Teachers activists and youth workers recognize that healing, is an important ingredient in the gumbo of social change. No one element (community organizing, political education, civic engagement) alone can create the complexity, richness and texture for the bowl of justice for which we all yearn. Justice, in this sense, is not simply the outcome of a campaign, or the result of policy organizing, but rather it is the process of rediscovering hope.
Soul Rebels is a book about hope and documents how teachers in some of America’s most challenging schools transform hopelessness into innovative and unorthodox strategies that build hope, well-being, and community change. These “rebels” challenged conventional educational strategies and embarked on their own journeys that allowed them to discover practices that give them the strength to heal and transform their lives, classrooms, organizations, and communities. In doing so, these rebels sought out an alternative vision for their communities, one based on healing and love rather than hopelessness and fatalism.
Young people who witness or experience violence often experience stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which limit academic achievement and healthy development. These dire social conditions also breed meaninglessness, and hopelessness all of which impact academic achievement and civic engagement. Youth development and civic engagement strategies designed to engage America’s most disconnected young people will only be successful to the extent that they address hopelessness (Wilson, Syme et al. 2005). Unfortunately, these challenges are exacerbated by the fact that teachers and youth development professionals have few options available to support young people in ways that restore hope and well-being. Traditional youth development, and civic engagement approaches to supporting youth of color from stressed urban schools and neighborhoods have simply been ineffective in combatting the deep and multilayered level of stress and trauma many young people bring to school. While the impact of these conditions on mental and physical health, and education is well documented, we understand very little about how activists are supporting young people of color in such dire social conditions. What impact do these conditions have on young people’s sense of hope? How does hope promote academic achievement, civic engagement and well-being? How do activists support young people with healing from trauma, stress and hopelessness?
Just as health and well-being are defined as more than the absence of disease, justice is more that the absence of oppression. Similarly, creating hope in schools and neighborhoods involves more than violence reduction suppression tactics, such as cease-fires, and gang truces. These strategies may serve as conditions that facilitate temporary reductions in violence, but these are not characteristics of hope and peace itself. Building hope among youth of color in urban schools requires that educators rethink what really is important and how healing, and well-being are critical social justice ingredients to reach young people.