The Program for Research on Black Americans (PRBA) was established in 1976 at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research by an interdisciplinary team of social scientists and graduate students. That team of researchers were committed to “Giving Voice” to a heretofore largely voiceless Black America.
PRBA has been a leader in creating new and innovative research methods in African American communities. During its landmark National Survey of Black Americans in 1980, PRBA used a sampling technique that, for the first time, made all African American households — even African Americans living in areas with small populations of Blacks — eligible to participate in the national survey, thus providing the first truly representative look at Black America. This technique is called the wide area sampling procedure (WASP).
PRBA also developed a national probability sampling procedure for intergenerationally-linked families to permit PRBA investigators to scientifically gather information from three generations within the same family. This has added important dimensions to research on the transmission of values in African American families.
Since words often have different meanings, especially among ethnic and racial groups, PRBA conducted over a dozen focus groups and three major pretests over the course of two years before carefully selecting the language that would be used in the questionnaires for the National Survey on Black Americans. This same approach was used in PRBA’s research involving children and adolescents, where researchers carefully examined the different meanings words may have among different age and gender groups. It was also used in PRBA’s mental health research which incorporated information gleaned from focus groups with African American adults exploring how African Americans think of and describe emotional and mental health states, processes, and concerns. In fact, this basic set of qualitative procedures has been used in all subsequent PRBA data collection efforts.
Researchers affiliated with the Program have served on advisory panels for philanthropic foundations, government policy-making bodies, and other policy advisory groups to acquaint a broad audience with the implications that PRBA research findings may have on national policy that affects African Americans.
PRBA has also mentored numerous students, post-docs, and junior faculty. Our alumni include many current full professors, department chairs, and deans at Berkeley, Tulane, University of the Redlands, Yale, and University of Miami.
Today, the Program for Research on Black Americans is an important center of scholarship, research, and training. PRBA is respected both nationally and internationally for its groundbreaking research techniques and its training programs to enhance the sensitivity of scholars of race and racial group statuses, and to increase the numbers of social and behavioral scientists of African descent. In keeping with the original vision, PRBA seeks to collect, analyze, and interpret empirical data on African Americans in the United States, as well as international data on people of African descent. A second important goal is to provide research and training opportunities, especially for social scientists and students of color.
A great deal of PRBA’s work has focused on the Black family, social support and religious affiliation and participation. PRBA’s current research can be roughly categorized into five thematic areas:
- Discrimination & Racism
- Physical & Mental Health Disparities
- Aging & Human Development
- Politics & Political Participation
- Identity & Migration
More information on these research areas can be found under the Research tab.
Many research programs at universities across the country have trained graduate students and scholars, but the PRBA also created a family that has endured over the decades. Therefore, the PRBA Reunions can be likened to the tradition of family reunions. How else can one explain over 50 people from across the country coming together in 2014 for the first PRBA reunion and 85 people attending the 40 th anniversary reunion in 2016? The pictures below are from those two reunions, although not all who attended are pictured.