Reclaiming an African American narrative: exploring agency among young adult change-agents

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Reclaiming an African American narrative: exploring agency among young adult change-agents

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


Young people play a significant role in shaping and changing societies, and their development into active, informed citizens determines the health of democratic societies. The present study explores the influences (ideas, experiences, and relationships) that shape six African American young adults' beliefs that they should and can effect change in their neighborhood. Many of these young people--all former participants in a youth-development program--exhibited the capacity to critically examine their worlds and develop plans to effect change, deep commitments to be change-agents in their community, and strong leadership skills. Framed by the concepts of transformative agency, coalitional agency, and critical consciousness, the study aimed to explore the roots of their beliefs about, commitments toward, and experiences of effecting change. The scope of this study appreciates the long-term and multifaceted nature of becoming an agent of social change in which identity and influence are rooted in a layered sense of belonging. Scholars have paid relatively little attention to how social contexts and processes influence youths' long-term beliefs and commitments about contributing to and shaping society (Bajaj, 2009; Hart & Fegley, 1995; Watts & Guessous, 2006), and this study's findings surface the complex meaning making and social processes that fed into the young adults' beliefs that they should and could effect change. The young men and women highlighted the importance of exploring and claiming a rich cultural identity rooted in an African American counternarrative of courage and struggle. They also referenced two broad commitments--to honor others' humanity and to serve others and struggle for justice--that guided their actions and decisions. When describing the experiences through which they came to learn and embrace these commitments, the young adults pointed to relationships, group expectations, and concrete experiences of effecting change that took place within the youth-development program. While much of the findings involved the young adults reflecting back on their experiences as youth, they also described the way they draw on those experiences and commitments as they navigate the challenges and opportunities of young adulthood.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2014. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisors: Joan DeJaeghere and David Chapman. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 236 pages, appendices A-F

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Dierker, Beth Margaret. (2014). Reclaiming an African American narrative: exploring agency among young adult change-agents. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.