This past weekend I had the joy of working with college-aged youth organizers at the Young People For (YP4) National Summit in Washington D.C. From the YP4 website:
At this pinnacle event, YP4 will convene 120 fellows from 98 campuses in 35 states and over 40 alumni who are leading in their communities across the country. Fellows have the opportunity to further develop leadership skills, gain tools and resources to advance their Blueprints for Social Justice, and network with leaders in the progressive movement.
Social worker and facilitator Charlie Shealy and I were brought in by the WIN Collective to provide creative, community workshops to promote healing justice. We offered three 90-minute workshop-style explorations for the leaders, who had been working hard all weekend to build their organizing and activism skills. These were leaders, doers, deep thinkers dedicated to making the world a better place. With school, jobs and their organizing work, it’s no doubt these young change-makers work hard.
I have worked with social justice and equity organizers for a long time, and one thing that continually strikes me is how deeply these young leaders need a space where it was okay to feel things, to acknowledge and begin to address the damages made against them.
The youth at the YP4 summit were tired. Exhausted. When our workshop began, they were coming fresh off a keynote from Laura Sarsour, who spoke passionately about bringing one’s whole self to their work for change. For some of the young organizers in the audience it was the first time they had been told it was okay to feel things and to acknowledge that they had experienced pain, damage and trauma.
We’re often told to ignore our trauma, to get over it and push on—chin up, shoulders back, forge ahead.
We're made believe that it's an individual thing to be kept private. Even more, we’re taught to be embarrassed by trauma, to disacknowledge our own and to scoff at others’. That’s what many of the young leaders we met last weekend had been doing.
While many of the participants walked into our workshop room looking for tools they could offer their communities, most ended up opening up with their own personal experiences of trauma. At the end, everyone came together in community creative exploration and dialogue about self-care, healing and community support. The resulting conversations were beautiful, moving and incredibly powerful.
In the last activity of the session we asked participants to identify (through creative means, of course) how power relates to their expressions of healing and support. Participants looked at others' sculpted group images of people huddled together, supporting each other, holding hands, embracing, and identified where they saw power: It was in each other. In the connections they were making. The power they saw in healing was in the way they were coming together to bring the trauma out of the darkness. In the closing dialogue, one participant remarked,
“I want to thank the facilitators for helping me to see that self-care and healing is powerful.”
I believe the path to complete healing from trauma caused by oppression must involve a community process. These youth leaders continued that community process together through creative exploration and play. I am so proud to connect with these young leaders for a brief moment in their journey and to join in their process toward healing.
If you’d like to discuss the possibility of a creative healing and self-care workshop, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.