Why Are Black Youth Not Politically Inclined

by June 10, 2011

Special from The Chicago Crusader –  A majority of Black youth are not politically involved especially those from low-income households, according to a yearlong study conducted by a group of high school students. A group of juniors from Kenwood Academy High School and undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Chicago (U of C), both on the South Side, collaborated on a research project to find out where Black youth stood politically during the era of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president.

The U of C has had a longstanding relationship with Kenwood dating back to 2001 when it started the “Program of Academic Exploration for High School Students,” said Bill Harms, a spokesman for the U of C. And, this project titled “Black Youth & Politics in the Age of Obama” is a resumption of it. The study focused on youth between the ages 16 to 19 and looked at other factors, such as household income and religion. More than 100 students filled out surveys and were then interviewed about their responses, said Auriel Jamison, a Kenwood student.

“Those low-income youth who are involved in politics do so in a traditional way opposed to youth from upper-income households who participate in non-traditional ways,” Jamison said recently at a public presentation of the study’s results. “We found that youth from low-income homes felt alienated from the government and Black youth overall felt like second-class citizens.” An example of traditional activity is youth, who were eligible to vote, actually do vote. Non-traditional activity include students who protest in person or through a blog or Web site. Middle-class youth were more non-traditional when it came to politics, according to the study. Religion also is a factor. According to the study, low income students who participated in church activities were more inclined to be involved in politics compared to those who skipped church. Sonya Malunda, associate vice president for the Office of Civic Engagement at the U of C, said the project was structured as part of a course taught weekly at Kenwood.

“This is an ongoing relationship we have with Kenwood high school and one that we will build upon in years to come,” Malunda told the Crusader. “The university is excited to work with students and encourage this type of local partnership with schools and other institutions.” In 2009, roughly 30 Kenwood students agreed to participate in the study and to attend meetings at the U of C to discuss and analyze the pros and cons of youth involvement in politics.

And the goal, said Cathy Cohen, U of C. political science professor, who also worked with the students on the project, was to teach Kenwood students how to design and implement a research project.

“The expectation was that by teaching young people how to do research they could use those skills to voice their concerns, since youth are not typically provided the opportunity to have their voices included in important policy and political discussions, even those that impact them directly,” added Cohen.

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