A Reaction to EGAS: An Important New Approach to African American Youth Empowerment

Article excerpt

Bemak, Chung, and Siroskey-Sabdo have presented an interesting and, in many respects, groundbreaking way to approach the empowerment of African American youth. As someone who has written extensively about the academic and social empowerment of this student population, I was intrigued with these authors' Empowerment Groups for Academic Success (EGAS) approach.

Much has been written in recent years about the concept of empowerment, particularly as it relates to urban youth of color. I agree with Bemak et al.'s underlying premise that much of what is written about and practiced with respect to the empowerment of African American youth makes the assumption that counselors somehow empower young people. What is often missed in the literature and underscored by this article is the important fact that counselors do not empower the people with whom they work. Empowerment is an internal developmental process in which a person discovers how power operates in his or her life and then takes reasonable steps to seize upon personal power and channel it in constructive ways. It is important to stress that counselors merely provide the facilitative conditions that allow people to discover the internal resources to move their fives in positive directions. In other words, people empower themselves and counselors merely support the process.

It appears to me that the EGAS model could be the archetype of a true empowerment model for urban youth. The group facilitators provided a nurturing and safe place within the school so that the seven group participants could explore who they were, both individually and collectively, as young African American women. This seems to have helped them to get in touch with their internal resources, which appears to have led to important individual growth and change. The group experience described by the authors seems to represent the essence of empowerment.

However, beyond the empowerment aspect of the EGAS model is the process dimension. I have spent the past 20 years developing group counseling empowerment models for African American youth, particularly young African American males. My work has resulted in highly structured group experiences that center on an Afrocentric curricular approach to promoting academic, career, and personal/social development. Through this structure, facilitators, who are generally conceived to be African American, provide the conditions for the empowerment process to occur in youth. This approach has proven to be highly successful in helping youth to become empowered to improve aspects of their lives. …