A Virtual Conversation: Healing Centered Engagement

Friday, January 28th, 2022

A Virtual Conversation: Healing Centered Engagement 


On Friday, January 21st. 2022, Executive Director of Ramapo NYC, Sabrina Evans-Ellis, joined Dr. Shawn Ginwright to discuss Healing Centered Engagement, his new book The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Remaining Ourselves, and answering a live Q&A.  We invite you to listen to the recording above. Below, we share some of the key topics that were discussed: 

What is Healing Centered Engagement?

Dr. Ginwright, who coined the term Healing Centered Engagement (HCE), writes, “Healing Centered Engagement offers an asset driven approach aimed at the holistic restoration of young peoples’ well-being. The healing centered approach comes from the idea that people are not harmed in a vacuum, and well-being comes from participating in transforming the root causes of the harm within institutions. Healing centered engagement also advances the move to “strengths-based’ care and away from the deficit-based mental health models that drive therapeutic interventions.”

In the webinar, Dr. Ginwright explained this concept further. Healing centered engagement centers on the collective experience of trauma experienced by both youth and adults. In order to engage in the process of healing centered engagement, adults must first acknowledge their own trauma in order to provide a more holistic and supportive experience for young people. 

“The predominant model is that we need to heal young people, or we need to provide services to young people. We need to develop young people,” says Dr. Ginwright. “The shift here is focusing on how young people themselves can participate — not only in the healing process themselves — but can actually provide healing spaces for the adults.” 

“My experience has been in youth development and with practitioners that we believe our presence in front of a young person is sufficient,” said Dr. Shawn Ginwright, founder of Flourish Agenda. “We think that because I’m an adult, that a young person needs to become an adult like me. When in fact, adults have deep trauma, harm, insecurities, and fear, so engagement conveys this reciprocity of healing. That is, my healing as an adult is intimately connected to your healing as a young person.” 

The Importance of Youth Agency 

While engaging in the collective nature of healing center engagement, it’s also important to acknowledge that engagement is not a rejection of trauma-informed care. It’s a rejection that young people are their trauma, when in reality, they are much more. It simply adds to the issues that adults should be thinking about. 

“Healing centered engagement centers youth agency. They are not just passive victims or recipients of services,” said Executive Director, Sabrina Evans-Ellis. “Like ‘here fix me, treat me.’ but it moves them into a place of participating in their own healing.” 

When talking about healing centered engagement, this really means youth participating in their own healing process and claiming their stories. It also involves allowing them to claim their imagination and dreams too. 

“When teachers in classrooms open the space for collective conversations about healing, the stories and the vulnerabilities and safety that is created in those sacred spaces allow for young people to claim their stories, to claim their imagination and dreaming, so it actually heals and provides spaces for healing for those teachers and youth development professionals,” said Dr. Ginwright.  

Healing centered engagement is really about the participation and the claiming of one’s own healing process, that is asset-driven and supported by culture and relationships. 

Adults Can Support Young People Through Their Own Introspection 

Healing centered engagement promotes the idea of introspection where adults ask who they need to become instead of what they need to do. It also doesn’t assume that the adults working with young people, are themselves, okay. 

“So we have to ask different questions. Like, what would be a healing centered way to get this information? Does this information harm or heal?” said Dr. Ginwright. “When we begin to interrogate these questions we can change the process in a different way.” 

Some additional questions that Dr. Ginwright suggests individuals consider include: 

  • “Who do I need to become to be of service to provide the support to young people?” 
  • “What are the ways this system might be doing harm? What are alternative ways?”
  • “Who do I need to become so that my students trust me?” 
  • “Who do I have to become so that my students see me as a human being?” 

The Four Pivots 

In The Four Pivots, Dr. Ginwright shares ways for adults to shift their approach to young people, to themselves, and to work. “These pivots encourage and push us to a higher level of our own humanity and our leadership,” said Dr. Ginwright. “And they challenge us on a daily basis to think more deeply about deep change and our role in that deep change in our organizations, our work with young people and their families, and our societies.” 

 From Lens to Mirror Work 

The first pivot requires a change in outlook. Oftentimes, systems or organizations think about their work through a lens, but the real work that is needed is deep self-reflection. 

“The harder work is the mirror work. When you hold the mirror up it’s going to tell you the truth. It’s going to tell you all your blemishes. It’s going to tell you the truth without apology. Mirror work is about reflection. It’s about asking questions about where my life is going, what am I afraid of, what my trauma is, and who do I need to become?” 

“What we need is to give people time and space to reflect and learn and reflect and learn and do that over and over again until they are transformed in their outlook, their thoughts, and the way they act and do so consequently,” said Evans-Ellis. 

 Transactional to Transformative 

The second pivot is moving from a transactional mode to a transformative one.  This is important in working with individuals on systemic levels.

“We are trained to lead in very transactional ways, so questions about how this organization support the humanity of it’s employees and those communities that it serves will get different kinds of policies and practices,” said Dr. Ginwright.  

In most organizations, for example, sick days don’t account for the humanity of the individual. After some deep work and inner reflection, many school leaders felt that sick days weren’t sufficient enough to restore their well-being to perform well. 

A healing centered approach means different and better policies that support each person’s humanity like wellness days, mental health days, and thriving and flourishing days. 

Problem Fixing vs Possibility Creating 

The third pivot explores the tendency to become overly fixated on solving problems rather than creating new possibilities. Often, the more individuals talk, articulate and present problems, the more they believe they are doing enough to solve them.

Individuals also believe that problems should be defined as the absence of a negative quality rather than the restoration of a positive characteristic.  

“Oftentimes in our problem-solving we define what we want by the absence of misery. So we use terms like anti-racist – and anti-racist activity is important – but anti-racist is the absense of something,” said Dr. Ginwright. “Not the presence of what we do want. We want belonging. So we have to kind of interrogate how we think about language in order to create what we want.”  

 Hustle to Flow 

Fourth, we’ve created an addiction to frenzy that is focused on hustle not flow. 

“This addiction to frenzy is the barrier to deep change. So when we talk about the pivot from hustle to flow, what we’re really trying to convey is to bring to the forefront our presence,” said Dr. Ginwright. “And we’ve all been in moments of flow when we’ve taken walks, we’ve all been in moments of flow when we are with our families, and we think that that is extra stuff. No. That is central to deep change in our work.” 

Learn more 

To hear the entire conversation, click here.  We also invite you to see the slides from the conversation here.


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