Children and Youth Services Review 98 (2019) 284–289
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Children and Youth Services Review
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/childyouth
Community needs of minority male youth living in inner-city Chicago
Khary K. Rigg , Roxann McNeish , Daniel Schadrac , Alejandra Gonzalez , Quynh Tran
Department of Mental Health Law & Policy, University of South Florida, United States
Department of Child & Family Studies, University of South Florida, United States
Under the Rainbow, Sinai Health System, United States
A B S T R A C T
Youth living in low income, urban inner-city environments are exposed to a variety of risk factors for poor psychosocial outcomes. Some of these factors include
poverty, inadequate housing, and exposure to gang activity and violence. Despite the well-documented risks of inner-city living, questions still remain regarding how
best to improve the wellbeing of minority youth living in these communities and additional research is still needed. The goal of the current study, therefore, was to
assess Black and Hispanic inner-city male youth's perceptions of the most pressing needs facing their community. As existing research disproportionately relies on
surveys and existing databases to identify the needs of inner-city communities, this study provides a unique contribution to the literature in the utilization of a
qualitative methodology. Focus groups were conducted with minority boys living in inner-city Chicago. Audiotapes of these focus groups were transcribed, coded,
and thematically analyzed using the NVivo software program. Youth reported community violence prevention, organized recreational activities, and safe parks as
their most salient community needs. These data support the need for alternatives-based interventions and additional funding for violence prevention initiatives. This
study improves our understanding of what inner-city minority boys view as their most pressing neighborhood needs and should lead to more relevant community
programming and tailored interventions.
Youth living in low income, urban inner-city environments are exposed to a variety of risk factors for poor psychosocial outcomes (Jones,
2017; Post et al., 2014). The concentration of these risk factors in these
communities can cause a variety of challenges for residents. One of the
most powerful risk factors within most inner cities is poverty. Poverty is
a known predictor of mental fatigue, hopelessness, and despair (Flèche
& Layard, 2017), and is a barrier to accessing both health and social
services (Harrison, McKay, & Bannon Jr., 2004). Research also shows
that poor inner-city areas tend to have high levels of crime, violence
and homicide (Busey, Kinyoun-Webb, Martin-McKay, & Mao, 2006;
Kliewer et al., 2004). Exposure to violence is another risk factor that
contributes to adverse health and psychosocial consequences in youth
(Dill & Ozer, 2016). Youth who are exposed to violence are more likely
to exhibit aggressive behaviors, anxiety, PTSD symptoms, and a sense of
hopelessness, among other problems (Bolland, Lian, & Formichella,
2005; Paxton, Robinson, Shah, & Schoeny, 2004; Spano, Rivera, &
Bolland, 2006; Thompson Jr & Massat, 2005).
Poverty also has implications for inner-city schools. Because public
schools rely heavily on property taxes for funding, inner-city schools
tend to be under-resourced, often lacking educational resources commonly found in most schools (Blanchett, Mumford, & Beachum, 2005).
Additionally, low-income inner-city youth are more likely to experience
poor academic achievement and low attendance than their suburban
counterparts (Anderson et al., 2003). These deﬁcits are usually accompanied by few accelerated educational opportunities (e.g., gifted
programs), limited extracurricular programs, and a high number of
uncertiﬁed or provisionally licensed teachers (Blanchett et al., 2005).
Exacerbating these challenges even further, inner-city schools are often
forced to accommodate more students than they can handle, leading to
overcrowding which is associated with school violence and poor academic performance among youth (Goux & Maurin, 2005; Smith &
Poor academic performance is associated with many negative outcomes for youth, including smoking, drinking, drug use, suicidal ideations, risky sexual behaviors, and violent acts (Byrd, 2005). Academic
failure also has psychological and social implications beyond the poor
physical health outcomes, including feeling sad and anxious, and experiencing social isolation (Al-Zoubi & Younes, 2015). Grade retention
can worsen youth's self-esteem and impact the development of peer
groups as it becomes challenging and embarrassing for youth to form
new friendships with younger children (Byrd, 2005). In addition, failing
students who have to repeat a grade are more likely to drop out of
school and this risk increases as the students' age increases (Byrd,
Collectively, the above factors create conditions whereby inner-city
youth become susceptible to street gangs (Howell & Griﬃths, 2015).
E-mail address: email@example.com (K.K. Rigg).
Received 6 November 2018; Received in revised form 8 January 2019; Accepted 9 January 2019
Available online 10 January 2019
0190-7409/ © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Children and Youth Services Review 98 (2019) 284–289
K.K. Rigg et al.
Gang involvement can become an attractive option because it can be
accompanied by newfound income and social recognition (Bolland,
2003; Estrada Jr, Gilreath, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2016). Gang involvement also becomes attractive to youth because membership can
provide teenagers with a sense of belonging and protection from victimization (Spano, Freilich, & Bolland, 2008). Gang membership,
however, is associated with a much higher risk of arrest and increase in
violent behavior, as well as many other illegal activities (Vowell & May,
2000; Wood & Dennard, 2017).
It is worth noting that Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately
exposed to these risk factors because of their higher concentration in
inner-city communities (Krivo, Vélez, Lyons, Phillips, & Sabbath, 2018).
One of the reasons for this is that over the last few decades millions of
African-Americans have moved out of the rural south to urban cities in
search of jobs (Massey, 2008; Quillian, 1999). Blacks are also concentrated in the inner cities because of policies like “redlining” that
prevented Blacks from buying homes in higher income neighborhoods
outside urban cores (Hillier, 2003; Zenou & Boccard, 2000). Additionally, ethnic enclaves tend to be in urban areas, resulting in a high
number of Hispanics residing in the inner-city (Portes & Puhrmann,
2015). These trends, paired with the fact that whites over the past
several decades have been moving to more suburban areas to escape the
so-called inﬂux of minorities, have resulted in Blacks and Hispanics
being overrepresented in urban cores (Harris, 2001). This means that
Black and Hispanic youth are disproportionately aﬀected by the negative inﬂuences of low-income inner-city living.
Despite the well-documented risks of inner-city living (Annunziata,
Hogue, Faw, & Liddle, 2006), additional research is still needed on the
speciﬁc needs of minority youth living in these communities. Some
eﬀorts to improve psychosocial outcomes among urban minority youth
have been unsuccessful and questions still remain regarding how best to
improve their wellbeing. Research on inner-city problems are most
commonly done through the use of quantitative assessments that rely
on databases from law enforcement, school systems, and government
(Seraﬁni, Donovan, Wendt, Matsumiya, & McCarty, 2017; Teach et al.,
2015). Because quantitative indicators seem straightforward and
manageable as a starting point, policymakers often rely on such studies
to inform interventions. Although, these types of studies have been
useful in identifying risk factors within inner city neighborhoods, they
often do not capture the voices of minority youth living in these communities. As a result, interventions have the potential to be irrelevant
and, in some cases, harmful when people's everyday experiences and
perspectives are not seriously considered. There has, however, been a
recent push to include the input of minority youth in research studies
(Hills, 2000; Murphy & Rigg, 2014).
health crisis” (Alexander & West, 2012; Chicago Police Department,
2011; Cook County Government, 2016; Stevens & Morash, 2015). Not
only are violent crimes high in Chicago, but recent data suggest that the
problem is worsening with 496 murders occurring in Chicago in 2015,
compared with 762 in 2016 (Rapid City Journal, 2017). Accordingly,
studies based in Chicago are especially timely because additional data
are urgently needed to inform interventions for this and other urban
areas struggling with violent crime (Brown & Kiersz, 2018).
The current study responds to the need for additional research on
issues aﬀecting the wellbeing of urban minority youth (Carter, Walker,
Cutrona, Simons, & Beach, 2016; Myers et al., 2015). This study attempts to ﬁll this gap by presenting data collected directly from innercity Black and Hispanic male youth. Engaging the voice of minority
youth can help create better understanding of their most pressing
psychosocial needs and should lead to more relevant community programming. Speciﬁcally, the purpose of this study was to assess minority
youth's perceptions on what programs or supports would best promote
their wellbeing in their communities.
1.1. The current study
Focus group participants were recruited with the collaboration of
community partner organizations that worked directly with these
youth. These community partners included local chapters of national
organizations that provide youth mentoring and other positive youth
development activities, as well as local organizations that provide social
services to youth and families. Partners were told about the purpose of
the needs assessment and were asked to recommend youth who would
be willing to participate. Recruitment was done with youth who were
already participating in the various programs oﬀered by these community partners. To be included in the study, youth had to be AfricanAmerican or Hispanic, and residing in one of the three focus communities. All focus group were conducted in English, but one included a
translator who translated the questions into Spanish and the answers
from Spanish to English. Informed consents were obtained prior to the
start of the groups by a facilitator. Participants were compensated with
a $10 gift card for their time and food was also provided to the participants. Staﬀ (project coordinators) facilitated all eight focus groups.
Each groups was audiotaped with the consent of participants and
transcribed by staﬀ. There was also a note taker present at each of the
groups to provide supplemental information to the transcribed data.
To gain the perspective of the youth, eight focus groups were conducted with 6–10 participants in each group; total participants for all
focus groups were about 65. All participants in the focus groups conducted in schools were either Black or Hispanic male youth who were
residents of one of three low-income, gang-exposed focus communities.
The youth ranged in age from 10 to 18, with a mean age of 14 years old.
Most of the students (~60%) were Hispanic, primarily of Mexican
descent. The focus groups were conducted in collaboration with community partners located in the focus neighborhoods where the project
was being implemented. All focus groups were conducted between
November 2015 and February 2016 at local public schools, and also at a
partner agency's location in the three neighborhoods. Close to 70% of
the youth participants were high school students. A topical guide with
probes was used to help facilitate the focus group discussions. Probes
included asking the participants how they viewed their neighborhood,
how others viewed their neighborhood, and what was needed to improve the neighborhood for youth. Prior to the groups, reviews of the
literature, as well as other reports on community conditions and data
were conducted to assess information gaps and potential areas of emphasis.
2.1. Recruitment and procedures
This study provides a unique contribution to the literature in the
utilization of a qualitative methodology. Focus groups are an eﬀective
method to collect data from people with shared experiences and are
commonly used to explore the viewpoints of marginalized groups,
which has the potential to reveal insider perspectives about community
needs (Dognin, Sedlander, Jay, & Ades, 2017). Furthermore, focus
group data are better able than survey instruments to represent the
complex issues that contribute to psychosocial problems among youth
and might also give a fuller understanding than a standard questionnaire regarding the pressures, inﬂuences, and lived experiences that
are a day-to-day reality for urban minority youth (Rigg & Murphy,
2013). As such, studies that analyze their narratives have the potential
to shed new light on inner-city living through a more contextual understanding of risk factors which can help identify points of intervention.
This study is particularly relevant because it was based in inner-city
Chicago, a region impacted by crime and infrastructure decay (Berman,
2016), and where city oﬃcials have deemed gun violence a “public
Children and Youth Services Review 98 (2019) 284–289
K.K. Rigg et al.
youth as aversive and often traumatic. Violence was a major barrier to
youth being able to fully enjoy their community and the people in it.
This participant describes how the threat of violence was not only a
signiﬁcant source of stress, but caused him to question his family's
decision to live there entirely:
2.2. Data analysis
All interview transcripts were subsequently imported into NVivo, a
qualitative data analysis computer software program. The use of this
software package's search engine and query functions enhanced the
ability to identify patterns and search for salient themes in the data.
Although the topic guide covered several subjects, the analysis presented here focuses on the needs that youth saw as being most important in their neighborhood. There were no a priori coding categories
identiﬁed and themes were allowed to emerge from the data. The focus
groups transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis (Braun &
Clarke, 2006). This is a widely used method for identifying and reporting patterns and themes within text data. It was chosen because it is
a ﬂexible technique that is relatively accessible and can be used to
analyze data obtained under a number of qualitative theoretical frameworks (Douglas, Hamilton, & Grubs, 2009). The use of thematic
analysis is appropriate in cases such as this, where the research question
is broad and the goal is to identify and richly describe participants'
Analysis was theoretically informed by a subtle realist paradigm,
which assumes that we can only understand a phenomenon from our
own perspective of it (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Subtle realists state that
even though all research involves subjective perceptions and observations, this subjectivity does not preclude the existence of independent
phenomena. Furthermore, the experiences of individuals can be studied
by systematically examining the narratives that people use (Rigg &
Murphy, 2013). This study, therefore, analyzed the narrative accounts
of participants' experiences to gain a contextual understanding of their
perceptions of their community's needs.
Braun and Clarke's (2006) six-step process for conducting thematic
analysis was followed. During the ﬁrst phase, the researcher became
familiar with the data by reading each transcript twice. On the second
reading, initial ideas for coding were noted in the memo feature of the
software program (analogous to writing observations in the margins).
The second phase is where initial codes were generated. The researcher
systematically coded each community need identiﬁed by participants
across the entire data set and collated data relevant to each code. Once
all data had been initially coded and collated, step three began. This
involved sorting the codes into potential themes and gathering all the
text data relevant to community needs. Phase four consisted of reviewing and reﬁning the devised set of initial themes by checking if the
data cohered together meaningfully within each theme. Phase ﬁve is
where the speciﬁcs of each theme were decided upon and the overall
story of the data emerged. In the sixth and ﬁnal phase, the report was
written, and compelling excerpts from participants were chosen to illustrate each theme. Two members of the research team independently
reviewed and coded the transcripts, which enabled the researchers to
compare and contrast codes, eventually agreeing on a ﬁnal set of
themes. These themes are further discussed in the following sections.
“They're always coming around starting problems, looking for
trouble. You've got to keep your head on your shoulders. I'd like to
live somewhere where we don't have to do that. People are always
stopping me and asking me where I'm from. I never know what to
say to it because I might say the wrong thing and they might do
Much of the violence was perpetrated by street gangs and violating
gang boundaries was commonly cited as a reason for being attacked.
We found that youth were very knowledgeable regarding gang “rules”
(e.g., territorial boundaries) and that this heavily restricted their behavior such as where they could walk, play, and who they could talk to.
Many of these unwritten rules pertained to certain streets that were “oﬀ
limits” to people who were not from a certain gang. According to youth,
violating such rules would likely result in being punched, kicked,
stabbed, or shot. This participant describes how he ﬁrst learned about
some of these gang imposed community rules:
“I moved here from Florida, they told me you're not supposed to go
down that street because I'll be mistaken for one of the gangs from
that side or something like that. Basically, no person of color is allowed to move to that street.”
Although simply living under the threat of violence was described as
stressful, it was not uncommon to hear reports of youth and their loved
ones actually being victimized. Stories about either themselves or loved
ones being shot or “jumped” were quite common. Youth expressed
anger and frustration when retelling these stories that usually involved
a friend or family member being victimized. The following victimization story was typical:
“One day I was being dropped oﬀ. My coworker mistakenly took [a
certain street] trying to take a shortcut, we got shot at twice. One of
them busted the back window. We made it…but I got really upset.
How can I be in a country that says land of the free and I can't even
walk down the street? It's really sad to know that this is what
3.2. Scarcity of organized recreational activities
Another reoccurring issue for youth was the paucity of organized
recreational activities such as neighborhood sports teams and schoolbased extracurricular activities. Youth expressed a desire to have more
“things to do” after school and on the weekends. This lack of options
was oﬀered as a reason that youth in their neighborhoods get into
“trouble.” In fact, not having recreational options was a contributing
factor for why some of their peers decided to join gangs or became
mixed up with the “wrong crowd.” There was an appreciation among
participants that criminal activity and gang involvement be ...
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