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

Praxis Institute
5 min readJul 25, 2022

Testimonios: The Power of Our Experiences (Week 3)

“When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else.”

- Iyanla Vanzant

Overview of Week 3

This week at SEARCH marks the halfway point of our summer program. The Fellows are continuing to find commonalities in their experiences, situations and emotions with others.

Week 3: Testimonios

The third week of search focused on testimonios which is a “decolonized form of truth-telling that gives people the opportunity to speak about themselves, document their experiences and to name any harm or oppression that they may have experienced.” Testimonios, give young people an opportunity to share experiences with others in a safe space. This week, Tere, one of our SEARCH facilitators delivered her testimonio, Justice for Self, which centered on overcoming challenges and self-love.

“I really like how she [Tere] was able to convey her story. It was the fact that she didn’t hide, the stuff she went through, it still hurts her but she was able to share her story and be vulnerable. It made me realize that it’s ok to share what you’re going through, because sometimes we just keep it to ourselves. Teresita is very open and sharing is healing ” -SEARCH Fellow

The sequence of topics for our six weeks intentionally builds on one another.

“We don’t just want to jump right into it the first week, we want to scaffold and build into it because we know that young people don’t always have the opportunity to speak about themselves.” SEARCH facilitator

Key activities facilitated this week include continuing the Wings Project, I am poem/ Self-Portrait, Art Activity (Envision the world we want to see), creating your own definition of love, and our weekly Healing Circle.

Mimi Moment: Yoga and Guided Meditation

We offered an optional yoga session instructed by Mimi, one of our SEARCH facilitators. For many of our Fellows, this was the first time they had the opportunity to participate in an activity like yoga and meditation.

Healing Circle #2: Love

The theme for our second healing circle was love. Fellows were asked to journal ‘what is your personal definition of love.’

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:

  • Tell us about your first love- whether it was a person, place or thing- and share how that love has helped define who you are today?
  • Can you remember a difficult time where you felt as if you really needed love and support from those around you and you felt that the love you desired wasn’t given to you. How did that make you feel? How did you get through that time?
  • How often do you say “I love you,” to others without expecting anything in return? Do you practice and/or offer unconditional love to those around you? If so, how? What makes you feel love unconditionally?

So Much To Do, In So Little Time

The SEARCH summer program lasts a total of 6 weeks, meeting 3 times a week for 5 hours each day. Which is not a lot of time and can be difficult to actively engage in self-exploration, crucial conversations, and community building.

“We’re cramming a lot into 5 hours, so one of the challenges is being mindful of honoring their lunch breaks, giving them breaks during activities, knowing when to [be strict on phones] versus a little more relaxed during [unstructured sessions]. That has been the challenge, constantly reading the room and also being mindful they are coming in with other things they are dealing with and supporting them while also providing them with an environment to explore.” SEARCH Facilitator

Week 2 Reflection from Youth Participants

At the end of each week we ask all youth participants 3 simple questions:

  1. What did you enjoy most about the week?
  2. What are 1–2 things we can do to improve your experience?
  3. What was the most important thing you learned this week?

Several participants enjoyed the ‘Creating your own definition of love.’

“The most important thing for me was learning about my own definition of love. It was hard to describe at times, but talking about it made me realize what things I value most.”

In previous weeks participants asked for more time to create their art. We adjusted the schedule for more open studio time and the change was well received.

I enjoyed the open studio time, it was so relaxing and detoxing!”

“I am really enjoying the open studios. I don’t really have time for that in my house so being able to do it here feels nice.”

The community building has paid off as the group is becoming more connected and comfortable with one another:

“I really liked how I came back [after not being here for a week] and everyone seems more open and talking to each other.”

The group has continued to gain clarity and confidence to tell their own ‘truth story’

“I’ve learned to be more honest with myself. I try to convince myself that everything is fine, and when I was journaling I wrote more than I expected and it gave me the opportunity to be more honest with myself.”

Sample Activity from Week 3:

“I am…” poem & Self-Portrait

The guided poems are the testimonio, whereas the self-portraits give the fellows the opportunity to represent their story in an artistic way.

  1. Fellows were asked to fill out a guided “I am…” poem
  2. Turn those words in the poem into an artistic expression through a self-portrait

Wings Project

This activity is a continuation from last week. SEARCH fellows were asked ‘what lifts you up’ and express themselves through art. The feathers represent each individual and they are positioned together to look like wings, representing a collective.

  1. Provide cut-out feathers
  2. Allow fellows to express ‘what lifts you up’ onto the feather
  3. Add each feather to make wings
  4. Ask youth to create a posture, movement, or gesture that represents their feather

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



Praxis Institute

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