Herstory Through Photovoice and Reflective Interviews: Describing Changes in Empowerment Among Community Health Advisors as Research Partners in Mississippi and Alabama

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Studies and Research

First Advisor

John R. Rachal

Advisor Department

Educational Studies and Research


Although there is interest in community programs that address chronic health issues, little attention has focused on community members' development during learning and the ways they experience and interpret the process of becoming active participants in solving their health. This phenomenological study focuses on (1) the learning process, with emphasis on health promotion and skill development, of Community Health Advisors as Research Partners (CHARPs), (2) the translation of knowledge into practice, and (3) the empowerment change process of CHARPs. Thirty-one female African American CHARPs participated in four photovoice focus groups, and fifteen additional women participated in reflective interviews. Analysis of the photovoice focus groups revealed the following categories: personal change, historical and cultural roots, religion and faith, family and community, knowledge and education, CHARP roles, and the significance of the photovoice methodology. From these categories, interview questions were developed, and major findings are: (1) Life experiences profoundly affect CHARPs' desire to help their community. They often come from large, low-income families and desire to make a difference. Most are either the eldest child, eldest female child, or had a position of authority and/or caregiving in the family. (2) Most CHARPs are older women who experienced significant hardship and struggle. They lived through major social and political movements, and the struggle to obtain equality left a lasting impression in philosophy and activities. (3) CHARPs believe they have a duty to their families, communities, and other African Americans to change health disparities and the oppression that exists. (4) History, culture, and family are intertwined layers that define who CHARPs are and where they come from, which are integral to describing their experience. (5) Spirituality and faith are essential components for service in the community. Their role is a calling. (6) Participation in community health worker programs has influenced individual changes in knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs, and application of efficacy. (7) CHARPs feel they make a difference in their communities, and describe their role as leaders, educators, caregivers, mentors, and servants. (8) CHARPs draw on other women for support. The social networking function of CHARP groups is essential to professional growth and development.