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Appreciative Inquiry as Lever for Driving Social Change

Christopher Anne Easley, Ph.D., RODC

The Fundamentals of Appreciative Inquiry

Last month we began an online presentation/discussion on Appreciative Inquiry and how it
can become a very positive force for strategically designing and implementing change in
our parishes, families and communities. Excerpts from Dr. Christopher Anne Easley's
keynote address for the Pastoral Ministry in African American Parishes Conference set the
stage for understanding some of the critical issues facing African Americans and why
alternative strategies for change are needed. Dr. Easley also provided a brief overview of
Appreciative Inquiry.
Many of you have already echoed our belief that AI can be a powerful change lever for
implementing the action imperatives set forth by the National Black Catholic Congress as
we work to develop change in our parishes, families and communities, and as Dr. Easley
pointed out in her keynote address, it is time for us to challenge our assumptions
regarding past strategies. Therefore, the intent of this month's Appreciative Inquiry followup is to provide you with more information on the theoretical and practical premises of
Appreciative Inquiry (AI).
Through the next two months Dr. Easley will present a summary of the work that she did
with youth in gangs, and begin a more practical discussion of the theory and practice of AI.
She, along with Dr. Terry Armstrong and some of their Organization Development
colleagues have agreed to serve as our "technical support" as we begin the learning and
implementation processes of Appreciative Inquiry.
However, as we all believe, to continue the momentum from the conference means that
we need to hear from you. We want to hear about the work you are doing in your parishes
and communities using AI. We want to hear about the positive change that is occurring. So
please, contact the NBCC office with your success stories or volunteerism to write an
article for the AI forum. Articles must be in by the 10th of each month in order to insure that
the Webmaster has sufficient time for development. We are also looking to develop a
threaded discussion sometime in the near future. But in the meantime, in addition to
articles and success stories, questions for Drs. Easley and Armstrong and other AI experts
who will work with them can also be posted on the web site
(Note: The research from this article is derived from the following
Easley, C. A. (1999). The Role of Appreciative Inquiry in the fight to save our Youth. Unpublished
doctoral dissertation, Benedictine University, Lisle, IL.)
Easley, C.A., Yaeger, T. F. & Sorensen, P. F. (2002). "Appreciative Inquiry: Evoking New Ways of
Understanding, Valuing and Loving and Changing the Youth We Have Lost to Gangs", Paper
presentation made at the July 24=26 conference, Organizational Discourse: From MicroUtterances to Macro-Interferences, The Management Centre, Kings College, University of London,
and the Abstract publication of the conference proceedings, The Management Centre, Kings
College, University of London, July 24-26, 2002, Organizational Discourse: From Micro-Utterances
to Macro-Interferences. ISBN: 900089 05 X
Throughout this article, reference to Appreciative Inquiry goes to Dr. David Cooperrider (1986) and
his subsequent publications, who first developed Appreciative Inquiry as a part of his dissertation
research at Case Western Reserve University and reference to the term and concept of search
conference goes to the M. Weisbord (1992), and F. Emery and R. Purser, (1996).


Overview: Developing the context for understanding the application of

Appreciative Inquiry and its relationship to social change
I am an African-American woman. Therefore, my research orientation and the community/organizational
work I do emerged from an Afro-Centric frame of reference. Despite my being in a business curriculum, I
was drawn during the initial stages of my doctoral program to develop an understanding of why youth
were gravitating to gangs and as a result decided to investigate if Appreciative Inquiry, which is an
organization development intervention strategy would work as a gang deactivation strategy. Given the
plight of African American youths' involvement in gangs, I did not, nor do I now, apologize for my frame of
reference. In 1993, a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Community
Colleges called for a "wake-up call" directed at middle-class black Americans, specifically at females,
due to African- American women constituting 52 percent of the black adult population. This call
articulated the need for African Americans to begin relying on themselves again, and bringing forth the
energies and talents that have characterized previous struggles (Phelps, 1993). I also found during the
course of my research and learning about Appreciative Inquiry and the plights that face our children and
ultimately the African American population at large, that I changed, even though I thought, "I knew what I
knew". Learning about the negativity that ensconces our race from a different perspective provided me
with a far deeper insight than that which I had prior to engaging in this work. It began a very spiritual
journey for me.
In the face of examining the role of Appreciative Inquiry as an intervention strategy that can help gang
members transcend their existing state, a logical question I had to ask was "What is there to appreciate
about gangs?" To answer that question and understand the potential impact that Appreciative Inquiry
could have on youth in gangs, mentally I stripped away the veneer in order to see gang members for
what they are, and I learned that when we strip away the publicized concept of the gang, the images we
see in the media and movies and the descriptions we read about in the newspapers, the answer
becomes very simple: they are youth. In many cases they may be youth each of us knows, or they could
be our own children. Unfortunately, they are a critical part of our population that we are losing to the
death tolls that result from gang violence. Therefore, if we are serious about stopping the gang violence,
we have to look within the hearts of these young people and beyond the "hardness" that they attempt to
project and help them to find their inner beauty, which is why I found Appreciative Inquiry, as a change
facilitator to be so critical. It sets the stage for us to move beyond the negativity in individuals, situations
and/or organizations and look at what works and what is beautiful.
This is the same posture we must assume when working with our communities and the individuals within
those communities, particularly those that face hardships. We have to help them find their inner beauty
and believe that there is a different life that they can carve out for themselves. Whether it is gang
members or community members or members of your parish, when you ask people, across
socioeconomic strata, what are their dreams, you will find that they are very willing to talk. You will find
that their hopes and dreams are not much different than yours. Appreciative Inquiry serves as the
framework for facilitating that conversation within a context that does not allow negativity to enter into the
When using Appreciative Inquiry as a change strategy with youth gangs, one will discover a teen not
much further beyond the psychological needs of a child, attempting to cope with their perceptions of
reality. In many cases, this reality is very painful to them, which is why they assume so much bravado,
which becomes their coping mechanism. I fully believe that a child is a gift from God that should be
nurtured. During the course of my interviewing many of these young people, it was hard for me to believe
all that they have had to endure within their lives, which when I stopped to think about it, was a very
short span of years. Many of my initial interviewees were not much older than my son who was 15 years
old at the time I began the work, and a number of them were his age. Yet, the strife that these young
people had been exposed to boggled my mind. I could not begin to conceptualize my own child having to
work through so many issues in his short life and as a result, so many hardships and assaults on his
sense of self and worth.


During the initial stages of my research, the Chicago Tribune published an article that talked about the
biggest enemy of children...indifference. Whether by social workers, teachers, police officers, judges or
the public, to turn one's back on a child in pain is to guarantee the pain will continue (Greene, 1999).
And, when I began the initial stages of that research I heard the pain of young people involved in gangs.
At every level of their lives they were told that they had no future, that they are less than other young
people, that adults did not have time for them, and that they would not be able to succeed. They heard
these messages at school, through the media and throughout their neighborhoods. Some, unfortunately,
even heard these messages from home. Before discounting that there is anything to appreciate about
youth in gangs, or black folk who live in poverty, or just folk in general that we may not want to
encounter, we first need to understand what is missing in their lives and attempt to help them fill those
voids. When asked, these children were more than willing to tell me how well aware they were that many
adults in their world had written them off, and when we examine what occurs to them in their schools, it
is not uncommon to see the classic Pygmalion study (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968) being reproduced in
multiple educational forums. They communicated a belief that they have had no choice but to turn to the
gang environment, which appeared to them to be the only environment that offered any element of
So, when we take this example and extrapolate it to other areas of indifference facing African Americans,
it becomes clear to us why Appreciative Inquiry is so critical. As African Americans, we must learn to
reinforce our race...our youth and ourselves, as the adults in their lives. Our youth are critical because
they are our next generation. Therefore, it becomes important that we ground them with positive thinking
and dialogue, which are not new concepts and, as I stated during the keynote address, are grounded in
Biblical text. Otherwise, we risk loosing a critical battle.
To help youth in gangs and African Americans at large develop a new concept of themselves, we must
teach them to throw aside the language that ensconces our culture and emerge with a new language.
Inherent in learning a new language is also learning to dislodge the old language and metaphors
associated with the language (Gergen, 1994). However, one's ability to effectively dislodge the existing
languages and cultural associations that occur with language is not an easy task. When we deconstruct
existing paradigms and language, we have to be able to replace the paradigms, language patterns, and
metaphors with well-wrought principles due to the inherent distrust which occurs when anything
becomes unsettled or dislodged (Gergen, 1994). Therefore, this dislodgment process is a challenge not
only to gang members but to society as well. Once the dislodgement begins, it becomes easier for us to
question why we accept situations in our lives. For example many of the youth I worked with were not all
from inner city communities that we tend to describe as the "ghetto" or "the hood". A significant number
of these children came from suburbia, but were failing in school, to the point that they were placed in the
alternative school system and had a history of active gang involvement. In most cases, they came from
middle class families. Yet, these young people were not successful in the normal school setting.
Unfortunately, the gang environment attracted them, and perhaps in some ways began to develop into
their alternative reality in place of an environment where, for whatever reason, they felt and
communicated believing that they were locked out. The language patterns that these young people
internalized included concepts such as behavior disorder, which many equated to being a bad person.
The cultural norms they accepted was that it is socially appropriate to emerge from a high-school
environment and not read at a normal grade level. Unfortunately for our youth, as the components of
deficit discourse is continually disseminated to the culture, they become absorbed into the common
language, a language that these young people internalized (Gergen, 1994). Therefore, it was
understandable why they called themselves "niggers" or "demotes"...terms that they were very
comfortable in using to describe themselves. Even the term "at risk youth", a term with which society is
very comfortable, particularly when applying it to youth of color, has left the domain of the counseling
profession and entered the domain of public discourse, discourse that these young people are exposed
to on a daily basis, discourse that is extensively used throughout the black community (Gergen, 1994).
Unfortunately, the deficit discourse and labeling of youth who have gravitated towards the gangs, when
depicted by the media, educational programs, public talk show and the like have begun to emerge as
cultural models (Gergen, 1994). Therefore, we develop a vicious circle. As our society's actions are
increasingly defined and shaped by the language of deficit discourse, the demand for intervention


models also increases with those models resembling the very negative attributes they are seeking to
change (Gergen, 1994). If we closely examine the post modern behavioral theories and perspectives
posited by Gergen, Cooperrider and other researchers/theorists, it becomes easy to understand that it is
incumbent upon African Americans to make a deliberate choice with respect to changing the way in
which we describe our youth, ourselves, our circumstances and our goals...for inherent in new
terminology will reside new dreams and aspirations (Cooperrider, 1986).
Our failure to change our patterns of language should leave us with no wonder as to why our children
have turned to gangs. In far too many cases, youth have communicated that they believe the gang
provides them with respect, a perspective I have heard continually across the research I have done
which now spans varying demographic populations. They also report not feeling valued by society, which
is largely "we", their parents, teachers and community members. When asked why he joined a gang, a
youth I interviewed responded with a very simplistic answer. His response was as follows:
Interviewer: If you were to think about the one thing that you look for the gang to do for you and sum it
up in one word, what would it be? What is the important thing that you get from the gang in one word?
Informant: Respect.
Interviewer: Um, that is interesting. I would have thought you would have said protection. Help me
Informant: Its like they respect me more than other people, than anybody really, but my family, and they
really don't respect me either, they talk to me any kind of way, put me down all the time, the gangs they
don't really do that (Easley, 1999).
When probed, all this young man wanted to do was go to school, get his education, and perhaps play
basketball in college. His responses were not atypical of the responses of all the young people who
participated in my research. He perceived the words that he heard the adults in his life use with him as
demeaning. Now, I guarantee you that if you were to ask his parents, they would not feel the same.
However, we cannot discount the fact that this was his reality. Appreciative Inquiry, as a change process
forces us to choose to use a language of appreciation. I can't help but wonder if this child had been
exposed to a language of appreciation, would he have gravitated to the gang for the reinforcement that
he did not perceive to receive from home, school or his community. This example I believe makes it very
clear as to why Appreciative Inquiry is critical for our families, parishes and communities.
Appreciative Inquiry, as an intervention strategy is a means for terminating the cycle of negative
discourse. Through positive discussion about themselves and the attributes that they possess,
participants in a conversation that has an AI focus become able to begin breaking the link between deficit
language and the institutionalization of the metaphors that they have internalized (Barrett and
Cooperrider, 1990). Appreciative Inquiry will not allow participants to discuss themselves from a
problematic perspective, nor will it allow them to fall back on the comfortable patterns of negative
discourse. As painful as it may be to begin changing language patterns, once started, it may be entirely
possible to delimit the category of dysfunctional behaviors of youth in gangs, people in our communities
and any other group that needs change, thus facilitating a deactivation process.
A brief description of the theory behind Appreciative Inquiry
As an intervention methodology, AI seeks to locate and heighten the "life giving properties" or core
values of organizations and individuals (Cooperrider, 1986; Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). While
technically, Appreciative Inquiry is a mode of action-research (different however from the traditional
Lewinian approach) that meets the criteria of science as spelled out in generative-theoretical terms, it
also has as its basis a metaphysical concern that posits that social existence is a miracle that can never
be fully comprehended (Quinney, 1982; Marcel, 1963; Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). In contrast to
traditional action research, Appreciative Inquiry has also sought to address the question of how
organizations and individuals can engage in dialogue that is focused on the goal of seeking a common
positive vision of a collectively desired future (Barrett & Cooperrider, 1990). When engaged in an


appreciative dialogue, the participants seek out the very best of "what is" to provide an impetus for
imaging "what might be" (Thatchenkery, 1996).
The four basic principles that form the foundation for Appreciative Inquiry are:
1. Inquiry into the "art of the possible" in organizational life should begin with appreciation. In other
words, we should learn to understand that which we possess versus what we lack.
2. Inquiry into what's possible should be applicable...goals which we want to accomplish.
3. Inquiry into what's possible should be provocative...those goals should excite us and make us want
to work towards accomplishment
4. Inquiry into the human potential of organizational life should be collaborative-we must understand
that we need each other to drive true systemic change (Cooperrider and Pratt, 1995).
The key phases of the Appreciative Inquiry process include defining the topic choice, inquiry into the lifegiving properties that includes data collection and discovery, articulation of possibility propositions (e.g.
visioning the ideal), consensual validation/agreement (through dialogue and in the case of the work that I
did the format was through a methodology entitled search conference), and co-construction of the future
(the participants leave the search conference with action steps) (Williams, 1996).
The first principle of AI assumes that every system works to some degree. For example, one researcher
in California who did an extensive ten-year study of gangs, Martin Sanchez-Jankowski (1991), noted
gang leaders developing leadership, decision making and problem solving skills. Felix Padilla (1992)
who also conducted an extensive study in Chicago noted those same skills. Padilla (1992) and SanchezJankowski (1991) noted the entrepreneurial enterprises of gangs, which facilitates the question, if gang
members were to self discover ways in which they can take their skills and apply them in a prosocial
manner; would they be in a viable position to change their lives? I found the answer to be yes, if you
helped them to understand and visualize these skills and how they could apply them to their dreams and
The second principle of AI assumes that inquiry into what is possible should be applicable. The third
principle assumes that organizational and individual worlds are open-ended, indeterminate systems
which are capable of becoming more than they are at any given moment while learning how to take part
in guiding its own evolution (Cooperrider and Pratt, 1995). The results of my research pointed to the
ability to gang members learning to dislodge and discard old metaphors, while concurrently generating
new metaphors as they begin to imagine new possibilities. The last principle of AI assumes collaborative
interaction and action, which directly ties to Search Conference methodology (Cooperrider and Pratt,
Also inherent in the theoretical framework of Appreciative Inquiry are the principles of heliotropic
evolution, the Pygmalion Effect, and the anticipatory principle. Humans can be heliotropic in character in
the sense that both individual and organizational actions have an observable and largely automatic
tendency to evolve in the direction of positive imagery versus the direction of negative imagery
(Cooperrider, 1990; Easley, Yaeger and Sorensen, 2002). The original Pygmalion research and a
subsequent study that investigated the Pygmalion Effect with youth in gangs (Rosenthal and Jacobson,
1968; Garcia, 1981) provides empirical data that suggest the relational pathways of the positive imagepositive action dynamic and of the transactional basis of the human self (Cooperrider, 1990; Easley,
Yaeger and Sorensen, 2002). Social constructionists also suggest that an individual's future reality is
also permeable, emergent, and open to the mind's causal influence; that is, reality is conditioned,
reconstructed, and often profoundly created through our anticipatory images, values, plans, intentions,
and beliefs (Cooperrider, 1990). It is suggested that every social action somehow involves anticipation of
the future, in the sense that it involves a reflexive looking-forward-to and backward-from (Cooperrider,


Language plays an important role in bringing out the heliotropic, Pygmalion and anticipatory principles of
Appreciative Inquiry. To the extent that action is predicated on the stories, ideas, beliefs, meaning and
theories embedded in language, people are free to seek transformation in conventional conduct by
changing patterns of narration (Gergen, 1994). However, as stated in last month's article, research
suggests that indicate that 90 % of the family setting of children is entrenched in negative dialogue.
Blame is often sought, and conversations will incorporate how bad things are (Cooperrider, 1986). As a
result, we internalize the perspective of these conversations, which impacts how we view our "reality". If,
however, we begin to change the blame dialogue...is it safe to assume that a different reality will in fact
emerge, one, which becomes applicable, provocative and more collaborative? Search Conference
methodology is an opportunity to bring people together and collaboratively work through an Appreciative
Inquiry process. It simply is an event, where you break a larger group of people into small groups of
inquiry and allow them to the opportunity to dialogue. When you incorporate AI into the Search
Conference process, the dialogue typically begins with a examination of where the participants have
experienced peak experiences, either in their work, home, community or life in general, identifying those
who have been a part of those experiences, and where they have observed the strengths exhibited by
themselves and the other participants. This type of conversation typically is an anomaly. First and
foremost, as a society who is constantly "busy", we find little time to dialogue about accomplishments.
Our language and perspectives are typically ensconced with tales of "lack and woe". Second, it is hard to
get people to acknowledge their strengths. However, once they break away from that initial difficulty of
talking about their achievements, the flow begins. And, from this point they are able to move forward with
developing provocative propositions as to where they want to go (again building upon the strengths they
have already identified) and the action steps that they will take to get there (Emery and Purser, 1996;
Cooperrider and Pratt, 1995). Search Conference methodology sets for the stage of an event that
enables larger groups to collectively create a plan that members will implement. Typically, one will gather
approximately twenty to thirty-five people from a community or organization to work for two to three days
on visioning, and resulting planning tasks. However, in some situations as many as 300 people have
been brought together using a combination of Search Conference methodology and Appreciative Inquiry
(Emery & Purser, 1996).
Search Conference methodology is built on principles that compliment Appreciative Inquiry. It embodies
an underlying premise that if we are to create a more desirable future, all stakeholders must carefully
look at the world (Emery & Purser, 1996). There are basic underlying assumptions embedded in a
search conference. There is an assumption about people, which encompasses a belief that people are
purposeful creatures with the capacity to select and produce desirable outcomes. It is also assumed that
people will take responsibility for a task that they consider meaningful. Search conference methodology
also includes the assumption that people can function in the ideal seeking mode under appropriate
conditions (Emery & Purser, 1996). The blending of Appreciative Inquiry and the Search Conference is a
natural blend. One of the key components of Appreciative Inquiry's methodology is a collaborative effort
for interaction and action and a key component of a search conference is a planning and design phase
and an implementation and diffusion phase (Emery & Purser, 1996). And, while there are clearly other
ways to utilize Appreciative Inquiry, I have found that starting an AI initiative and implementing it through
a Search Conference process has had a very positive impact because it brings people together on the
same page.
However, when initiating an Appreciative Inquiry process and perspective within your parish, organization
and/or community, you must be cautious. It is not appropriate to begin the dialogic process of
appreciation and then after one session return to old habits. Learning to value on a continuous basis
must become a permanent part of the culture, the ensuing language and the values that are supported
by all that are a part of the particular environment. For example, last year, when I conducted an AI
intervention with 65 members of a leadership team for a hospital organization, we built into part of the
Search Conference process, a mini brainstorming session where the leadership of this organization
deliberately looked for ways to infuse an appreciative perspective into their daily functioning within their
organization, such as conducting their meetings from a perspective of how do we build upon our
successes from last week versus how do we solve the problems we encountered last week? The
outcomes will be the same, but the energy level relegated towards making a difference becomes much


more pronounced. People are not as prone to want to make excuses for not making a change, or
covering up their behaviors if they are working from the perspective of building capacity.
This is not to say that AI as an organization development intervention strategy is the only way to work
with organizations/parishes/or community initiatives. There will be those times that a different
intervention approach will have to be used. However, if the culture has changed and the individuals
involved have a strong sense of self through the reinforcement of appreciative dialogue, the utilization of
a different intervention process won't be detrimental to the self-esteem of the individual or the
organization. In other words, if my children are already grounded in a strong sense of self and know that
their parents unconditionally love them, discipline does not become an issue. In fact, throughout my
research, the youth who were gang related wanted to experience the discipline from their parents
because they believed it to be one way in which they would experience their parents caring.
Well, enough for now. Hopefully, I have provided you with some background to understanding the
philosophical perspectives of Appreciative Inquiry. Feel free to submit questions to the NBCC. Next
month, I will provide you with an excerpt from my doctoral dissertation that actually walks you through
the process I used in this situation and have continued to use as I have consulted/researched following
my doctoral work utilizing AI. This article will include the Appreciative Inquiry questions and some of the
behavioral outcomes I experienced with the youth, which are not very different from the behaviors you
will experience as you use the process. I will also be the first to tell you what I learned, which hopefully
will alleviate your making the same mistakes that I did. A good researcher always critiques his or her
If, in the meantime you want to talk about actually applying the process and feel that you cannot wait for
next month's article, please give Valerie Washington a call. She knows how to reach Dr. Terry Armstrong
and/or myself and we will be more than happy to talk with you. I can also be reached by email via
ceochris@aol.com and Terry can be reached at odtrainer@aol.com.
God Bless and keep the progress moving.

The Fundamentals of Appreciative Inquiry

When I first examined the issue of how many youth we have lost, and continue to loose to gang violence,
I had to consider how serious this issue is, and ask when examining issues of cause, how systemically is
this issue tied to other issues within the African American community?
Over the past twenty years, the United States has reported a tenfold increase in the number of cities that
are experiencing gang problems. The growth of this problem, similar to other issues that face our
communities is growing so exponentially that gang migration patterns now extend to smaller cities, towns
and villages in the United States, where the average size of the city population has fallen from 182,000
to 34,000 (Miller, 2001). The results of a national survey in the United Stated indicated that only 30.2 %
of law enforcement agencies nation-wide has a strategic plan for dealing with gangs (The Governor's
Commission on Gangs Final Report, 1998). However, one of the more compelling points made in this
report was the call for alternative strategies. Although the gang problem in the United States currently
outpaces many community and law enforcement responses, police departments across America are
increasingly aware of the need for innovative, non-traditional approaches to supplement the standard
and mainly reactive role of law enforcement (The Governor's Commission on Gangs Final Report, 1998).
Yet, in addition to traditional law enforcement efforts, there is a continuing support of deficit oriented
intervention strategies, other than law enforcement efforts, that are oriented toward changing individual
behavior, attitudes or values either through court dispositions such as diversion, probation or parole, or
via diverse therapeutic interventions (Goldstein, 1991), versus looking at the systemic issues that give


rise to this problem. However, the most critical point for us to understand is that the results of these
strategies suggest that they are not working. Despite the increase in funding and focus on repressive
strategies to stop the rise of youth gravitating to gangs, the gang problem in this country is growing. As a
matter of fact, it is growing internationally. There is not a habitable continent in the world that is not
attempting to deal with the rise of youth gangs, many of whom are ethnic minorities.
Unfortunately, when addressing other issues that impact the African American community, we treat these
issues with the same strategies, despite previous results, which suggest that they either lack impact or
sustainability and we often fail to investigate their interrelatedness to other issues.
For example, prior to conducting the Appreciative Inquiry with youth who were involved in gangs, I
interviewed gang members. There were two major age groups interviewed, 13-18 year olds and 19-55
year olds. The interviewees came from a cross section of socio-economic backgrounds and included
participants who lived in the city of Chicago as well as the surrounding, and somewhat affluent suburbs.
The results of the interview data were analyzed through grounded theory analysis, which allows the
researcher to generate theory versus logically deducing theory from empirical analysis. The hypotheses
and concepts are then systematically worked out in relation to the data during the course of the
research. Theory is then illustrated by characteristic examples from the data (Glaser and Strauss, 1967).
The data that emerged from the interviews was also triangulated with the data that resulted from the
Appreciative Inquiry intervention, which incorporated a different group of youth, however, similarly
profiled, thus representing a more diverse socio-economic stratification of young people, which is also
more representative of our African American communities.
The data from the interviews was quite disturbing. The data strongly suggested that the youth
interviewed and those that participated in the intervention, developed alternative/parallel existences to
cope in a society where they communicated feeling excluded. The data also suggested that the gang
members across all ages interviewed held the common desire and value systems to make changes in
their lives. For example, both age groups articulated desires to get out of the gang culture if they could
see a viable means for exiting, with options that they believed could become a reality. This data also
suggested that the self-esteem of these young people, particularly those of the younger age group, had
been severely damaged.
However, the data that is so relevant for African American adults to understand is that these youth also
communicated feeling unloved and uncared for, which led to their turning to anything that would remotely
show them some of the relational caring that they so desperately desired. There was a striking difference
between the data of the 13-18 year old group versus the older gang members, which suggest that there
are serious issues that we have to understand and change before we loose more of our children.
The 13-18 year older youth viewed the family structure to be broken and communicated being out of
touch with their parents, who they believed did not care. The failure to spend time with family was
reported as a central issue, compounded by a belief that other institution systems, such as the school
systems, are also failing them. They perceived that those institutions do not care about them and
believed that the institutions would rather put them on the street than spend the time disciplining them
and veering them in the right direction. They reported believing that there are few if any available adult
role models to supply their nurturing needs. As a result, they reported anger and their not feeling
connected to society. They also reported not feeling validated as individuals with needs by the adults in
their environments; and reported feelings of low self-esteem. They were able to clearly site these as
reasons why they turned to the gang organization for support, love, respect and all the other important
sensory and relational needs that they believe themselves to be lacking in the family structure. What is
most important for us to understand is that their perception of the failure of the family structure to supply
these needs did not appear to be grounded in economical or sociological issues, but a matter of time.
The parents were reported to be working parents, who did not spend the time with the child. Spending
time and showing care emerged as central themes.
Now, while some may summarily dismiss these reports as excuses supplied by teens who demonstrate
deviant behavior, we have to give credence to the fact that these are their perceptions, and that within


the context of their short lives, something occurred that gave rise to these perceptions, which in all
probability started with the adults in their lives.
What is equally disturbing is the fact that although the youth turned to the gang as a parental substitute
for their needs, they were very open in communicating that they did not like the value system that the
gang represents, reporting being fearful of the gang because of the violence associated with gang life.
The increasing death tolls of our youth strongly suggest that African Americans can no longer look
through lenses that suggest, as our present paradigm, that the children are the problem, nor should we
continue to lay blame at the doorsteps of our school systems or other "isms". As the responsible adults
within the lives of our youth, we must question whether or not we are blinding ourselves to their despair,
while concurrently looking for quick fix solutions.
The Value of Appreciative Inquiry
Why is an appreciate approach so important to our change strategies and our communities? At this
stage, based upon the previous articles, it probably sounds like a rhetorical question. However, in an
effort to really drive home the point, I feel compelled to keep reiterating that Appreciative Inquiry, as a
change strategy provides us with a new framework for addressing areas of concern in the African
American community, without framing us as "losers" or getting so caught up in the despair and
magnitude of the issues. It allows us to begin to value all that each of us has to contribute, and rethink
how we should claim the good that is ours to claim. When thinking about "problems" we become mired in
hopelessness and at both the conscious as well as subconscious levels, we tend to want to close our
eyes and pretend that all is good.
What is equally critical for us to also understand is that the youth in this study articulated hope. Despite
feeling the lack of family involvement and interest from their educators, these young people
communicated still believing in the value of obtaining a better future through an education. They
communicated a desire to raise a family, but were very clear on changes they would make in their
parenting styles.
The fact that our children have hope only reinforces the need to move away from deficit oriented
intervention strategies. We have to teach our children to believe in themselves, and as parents,
community leaders and educators, we also have to examine those things that we must do different to
begin ameliorating the issues that systemically plague our families, children and communities. Even
within the issue of time constraints, if we truly want to change the pathway of many of our children, we
have to help our children see themselves differently and develop new self-concepts. They have to learn
to throw aside the language that ensconces our culture and emerge with a new language, which is not
an easy task (Easley, 1999). Unfortunately, prior studies suggests that social learning of prosocial
behaviors can be interrupted by unconcerned or inconsistent parents, by poor school performance, by
inconsistent teachers or the influence of peers who are in the same situation as themselves (Hawkins &
Weis, 1985), which means that it only takes a few children who believe themselves to be isolated and
unloved to begin a process of feeding those that may not initially share those same feelings.
When juxtaposing this possibility against the option of implementing Appreciative Inquiry into our daily
interactions and instituting a positive dialogical environment, AI appears to be a very viable option. There
are also other social learning theories that posit that normative statements, definitions, and
verbalizations can increase the probability that a person will commit deviant behavior and that the
strength of deviant behavior is a direct function of the amount, frequency, and probability of its
reinforcement (Sutherland, 1937; Bandura, 1969). Therefore, in light of the literature, we cannot discount
the viability of our spending time with our youth, entrenched in a positive dialogical environment, which
just may have a chance of combating the impact of the negative dialogues they are faced with when
outside the home environment.
Additionally, African American youth must also work through the normal processes of adolescence
behavior, which in and of itself is a difficult period, often resulting in behaviors that can vacillate from the
childish to adult. Major occupations in adolescents' lives may be their attempt to define their identity


(Erikson, 1975; Garcia, 1981). The successful matriculation of an adolescent through this period can
depend upon the support and relationships they have with their family members.
Now that we have revisited why AI is important, lets examine what was done in the study.
The Research Study: The Role of Appreciative Inquiry in the Fight to Save Our Youth
This aspect of my research study was designed to discover how the use of Appreciative Inquiry as an
organizational development intervention would impact a gang member's ability to envision change. I
spent one week in an alternative school in down town Chicago that was part of the Chicago Public
School System. This school accepted students from across varying communities in the Chicago land
area. I worked with 24 students during that week, conducting the search conference, based on an
Appreciative Inquiry approach.
There were also limitations to this particular search conference that I would not suggest be replicated in
a parish community or any other Catholic organizational setting. In a search conference involving gangs,
it was my belief that one should initially work with gang members, teachers, community members,
families, etc. However, within the context of conducting this research, the study had to focus on the first
step, which was to secure young people in the same room from diverse gangs to assess the
effectiveness of the appreciative intervention approach. Therefore, if one were to replicate this work, I
would suggest that everyone who is necessary for bringing forth the desired change is initially brought
into the process.
The Search Conference lasted four days (Monday through Thursday), with the last day relegated to
wrap-up interviews. In keeping with the four principles of Appreciative Inquiry (inquiry should begin with
appreciation, be applicable, provocative and collaborative), the theme of the search conference was
"Valuing Ourselves as We Build Our Future." On each day of the intervention the students were given a
detailed agenda and a set of questions, which built upon that theme in concert with instructions for the
self-management leadership roles. Students worked in small groups and returned to the larger group for
debriefing, discussion and analysis.
The structure of the agenda for the Search Conference built upon the principles of Appreciative Inquiry
with the first day dedicated to students learning to appreciate themselves through the invitation to identify
and discuss their positive attributes. Building upon the Appreciate Inquiry principles of provocative,
applicable and collaborative dialogue on day two, the focus was to help them integrate their
understanding of themselves and their attributes into what they perceived were the values of mainstream
society. They were also asked to think about their wishes for a different future for themselves. The
remaining days were focused on the design of strategies for implementing the change.
The format for the search conference was as follows:

Valuing Ourselves as We Build Our Future

Self-management Leadership Roles in the Search-Conferencing Process
Each small group manages its own discussion, data, time and reports. Below are the ways in which each
small group will operate.

Discussion leader: This individual assures that each person who wants to speak is heard within
available time and keeps the group on track to finish on time.

Timekeeper: This individual keeps the group aware of time left, monitors report-outs and signals time
remaining to the individual talking.

Recorder: This individual writes the individual stories and the group's output on flip charts, using the
speaker's words, and also asks people to restate long ideas briefly. In addition, the recorder should



begin a list of core individual strengths and the core strengths of gangs in their communities on a
separate sheet of paper. You will obtain this information from listening to the stories.

Reporter: This individual delivers the report to the large group in the time allotted.

Opening Excerpt-Day One

In a world of permanent change, we need new ways of understanding, valuing and loving ourselves in
order to begin to imagine alternative ways of finding new possibilities for our future. The habitual way in
which we think, our assumptions, the images we allow people to impress upon us and the rules we use
to define our world, in an ironic way, can continue the very conditions we are looking to change.
Therefore, this week we will challenge you to seek the very best of "what is" within you, your family,
school life and community in order to help us begin to imagine what we can become, as individuals and
as a collective community. Through talking together, dreaming together and developing plans to change
our future, we will first explore how we are when we are at our best. From that point we will vision all the
possibilities of what might our future be, and then discuss what it should be.
When engaging in these discussions, we will also ask each of you to explore and expand your realm of
possibilities of how each of you can obtain your dreams and hopes by building upon the strengths you
have as individuals and as collective organizations within your communities. From that discussion we will
move into the planning stage where we, in a creative manner, will identify the steps we will need to take
to get to our goals and dreams. We will also identify and discuss the resources you will need from people
in your school, home and community and the roles of those resources.
Discussion Questions Day One
Talk about stories or times in your life where there were real high points where you have felt most alive,
most proud to be you and valued yourself the most. What made it a high point in your life? Who were the
significant people that were part of this experience and why were they significant? What was it about you
that made it a high point for you? What skills did you see yourself exhibit?
Without being humble, talk about what you value the most about yourself, as a human being, a friend, a
student and a member of your community? When you are feeling best about your work in school, what
do you value about the work that you are doing? What is the single most important thing that school and
your family have contributed to your life?
Describe a time when you felt the gangs in your community were the most productive in terms of helping
in the community. What organizational factors (such as leadership, teamwork, and results) contributed to
this productivity?
Organizations work best when people at all levels share a basic common vision and direction. When
people know what the big picture is they often experience a feeling of purpose, pride, significance, and
unity. In your mind, think about what is the common mission or purpose that unites the gangs in your
community. How is this common purpose or mission communicated and nurtured? What skills do you
see gang members use when uniting their members? Imagine for a minute these same skills being used
for positive purposes in the community. How would the gangs being acting differently within your
Opening Excerpt-Day Two
Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with
which men and women transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, then change it.
Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new
naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in work, in action and reflection. To say the word,



which requires work, is to transform the world, saying that work is not the privilege of some few persons,
but the right of everyone. Consequently, no one can say a true world alone, nor can she say it for
another, in a prescriptive act that robs others of their words.
Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Therefore,
dialogue cannot occur between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose
right to speak has been denied. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word
must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression.
If it is in speaking their word that people, by naming the world, transform it, dialogue imposes itself as the
way by which they achieve significance as human beings.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire, 1970
Discussion Questions-Day Two
As Freire said, human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true
words, with which men and women use to transform the world. To exist humanly, is to name the world,
then change it. Those of use who have been denied our right to identify ourselves by our own words,
must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression.
Revisit your thoughts and words from yesterday's session. List again the individual core traits that have
made you valued as human beings. Think about the work that you did yesterday and any thoughts you
may have had as you walked away from this session. Also list the core strengths you have when you
work in a group for a common cause. Therefore, you should have two list developed for your group, your
core individual traits and your core group traits. You should not take more than fifteen minutes to develop
both lists.
This is your list #1-with two sections (split your paper down the middle)

Think about for a minute, what individual qualities are valued in mainstream society. What are those
qualities that are necessary for people to excel? You should not take more than 10 minutes to
brainstorm this list.

This is your List #2


Each of you imagines for a minute your three wishes for a different future for yourself. What would
that future look like? List out your three wishes for a different future.

This is your List #3


Imagine for one minute three wishes for a different future for gangs in your community. What would
that future look like? List out your three wishes for this different future.

This is your List #4


Imagine for a minute, three wishes for a different future for your friends and family. What would that
future look like? List out your three wishes for this different future.

This is your List #5


Time permitting, we will reassemble as a larger group and share the group's lists.

Opening Excerpt-Day Three

Before attempting to understand our behavior, we must first examine the human choices that we make
before we try to alter our choices and the underlying premises for those choices. Often our choices are
driven by the imagery that we have been historically exposed to and the metaphors (symbols) that we



are exposed to in order to obtain associated meanings. (Barrett & Srivastva, 1991) Metaphors or our
symbols serve as ways of seeing objects or individuals as if they were something else. It can act as a
way of organizing our perceptions, work as our framework for selecting, naming and framing experiences
(Srivastva & Barrett, 1988).
You, our young people today, particularly those of you in gangs are not surrounded by images or
metaphors that suggests that you can control or change your environment, life conditions or future. If we
walk through Chicago's projects where cages exist to hypothetically prevent children from falling over the
railings, we must examine what messages these cages are sending you. What is the meaning that some
of you who live in Chicago projects must derive from living in brick rooms, so typical of Chicago inner city
projects? What meaning do you associate with policemen patrolling your schools daily, and your having
to go through metal detectors before entering class? And, most profoundly, how do we help you to work
towards generating another meaning to these symbols, which are a part of your daily surroundings? And,
how do we develop alternative visions of reality, when we know that the projects are not going to go
away over night?
No matter what the durability to date is of our existing metaphors and visions, any pattern of social action
can be revised if we as individuals choose to change. Revision in inherent in our establishing new
visions of symbolizing and conceptualizing the world. (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987)
Part of understanding the imagery is to understand our human history and the history we, as people of
color carry. For several hundred years, we have been facing negative metaphors. For several hundred
years, we have engaged in behavior that has focused on silencing the pain.
Discussion Questions Day Three
As a large group we are going to post on one side of the room your core traits that have made you
valued as a human being and the core strengths you have when you work in a group for a common
cause. On the other side of the room you are going to post those individual qualities, which you believe,
are valued in mainstream society. Each group will analyze to the larger group what they have in common
with the mainstream societal qualities they identified and we will develop a list of any deltas that we may
need to work on to bridge gaps.
This exercise should take us about one hour to go around each room.
As a larger group, each of you will present your individual goals. Each group will post their goals also on
the walls for everyone to be able to see. As a larger group, we will do the following:
Identify steps needed to get to each of those goals
1. Identify help needed from each of the following: school and teachers, family and community helpers.
We must promise to be candid with our assessments. This exercise will probably take us into the rest of
the morning and early afternoon.
Thursday we will wrap up by performing the following:
2. Review our vision for a different future for our gangs and family and discuss ways, in which we can
reach those goals, again assessing what help do we need from school, family and community.
We will also, as part of our tactical planning and follow-up do the following:
3. Setting target dates for starting our steps
Setting target dates for coming back together and reporting our progress
Setting a target date for involving our parents and those parents in the parent o organization



Opening Excerpt-Day Four

W. Clemete Stone and Napoleon Hill's Thoughts to Steer By:
Meet the most important living person! That person is you. Your success, health, happiness, wealth
depend on how you use your invisible talisman. How will you use it? The choice is yours. Your mind is
your invisible talisman. The letters PMA (positive mental attitude) are emblazoned on one side and NMS
(Negative mental attitude) on the other. These are powerful forces. PMA is the right mental attitude for
each specific occasion. It has the power to attract the good and the beautiful. NMA repels them. It is a
negative mental attitude that robs you of all that makes life worth living. Every adversity has the seed of
an equivalent or greater benefit for those who have PMA.
Sometimes the things that seem to be adversities turn out to be opportunities in disguise. You can profit
by disappointment-if it is turned into inspirational dissatisfaction with positive mental attitude. Convert a
failure of one day into success on another.
Bring into reality the possibility of the improbable by acquiring positive mental attitude. Say to yourself,
keep working. Don't let your mental attitude make you a "has been." Success is achieved by those who
try and maintained by those who keep trying with positive mental attitude.
Discussion Questions Day Four
Your roles are to take the list of things that you want from community, school and family and develop that
list into even more specific action steps. For example, if you say you want a mentor from the community,
you have to define what you want a mentor to help you with, what would be your expectations of a
mentor and how often you would like to interact with that mentor. If you want a mentor to come from a
specific work background, which might give you some insight into a particular career, you should list that
also. Another example, you said you want your school to educate you. You must begin to think about
what additional subjects you need. We talked about reading. If practice on reading is a need, we need to
identify that in order to give the appropriate. If computing is a need, again, you need to identify what
things you may need that are over and beyond what you are getting during your normal school week.
The objective of this break out session is to add as much detail as possible in order to develop specific
action steps. You will have 30 minutes to finish this task.
Next, in your small group will also define what you would like to see as assistance for your family and the
gangs in your community. You will have 30 minutes to complete this task, again being as specific as you
We will come back into the larger group and perform the following for follow-up:

Set target dates for starting our steps

Set target dates for coming back together and reporting our progress
Set a target date for involving our parents and those parents in the parent organization
The results of the intervention

As previously stated, while the results of the interviews painted a very dark picture with our youth, the
results of the intervention provided hope. When examining the self-reported feelings of the youth that
participated in the study, their report outs corroborated the themes that emerged from the interviews. Yet,
when asked to vision a positive approach regarding their attributes and envision a different future from
an appreciative perspective, the youth articulated hope and very clear visions.
When we look at this research within the context of the theoretical framework of Appreciative Inquiry,
some very critical learning emerged, which is believed to be very relevant to the African American



Understanding the impact of Pygmalion Effect upon Youth and Extrapolating that Learning to
other areas of the African American community
The greatest value from the perspective of the Pygmalion theory is that it begins to provide empirical
understanding of the relational pathways of the positive image-positive action dynamic and of the
transactional basis of the human self. To understand the self as a symbolic social creation is to recognize
that human beings are essentially modifiable, are open to new development, and are products of the
human imagination and mind. Like the placebo response, it appears that the positive image plants a
seed that redirects the mind of the perceiver to think about and see the other with affirmative eyes
(Cooperrider, 1986). Prior research on the Pygmalion effect also suggest that when youth believe that
their teachers and institutions do not expect them to succeed, and know that their teachers believe in
stereotypes (e.g. such as gang behaviors) they will tend to engage in defensive behaviors (Rosenthal &
Jacobson, 1968). The results of this research can very easily be applied to African American
communities that face lack of resources, which in and of itself may send a very powerful message
regarding the expectation of failure. Yet, if we understand the potential interpretation of the message, or
peceived message, it becomes much easier to address behavior.
The impact of the Pygmalion effect was clearly evident during the early days of the intervention. The first
day, the students struggled with responding to a positive approach for discussing and visioning their lives
and attributes, stating that they could not think of anything positive to state about themselves. Yet, once
they understood the researcher's expectation that there was something positive for them to discuss, the
ice broke and the initial struggle subsided, thus yielding the following sampling of their responses:
(Name excluded) is respectful, honest, loyal, smart, nice person
(Name excluded) is respectful at times
Courage to stand up and walk away; he trust his friend
(Values about yourself) my personality
As a friend, that we could talk to one another and understand each others problems
Values my personality
When asked to share stories or times in their life where there were real high points and they felt most
alive, most proud to be them and valued themselves most, a representative sampling of their responses,
grounded in the educational system, included the following:
Graduated from 8th grade
Received the best report card ever
Demonstrated my ability to pass the Iowa test
Speaking is a good skill of hers and her ability to do math
My mother was a significant person in my life
Eighth grade graduation
His ability to pass the Iowa test
Also was very good in math
Mother was the most significant person in his life.
Highest point was his freshman year in high school
Unsolicited, the majority of responses from the youth were grounded in school activities. However, when
reviewing the literature on the values of gang members, it is not uncommon to find the perspective that
youth in gangs do not value education. For example, in a research study that investigated at-risk
behavior in an emerging gang community, the researchers reported that the normal values that youth
internalize towards school, such as being on time, paying attention to teachers and other staff and
getting passing grades, are not high priorities for most gang members. Yet a significant percentage of
their subjects reported As and Bs and Cs in school and only 27% reported that they had below average
grades or had done poorly in school (Decker & Van Winkle, 1996).
In 1981, the data resulting from a study on Hispanic youth corroborated the research associated with the
Pygmalion effect (Garcia, 1981, Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968), The reaction of teachers to Hispanic
males and females that were known by the teachers to be members of gangs, versus Hispanic students



who were known not to be members of gangs was studied. The results indicated that there was no
significant variance on the demonstrated abilities of the students through a comparison (via descriptive
statistics) of school records. The teachers were asked to rate both groups on their perceptions of their
achievement abilities and the teachers rated each group lower than their actual demonstrated skills via
their school records. The students known to belong to a gang were rated even lower than the group
known not to belong to a gang.
Eleven years later, Padilla's (1992) sociological research also corroborated the impact associated with
the Pygmalion Effect. His informants openly discussed the constant explicit and implicit disapproval of
those elements that were at the core of their lives, such as school. He cites examples of an informant's
reflections of his teachers ridiculing and belittling Puerto Rican children in the classroom, at times openly
suggesting that they voluntarily accept becoming welfare recipients. One informant specifically stated
that he believed that this experience took away much of his interest in school (Padilla, 1992).
By the conclusion of the search conference, the students were able to articulate a more positive future.
When asked to present their individual goals, a sampling of their responses included:
Finish school on time
Go to law school
Find a good job
Be a court room artist
Join the navy
Be independent
Learn computer skills
Go to home school
Get a scholarship
When asked what support they needed, a sampling of their feedback included:
Respect (as a general issue)
Acknowledging a person's independence
Respecting others as a person
Respecting yourself
Respecting other's decisions
We should have textbooks; we should (have) computer classes. Family-Should support us more
and stop doing this for themselves and each other out.
They should have support in everything we do; like if we do something wrong they should help us
correct it.
Role models: [adults] should have confident in us and support in what we do by helping with what
you want to be, by staying by your side.
The education system is off track; the teacher [s] in the school has [to] change
Their attitude about teaching the children of our future
Stop thinking negatively of teens and starting being positive role models
Support: for street wise
Expose us to more things to help the community
Family-wish they were more concerned and considerate of my education by coming to the school
more and participating



Support: positive encouragement

Start treating us like we are maturing
Stop down falling us
Respect: respect how others live--their life styles, respect someone else's wishes
School: be able to voice your opinion on how they are doing
The conversation surrounding implementation steps was still very vague. The students struggled with the
strategic perspective, but were very able to clearly articulate their goals.
Heliotropic Evolution
During the search conference dialogue, the movement toward positive light was most evident. At the
beginning of this intervention, when asked to tell stories about the high points in their lives and talk about
their positive attributes, many of the young people stated that they had nothing good to say about
themselves. Their behaviors were disrespectful to themselves as well as the individuals around them, yet
they wanted to be respected, a theme that dominated the intervention. They talked about how they were
behind in their grades, calling themselves "demotes," identifying academic deficiencies and talking about
having been sent to an alternative school because of the behavioral problems they had allegedly
demonstrated in their regular schools (Easley, 1999).
Yet, when concluding comments on the last day, a representative sampling of the interaction that
developed between the students and the researcher can be summed up in this student's comments:
Before she [the researcher] came, I did not think I was going to be anything; she gives us some ump;
she uplifts us; she tells us there are other resources; if your parents are on drugs, you may not know
there are other ways; some might want to commit suicide, but you have to know there are alternatives;
we expressed something's that we would not have done or talked to someone about; she let us think
about ourselves in another way; it's hard to bounce back when someone for sixteen years has been
telling me I am not anything. It's hard to bounce back; this class has given us even more - she brought to
us to forget about the past, you can be anything you want; (to me the student said) Be proud of yourself,
you just saved another life. I really mean what I said; I am thankful for us that she came here; we can
achieve - she let us know that. What you don't see, you don't know."(Easley, 1999).
Anticipatory principle
Our future reality is permeable, emergent, and open to the mind's causal influence; that is, reality is
conditioned, reconstructed, and often profoundly created through our anticipatory images, values, plans,
intentions, beliefs, and the like (Cooperrider, 1990). With this is the recognition that every social action
somehow involves anticipation of the future, in the sense that it involves a reflexive looking-forward-to
and backward-from.
The students at the start of the AI process were unable to look forward to any positive, promising or
hopeful life, but when conditions were created for these possibilities to fully develop, the dialogue began
to shift from deficit-based language to conversations of possibilities and hopes of a more positive future.
Through the application of Appreciative Inquiry, within a positive context, others in the room also began
to apply new meaning to students' dialogue and their own roles in similar circumstances. By the third day
of the intervention we spent considerable time discussing, off line, change [they] could make in their life
(Easley, 1999).
For this reason, it is noted, that if youth in gangs are continually exposed to interventions that focus on
prescriptive, suppressive techniques that emerge from negative deficit orientations, we risk suppressing
any anticipatory images they could envision that would suggest moving from their present condition.
Youth in gangs need a purpose for living. They also need an alternative vision for using the skills that
they possess such as leadership, entrepreneurship, decision-making, and problem solving (Easley,
Yaeger, Sorensen, 1999). Youth in gangs, when given a positive dialogue environment, are capable of
generating alternative ways in which they view their world - they are equally capable of generating



options for change. And, most critically, I respectfully submit to you that this learning can be applied to
most change initiatives within our communities.
What did I learn?
The Appreciative Inquiry intervention challenged gang members' traditional assumptions by fostering a
dialogue that began to question all of the negative discourse that engulfed their daily lives. The youth
were able to begin unfreezing their old language and imagine new alternatives, while discovering a
different context to their understanding of self. Through critical dialogue, they also began to understand
in a different context the skills they possessed, and the myths they had internalized as well as their
ability to explore new relational meanings. When valuing started, the students also began to re-story
accomplishments in their lives from a different social context. When comparing this outcome against the
data from the interviews, which resulted in a picture of youth communicating perceptions of life,
relationships and possibilities housed in a negative, deficient orientation built upon a current reality they
possessed, this level of movement that resulted from the AI intervention was truly a phenomenal
However, I also learned that this study only sets forth a beginning. A significant limitation of the research
was that it did not include a formalistic establishment of sustaining systems to continue the progress of
the students, and while the principal of the high school and I tried, we needed many more resources to
support these young people other than parents, their teachers and ourselves.
While Appreciative Inquiry in both corporate and social settings has proven to be a powerful catalyst for
evoking beginning change in youth in gangs, continued processes and implementation steps involving
Appreciative Inquiry must be designed within the support structure of the whole system, which is critical
to sustaining the change. It is not enough to conduct "front-end" work despite the success of that work.
Youth in gangs are affected by many external influences over and beyond their families, such as peers,
their school, community constituents, and images and language they hear and see in the media.
Collaborative processes, which also include support for parents, teachers and school officials, who also
struggle with a deficit-oriented view of youth in gangs, is critical. This learning also extends to other
areas of change within African American communities. It is critical that we develop processes to
continue, strategically and systemically the work that we begin. The formulation of well-conceived and
documented action plans that involve all stakeholders with individuals responsible for being the point
guard or quarterback is an effective way for making change within our communities.
I also learned that bringing about change is a large task, which is complicated by the fact that within our
society, our cultural values seem altogether too precarious and are subject to erode or ascend without
any logical pattern (Gergen, 1994). Therefore, we have to be aware of these constraints and not allow
them to become or emerge as permanent barriers, but as situations, which must be managed.
Inclusively, we must also be aware of the fact that everyone may not univocally share cultural realities.
When working to make change that positively impacts African Americans, we must be conscious of those
groups who do not want the change, or who may incur reflexive doubt. Therefore, in the course of
change, we have to help people develop something to replace what is lost in the change and
concurrently not be afraid of that change and replacement. Social transformation requires new visions
and vocabularies, new visions of possibility and practices that in their very realization begin to change
alternative courses (Gergen, 1994). However, within the context of change, we have to ask the question
by what processes do people collectively achieve understanding and how do failures in understanding
occur? We also have to understand under what conditions are communal constructions likely to change
or to resist change and how can contradictory constructions of their views be reconciled (Gergen, 1994;
Easley, 1999)?
I also learned that to continue the change that began in the youth who participated in this study called for
a more systemic and strategic focus that moved beyond just changing the paradigms of a school system
or youth in a particular community. The change that is needed in African American communities must
include a change in our mental models of our youth, of us and of our state of existence. To accomplish



systemic change also requires challenging the pictorial representations we are bombarded with
daily...those pictorial representations represented by such entities as the media or scholarly writing that
have shaped how we have learned to respond to youth in gangs as well as ourselves and our
acceptance of our situations. For example, through the news, television, and motion picture media, gang
members are represented in a manner that clearly invites fear. Yet, we have to continually keep in the
forefront of our minds that these are our children. In general, African Americans should also challenge
how we are represented in these same media. By challenging these representations that tend to impact
our perceptions of reality, they will begin to loose impact as truth bearing (Gergen, 1994). Through an
appreciative perspective, it becomes much easier to challenge these mental representations and their
ability to shape our mental models and perceptions of reality. As a result, we clearly have an opportunity
to make a difference in our future as we move through this new millennium.
Peace be with you.

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