Mm hm. And what was your experience growing up here, the kind of, did you enjoy
growing up here or. . .
V: Yes.1
I: Yeah? And how do you think growing up here impacted like your well-being in
positive or negative ways? The way you feel?
V: Um..in a. . .in a negative way?
I: Either way
V: Positive way?
I: Yeah. Or neutral [laughs]
V: Neutral? In a neutral way, it, it helped me find myself and who I am today.
I: Mm hm
V: And um, it showed me how to be like a better parent. . .3
I: Mm hm.
1 Enjoyed growing up in [community] (initial code)
2 Growing up in [community] helped me find myself (initial code)
3 Growing up in [community] helped me be a better parent (initial code)
147
V: And um. . .and it showed me urn, how to care for my urn, environment
I: Mm hm. How, how did it show you that?
V: Uh, jobs that I was able to get. . .employment, like uh, summer youth employment,
when it was around, we usually would clean up the community, like the parks and
everything that we played in. . .
I: Mm hm
V: . . .and then like uh, they like redid the parks over and stuff. So like, process of like
being that I was in summer youth like, when I see them redoin' the parks, I wanted to
help like, keep the park more clean.
I: Right, right...
4 Growing up here showed me how to take care of my environment (initial code)
5 Thought: Youth employment in community. Different than/conflicts with earlier codes
about folks having to leave community for work, (response from peer reviewer)
6 Summer youth programs cleaning up the parks helped me want to take care of the
community (initial code)
Appendix C
Example of Focused and Axial Coding Process
Focused code: "helping others" derived from various initial codes:
Taking care of and helping people helps me to thrive (Dora)
I help people now, and I value myself more now (Felipe)
Helping others helps me to thrive (Regina)
Mentoring a child would help me to thrive (Elena)
Axial coding question: What different types of helping did participants describe?
Community involvement:
Volunteering lifts me up (Yvonne)
Volunteering at a women's organization helped me see things a different way
(Angela)
Volunteering in my community is important to me (Zaira)
Helping my family:
Helping my mother-in-law study keeps me going (Valentin)
I thrive by teaching my little brother the right way, how to be different from the
status quo (Carla)
Thriving is taking care of my grandkids (Jacob)
As more data was collected, a theoretical code of "Actions that support feeling
valued/thriving" was discovered, and "helping people" was one theme under this
category
149
Appendix D
Examples of Memos
Early memo on recruitment issues
On May 1st I talked to people on the streets between the CBO and the train station.
I gave them my flyer. Some people were polite, some did not meet criteria, some seemed
confused. One woman said she would come to the CBO on Monday. . .it was raining, and
she did not come. Thus far, I have only been able to connect with people that the peers
(and maybe employers) introduce me to. Even then, there are sometimes trust issues. Fm
hoping to talk to D this week, and he said, "you still haven't told me what the interviews
are about/for." Am I being unclear? It is very open-ended, Fm not sure what's going to
happen of course... and this is research. How relevant is it? Fm trying to be honest—yes,
I need to do this research to complete my degree, but I chose to do it here because I care
about the community. I mentioned politicians, sharing the results. He said "politicians are
always going to do what they need to do to be re-elected." I said, sure, but I still think
people's stories/voices are very important and can make a difference. . . .1 understand his
skepticism but am not sure how to communicate/penetrate. Maybe there is no way,
really...
Insider/outsider dilemmas. . ..I feel that I am perceived mostly as an outsider.
Unless they ask, most people don't know about my insider connection, my history, and I
wonder if I should tell them more. I will, if there are trust issues. . .but what does this
mean? The only insider connection I have now is my affiliation with [CBO]. Should I tell
people immediately, I grew up in this city and I care about this community? How do
people know that I'm not from the community? My speech? My clothing?
150
Later memo on explaining community problems
More and more as I read and write I am seeing and feeling the tensions between
individual and systemic/structural explanations of the problems in the community. This is
not just when people make those tensions explicit within one sentence, like Angela when
she says, "Well, the economy right now is really messed up! I mean, so, I see the, you
know, you know, I don't respect what the people do, but, I see, you know, where they
comin' from because like, some people can't get jobs out here." She's struggling with it as
she speaks. She's saying that she can't support the negative things that people do- the
crimes that people commit. But at the same time, she understands the lure of dealing
drugs because it's really hard to support a family. She knows that from experience. And
she is on welfare, but she's striving as a Latina to do something different.
There are others, like Candace, that don't struggle with these explanations in the
same way, at least not in how they talk about them. They contradict themselves within
the interview. They say very clearly that people's behavior contributes to the conditions
of the community. They talk about individuals not taking care of themselves, and how
"horrible" this is, leading to outcomes such as HIV. They talk about staying away from
bad influences in the community, including people on welfare. In a way, I think Fm
distancing myself from these descriptions of people. Her comments remind me of parts of
Elena's interview. She talks about how people are fat and lazy and don't leave the
community. But both of them describe struggles in the community that are structural.
Candace says that not everyone has support to overcome things, and maybe she
recognizes that she does have support. At the same time, she is unemployed and talks
about the problems with the lack ofjobs- not enough for the number of people applying.
151
This does not sound like people are lazy and not taking care of themselves at home, but
maybe she is distancing herself from the rest of her community because it's important to
maintain an image that she is in control or different. Elena similarly shares all of the
challenges of living in a poor community, from crime and violence to poor schools to
substance abuse and HIV. So she probably sees a connection between these structural
problems and people's suffering. She generalizes about the "inner city." Her take on it is
that growing up in such a tough environment made her stronger, helped her in being able
to face challenges like mingling with the elites and raising a "multiply challenged"
daughter.
Another thing that Candace says is that people don't have enough knowledge
because they're not educated enough. That is difficult to interpret- are they responsible for
going out and educating themselves? Are the resources there? Or is she saying that lack
of education is a part of the problem? I believe she said this pretty soon after talking
about the "horrible" conditions of people not taking care of themselves and how this
contributes to the community. I wonder how much this is connected to her beliefs about
the problem of people not venturing out of [community].
152
Table 1
Participant Demographics
Name Age Gender Race/culture
Parent
Public
Employment Education
assistance
Jasmin
Wl
tBoricua
Yes
Public
Angela
28
Latina
Yes
TANF
Mark
K3
M
African
Yes
Public
Alfonso
Dora
52
M
housing
Kmerican
Wl
Puerto Rican
Hispanic
m
M
Charlotte 56
Eaira
50
Edouard 20
M
GED
Unemployed
GED
[Unemployed T grade
Unemployed High
school
housing
Hispanic/Latino
Yes
Public
housin g_
Employed
part-time
African
American
Puerto Rican
Yes
Public
Volunteer
Black/Haitian
8th grade
housing
Yes SSI
Yes Public
[American
Felipe
Volunteer
educator
Volunteer
educator
housing
Yes
No
housing and
Volunteer
educator
SSI
Public
Student
Public
housing
2 year
degree
2 year
degree
GED
Working
on 4 year
degree
Unemployed 4 year
degree
Regina
50
African
American
Yes
SSI
Elena
52
Puerto Rican
Yes
Public
Unemployed
housing
Carla
25
Hispanic
No
Puerto Rican/
NuYorican
Yes
college
Seeking work 4 year
degree
Unemployed T grade
Public
housing
Walentin 28
M
Cesar
K5
M
Hispanic
Yes
Jacob
58
M
Black
Yes
Public
Some
housing
Public
Unemployed 10m grade
housing
Public
Unemployed 10th grade
housing
Ernesto
K3
M
Puerto Rican
Yes
American
[Tonya
\M
Black/Puerto
Yes
Rican
Candace 34
Dominican/
No
Diana
African
American
Puerto Rican
Yes
24
and Italian
Public
Unemployed
GED
housing
Food stamps Employed
High
school
part-time
Section 8
Unemployed Some
college
Public
housing and
SSI
Volunteer
educator
Some
graduate
school
153
Name
Age Gender Race/culture
Lorenzo n9
M
Puerto Rican
Parent
Public
assistance
Yes Homeless
Employment Education
Unemployed 8tn grade
shelter
Dolores
18
Puerto Rican
Yes
Section 8
Student
Working
on 2 year
degree
154
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Conditions that support feeling valued
Individual conditions:
•
Positive self-perceptions
Family/relational conditions
•
Supportive relationships
•
Mutual support
•
Seeing positive changes in family
Cultural/community conditions
•
Friendliness and community support
•
Community resources
•
Outdoor environment
•
Community pride
•
Racial/ethnic pride, harmony, and belonging
Sociopolitical/Institutional conditions
•
Opportunities for employment
Barriers to feeling valued
Individual barriers
•
Substance abuse
•
HIV/AIDS
•
Depression
•
Incarceration
•
Individual attitudes and behaviors
Family/relational barriers
•
Substance abuse
•
Violence
•
Parenting stress
Community/cultural barriers
•
Poverty
•
Violence
•
Substance abuse and HIV
•
Problems with community services
•
Racial/ethnic tension and conflict
•
"Getting stuck"
•
Cultural isolation and disconnection
•
Devaluation of women
•
Homophobia
Sociopolitical/Institutional Barriers
•
Lack of political representation and voice
•
Racial profiling and disrespect by police
Actions that support feeling valued
Working
Helping people
•
Community involvement
•
Helping my family
Reaching out for help
Taking care of myself
Staying positive
Praying to, believing in, and serving God
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