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Multiple Arrivals: Narratives of Hope and Promise among Inner City Youth

Jean N. Scandlyn

This paper analyzes the narratives of four young adults, two men and two women, who participated regularly in programs at The Spot, an arts-based recreational center serving inner city youth ages 14-24 in Denver, Colorado. For many young people, The Spot represents their arrival at a place of refuge and support where they can express their hopes and dreams through the creative arts of hip hop, form lifetime friendships outside gang alliances, and interact with adults who acknowledge the marginalization and inequality they face outside its walls. While there, these young people create narratives that link their previous life experiences with their future plans. Given the exigencies of poverty, discrimination and limited opportunities, these narratives are characterized by multiple arrivals and departures and attempts at assembling disorder into an ordered life. Themes of order, progress and transformation drawn from mainstream American culture compete and merge with themes of positive ethnic identity; resistance to racism, sexism and classism; spirituality and anti-materialism drawn from hip hop and street punk culture. Graffiti murals, rap and hip hop music, break dancing, spoken word, and step dancing all serve to organize and explain life trajectories that are marked by incarceration, natural disasters, substance abuse and the search for life partners. Narratives developed through music, poetry, art and conversations with peers and staff also serve as means of rehearsing new departures, e.g., entry into a training program, a move to reunite with family, or the birth of a baby. [narrative, discourse, inner city youth, hip hop, program evaluation]

The Applied Anthropologist, No. 2, Vol. 29, 2009, pp 135 - 142

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