SEARCH-LIGHT: Lessons We’re Learning From Youth, Art & Healing in Chicago.

Praxis Institute
5 min readJul 6, 2022


“Art is the heart’s explosion on the world. Music. Dance. Poetry. Art on cars, on walls, on our skins. There is probably no more powerful force for change in this uncertain and crisis-ridden world than young people and their art. It is the consciousness of the world breaking away from the strangle grip of an archaic social order.”

-Luis Rodriguez


Why We Are Writing This Blog

The weekly blog documents the process and implementation of the Social Emotional Arts and Radical Community Healing (S.E.A.R.C.H) Youth Leadership program. This summer is the first time we are leading this specific program. We hope we can do this for years to come and we want to keep getting better. Come along with us as we document our experiences and lessons learned in order to:

  1. Understand the types of youth development approaches that work best and which do not
  2. Celebrate and Replicate our successes
  3. Share reflections, approaches & lesson plans with other practitioners and organizations doing this work.

What is SEARCH?

For six weeks, across 18 sessions, 30 Chicago youth, ages 16–21 will participate in the SEARCH program. SEARCH brings together our love and passion for the arts, restorative practices, racial justice, and positive youth development.

We believe that creative expression and the arts offer unparalleled ability to apply healing-centered approaches that bring people together to engage in self-exploration, crucial conversations, and community building. SEARCH combines years of applied arts research with the globally recognized Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) process.


  • Relationship & Community Building
  • Identity & Culture
  • Narrative Change
  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Healing & Transformation

The launch of SEARCH comes at a crucial time when we all have experienced increased stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, political tensions, social unrest, systemic racism, and economic uncertainty. We believe that creating safe spaces to address these issues is essential to our collective healing, transformation, and wellness.

We have all experienced the magic that comes with circles- the beauty in transforming relationships, speaking our truths, and the healing aspect of listening and witnessing others’ lived experiences. Through SEARCH we have added an additional element to the healing process that includes opportunities for creativity, expression, and critical reflection through the arts.

End of the Summer: What We Aim To Achieve

All youth participants will:

  • Lead a Healing Circle
  • Create their own art portfolio
  • SEARCH will curate an art gallery exhibition open to the public


A Successful Session Involves 5 Key Steps we like to call ‘Ease’…

These steps are often not linear and during a 5–6 hour day are usually repeated.

Step 1: Stretch

  • Welcome & Opening Ritual: Sets the tone of the day. Participants are tuning into the space we are going to create together.
  • Introductions & intentions

Step 2: Warm-up

  • Develop a short engaging moment connected to the theme to grab the interest and attention of participants.
  • Activate prior knowledge with a check-in prompt related to the day’s theme
  • Structured 1:1 and group conversations to facilitate connections

Step 3: Activate

Activate is directly connected to the Warm-Up section. The intro to activate usually involves the Facilitator first modeling how to do a skill or activity.

For SEARCH the focus of Activate can be two things: 1) A Restorative Healing Circle or an activity centered around the 2) Arts

Healing Circles

  • A prompt or question connected to the day's theme is presented to the group to safely express their personal narratives
  • Participants divide into small groups of 2 or 3 and respond to the prompt. Participants take turns sharing out for 2–3 minutes each.
  • Group gets back together for collective conversations
  • An additional prompt is presented. Participants get back into small groups with 4–5 minutes to share out in order to build our capacity for meaning-making through internal reflective practice.

For Art Activity

  • Participants are often working individually to create their piece.
  • After being so verbal the arts activity gives participants space to express what’s inside them and how they process the world around them.
  • Participants can choose to share their artistic expression to the larger group verbally or non-verbally.

Step 4: Cool-Down

  • Closes out the activity
  • Can involve some type of meditation or mindfulness activity
  • Closing ritual to honor the space we created together and prepare to transition back into our lives

Step 5: Brain Break or Energizer

This can be inserted into the mix at any point. A great time is after lunch or if you notice group energy is waning.

Step 5 is usually a 10–15 minute activity that is intended to increase energy in a group by engaging participants in physical activity, laughter, or in ways that engage the members cognitively (problem-solving).

What Week 1 Looks Like

Sample Activity From Week 1: I AM POEM…

An “I Am” poem is a type of personal poem in which the youth participants describe themselves through a series of prompts. Writing and sharing these are a wonderful way for the youth participants to express themselves and feel known, and for listeners to gain insights about their peers. Writing these may also help develop self-awareness, a core competency for social-emotional development.

Taken from:

Activity Steps:

Please note: You can do this digitally or on paper. Since we have had so much screen time the last couple of years we would recommend doing it on paper.

  1. Distribute poem templates and markers/pens to each student.
  2. Explain the purpose of the activity (see paragraph above)
  3. Have participants fill in the sentences on the template with the appropriate descriptors. Make sure participants understand what all of the prompts mean.
  4. We strongly recommend all facilitators first share out their personal poems to model the activity.
  5. After 10–15 minutes, participants can present their poems to the group.


Sample 1:

I am..

I am..

Because I am…

Some may think…

Some may say…

Some assume…

The Truth is…

Sample 2:

I am …| I wonder… | I hear… |I see… | I want…

I am…

I pretend… | I feel… | I touch… | I worry… | I understand…

I say…| I dream… | I try… | I hope…

I am…

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.