TOO MUCH, TOO FAST: THE TRIALS & TRIUMPHS OF POOR URBAN YOUTHS IN THE TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD
Lee, Julie K.
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This dissertation is about the trials and triumphs of low-income youths from Baltimore City as they came of age in urban poverty. I provide a rich and detailed account of the transition to adulthood experience of inner city youth through inductive and thematic analysis of qualitative interviews with 64 low-income men and women from the Beginning School Study. I find that these youths experienced too much hardship and trauma in their communities, schools, and families while growing up. In response to overwhelming trauma and stress, the youths in my study took on adult roles and responsibilities and engaged in problem behaviors that cut their adolescence short and accelerated their adulthood. Their experiences of growing up too fast were also nuanced by gender and race. Given the many challenges in their lives, the people in my study were unable to attain upward social mobility as adults, which is typically defined as the standard of success. I discover, however, that these young people are not a homogenous group resigned to their fates of remaining poor. Though these youths did not climb the socioeconomic ladder, they did not consider themselves to be failures. Instead, they created their own definitions of success and navigated divergent pathways toward achieving their versions of success. This redefining of success is what I visualize as another type of ladder that inner-city youths are climbing, which I call the “latent ladder.” The men and women in this study demonstrated resilience and self-efficacy and drew upon varying levels of strengths and resources to ascend, some higher than others, on the latent ladder. The external resources that the youths engaged to achieve success are conceptualized through a framework that I created – the components of this framework are “people” or relational bonds, “place” or exile from an environment or circumstance, and “potential” or the strengths, skills, and talents of the youths activated by constructive diversions.