Understanding African-American Participants
By Sarah Hokanson
The Bottom-Line First: A recent review of relationship education programs serving large numbers of African-American couples shows how including culturally relevant components in our relationship education courses can lead to greater positive outcomes for participants.
Across the nation, we see a greater decline in marital and relationship stability for African-American families than other racial/ethnic groups. This suggests the importance of focusing relationship education (RE) efforts towards African-American families. While RE is usually skills-based and focused on promoting healthy relationships, integrating aspects of cultural relevance into RE curriculum may be beneficial for African-American families.
One recent review looked at seven different studies on couple relationship education curricula with large samples of African-Americans. Of the seven studies, four used culturally relevant components, which integrated race/ethnicity, cultural values, and sociocultural factors into the curriculum. These components included:
- Use of prayer due to high religiosity among African-Americans, on average.
- African-American group facilitators.
- Africentric-based curriculum, which focused on including African and African-American cultural values such as collectivism, interdependence, and spirituality.
- Incorporation of historical socio-cultural factors such as the impact of slavery on breaking families apart, the important role of churches in African-American communities, and the impact of racial discrimination on couple relationships.
- Use of interactive culturally-based teaching including group discussions, oral tradition, and ceremonies.
The results found that African-Americans participating in the culturally relevant education programs showed improvements in relationship quality, marital satisfaction, and stability. In addition to positive relationship outcomes, culturally relevant curricula enhanced the participants’ awareness of their African-American identity.
Another study tested the Protecting Strong African American Families (ProSAAF) curriculum, a family-centered education program not included in the previous study. Compared with a control group, participants in the program showed improvements in relationship communication, confidence, and satisfaction, partner support, parenting, and co-parenting. In addition, 81% of couples attended all program sessions, which is higher than normal for most RE programs.
Together these studies suggest that cultural relevance in our RE courses can make a significant impact, perhaps even more than courses with more generic content.
These promising findings have same important implications:
- In general, African-Americans have several distinct cultural values and common experiences. Taking this into consideration and infusing the skills and concepts that we want to teach with the values African-Americans hold can help participants better appreciate and implement what is taught. For example, having African-American group facilitators and emphasizing specific challenges to African-American families that come from the history of discrimination can help participants with the unique family stressors in their lives.
- All people come with different cultural backgrounds. Race and ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, and other factors influence people’s values and perspectives. Taking the background of those we teach into consideration can help us to prepare and share content that is in line with the beliefs of our students. This can then lead to a better acceptance and integration of important concepts and skills taught in relationship education. Including culturally relevant components for African-Americans has significant positive outcomes, so including culturally relevant components for other populations in our RE programs (e.g., Hispanic groups, Asian-American groups, Native American groups, etc.) will likely have similar positive outcomes.
 Mikle, K. S. & Gilbert, D. J. (2019) A systematic review of culturally relevant marriage and couple relationship education programs for African-American couples. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 28, 50-75, doi:10.1080/15313204.2019.1570892
 Barton, A. W., Beach, S. R. H., Wells, A. C., Ingels, J. B., Corso, P. S., Sperr, M. C., … Brody, G. H. (2018). The Protecting Strong African American Families program: A randomized controlled trial with rural African American couples. Prevention Science, 19, 904–913. doi: 10.1007/s11121-018-0895-4