Repeated exposure to violent crime and drug use among youth of color can have negative health and behavioral outcomes. Using a community trauma theoretical framework, this qualitative study examines the lived experiences of Black and Latinx youth living in an under-resourced community with high levels of violent crime. Data were collected through eleven focus groups comprising of (N = 59) youth. Common themes arose including daily occurrences of witnessing gun violence, feelings of hopelessness, and lack of opportunities among youth. Implications highlight the importance of youth serving community-based organizations to nurture resilience and community healing within trauma-exposed neighborhoods.
Urban Black and Latinx youth are disproportionately exposed to community violence.
There is limited qualitative research using a community-trauma framework.
Trauma-informed care and community-based organizations for youth is crucial.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Advocates for Children of NJ (2015). New Jersey Kids Count Data. Retrieved from: https://acnj.org/kids-count/.
Agee, J. (2009). Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(4), 431–447.
Andrews III, A. R., Jobe-Shields, L., López, C. M., Metzger, I. W., de Arellano, M. A., Saunders, B., & Kilpatrick, D. G. (2015). Polyvictimization, income, and ethnic differences in trauma-related mental health during adolescence. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 50(8), 1223–1234.
Anguelovski, I. (2013). From environmental trauma to safe haven: place attachment and place remaking in three marginalized neighborhoods of Barcelona, Boston, and Havana. City & Community, 12(3), 211–237.
Antunes, M. J. L., & Ahlin, E. M. (2017). Youth exposure to violence in the community: towards a theoretical framework for explaining risk and protective factors. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 34, 166–177.
Bhavnani, R., Donnay, K., Miodownik, D., Mor, M., & Helbing, D. (2014). Group segregation and urban violence. American Journal of Political Science, 58, 226–245.
Biello, K. B., Ickovics, J., Niccolai, L., Lin, H., & Kershaw, T. (2013). Racial differences in age at first sexual intercourse: residential racial segregation and the black-white disparity among US adolescents. Public Health Reports, 128(2_suppl1), 23–32.
Blake, J. J., Butler, B. R., Lewis, C. W., & Darensbourg, A. (2011). Unmasking the inequitable discipline experiences of urban Black girls: Implications for urban educational stakeholders. The Urban Review, 43(1), 90–106.
Borofsky, L. A., Kellerman, I., Baucom, B., Oliver, P. H., & Margolin, G. (2013). Community violence exposure and adolescents’ school engagement and academic achievement over time. Psychology of Violence, 3(4), 381.
Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming Qualitative Information: thematic analysis and code development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Brondolo, E., Libretti, M., Rivera, L., & Walsemann, K. M. (2012). Racism and social capital: the implications for social and physical well‐being. Journal of Social Issues, 68(2), 358–384.
Butcher, F., Galanek, J. D., Kretschmar, J. M., & Flannery, D. J. (2015). The impact of neighborhood disorganization on neighborhood exposure to violence, trauma symptoms, and social relationships among at-risk youth. Social Science & Medicine, 146, 300–306.
Chen, P., Voisin, D. R., & Jacobson, K. C. (2016). Community violence exposure and adolescent delinquency: examining a spectrum of promotive factors. Youth & Society, 48(1), 33–57.
Clonan-Roy, K., Jacobs, C. E., & Nakkula, M. J. (2016). Towards a model of positive youth development specific to girls of color: Perspectives on development, resilience, and empowerment. Gender Issues, 33(2), 96–121.
Cooley-Strickland, M., Quille, T. J., Griffin, R. S., Stuart, E. A., Bradshaw, C. P., & Furr- Holden, D. (2009). Community violence and youth: affect, behavior, substance use, and academics. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12(2), 127–156. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-009-0051-6.
Cunradi, C. B., Mair, C., Ponicki, W., & Remer, L. (2011). Alcohol outlets, neighborhood characteristics, and intimate partner violence: ecological analysis of a California city. Journal of Urban Health, 88(2), 191–200.
Daly, B., Buchanan, C., Dasch, K., Eichen, D., & Lenhart, C. (2010). Promoting school connectedness among urban youth of color: Reducing risk factors while promoting protective factors. The Prevention Researcher, 17(3), 18–20.
Deutsch, A., Crockett, L., Wolff, J., & Russell, S. (2012). Parent and peer pathways to adolescent delinquency: variations by ethnicity and neighborhood context. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 41(8), 1078–1094. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9754.
Drummond, H., Bolland, J. M., & Ann Harris, W. (2011). Becoming violent: evaluating the mediating effect of hopelessness on the code of the street thesis. Deviant Behavior, 32(3), 191–223.
Espelage, D. L. (2014). Ecological Theory: Preventing Youth Bullying, Aggression, and Victimization. Theory Into Practice, 53(4), 257–264.
Federal Bureau of Investigations. (2016). Crime in the United States. Retrieved from: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016.
Fergus, S., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2005). Adolescent resilience: A framework for understanding healthy development in the face of risk. Annu. Rev. Public Health, 26, 399–419.
Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2013). Violence, crime, and abuse exposure in a national sample of children and youth: An update. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(7), 614–621.
Floyd, L. J., & Brown, Q. (2013). Attitudes toward and sexual partnerships with drug dealers among young adult African American females in socially disorganized communities. Journal of Drug Issues, 43(2), 154–163.
Gaylord-Harden, N. K., Cunningham, J. A., & Zelencik, B. (2011). Effects of exposure to community violence on internalizing symptoms: does desensitization to violence occur in African American youth? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39(5), 711–719.
Harding, D. J. (2009). Violence, older peers, and the socialization of adolescent boys in disadvantaged neighborhoods. American Sociological Review, 74(3), 445–464.
Hawkins, J. D., Oesterle, S., Brown, E. C., Monahan, K. C., Abbott, R. D., Arthur, M. W., & Catalano, R. F. (2012). Sustained decreases in risk exposure and youth problem behaviors after installation of the Communities that Care prevention system in a randomized trial. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 166, 141–148.
Henneberger, A. K., Durkee, M. I., Truong, N., Atkins, A., & Tolan, P. H. (2013). The longitudinal relationship between peer violence and popularity and delinquency in adolescent boys: Examining effects by family functioning. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(11), 1651–1660.
Jones, J. M. (2007). Exposure to chronic community violence: resilience in African American children. The Journal of Black Psychology, 33(2), 125–149. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798407299511.
Kevern, J., & Webb, C. (2001). Focus groups as a tool for critical social research in nurse education. Nurse Education Today, 21, 323–333. https://doi.org/10.1054/nedt.2001.0563.
Lardier, D. T., Reid, R. J., Yu, D., & Garcia-Reid, P. (2019). A spatial analysis of alcohol outlet density and abandoned properties on violent crime in Paterson New Jersey. Journal of Community Health, 45, 534–541.
Lee, E., Larkin, H., & Esaki, N. (2017). Exposure to community violence as a new adverse childhood experience category: promising results and future considerations. Families in Society, 98, 69–78.
Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The neighborhoods they live in: the effects of neighborhood residence on child and adolescent outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126(2), 309.
Lewin, A., Horn, I. B., Valentine, D., Sanders-Phillips, K., & Joseph, J. G. (2010). How does violence exposure affect the psychological health and parenting of young African American mothers? Social Science & Medicine, 70(4), 526–533. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.10.048.
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Margolin, G., & Gordis, E. B. (2000). The effects of family and community violence on children. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 445–479.
Margolin, G., Vickerman, K., Ramos, M., Serrano, S., Gordis, E., Iturralde, E., & Spies, L. (2009). Youth exposed to violence: stability, co-occurrence, and context. Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review, 12, 39–54. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-009-0040-9.
McGarrell, E. F., Corsaro, N., Melde, C., Hipple, N. K., Bynum, T., & Cobbina, J. (2013). Attempting to reduce firearms violence through a Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative (CAGI): an evaluation of process and impact. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41, 33–43.
Morselli, D. (2017). Contextual determinants of hopelessness: investigating socioeconomic factors and emotional climates. Social Indicators Research, 133, 373–393.
Morton, C. M., Simmel, C., & Peterson, N. A. (2014). Neighborhood alcohol outlet density and rates of child abuse and neglect: moderating effects of access to substance abuse services. Child Abuse & Neglect, 38(5), 952–961. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.01.002.
Mrug, S., Madan, A., & Windle, M. (2016). Emotional desensitization to violence contributes to adolescents’ violent behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(1), 75–86. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-015-9986-x.
Ng-Mak, D. S., Salzinger, S., Feldman, R., & Stueve, A. (2002). Normalization of violence among inner-city youth: a formulation for research. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72, 92–101.
Ng-Mak, D. S., Salzinger, S., Feldman, R. S., & Stueve, C. (2004). Pathologic adaptation to community violence among inner-city youth. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 74(2), 196–207.
Opara, I., Lardier, Jr. D. T., Reid, R. J., & Garcia-Reid, P. (2019). “It all starts with the parents”: a qualitative study on the protective factors for drug use prevention among Black and Hispanic girls. Affilia: Journal of Women & Social Work, 34, 199–218. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109918822543.
Opara, I., Rodas, E. I. R., Lardier, D. T., Garcia-Reid, P., & Reid, R. J. (2020). Validation of the abbreviated socio-political control scale for youth (SPCS-Y) among urban girls of color. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 37(1), 83–95.
Parker, K. F., & Stansfield, R. (2015). The changing urban landscape: interconnections between racial/ethnic segregation and exposure in the study of race-specific violence over time. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 1796–1805. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302639.
Parsai, M. B., Castro, F. G., Marsiglia, F. F., Harthun, M. L., & Valdez, H. (2011). Using community based participatory research to create a culturally grounded intervention for parents and youth to prevent risky behaviors. Prevention Science, 12, 34–47.
Patton, M. Q. (2014). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice. Sage publications.
Pinderhughes, H., Davis, R., & Williams, M. (2015). Adverse community experiences and resilience: a framework for addressing and preventing community trauma. Oakland CA: Prevention Institute.
Porter, L. C., De Biasi, A., Mitchell, S., Curtis, A., & Jefferis, E. (2019). Understanding the criminogenic properties of vacant housing: a mixed methods approach. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 56(3), 378–411.
Rawles, P. D. (2010). The link between poverty, the proliferation of violence and the development of traumatic stress among urban youth in the united states to school violence: a trauma informed, social justice approach to school violence. Forum on Public Policy Online, 2010(4), 1–14.
Ries, A. V., Voorhees, C. C., Roche, K. M., Gittelsohn, J., Yan, A. F., & Astone, N. M. (2009). A quantitative examination of park characteristics related to park use and physical activity among urban youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45(3), S64–S70.
Revital, G. (2017). Trauma theory and trauma-informed care in substance use disorders: a conceptual model for integrating coping and resilience. Advances in Social Work, 18(Iss 1), 186–201. https://doi.org/10.18060/21312.
Roscigno, V. J., Karafin, D. L., & Tester, G. (2009). The complexities and processes of racial housing discrimination. Social Problems, 56(1), 49–69. https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.2009.56.1.49.
Sampson, R. J. (2012). Neighborhood inequality, violence, and the social infrastructure of the American city. In: W. F. Tate (Ed.), Research on schools, neighborhoods, and communities: toward civic responsibility (pp. 11–28). New York, NY, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Sharkey, P., & Sampson, R. J. (2010). Destination effects: residential mobility and trajectories of adolescent violence in a stratified metropolis. Criminology, 48(3), 639–681.
Shaw, A., Brady, B., McGrath, B., Brennan, M. A., & Dolan, P. (2014). Understanding youth civic engagement: debates, discourses, and lessons from practice. Community Development, 45(4), 300–316.
Speer, P. W., & Hughey, J. (1995). Community organizing: an ecological route to empowerment and power. American journal of community psychology, 23(5), 729–748.
Stockdale, S. E., Wells, K. B., Tang, L., Belin, T. R., Zhang, L., & Sherbourne, C. D. (2007). The importance of social context: neighborhood stressors, stress-buffering mechanisms, and alcohol, drug, and mental health disorders. Social Science Medicine, 65, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.05.045.
Stoddard, S., Henly, S., Sieving, R., & Bolland, J. (2011). Social connections, trajectories of hopelessness, and serious violence in impoverished urban youth. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 40(3), 278–295. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-010-9580-z.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (n.d.). Trauma and violence. SAMHSA. Washington, D.C. https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/clinical-practice/trauma.
Teixeira, S.(2016). Beyond broken windows: youth perspectives on housing abandonment and its impact on individual and community well-being. Child Indicators Research, 9(3), 581–607.
Tyler, K. A., & Melander, L. A. (2015). Child abuse, street victimization, and substance use among homeless young adults. Youth & Society, 47(4), 502–519.
Ullman, S. E., Relyea, M., Peter-Hagene, L., & Vasquez, A. L. (2013). Trauma histories, substance use coping, PTSD, and problem substance use among sexual assault victims. Addictive behaviors, 38(6), 2219–2223.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov.
van Wesel, F., Alisic, E., & Boeije, H. (2014). Using qualitative evidence to optimize child PTSD treatment guidelines. Psychological Trauma, 6(5), 546.
Wade, R. J., Shea, J. A., Rubin, D., & Wood, J. (2014). Adverse childhood experiences of low-income urban youth. Pediatrics, 134(1), e13–e20. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2013-2475.
Wallace, S. A., Neilands, T. B., & Sanders Phillips, K. (2017). Neighborhood context, psychological outlook, and risk behaviors among urban African American youth. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 23(1), 59–69. https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000108.
Williams, J. L., Aiyer, S. M., Durkee, M. I., & Tolan, P. H. (2014). The protective role of ethnic identity for urban adolescent males facing multiple stressors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(10), 1728–1741.
Williams, D. R., & Collins, C. (2016). Racial residential segregation: a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health. Public Health Reports, 116(6), 404–416.
Wu, N. S., Schairer, L. C., Dellor, E., & Grella, C. (2010). Childhood trauma and health outcomes in adults with comorbid substance abuse and mental health disorders. Addictive Behaviors, 35, 68–71.
Yabiku, S., Kulis, S., Marsiglia, F. F., Lewin, B., Nieri, T., & Hussaini, S. (2007). Neighborhood effects on the efficacy of a program to prevent youth alcohol use. Substance Use & Misuse, 42, 65–87. https://doi.org/10.1080/10826080601094264.
Zeldin, S., Gauley, J., Krauss, S. E., Kornbluh, M., & Collura, J. (2017). Youth–adult partnership and youth civic development: cross-national analyses for scholars and field professionals. Youth & Society, 49(7), 851–878.
Zyromski, B. (2007). African American and Latino youth and post-traumatic stress syndrome: effects on school violence and interventions for school counselors. Journal of School Violence, 6(1), 121–137.
The first author was supported by a National Institute on Drug Abuse T 32 Training Grant (5T32 DA07233). This study was supported by the Drug Free Communities Grant (DFC) Initiative (Grant #SP022-19-01), funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Points of view, opinions, and conclusions in this paper do not necessarily represent the official position of the U.S. Government.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (include name of committee + reference number) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Opara, I., Lardier, D.T., Metzger, I. et al. “Bullets Have no Names”: A Qualitative Exploration of Community Trauma Among Black and Latinx Youth. J Child Fam Stud 29, 2117–2129 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01764-8
- Community trauma
- Drug use