Shawn Ginwright

author, professor, activist

Filtering by Tag: healing

Calling for A National Day of Healing and Reconciliation

In moments like this, I sometimes feel powerless, and I don’t know what to do about what seems to be the awful regularity of state sponsored executions of black men. Every time I watch CNN, I shutter when I see the words, “Breaking News” for fear that yet another shooting has occurred. I refuse to watch the video footage because I hate watching innocent black people die. Seeing scenes like this enrage me, saddens me and makes me want to do something more than simply shake my head and say, “not another brotha”. The awful cycle has become like regular clockwork; black man is shot and killed, video footage goes viral, dead black man is discredited by media pundits, thousands march, some sympathize, millions say “race had nothing to do with the shooting”, then we wait for the next time it happens only to begin the cycle over again.

Coming on the heels of back-to-back killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas, Texas, ended with seven wounded, and five dead law enforcement officers. To make matters worse, the New York Post headlines read the morning after in big bold letters, “Civil War-Four Cops Killed at Anti-Police Protest”.  Such statements are not only irresponsible, inflammatory and but also inaccurate. There is no war on police despite what media pundits, nor police departments say. The Washington Post documented that handgun related fatalities among police officers is the lowest in years. The last thing we need, are more nervous officers who feel justified to shoot first and ask questions only after the blood is washed from the street.

What is the most unfortunate casualty, however, is the unraveling of hope among black youth. Gross disinvestments urban neighborhoods in America, lack of quality jobs, poor schools, and the constant fear of the police provide little evidence in a brighter future. I received a call from a close friend the night of Philando Castile’s murder. She wanted me to talk to her 15-year-old son because he was scared, uncertain about what to do, and had few friends that could understand how he was feeling. I listened to him, say “I’m afraid for my life, and my dad’s life. I mean, Philando was complying with the police officers orders and he was still shot and killed!” It’s hard listening to young people loose hope, and even more difficult when there is little to say to make them feel better.

We cannot abate hope, nor can we abandon the light. A better way is always possible if we can muster the courage to take another path forward. I call on all courageous and compassionate leaders to designate and lead a day of healing and reconciliation in their city. We have the power to channel our righteous rage into courageous compassion. We need to meet the magnitude of this moment with an equivalent power of possibilities. The national day of healing and reconciliation is about three things:

(1) listening to difficult and opposing views - This means healing circles with police and pastors, residents and business leaders, and yes conservatives and progressives.

(2) sharing our collective vision of our communities that cut across racial, and political lines. Despite racial diversity in our cities, they are still highly segregated. Let’s consider how might we use barbershops, beauty solons, mom and pop restaurants as places to create a vision for we would like to see in our cities within the next 12 months.

(3) acting with power to enact both big and small changes in our cities, by building and expanding the power of the multiple movements for black lives. I agree with Rep. G.K. Butterfield who said, “if we fail to act, it will be a long hot summer”.

Hope, in times like these, is the most radical resource available to us. Let us act as hopeful soldiers united, and confident as we continue to bend the ridged arch of justice toward a more humane America. Our role, as James Baldwin said, is to “illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose site of our purpose, which is after all, is to make the world a more humane dwelling place”

"Soul Rebels" Forthcoming Book By Shawn Ginwright

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. 

Copyright Shawn Ginwright All rights reserved.