Book Review: Understanding & Relating to African American Youth: A Toolkit for Intergenerational Conversation

Understanding & Relating to African American Youth: A Toolkit for Intergenerational Conversation by Fuller Youth Institute. Published by Fuller Youth Institute, 2019. Total pages: 25.

The authors are well suited to write this book. For years they have set the standard for youth ministries around the world. Year after year the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) has been on the cutting edge of conducting research as well as providing materials and resources for youth ministries from a non-denominational perspective. FYI created a series of books under the title How to Talk to Any Young Person: An Intergenerational Conversation Toolkit, and included this title as one in a collection for a variety of ethnic groups.

This four-chapter book provided keys to understanding African American youth. It looked at the realities that African American youth face, the role of conversations, plus it share some topics and action steps. In the realities chapter the section titles include inherited social realities (slavery, Jim Crow laws, confederate statues, discrimination, voting laws and registration, housing zones and restrictions, mass incarceration and the drug wars); social justice priorities; church leadership dynamics; changing faith formation; and addressing mental health. The next chapter presented the important role of conversations, with space to have the reader reflect on a set of questions. The following chapter presented conversation topics listed by categories youth wrestle with regularly. The last chapter shared further action steps that can be taken to foster an intergenerational community.

The strength of the book is the direct presentation of the realities that African American youth face. The concise presentation of the realities gives the reader a quick run through of African American history. Another strength of this book is the conversation topics that a leader can utilize to engage African American youth in hearing their story and obtaining a better understanding. The information presented allows anyone that mentors, leads, and/or teaches African Americans great insights to the historical implications and environmental background that informs African American youth.

The book’s brevity affords it to be a good resource in the toolkit of the youth leader. It’s an easy read and does not pack on a lot of peripheral material. It was written to present the macro reasons for how the psyche of African American youth formed. While it speaks primarily in generalities, these generalities should lead the reader to the right street, but may not allow them to pull up to the right house. Each person responds to historical and environmental stimuli differently. Interestingly, though the brevity is a good strength, it is also a weakness.

The shortness of the book does not allow for in-depth information, complete background, and additional information for the reader to really get the total picture of understanding African American youth. The book does plant a seed. An interested reader should come away prompted by questions and topics, motivated to research additional sources. One of those topics that arrested my attention was the topic of “Addressing Mental Health and Self-Care.” Serving as a youth professional for many years, this topic was never raised as a challenge or opportunity to understanding African American youth. The book did not delve into the topic and caused me to want to take a deeper look for a better understanding to the African American youth.

References and a bibliography would strengthen the additional learning and allow the reader to have better next steps.

The book is easy to read; well-written, and quite understandable. Even the font size and quotations, plus bolding and italicizing make this easy on the eyes.

As an African-Caribbean male, this book didn’t necessarily provide me with new information, but it brought to my attention how these historical and sociological issues inform the African American youth. That, in itself, made it a worthwhile read, and the conversation starters will be helpful in ministry.

Roger Wade

Roger R. Wade is the Church Ministries Director with emphasis on Youth, Children, Adventist Community Service, Health, and Family Ministries for the Mid-American Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventist.