Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
Iowa ACEs 360’s May 7 event with Dr. Shawn Ginwright was an opportunity to expand our thinking about how we respond to ACEs.
Dr. Ginwright coined the term “healing-centered engagement” to describe an asset-based, culturally rooted approach to collective healing and well-being for young people and their adult allies. In his hour-long presentation to our network, he shared many critical points about this holistic approach and what we need to do to fully address the root causes of trauma.
Here we share just a couple of insights. We encourage you to spend time reading about healing-centered engagement and going deeper into the work through his nonprofit Flourish Agenda.
1. How can we build systems of support without first considering what we are healing from?
As Dr. Ginwright became interested in healing stories and how to build systems of support, his mother asked him, “Baby, what are people healing from?”
This question shaped his research that led to the healing-centered engagement framework. “If we’re not asking ourselves this question—What context are we in?—then sometimes we’re missing the point that our work should not simply be to respond to trauma but to provide healing opportunities to young people.”
Dr. Ginwright described some of the context we’re living in today: mass shootings, ongoing racial tensions, exposure to COVID-19, a stressed workforce, isolated parents, etc. “Everyone in some ways is experiencing some form of trauma,” he said. “The question is how are we responding to it? Are we simply responding to symptoms of trauma or are we trying to get underneath it and actually provide spaces for transformative healing to occur?”
In our work to address ACEs, this means diving deeper into understanding the conditions that create trauma to better identity where we need to respond. Trauma often is not a one-time severe act, he said, but occurs within an environment and is often the result of social inequality, institutional inequalities, and living conditions.
“Trauma understood in this way allows us to see that there are disparities in our exposure to trauma,” he said. “It’s not simply individual but occurs at the collective level.”
2. To heal others, we have to focus on our own healing.
While much of our response to trauma is about helping children and families heal, providers also must work on their healing. “When this feature is missing,” Dr. Ginwright said, “sometimes providers reproduce the kind of harm that creates a toxic relationship in our institutions.”
To explain why this kind of work is critical, Dr. Ginwright said that “healing-centered engagement is a process that aligns an entire institution with the perspective and approach and strategy that addresses the harm but restores well-being.”
Because the work of healing must occur at the personal, interpersonal, and institutional levels, providers must have the capacity to build transformational relationships with those they work with. Their own work, at the personal level, to heal from trauma allows them to enter relationships with deeper trust and love and to create “spaces of hope and healing” within an institution.
3. Healing-Centered Engagement encompasses five key principles.
For holistic healing to occur, these five key principles need to be in place:
4. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees need to move beyond technical efforts.
Responding to a question from the audience, Dr. Ginwright explained that many committees formed in organizations to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion are insufficient because they think about the work in technical ways, such as hiring more people of color, advancing people of color into management, and expanding to work with more people of color vendors.
“Those are important parts of racial equity that are necessary but not sufficient for healing and here’s why: Our own insecurities and fears and privilege and all the things that make us human haven't been put on the table.” he said. “And so, if we have a committee that is focusing on the technical aspects of equity, how many conversations have we had about our own shame around whiteness? How many times have we had conversations about how uncomfortable we feel talking about race?
“When we have these committees, we have to go deeper. We have to put our humanity on the table and have spaces of vulnerability to have these conversations. This means we have to build a container to have a healing-centered conversation. … When you are trained, you build the container to have vulnerable conversations in your institution. Those vulnerable conversations build transformative relationships that allow you to advance more powerful race-based, gender-based equity strategies.”