• Radical Inquiry: Research Praxis for Healing and Liberation

    RYSE Center in Richmond, CA was born of out of young people of color (YPOC) organizing to shift the conditions of violence, distress, and dehumanization in which they suffer, survive, succeed, dream, and die.  We center the lived experiences of YPOC, we lead with love and sacred rage to cultivate healing and build movement, and we take risks as an essential part of transformation and justice, of liberation. We do this in a physical space that feels safe, welcoming, and affirming; that is vibrant with aesthetics created by and for YPOC, and in which members feel ownership, agency, and responsibility.  We do this through cultivating a staff team and organizational culture that is reflective of and responsive to our members, and which engages in ongoing learning, healing, and movement-building.

    A third of our current staff started at RYSE as members, half of our staff are under the age 27, and over 90% are people of color. RYSE runs programs across areas of community health; education and justice; youth organizing and leadership; and media, arts, and culture. All programs serve as platforms to cultivate connection, healing, love, and resistance.

    During this week’s ACEs Conference in San Francisco, RYSE is sharing our strategy of radical inquiry. In this post, we share the context in which RI emerged, as well as the possibilities and implications for employing this strategy as more just and humanizing research.

    Mired in Metrics of Compliance

    As a community organization and non-profit, RYSE is beholden to and bound by systems that allocate and deploy resources contingent on our ability to “comply” with too often dehumanizing interventions and assumptions about young people of color’s capacities, abilities, and needs, treating them largely, and sometimes solely, as risk, problem, or disease. Over emphasis on “metrics of compliance”, such as self-efficacy, civic engagement, readiness, changes in behavior, attitude, even resilience, perpetuate dehumanization and ignore those of survival, fortitude, and resistance – all of which are reasonable and normal responses to structural/historical subjugation, discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence directed at communities of color as part of US nation-building.

    Invisible, insidious, and assumed, conventional social science research, and by extension, the policies, practices, and investments that are influenced by such research, render white middle class subjectivities as the gold-standard of achievement, preferred status, wellness, and success. We experience this even within ACEs and trauma-informed discourses, where there is continuous scrutiny on the lives and moves of those most structurally vulnerable, including YPOC, coupled with avoidance and silence of the pathologies of those structurally protected and the systems that protect them.

    Every day, YPOC struggle, succeed, and exceed metrics of compliance. However, their compliance does not guarantee their safety, security, or humanity.  Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Jordan Edwards, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Alex Nieto, and too, too many others were all compliant. Yet we lost them to state violence. Individual behaviors, adherence, and achievements alone cannot bring healing or transformation from injustices long experienced and navigated daily by YPOC. In the words of RYSE members,

    “Realizing institutions don’t work for you, but against you is the first step of healing and saving your community.”

    “Healing looks like education. If people understood their privilege and how their actions can deeply affect someone, I think that it would help a lot of people who are struggling with these issues

    We must embolden outcomes of success beyond those most comfortable or convenient to track and measure, that position the humanity of young people of color as the solution, rather than the problem. To do this,  we have to shift the burden of responsibility and change from those of us most structurally vulnerable to those of us most protected and privileged.

    Radical Inquiry

    RYSE is working to reimagine, uplift, and uphold metrics of liberation – where resilience is the baseline, not the benchmark. Where solidarity and resistance replace or enhance self-efficacy and civic engagement. Where systems are held accountable to their allocation and delivery of love, belonging, reparations – liberation.

    Towards liberation, we employ radical inquiry (RI) – radical meaning grasping and tending to the roots. For RYSE, young people of color are our roots. RI is intentional, active, and ongoing listening to RYSE members, and to those closest to them.  Radical inquiry requires and facilitates connection, proximity, and empathy  that is unfamiliar, and often resisted, in traditional social science research.  When we ask young people and adults close to them what they need and want more of, we continuously hear connection to each other, to our own and each others’ histories, struggles, dreams, and hopes, and to each other. Connection humanizes and itself can be healing. Proximity pushes us to stay responsive to YPOC’s immediate priorities and needs as they define them and to be adaptive when needs or conditions change. Empathy keeps us grounded and centered on YPOC’s experiences as they explore, define, and grapple with them. Meeting and loving them where they are and being there with and for them on their journey.

    Key praxes of RI:

    • RI is grounded in relationship and healing.  The process is more important than the results, and the results are collectively deemed and held.  This often requires more rigor and resources than conventional research and praxis. We start and stay with the needs and priorities of YPOC in order to ask the right questions, listen, respond, promote healing interactions, analyze and proactively  and collectively take steps to address needs and change conditions. Time, investment, space and relationships form the baseline for RI, combined with rigorous data collection, documentation, and dissemination.
    • RI employs multi-modal platforms of expression and sharing of our personal and collective realities.  Our media, arts, and culture programming, our youth-led base-building and power-building work are radical inquiry,  as are our youth participatory action research, our member application, our clinical intakes and member support plans, and our member survey. Each platform builds an understanding for the changing needs, priorities, and interests of YPOC.
    • RI actively challenges and disrupts the dominant, dehumanizing frameworks of social science research. When YPOC are at the center of narratives and research focused on their lives, it enables and necessitates foundational shifts in how we frame, design, implement, analyze, and act on YPOC’s priorities, needs, and interests.
    • RI is focused on transforming systems. Data gathered with RI can uplift the dynamic realities of YPOC to so we can incite change at institutional levels, not individual. RI enables and inspires transformative praxis within the communities and professional fields touching YPOC’s lives.


    Liberation and Place

    Radical inquiry pushes all of us to listen deeply to young people of color, question how well systems, policies, and programs are meeting their needs, interests and desires, and build movement toward reimagined alternatives, toward liberation.  Towards truer health equity that challenges and changes the social and structural determinants of  dehumanization. In service to this goal, RYSE has launched a Theory of Liberation, which pushes us beyond systems and programs that place burdens of responsibility on those most structurally vulnerable. Our Theory of Liberation frames our work and place as community sanctuary, anchor, and movement builder, detailing the values and principles stewarding our relationships, decisions and movement.

    Finally, embodying RI requires space for facilitating connection, proximity and empathy. Responding to what we have learned with RI praxis, RYSE is building an expanded youth-driven campus, RYSE Commons, to sustain multiracial, healing-centered space for young people and the community supporting them. Safe, humanizing, connection-building spaces for imagining alternatives to the systems that limit and harm young people’s futures. Dedicated spaces for building relationships, community, and collective power, where RI can be nurtured and can lead toward the vision statement created by TOL_infographic_young people for RYSE:

    We envision communities where equity is the norm, where violence is neither desired nor required, creating a strong foundation for future generations to thrive.


    TOL_infographic_Radical Inquiry.jpg

  • I Was a Witness to Serial Silence

    I felt the foot as it thrust between my legs and rammed over and over and over again into my crotch. I was lying on my back in the dirt. Strands of my long hair pulled from their roots under the weight of my body as my torso was forced forward. My head was tethered. My neck bent back nearly to its limit.

    I felt the shoe. No one had touched me there before.


    There wasn’t just one. They took turns. Chuck Taylors, Hush Puppies, Wallabies. The Waffle Stompers were the worst. They hurt.

    It all hurt. Did no one hear me screaming? Was that even possible? There was a parade of people walking by. There were people all around.

    I cried for help. My voice was my only defense as they held my arms and penetrated my dignity. Their grubby hands were on my breasts. They squeezed, and grabbed, and pinched, and wrung the newly mounded flesh.

    They tore the pink bow off the center of my first bra. A metaphoric deflowering.

    It happened every day that spring. Every day after lunch they chased me down the hall to the exit door that led to an uphill path to the playground. When we got outside they grabbed my arms and pulled and groped. My resistance was no match for their single-mindedness. They jerked me to the ground for their ease and to let the hill give them cover. Eventually, they dragged me to a more concealed spot behind the building. Still, the cover was not absolute.

    Every day more than 200 school children followed the same route down the hall from the cafeteria, out the door, and up the hill to the playground. At least some of them must have seen something – or heard – or told their parents.

    There were adults – teachers and parents on lunch duty. There were visitors. Someone had to have seen me struggling. They had to have heard me screaming even above the cacophony of 200 children playing.

    Distress makes a different sound.

    It is not possible to ignore cries for help. You notice and then choose how you will react. You look up. You look in the direction of the noise. You decide.

    There were dozens of witnesses to my molestation. There were dozens of people who saw or heard a gang-perpetrated serial sexual assault. They decided to look away.

    I was 12. The gang were my classmates – catholic school boys. We were 7th graders. We lived in Portland, Oregon in 1972.


    Like the boys who sought cover behind the school building, these acts hid in the shadows of my memory until last spring when I was invited to an event that could have brought me face-to-face with some of my former classmates, and with some of my attackers. The invitation was like a spotlight that cast its beam on the unwitting secret and called it out.

    At first the memories were obscured by the glare of immediacy, but now, having sat with them – having sat with the 12-year-old me – the experiences are present, and I am communicating with them.

    I don’t remember exactly how it affected me then. I know it was ubiquitous, but I don’t remember nightmares or fear. I don’t remember anger or self-pity or hatred. I recall incredulity. It was much the same as that which I feel now.

    My friend and I had attempted to escape the ritual by taking an alternative route from the cafeteria. We walked up the main staircase and tried to exit the building through the front door. We were met by a nun who turned us around. I remember trying to tell her what was happening. I remember my friend trying. I know that I got out the words, “they’re attacking me,” but she wouldn’t hear. She pointed us back down the stairs, back to the long hallway, back to the torture.

    Eventually we fled the madness by volunteering to wash tables in the cafeteria after lunch. It gave us a reason to stay in. Even now, I can smell the stale water we carried with us in a gallon-sized pail. I can see 16 tan-colored tables set against the concrete floor. I can feel my knee pressing into the bench and the side of the table hitting my hips as I bent to reach across it with the smelly rag.

    Continue reading

  • The quest to find biomarkers for toxic stress, resilience in children — A Q-and-A with Jack Shonkoff

    The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress, led by Dr. Jack Shonkoff, is working on developing biological and behavioral markers for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience that they believe will be able to measure to what extent a child is experiencing toxic stress, and what effect that stress may be having on the child’s brain and development.

    The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress is comprised of scientists, pediatricians and community leaders, and is a project of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

    Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D. is the Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Graduate School of Education; Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital; and Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. He currently chairs the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, whose mission is to bring credible science to bear on public policy affecting children and families, and The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress. In 2011, he launched Frontiers of Innovation, a multi-sector R&D platform committed to achieving breakthrough outcomes at scale for young children facing adversity.

    Dr. Shonkoff was interviewed by filmmaker Roger Weisberg about the innovations in research around developing ways of measuring toxic stress in Weisberg’s documentary Broken Placeswhich will be previewed at the National ACEs Conference. That interview was the impetus for the following conversation.

    Laurie Udesky: In your interview with the filmmaker Roger Weisberg for the documentary Broken Places you said:

    “We will have a measure to be able to differentiate between children who seem to be more sensitive to adversity and therefore need more attention. And at the same time this will be a measure of resilience because there are a lot of children living in very tough environments who are doing well and whose parents are doing a magnificent job. That’s the big breakthrough. It’s being able to measure this at an individual level.”

    Laurie Udesky: Where is the science now in our ability to measure and differentiate children with ACEs who are more sensitive to adversity from those who are less so? 

    Shonkoff photo_low_res
    Dr. Jack Shonkoff

    Dr. Jack Shonkoff: It’s very close; the measurement battery we’re working on is no more than a couple of years away from being ready to start being used widely in pediatric settings.

    Basically what we’re talking about is the JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress, and I direct that group standing on the shoulders of a dream team of scientists, and a dream team of practicing pediatricians, and a dream team of community leaders, primarily community leaders of color, who have collectively been working together three and a half years now as coequal partners on this. And the reason that’s important is because there’s obviously a scientific dimension to this, which

    Continue reading

  • Opioid legislation with significant trauma provisions clears the Congress, awaits the President’s signature

    Opioid legislation with significant trauma provisions clears the Congress, awaits the President’s signature


    On October 3, the U.S. Senate voted 98-1 (only Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT voted nay) to approve The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act  (H.R. 6 or previously titled the Opioid Crisis Response Act), a final step before the President’s signature.  The House approved the measure on September 28. The Senate approved an earlier version of this legislation on September 17 and, as reported on ACEs Connection, it includes significant provisions taken from or aligned with the goals of the Heitkamp-Durbin Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act (S. 774), including the creation of an interagency task force to identify trauma-informed best practices and grants for trauma-informed practices in schools.

    As reported earlier in ACEs Connection, the trauma provisions are the result of “extensive engagement” of the offices of Senators Heitkamp (D-ND) and Durbin (D-IL) staff with Shelley Capito (R-WV), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The opioid legislation represents a rare bipartisan, multiple committee achievement.

    Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: