Rampant, negative messages about the capabilities of African American women in the education system pervade society. I suggest that these negative messages fail to account for Black women's learning resilience. In this study, the voices of 27 African American women who described their experiences in the formal education environment emerged through interviews, focus groups, observations, and two electronic interactions, participation in a chat room and e-mail exchanges.
This multigenerational study spans 71 years of educational experiences that I organized into five generations that correspond with eras of significance for both the African American culture and the education system. These generations and eras are: traditionalists (schooled during segregation), pioneers of integration (integration), baby boomers (busing), generation Xers (crack cocaine crisis), and millenials (hip hop culture).
While the women reported adversities and hurdles both in the education system and in their families and communities, they refused to be defeated in the pursuit of their educational goals, a resilience that was consistent across the generations. I show how the voices of the women narrated a continuum that goes beyond a simplistic dichotomy of adversity and benefit and makes the case that an unwavering love for learning and personal spirituality and faith are the foundation of learning resilience these women demonstrated.
This study was based on a two-part question: What are the lived experiences of African American women in the education system? and What influence have family and community had on these experiences? Through employing grounded theory techniques of memo-writing and developing the data (open, selective, and focus coding) I identified sixteen issues (e.g., Black self-sufficiency, racism and oppression, and Black role models) that combined into five themes (e.g., education system and resources), which were, in turn, refined into three coding categories—educational experiences and the influences of family and of community. Through verifying commonalities, theoretical sampling, and conceptualizing the data, the grounded theory of learning resilience among African American women in the formal education environment emerged.