Ten years of research yields fresh insights into why some impoverished Baltimore youth thrive while others don’t.
The book Coming of Age in the Other America is the product of a years-long in-depth study of disadvantaged youth who grew up in Baltimore in the ’80s and ’90s. Some of them are thriving now. Some of them aren’t. Evidence points to the importance of “identity projects” and one’s neighborhood.
According to coverage in The Atlantic, the Baltimoreans who went on to higher education and “decent jobs” after a disadvantaged youth were often able to do so because of “identity projects” — personal hobbies that inspired them — whether they took they were an interest in Japanese anime, Insane Clown Posse, dance, or something else.
That finding adds some heft to the argument that arts classes and after-school clubs, often among the first programs a school cuts in a budget squeeze, may actually be the most critical.
The researchers also discovered more precisely how living in a depressed neighborhood affects one’s life decisions. They found that despite students’ drive and promise they might find themselves stuck in a low-paying job with no mobility because their desire to get out of their living situation prompts them to take the first opportunity that comes a long, rather than hold out for something better.
With a renewed focus on inequality in Baltimore following the upheaval over the police-custody death of Freddie Gray, the book couldn’t be coming out at a better time. “The story that had unfolded over our decade of research,” the authors write in the introduction, “was strikingly different from the ‘thug’ narrative spun by politicians and news anchors alike.”
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