Racial Healing Circles Seek To Make Space For Listening

racial healing sign
Ninety students learned to lead virtual discussions on racial healing as part of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Summer Youth Institute. Courtesy of Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Greater Chicago
racial healing sign
Ninety students learned to lead virtual discussions on racial healing as part of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Summer Youth Institute. Courtesy of Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Greater Chicago

Racial Healing Circles Seek To Make Space For Listening

Phoenix Cabral was born on Chicago’s South Side, but when her parents separated, her mother moved to Rogers Park. She spent a lot of time commuting from the North Side back to school in her old neighborhood.

“Traveling the city from one end to the other being on the train really gave me that perspective of how the city really is,” Cabral said.

What she saw, day after day, was a city segregated by race. She was able to reflect on some of her observations Tuesday as she led a virtual racial healing circle with kids and adults talking through their experiences and listening to each other.

Cabral is one of 90 students who learned to lead such discussions as part of a summer jobs program.

photo illustration of Phoenix Cabral
Artist Phoenix Cabral, pictured in the photo illustration above, is one of many students helping to facilitate discussions on racial healing this summer. Courtesy of Phoenix Cabral

“With everything going on, this is the time to find peace,” the young artist said. “How are we going to change the world around us? It [the circles] teaches you all about that. I really think these healing circles should be more common in our communities.”

At least 40 Chicagoans signed up for the virtual racial healing circle that’s led by students between 16 and 24 years old. The students are part of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Summer Youth Institute, and they are paid $14 an hour as part of the One Summer Chicago program, which works to facilitate employment for thousands of students each year.

Organizers said creating a space for such conversations is important, especially as the city, once again, responds to a police shooting of a Black man. On Sunday, Chicago police shot a 20-year-old man in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Tensions with police increased as residents said officers were disrespectful. And early Monday morning, hundreds arrived downtown and smashed windows at dozens of businesses stealing merchandise, police said.

“So often, especially for people of color, the ability to share their story uninterrupted or unadulterated by someone else’s lens or someone else trying to explain their experiences, there are very few of those opportunities,” said Terrence Pruitt, co-director of the TRHT youth institute.

“It’s important for us to do deep listening so that we get in the practice [of] not just listening to respond, but listening to connect and listening to understanding,” Pruitt said. “That’s what we call healing. Healing is beginning to tear away the things that separate us and begin to identify the human interconnectedness.”

Steven Rosado, co-director of the TRHT youth institute, said they’ve been facilitating these types of circles for about a year.

“One of the things that makes healing work so powerful is that it’s collectivist by nature. We often think of trauma as these individual experiences.” Rosado said. “More importantly, how do we tell our own stories about our trauma and the ways we overcome that trauma and the ways we can be resilient to it?”

Rosado said giving young people the opportunity not only to share but to lead is important. These young Chicagoans have valuable lived experiences in a city where living in a neighborhood can dictate everything about your life: schools, crime, policing and access to food and water, among others.

He said it’s important not only to create these spaces for young people but also compensate them for their time.

“We’re so used to this deficit and scarcity model of there’s not enough, and we get told that so often that when opportunities come around for young people to participate in programs, there’s often this underpinning of they should be grateful these programs exist,” he said. “If we are compensated for our work, it doesn’t make sense to me weren’t not compensating young people.”

María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.