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Study: Despite Hardships, Black Men in Urban Communities Are Resilient

Update Date: Jul 06, 2012 01:49 PM EDT

A new University of Missouri study is trying to find out some strengths of black men and ways to reinforce that strength in a society that is "not designed to help them attain good health and success."

"Too often, researchers focus on Black men's weaknesses rather than their strengths," said Michelle Teti, assistant professor of health sciences in the MU School of Health Professions. "By understanding what's working, we can reinforce those positive behaviors and help men make healthier choices."

Racial discrimination, incarceration and poverty are some dominant factors in the lives of black men, especially those living in low-income urban areas.

"Low-income, Black, urban men desperately need jobs; they need quality educations; they need policies designed to keep them out of prisons," said Principal Investigator of the study Lisa Bowleg. They need opportunities to make living wages for themselves and their families; they need safer neighborhoods. "The most disconcerting aspects of our research on resilience were the narratives of men who were doggedly trying to be resilient in the face of seemingly insurmountable social-structural obstacles."

Researchers looked at how low-income black men living in urban areas "demonstrate positive mental health regardless of stress and adversity."

"Resilience is not a psychological trait that you either are born with or not; resilience can be taught and nurtured," said Bowleg. "Accordingly, our findings suggest we can use resilience strategies used by men in our study to teach other low-income Black men how to better protect themselves and their sexual partners from risk despite some harsh social-structural realities."

Researchers interviewed several black men who endured racism, incarceration, unemployment and fighting for survival in rough neighborhoods. The research revealed that perseverance, commitment to learn from hardships, reflecting and refocusing to address difficulties, creating supportive environments and obtaining support from religion and spirituality were all ways in which black men coped with their issues.

Teti and Bowleg say community members and government officials should do more to prepare Black men for success rather than failure and, in particular, to teach them protective behaviors against HIV.

"It is admirable that these men are resilient in the face of such severe challenges; however, the men's efforts only can be translated into success if they are supported by social environments and policies that change the odds against them," Teti said.

The study was published in Qualitative Health Research and funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Development.

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