Sisters of Nia: A Cultural Enrichment Program to Empower African American Girls . FAYE Z. BELGRAVE, VALERIE RAWLS CHERRY, DEBORAH S. BUTLER, & TIFFANY G. TOWNSEND . Champaign , IL : Research Press , 2008 . 174 pp., $26.95 (paperback) ISBN: 9780878226061 .

The period of preadolescence to beginning adolescence for girls can be a tumultuous time that is often neglected in research. While contemplating oncoming adolescence, these girls can be influenced by many factors such as race, religion, friends, and family. At the same time they are beginning to understand how individual beliefs can define who they are. Questions often arise as to what are the best ways to help pre- to beginning adolescent girls develop a strong sense of self outside school or family influences. This book, Sisters of Nia, describes a program designed to infuse African culture into adolescent development.

Sisters of Nia captures an Africentric approach to group therapy for adolescent girls, ages 10–14. Creators Faye Belgrave, Valeria Rawls Cherry, Deborah Butler, and Tiffany Townsend have devised a 14-week out-of-school program that focuses on the importance and tradition of African cultures and rituals, while creating group adhesion for dynamic work. Each week highlights a specific session focusing on Eight Principles for African American Living such as Umoja (creativity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia, (purpose), and Kuumba (creativity). More specifically, each session targets a principle—like respect—that is further processed into a topic such as “Mirror, Mirror: What Do You Reflect.” The main objectives of this session are to examine the judgmental attitudes and behaviors of others and discuss the impact of perceptions with respect to beauty. During the sessions, the facilitator focuses on examining relationships with other people, including issues of judgment, antagonistic behavior toward peers, self-esteem, and perceptions of beauty.

The book is easy to read and follow; it has a detailed outline of the program as well as specific information for the individual sessions. The book provides lists of necessary items to bring and use during each session (e.g., music player with African music, map of Africa, binders for the girls). In addition, the curriculum calls for guest speakers from the community, giving the girls role models and connections to the local community. By providing detailed instructions and including community and cultural factors, the program seems to ensure that all groups are following the same content, providing structure and education while fostering communication and self-awareness among all group members.

The book is meant to provide girls with a group-based environment to focus on topics important to adolescent female development while also introducing girls to African culture, about which they may or may not have been aware. Although the group is open to most girls of African descent, the main focus is on providing an environment to empower and learn about the strengths of African American girls. By labeling the group as African American, the authors may leave out some girls who are of African descent but who do not identify as African American. This problem might be resolved by focusing more on empowerment and the strengths of Africentric girls.

Overall, Sisters of Nia is a well-thought-out program that celebrates cultural strengths and heritage. Ultimately this approach appears to be effective for fostering group bonding and effective communication for some pre- to beginning adolescent girls of African descent, offering its readers a useful tool for creating a culturally meaningful intervention.

Guerda Nicolas, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the University of Miami in Florida.

Billie Schwartz, M.A., is a mental health clinician working on research with Dr. Guerda Nicolas at the University of Miami.