Basic virtues help many black males persevere and overcome the toughest environments

COLUMBIA, 7/16/12 (Beat Byte) -- Black men, especially those living in low-income, urban areas, are surprisingly resilient to the many stressors they face, including discrimination, incarceration and poverty, claims a new study from public health professors Michelle Teti and Lisa Bowleg.

Teti and Bowleg explored resilience, which their study defines as "how individuals demonstrate positive mental health regardless of stress and adversity."

Through interviews, their research team learned that despite social stressors in black men's lives, many research participants found ways to overcome their adversities through five primary forms of resilience: perseverance; commitment to learn from hardships; reflecting and refocusing to address difficulties; creating supportive environments; and obtaining support from religion and spirituality.

"Too often, researchers focus on black men's weaknesses rather than their strengths," said Teti, an assistant professor of health sciences at the Mizzou School of Health Professions.  "By understanding what's working, we can reinforce those positive behaviors and help men make healthier choices."

Community members and government officials should do more to prepare black men for success, Teti and Bowleg say.
"Resilience is not a psychological trait that you either are born with or not; resilience can be taught and nurtured," said Bowleg, an associate professor in the School of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The two researchers want to use the strategies they've identified in some black men to help all black men.

"It is admirable that these men are resilient in the face of such severe challenges; however, their efforts only can be translated into success if they are supported by social environments and policies that change the odds against them," Teti said.

Among the odds they face: lack of quality jobs, education, and social policies designed to keep them out of prisons, Bowleg said. "The most disconcerting aspects of our research on resilience were the narratives of men who were doggedly trying to be resilient in the face of seemingly insurmountable social-structural obstacles."