Exploring African American Male Youth’s Perceptions of Community Involvement Through 4-H Programs





African American males, Black youth, community involvement, civic participation, extracurricular activities


Civic engagement research suggests that youths’ involvement in their communities results in a number of positive personal and social attributes. However, among urban populations, there is still a dearth of research on their involvement and the impact of civic participation on their development. More importantly within these populations, there is limited understanding of how Black male youth engage within civic participatory spaces. Increasing but limited research on young Black male youth usually focuses on identity, participation in programs, and socioeconomic levels. Further understanding is needed as to the factors which influence and impact Black male youths’ interests and actual participation in community and extracurricular activities. This paper explores data from urban African American high school male youth that include their perceptions and knowledge and attitudes toward being involved in their community through 4-H youth programs. The authors find that opportunities to learn a new skill and building professional portfolios assist these young Black males in their perception of being effective in their communities and making a difference for themselves.

Author Biographies

Maurice Smith, Jr., U.S. Department of Agriculture

Institute of Youth, Family and Community, National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Nicole Webster, Pennsylvania State University

Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education

Roshan Nayak, University of California

Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 4-H Youth Development Program


Alston, A., Crutchfield, C. (2009). A descriptive analysis of the perceptions of North Carolina 4-H agents toward minority youth participation in agricultural-related activities. Journal of Extension [On–line], 47(5), v47-5rb5. https://archives.joe.org/joe/2009october/rb5.php

Belgrave, F. Z., & Allison, K. W. (2018). African American psychology: From Africa to America. SAGE.

Belgrave, F. Z., & Brevard, J. K. (2015). Introduction: Contextual and theoretical framework. In F. Z. Belgrave & J. K. Brevard (Eds.), African American boys: Identity, culture, and development (pp. 3-12). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-1717-4

Bethell, D. (2013). A comparative perspective of Black college males on the achievement gap: Implications for school counselors [Doctoral dissertation, University of South Florida]. Scholar Commons. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Bush, E. C. (2013). Introducing African American male theory (AAMT). Journal of African American Males in Education, 4(1), 18434.

Bush, E. C., & Bush, L. V. (2010). Calling out the elephant: An examination of African American male achievement in community colleges. Journal of African American Males in Education, 1(1), 40-62.

Cano, J. & Bankston, J. (1992). Factors which influence participation and non–participation of ethnic minority youth in Ohio 4–H programs. Journal of Agricultural Education, 33(1), 23-29.

Chilek, K. D. (2012). Why 4-H members leave: A study of discontinuance through both current 4-H members and former members. Texas A&M University.

Colvin, L. (1991). Society paints wrong view of young, Black males: Dress, language seen as "misunderstood". New Journal and Guide (1916-2003).

Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). SAGE.

Cunningham, M. (1999). African American adolescent males' perceptions of their community resources and constraints: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Community Psychology, 5, 569-588.

Francois, S., Overstreet, S., & Cunningham, M. (2012). Where we live: The unexpected influence of urban neighborhoods on the academic performance of African American adolescents. Youth & Society, 44(2), 307–328. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X11399109

Franklin, C. (1994). Men's studies, the men's movement, and the study of Black masculinities: Further demystification of masculinities in America. In. R. G. Majors. & J. U. Gordon (Eds.), The American Black male: His present status and his future (pp. 3-20). Nelson-Hall.

Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2008). Participation in extracurricular activities in the middle school years: Are there developmental benefits for African American and European American youth? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(9), 1029-1043. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964–008–9309–4

Ginwright, S. A. (2007). Black youth activism and the role of critical social capital in Black community organizations. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(3), 403-418.

Givens, J. R., Nasir, N. I., Ross, K., & de Royston, M. M. (2016). Modeling manhood: Reimagining Black male identities in school. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 47(2), 167-185.

Harris, W., & Ferguson, R. (Eds). (2010). What's up with the brothers? Essays and studies on African American masculinities. Men's Studies Press.

Harris, P. C., Hines, E. M., Kelly, D. D., Williams, D. J., & Bagley, B. (2014). Promoting the academic engagement and success of Black male student-athletes. The High School Journal, 97(3), 180-195. http://ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/docview/1518519743?accountid=13158

Hansen, D. M., Larson, R. W., & Dworkin, J. B. (2003). What adolescents learn in organized youth activities: A survey of self‐reported developmental experiences. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 13(1), 25-55. https://doi.org/10.1111/1532–7795.1301006

Hibert, T. P. (2000). Defining belief in self: Intelligent young men in an urban high school. Gifted Child Quarterly, 44(2), 91-114. https://doi.org/10.1177/001698620004400203

Hill, R. B. (1997, July 20). A ‘strengths perspective’ on Black families. The Baltimore Sun. Available at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1997-07-21/news/1997202116_1_black-families-youth-and-families-white-families

Howard, T. C., & Noguera, P. (2014). Black male (d): Peril and promise in the education of African American males. Teachers College Press.

Jones, D. J., Bibbins, V. E., & Henderson, R. D. (1993). Reaffirming young African American males: Mentoring and community involvement by fraternities and other groups. The Urban League Review, 16(2), 9-19.

Kafele, B. K. (2009). Motivating Black males to achieve in school & in life. ASCD.

Kirshner, B. (2007). Introduction: Youth activism as a context for learning and development. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(3), 367-379.

Livingston, J. N., & Nahimana, C. (2006). Problem child or problem context: An ecological approach to young Black males. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 14(4), 209-221.

Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (2013). The positive development of youth: Comprehensive findings from the 4-H study of positive youth development. National 4-H Council.

Love, B. L. (2014). “I see Trayvon Martin”: What teachers can learn from the tragic death of a young Black male. The Urban Review, 46(2), 292-306. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-013-0260-7

Marbley, A. (2006). Indigenous systems--100 Black men: Celebrating the empowerment and resiliency in the African American community. Black History Bulletin, 69(1), 9-17.

Marsh, K., Chaney, C., & Jones, D. (2012). The strengths of high-achieving Black high school students in a racially diverse setting. The Journal of Negro Education, 81(1), 39-51. https://doi.org/10.7709/jnegroeducation.81.1.0039

Moore, S. E., Adedoyin, A. C., Robinson, M. A., & Boamah, D. A. (2015). The Black church: Responding to the drug-related mass incarceration of young Black males: "If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Social Work and Christianity, 42(3), 313–331.

National 4-H Council. (2020). 4-H mission. 4-H Youth Development & Mentoring Programs.

Nicolas, G., Helms, J. E., Jernigan, M. M., Sass, T., Skrzypek, A., & DeSilva, A. M. (2008). A conceptual framework for understanding the strengths of Black youths. Journal of Black Psychology, 34(3), 261-280. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798408316794

Noguera, P. A. (2003). The trouble with Black boys: The role and influence of environmental and cultural factors on the academic performance of African American males. Urban education, 38(4), 431-459.

Park, H., Yoon, J., & Crosby, S. D. (2016). A pilot study of Big Brothers Big Sisters programs and youth development: An application of critical race theory. Children and Youth Services Review,61, 83-89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.12.010

Pocock, B., Williams, P., & Skinner, N. (2012). Conceptualizing work, family and community: a socio‐ecological systems model, taking account of power, time, space and life stage. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 50(3), 391-411.

Rubin, R. H., Billingsley, A., & Caldwell, C. H. (1994). The role of the Black church in working with Black adolescents. Adolescence, 29(114), 251.

Russell, S., & Heck, K. (2008). Middle school dropout? Enrollment trends in the California 4-H youth development program. Applied Developmental Science, 12(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888690801910476

Schinker, R. (2010). 4-H leaders: Factors that affect their persistence in the 4-H youth development program (Order No. 3440998). [Doctoral dissertation, Western Michigan University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Shek, D. T., Dou, D., Zhu, X., & Chai, W. (2019). Positive youth development: current perspectives. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 10, 131.

Smith, C. (2018). Understanding culturally responsive curriculum for urban minority youth through the voice of 4H youth and educators. [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Pennsylvania State University.

Stewart, J. B. (2000). The strengths of African American families, twenty-five years later. Review of Black Political Economy, 27(4), 87-91.

Swanson, D. P., Spencer, M. B., dell'Angelo, T., Harpalani, V., & Spencer, T. R. (2002). Identity processes and the positive youth development of African Americans: An explanatory framework. New directions for youth development, 2002(95), 73-100.

Webster, N. (2021). Acknowledging the historical contributions of Black youth's civic engagement in society. Sociology Compass, 15(5), e12871.

Weikert, B., Hoover, T. S., Radhakrishna, R., & Swinker, A. (2014). The factors that influence the involvement of youth in Pennsylvania 4-H extension district 16 livestock program. Journal of Extension, 53(4), v53-4rb4. https://archives.joe.org/joe/2015august/rb4.php

Wirthlin Group. (1995). The prudential spirit of community youth survey: A survey of high school students on community involvement. School K-12. Paper 45. http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/slcek12/45

Woodland, M. H. (2008). Whatcha doin' after-school?: A review of the literature on the influence of after-school programs on young Black males. Urban Education, 43(5), 537-560. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042085907311808

Woodland, M. H. (2016). After-school programs: A resource for young Black males and other urban youth. Urban Education, 51(7), 770-796. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042085914549361

Zaff, J., Boyd, M., Li, Y., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2010). Active and engaged citizenship: Multi-group and longitudinal factorial analysis of an integrated construct of civic engagement. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(7), 736-750.

Zamani-Gallaher, E. M., & Polite, V. C. (2010). The state of the African American male. Michigan State University Press.






Feature Articles