SEARCH- Light: Lessons from Youth, Art and Healing in Chicago

Praxis Institute
6 min readAug 1, 2022

When we share our stories, we are reminded of the humanity in each other. And when we take the time to understand each other’s stories, we become more forgiving, more empathetic and more inclusive.”

- Michelle Obama

Testimonios: Creating our Own Narratives

Overview of Week 4

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

- Maya Angelou

During our 4th week at SEARCH we explored new places across the city and engaged in activities outside of our space. We continued reflecting and creating our own personal narrative, or testimonios. Activities facilitated this week include a Pilsen Mural Tour, Mandala, Reflection of Mural Tour, Sounds of Justice, Storytelling and the week 4 Healing Circle.

We dedicated 2 weeks to the testimonios since finding vulnerability, analyzing our own experiences, and the impact it has had on our lives can be tough. The youth fellows composed and shared a piece of their testimonios through the guided ‘I am..’ poem they received the week before.

“Having two weeks of testimonios allows the SEARCH Fellows to build on things they havent explored before. The two weeks gives them more time to figure out and crystallize their experiences at their own pace.”

SEARCH Field Trip- Mural Tour and Mandala Activity

This week we took a field trip to Pilsen, a neighborhood in Chicago that has been the mecca for the muralist movement, where we went on a mural tour that highlighted art and activism and enjoyed a meal at a local restaurant. To conclude our day together we created mandalas, a geometric symbol used in “spiritual, emotional, or psychological work to focus one’s attention” (Mark, J. J., 2020). Fellows had to work together in harmony and communicate to create their mandalas.

“I’ve been to Pilsen before but I never really looked at or appreciated the free art in the neighborhood. The murals are more representative of the people who live there and it reminded me of home.” SEARCH Fellow

“After taking the mural tour in Pilsen and appreciating the art this [mandala activity] feels like we are giving back to the community.” SEARCH Facilitator

Healing Circle #3: Microaggressions

The theme for our third healing circle was microaggressions. Fellows were shown a short video explaining microaggressions to prime reflection and discussions.

Fellows were then split into dyads (groups of 2) three times with someone they haven’t had the opportunity to talk to yet. They answered these prompts:

  • With regards to your looks, language, family origin, gender, sexuality or any other component of your identity, have you ever received a comment that was supposed to be a compliment but felt insulting or demeaning? What was it? How did it make you feel?
  • What harmful stereotypes do you think are perpetuated or maintained because of microaggressions? Can you think of a time where you performed a microaggression and were unaware until someone informed you, or you realized it later on? How did that make you feel?
  • How do you feel about correcting microaggressions? Why do you think it may be difficult for some to speak up? Moving forward, how do you think you’ll handle any acts of microaggressions you encounter?

Differentiation in Expression and Art

SEARCH facilitators recognize the various levels of artistry in this space, therefore it is important to make sure that everyone feels supported and noticed. Part of it is also acknowledging that art and expression can present itself in different ways. Holding that space for everyone to express themselves in various ways is the most important, but can also be challenging.

“People throw around the word differentiation a lot, you want to meet everyone where they are at. You have some very well-established artists at SEARCH and you have others who are just beginning and enjoying the art process. Everyone has their own way of doing stuff and that's why this is a beautiful space. Fellows are given the opportunity to take their art to the level that they want.” SEARCH Facilitator

Week 2 Reflection from Youth Participants

This week we sent all youth participants a survey to provide feedback on our 4 weeks together. These are some of the questions that we asked:

  1. What are some things you enjoy most about SEARCH?
  2. What were the most important things you learned during the program?
  3. What are some things we can do to improve the program?

“I enjoyed the Pilsen tour because I liked the murals and all of the stories behind them. I learned a lot about my culture and other cultures.”

“I really enjoyed having conversations [during our healing circles] and coming to some realizations in my personal life. Art has helped me cope and work through some of those things.”

“I really enjoy the community aspect of SEARCH because it feels like family. I also love how we can express ourselves with any art form we choose, while being provided with the artistic freedom of materials and guidance. Journaling was a good thing to bring in too because I never journal on my own, and I enjoy doing it in this space. It feels very much like art therapy that I don’t have to suffer financially for because I’m being paid to live.”

“I learned how to build confidence and use past trauma to relate and strengthen connections.”

“I thought I knew what microaggressions were, now I get a better understanding of what it actually means because of our healing circle this week.”

“The most important things I learned during the program were being more aware of racism and oppression in the system, being made aware that I need to learn more from BIPOC people and check the sources I learn from, and reframing mental health while balancing personal time with my work. I also learned a lot about myself and what I still need to work on, with the most important thing being HOW I can work on myself.”

“The program can be improved through scoping through what kind of expression the participants already have experience with such as what they do and don’t want to pursue and challenge them more. It would have been nice to see a few people having access to making music earlier in the program.”

Sample Activity

Mural Tour Reflection

The day after our mural tour in Pilsen we asked the SEARCH youth fellows questions to help them reflect and interpret on the art they saw that day. This activity allowed facilitators to understand how and which piece of art affected each fellow.

  1. On a large piece of paper write Imagery, Values, Colors, Political Expression and Other
  2. Give each fellow a 5 post-it notes
  3. Have the youth write their reflection based on each topic onto the post-it note
  4. Everyone shares out

If you are interested in receiving the step-by-step instructions for any other activities or have additional questions about the why, what and or how of SEARCH please reach out to


Mark, J.J. (2020). Mandala. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from



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Praxis integrates theory and practice to engage, empower, and embolden communities to be agents in the creation of their individual and collective wellbeing.