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.


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Patient’s murder leads to soul searching, shift to ACEs science in UCSF medical clinic

Patient’s murder leads to soul searching, shift to ACEs science in UCSF medical clinic

It was the murder of a beloved patient that led to a seismic shift in the Women’s HIV Program at the University of California, San Francisco: a move toward a model of trauma-informed care. “She was such a soft and gentle person,” said Dr. Edward Machtinger, the medical director of the program, who recalled how utterly devastated he and the entire staff were by her untimely death.

“This murder woke us up,” he said. ”It just made us take a deeper look at what was actually happening in the lives of our patients.” The Women’s HIVprogram, explained Machtinger, was well regarded as a model of care for treating HIV patients – reducing the viral load of HIV in the majority of its patients to undetectable levels.

But the staff was clearly missing something. A closer look at the lives of their patients revealed that 40 percent were using hard drugs – including heroin, methamphetamine and crack cocaine, according to Machtinger. Half of them suffered clinical depression, the majority had isolated themselves due to deep shame associated with having HIV, and many experienced violence.

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New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s address on removal of four Confederate statues

This 22 minutes is definitely worth the time. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu eloquently describes why New Orleans removed the statues, which weren’t erected immediately after the Civil War to honor the fighters, but to remind all who passed by the statues about white supremacy.

Here’s the text from the YouTube page on which this video appears:

On Friday, May 19, 2017, Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered an address about the City of New Orleans’ efforts to remove monuments that prominently celebrate the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy.” The statues were erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the “Cult of the Lost Cause,” a movement recognized across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy.

There are four prominent monuments in question. The Battle of Liberty Place monument was erected by the Crescent City White League to remember the deadly insurrection led by white supremacists against the City’s racially integrated police department and government. The Jefferson Davis statue on Jefferson Davis Parkway, the P.G.T. Beauregard equestrian statue on Esplanade Avenue at the entrance to City Park, and the Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Circle.

Pueblo, CO, clinic rewrites the book on primary medical care by asking patients about their childhood adversity


In October 2015 in Pueblo, CO, the staff members of a primary care medical clinic – Southern Colorado Family Medicine at the St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center – start asking parents of newborn babies to kids five years old about the parents’ adverse childhood experiences and the resilience factors in their lives. They ask the same questions of pregnant women and their partners in the hospital’s high-risk obstetrics clinic.

The results are so positive after the first year that the clinic starts asking parents of kids up to 18 years old. The plans are to do the same in the hospital’s emergency room.

Why? They think it gives kids a leg up on a healthier start in life. They think it helps adults understand and manage their own health better. They think it helps physicians better understand and help their patients. Oh yeah – and it looks like it’s going to save money. Probably a lot of money.

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This EMT integrates ACEs, offers emotional first aid


Peter Chiavetta and the handouts he gives patients

One day, when Peter Chiavetta was just out of college, he was driving down a road in Eden, NY. Before he could even give the slightest conscious thought to his actions, he swerved off the road onto the shoulder. The car that was heading straight at Chiavetta slammed into the vehicle behind him.

“I thought I was a good prepared citizen,” recalls Chiavetta. “I had road flares and a two-pound fire extinguisher in the trunk of my car. I’m standing in the middle of the road with my little fire extinguisher, while on the ground the two passengers in the car behind me had been ejected and were lying motionless. Out of nowhere a man appeared with a first-aid kit and tried to help one of the victims. The driver — covered with blood and his knees are chopped down to bone — was calling out to me for help. I had no idea how to help him.”

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How to bring restorative justice to your school

Levine-336x336By David Levine, JJIE.org

Hey, you! Yes, YOU can make it happen! Anyone can. Whether you are a principal, a student, counselor or teacher, you can be the one to speak up for restorative justice. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi).
Though I currently work full time as a restorative justice facilitator, it wasn’t always this way. At my last school it was a student, a junior, who decided our school needed this approach. He found backing from our principal, and he found a mentor in me, his advisor/teacher.

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Katie A. foster care case, part 3: Los Angeles — making progress, but much work left in mental health services

AastridBy Jeremy Loudenback

The Katie A. v. Bonta lawsuits leveled California and Los Angeles County with the charge that every county in the state provide adequate mental health services for some of its most vulnerable children.

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