Reimagining Resilience: Exploring Black Early Adolescent Girls’ Experiences, Desires, and Needs While Growing Up In Baltimore City

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"Reimagining Resilience: Exploring Black Early Adolescent Girls’ Experiences, Desires, and Needs While Growing Up In Baltimore City" asks the following research questions: What are black early adolescent girls’ resilience strategies while growing up in poor and working class communities in Baltimore City? What are the girls’ perceptions of their own life experiences, desires, needs, and the quality of their interpersonal relationships?

This dissertation is informed by a three year longitudinal ethnographic and participant action research study, conducted from 2010-2013, at a Baltimore City public school. Eighty-five, hour-long, weekly and biweekly workshops were conducted with 55 black middle school girls between the ages of 11-14 years old, who were in three different grade-based cohorts, until their respective eighth grade graduations.

The black early adolescent girls in this study shared that their major stressors were feeling misunderstood, increased domestic and academic responsibilities as they transitioned into adolescence, conflicts with peers and adults, cyberbullying on popular social media sites, race, gender, and class stigmatization and policing at school, a lack of social supports, pressure to engage in sexual activities, physical and sexual violation, navigating structurally decaying neighborhoods, and community violence.

This dissertation argues that black early adolescent girls utilize resilience strategies, particularly, self-assertion, storytelling, creativity, play, and community building to cope with these daily stressors and other traumatic life events. This dissertation explores connections between adolescent development, relational aggression, adverse childhood experiences, emotional intelligence, neuroplasticity, and resilience. It suggests that holistic wellness approaches such as mindfulness and play based therapy, socioemotional learning opportunities, restorative justice, facilitated intergroup dialogue, story exchange, participant action research, and comprehensive and medically accurate sexual education interventions that listen to black girls’ perceptions of their own experiences and needs can help schools promote health equity among adolescents in Baltimore City, the United States, and the world.