Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students' Educational Outcomes

By Barrett, Brian D. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students' Educational Outcomes


Barrett, Brian D., The Journal of Negro Education


This article draws primarily on qualitative data obtained in interviews with a socially activist urban pastor as part of fieldwork undertaken for a larger project on the relationship between religious involvement and educational outcomes among urban African American students. It demonstrates processes such as developing a critical consciousness among congregants in confronting inequality and providing a context where Black students are valued and academic success is encouraged through measures such as public recognition and role modeling-by which the church generates and applies social and cultural capital that can be instrumental in promoting improved educational outcomes. It highlights, in particular, practices that have the potential to be "carried over" to other churches and, especially, educational settings.

Keywords: Black church, educational outcomes, social capital, cultural capital

INTRODUCTION

In exploring how the Black church might generate and apply social and cultural capital in order to improve the academic outcomes of African American students, this article begins by recapping, within the context of other work in the area, my recent work (Barrett, 2009; 2010) on the relationship between religious involvement and educational outcomes among urban African American students. In light of the markedly better academic outcomes obtained by religiously involved urban African American students than by their non-religiously involved peers demonstrated in this work, and in moving forward to consider the implications of this work for teaching, learning, and curriculum development, this article asks: "What is happening in churches to promote positive educational outcomes among religiously involved Black students that may not be happening in schools to promote educational success among Black students more broadly?"

In addressing this question, qualitative data obtained in semi-structured interviews conducted with Devaughn Johnson, Pastor of True Covenant Church in Bridgewood, a mid-size urban center in the "rustbelt" of the northeastern and mid-western United States (die name of the Pastor, church, and city are pseudonyms), as part of fieldwork undertaken for a larger project on the relationship between religious involvement and educational outcomes among urban African American students and described in detail elsewhere (Barrett, 2010) is analyzed. Patton (2002) posits that individual cases, "selected purposefully . . . permit inquiry into and understanding of a phenomenon in depth" (p. 46). In focusing on one individual, this article endeavors to provide thick description and analysis of conditions at one particular church that might be instrumental in promoting positive educational outcomes among its young congregants. While the limitations, particularly in terms of generalizability, of relying on interview data from only one source are recognized, the data and analysis presented here are intended to serve heuristically as examples of the Black church's effectiveness in promoting academic success among urban African American youth, with the potential to be applied much more broadly by other churches and educational institutions and to inform a range of advocates - that includes the religious community, schools, policymakers, educators, and families.

Finally, McRoberts (2003), in his study of religious particularism and its impact on the relationship between church and community in an urban Black neighborhood, rightfully points out that it is misleading to speak of a singular "Black church." According to McRoberts, the term is a "convenient, deceptive, euphemism" for what, in reality, constitutes a "dizzying array of institutions" (p. 142). However, the data and analysis presented in this article proceeds on the contention that, despite theh particular and often divergent characteristics, all Black churches are likely to value educational success on the part of theh young congregants and that many may work (or would be interested in working) to promote theh success in similar ways. …

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