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

Praxis Institute
5 min readJul 11, 2022


Self Awareness — Uncovering, Understanding & Magnifying Self

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

Ralph Ellison

Overview of Week 1

The Social-Emotional Arts and Radical Community Healing (SEARCH)Youth Insitute brings together our love and passion for the arts, restorative practices, racial justice, and positive youth development.

This week 30 participants, ages 15 to 19, representing 9 Chicago neighborhoods completed week 1 of SEARCH.

Week 1: Self Awareness

Our focus for the first couple of weeks is ‘self:’ My story, My choices, My dreams, My interests, My accomplishments, My fears, My failures, and of course, My potential…

“Before we focus on what’s happening with the community, we need to think about ourselves and our part of the bigger picture…The self- actualization piece is a big part of identifying how you play a role in the community,”

- Terrence Pruitt (Co-Founder and Facilitator)

We believe collective transformation cannot happen without individual transformation. So…we start by designing an experience to give participants the “power to perceive the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves.”

-Paulo Friere (paraphrase)

Key Activities

Some of the activities that were facilitated this week were Power of Narrative, Vision boards, Self Diagrams, and Motivational Freeze Dance. Participants are encouraged to leave their comfort zone: physically, creatively, socially & personally.

In addition, one of our favorite activities was creating a community playlist, this gives youth participants ownership over their new space.

CHECK OUT out our S.E.A.R.C.H 2022 Spotify playlist

Week 1: Expect the Unexpected

Our facilitators have been working with youth for over 15 years. Over the years they have learned the challenges that come with summer youth work. No matter how much you plan, unexpected stuff happens. Especially the first week…

Youth participants are often dealing with personal or family challenges and transportation issues. There is always some level of red tape, incomplete paperwork, dietary restrictions, and other minor constraints…

We lead multiple orientation sessions for latecomers to make sure everyone has the same foundation and owns the same collective norms. As much as we want youth summer programs to run smoothly, there are foreseen and unforeseen obstacles that appear. The most important thing is that we are flexible and empathetic to these challenges.

Week 1 Reflection from Youth Participants

At the end of each week we ask 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?

Some responses:

“The most important thing I learned this week is how to reframe my “limitations” & negative thoughts.

“It’s okay to come out of your comfort zone and to be open about certain things”

“…learning a lot more about how to take care of myself, as well as learning about my intersectionality.”

How We Feel

Here at SEARCH we are all excited to be working with youth in-person, in a safe space without the traditional institutional roadblocks that limit learning, healing and restorative justice.

“It feels like I’m going [facilitating] back in school without the same shackles I had before, because I’m going back to a space where we are collectively creating and curating what it means to learn, dwell and be.”

— SEARCH Facilitator

Our youth are energized and enthusiastic about working at SEARCH this summer. So much so, they claim “it doesn’t even feel like work!” This first week was packed with self-actualization, movement and art. We asked our youth how they felt about the first week:

“I enjoyed how much collaboration we have to do with each other. I feel like this aspect is lost at other jobs, it makes me feel more connected to everyone.”

“I feel like we’re building a stronger community through having fun and laughing with each other.”

Areas for Improvement

One thing that stood out was participants wanted more time to complete their art projects and to share out in different ways.

“One improvement would be to have more time for the art aspects since I know a lot of people don’t get a lot of progress done by the end of the day.”

“During the gallery walks, I think it would be a good idea for people to walk around with some sticky notes and a pad. People can leave comments or questions on the artwork that the artist can respond to when sharing their work.”

Elephant. Bird. Giraffe

A favorite activity for this week was Elephant, Bird, and Giraffe. The icebreaker activity allowed youth to work together, communicate and build a sense of community with their peers. We believe laying a strong foundation for a community is important for long-term success and creating meaningful relationships.

Next Steps

This week was the just beginning of healing, transforming and building community. Next week, we will be digging deeper into self-awareness, discussing public health inequities and introducing new practices on how to be expressive through art and movement.

Sample Activity from Week 1: Power of Narrative

This activity introduces youth to the power of narrative and how it shapes the way we perceive the world around us.

  1. Divide participants into different groups for a specific population (i.e. Poverty, LGBTQIA+, Black & Latinx, People of Color, Immigrants and Youth)
  2. Provide participants a prompt to write down any narrative they have heard about this group.
  3. Go around the room and add a sticker to any narrative participants have heard.
  4. Tally the positive, negative and neutral narratives.
  5. The facilitator should circle the top 3 negative narratives.
  6. Participants then create a counter-narrative to turn the negative into a positive.

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.