Exploring the Overlooked Role of Culture in Helping Kids of Color Succeed

Posted April 25, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog considerculture 2017

A case study from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion explores the impor­tant and often over­looked role that cul­ture can play in shap­ing pro­grams and prac­tices aimed at lev­el­ing life’s play­ing field for chil­dren of color.

The case study, Con­sid­er­ing Cul­ture, is root­ed in two find­ings: 1) that the tra­di­tions, social prac­tices and per­vad­ing men­tal­i­ties of com­mu­ni­ties of col­or are very dif­fer­ent than in pre­dom­i­nant­ly white com­mu­ni­ties; and 2) that chil­dren of col­or face tougher odds and expe­ri­ence few­er gains than their white coun­ter­parts at every step — from birth to adulthood.

Despite these well-doc­u­ment­ed dif­fer­ences, there are very few evi­dence-based pro­grams inten­tion­al­ly geared toward com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, accord­ing to Con­sid­er­ing Cul­ture, which is the fourth install­ment in a five-part Race for Results case study series.

This pre­vail­ing lack of rig­or­ous­ly test­ed and tar­get­ed options for help­ing some of our nation’s most vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren suc­ceed is both a glar­ing omis­sion and a great oppor­tu­ni­ty. In its case study, the Casey Foun­da­tion under­scores a need to sup­port more researchers of col­or as well as more research-dri­ven, cul­tur­al­ly based approach­es to serv­ing com­mu­ni­ties of color.

Beyond iden­ti­fy­ing these impor­tant miss­ing pieces, the Foun­da­tion also exam­ines the efforts of pro­grams and non­prof­its already engaged in cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant, com­mu­ni­ty-spe­cif­ic work. Some ear­ly lessons learned from these efforts — as out­lined in the case study — include:

  • Cul­ture is key
    Under­stand­ing a community’s unique eth­nic cul­ture and incor­po­rat­ing this knowl­edge into an evi­dence-based pro­gram can sup­port both the program’s uptake and its long-term success.
  • The right part­ner­ships are powerful 
    Research insti­tu­tions, uni­ver­si­ties and gov­ern­ment agen­cies have expe­ri­ence when it comes to devel­op­ing, val­i­dat­ing, and fund­ing evi­dence-based pro­grams. Part­ner­ing with these insti­tu­tions is a smart move for small orga­ni­za­tions work­ing toward evi­dence-based status.
  • Know your options
    In some com­mu­ni­ties, the type of data col­lec­tion need­ed to achieve evi­dence-based sta­tus can feel too inva­sive and dis­com­fort­ing — and ulti­mate­ly turn a com­mu­ni­ty off. In these instances, com­mu­ni­ty-defined evi­dence may be an effec­tive alternative.
  • Give the com­mu­ni­ty a say
    Look to com­mu­ni­ties of col­or to define their own needs and desires — and describe what suc­cess looks like for them.

Read the case study

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