The power of ‘identity projects’ in launching a life

The power of 'identity projects' in launching a life

By Dan Rodricks
Originally Published by The Baltimore Sun
Photo: Baltimore Heritage, Flickr


Can it be that a hobby makes a difference? That a passion for dance or raising pigeons or Shakespeare can help kids from poor families in Baltimore finish high school and get on track for a life better than the one they were born into?

The findings of a 10-year study of 150 young adults — all of them African-American, all born in the late 1980s or early 1990s into families that resided, at least for a time, in the city’s public housing projects — seem to suggest exactly that.

Ninety-four percent of the young adults who were considered “on track” — working or in school — by the end of that study had what researchers call an “identity project.”

It might have been an interest in music (recording rap songs, creating “beats” online and selling them for a few bucks) or playing games. It might have been a hobby, volunteering to help others, or getting involved in a club of some kind (not a gang). Whatever form it took, the “identity project” appeared to be a powerful influence.

The researchers say these activities are “life preservers [that] keep young people psychologically afloat while they resist the pull of the street.”

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