Resilience: A Multicultural Perspective

Resilience: A Multicultural Perspective

An exciting new concept in primary prevention comes from the growing body of research literature that shows some children from alcohol and other drug abusing families appear to have naturally occurring resilience and are less damaged by growing up in a dysfunctional home than other children. This work seems to support the notion that resilience can be taught and developed in the less resilient child, adolescent or adult.

The work of Sybil and Steven Wolin in their book, The Resilient Self, as well as that of Dr. Jeannette Johnson at the University of Maryland, is truly ground breaking with regard to identifying and implementing protective factors based on the Seven Resiliencies: Insight, Independence, Relationship, Initiative, Creativity, Humor and Morality.

At the 1995 NACoA Conference in San Diego, I participated in a panel that looked at cross cultural issues for children of alcoholics. I chose to look at the Resilience concept from an African-American perspective. It occurred to me, in preparing for that talk, that the seven resiliencies bore some resemblence to "Seven Principles of Kwanzaa". This list was created by the philosopher and educator Dr. Mulana Kraenga as a celebration of African-American culture and heritage in 1966. Kwanzaa is a seven day celebration which begins on December 26th. Each day, a different one of the principles is discussed and venerated in many African-American homes. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa (which come from the Swahili Language spoken in East Africa) are:

  1. Umoja, which means Unity. "It encompasses a belief in wholeness and how the community, family, nation and ethnic group of which I am a part may become whole."
  2. Kujichagulia, which means Self Determination. "We agree to accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves."
  3. Ujima, which means Collective Work and Responsibility. "We must work together to solve problems and make our community a safe and productive place."
  4. Ujamma, which means Cooperative Economics. "We should build and maintain our own business base in our community and profit from it together."
  5. Nia, which means Purpose. "To have a plan for the future and to be willing to help others to succeed as well."
  6. Kuumba, which means Creativity. "To always do as much as we can, in order to leave our community a better and more beautiful place."
  7. Imani, which means Faith. "To believe with all our heart in our people and in the righteousness of our struggle."
Using the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa together with the Seven Resiliencies can result in a truly holistic approach to primary prevention, which must include environmental strategies, alcohol and other drug education, and culturally based strategies as well as programs for persons at risk. If we attempt to ameliorate alcohol and drug abuse problems without seeing the whole picture, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and experience the same disappointing results we have seen in many of our preventive efforts to date. We will see our proverbial prevention forest without seeing the preventive trees that make up the forest.

The Seven Resiliencies are educational and individual in their focus. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are cultural, environmental and individual. Think of the work that can be done with African-American children, adolescents and adults from this powerful combination of multicultural perspectives!

Reference: The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity by Steven and Sybil Wolin. 1993 Villard Books. The Seven Days of Kwanzaa by Angela Shelf Medearis. 1994 Scholastic, Inc.

James H. Evans, M.S. is Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences at San Diego City College.