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 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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"Resilience" is  a "metric of compliance"! 

 

Indeed! 

So very clear and so very well constructed Kanwarpal.  Thank you.

When the perspective of white privilege is that rational or logical perspective of the oppressed is "Radical" (because it threatens our privilege?!),  we must confront that we are in an upside-down, immoral world and we must (all) work to right it, as a priority.

Many will acknowledge that much of ACEs science is invested in how a continuous stress-response, or fight/flight/freeze response or a "hyper-vigilant" stance,   is adaptive in the "short term",  but  "maladaptive" (at least physiologically), when stuck on "high-alert" after the threat is no gone.

It is even more scary how those of privilege (the majority) cast the psychological impacts of "high-alert", related to the oppressed. We seem stuck at the stage of "Blame the Victim".

Kanwarpal,  you educate us to a truer perspective and science that a continuous stress-response  --  "resistance" --  is perfectly logical and perfectly rational, and indeed necessary, if one is "woke". Who among us can say "the threat is gone" ?

It is "resilience", or "compliance" by those "of color" that is indeed maladaptive! 

"Compliance" of the oppressed, does not "win" anything. We have seen it with our own eyes.  Repeatedly.  Sickeningly.

Knowing the science,  understanding the peak of the ACEs pyramid, how can we complicitly accept it as simply "knowledge"? How can we silently continue focusing selfishly on our own slice of privilege?

Those of us awash in privilege (for generations) are immediately accountable for deconstructing the upside-down world we have been building.  Where  is our sense of urgency?!  The top of the pyramid is real.  This is "why we can't wait"! 

How do we take accountability... operationalize "urgency" ?  Faster. What can be done? Today.

Continue educating Kanwarpal,  continue resisting.  God help us all.

Donielle Prince (ACEs Connection Staff) posted:

Kanwarpal and everyone at RYSE, you keep giving us the language to imagine and articulate the future we need to build. Thank you for this deep analysis, asking those of us with privilege to "show our work" when we claim to care about solving social problems and fighting for social justice. I just shared all of your work- the original reframed pyramind, the memo, the dehumanization/distress to liberation/healing conceptual framework, and this very post, to a classroom of master's level social work students at Sac State, some of whom are already working for Sac County, and they were grateful for your work. The beloved community grows... 

Thank you Donielle!  RYSE is grateful to be living the legacy of our righteous ancestors to build the world where we are all free and are all held in beloved community.  We will win.  <3

Kanwarpal and everyone at RYSE, you keep giving us the language to imagine and articulate the future we need to build. Thank you for this deep analysis, asking those of us with privilege to "show our work" when we claim to care about solving social problems and fighting for social justice. I just shared all of your work- the original reframed pyramind, the memo, the dehumanization/distress to liberation/healing conceptual framework, and this very post, to a classroom of master's level social work students at Sac State, some of whom are already working for Sac County, and they were grateful for your work. The beloved community grows... 

Rick Griffin posted:

Kanwarpal,

This article is amazing and I applaud the message you are communicating.  I am not sure many understand where YPOC fit in the trauma-informed movement.  When you understand the difference between a "fight or flight" response and a "preparing to be injured" response, then and only then, can we understand the comment of resilience being a baseline not a benchmark.

Thank you!

Rick,

Thank you for adding texture to the message!  Yes, "preparing to be injured" is a profound and succinct descriptor of YPOC's subjectivities in the context of trauma and dehumanization.  The vigilance we have in the face of white violence is a resilience.  Radical inquiry is about resistance and freedom.  We will win.

In solidarity,

Kanwarpal

Kanwarpal,

This article is amazing and I applaud the message you are communicating.  I am not sure many understand where YPOC fit in the trauma-informed movement.  When you understand the difference between a "fight or flight" response and a "preparing to be injured" response, then and only then, can we understand the comment of resilience being a baseline not a benchmark.

Thank you!

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