A Worksheet

by Gemikia Henderson + Ciera-Jevae Gordon

EDITOR’S NOTE: RYSE Youth Center is a member organization of The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture. Gemikia Henderson is one of our Youth Media Fellows + Ciera-Jevae Gordon sits on our Advisory Council on Youth Media Emerging Practices. Working as part of the Media, Arts, and Culture team at RYSE, they’ve developed a methodology of integrating Healing Circles into their creative development process, which is a reflection of RYSE’s Theory of Liberation.  This Worksheet is a guide for practitioners, facilitators, teaching artists and organizations to support brave, courageous, vulnerable artmaking  with young people.


GOAL / OBJECTIVE: To co-facilitate a space for young people and their adult allies to heal and enter into a state of vulnerageousness, which states that vulnerability doesn’t occur without courageousness, and that courage is not always absent of fear. This is done through art making and performance as a vehicle that drives us further into an actualized state of liberation.

 You know how you go to church and you feel good, I felt that feeling. Healed and cleansed. – D’Ana Clark

CONTEXT: RYSE’s Media, Arts, and Culture department started incorporating Healing Circles into their very first production, Bag Lady Butterfly Blues, in 2015. Culturally, RYSE had been using healing circles as part of their foundational planning and convening even before their doors opened. Incorporating Healing Circles into the production cycle seemed like a relevant, culturally-specific way of helping youth express themselves and decompress from the difficult and sometimes traumatic, personal topics and issues that come up through the creative process of making a production.

Often, arts and performance-based programs and organizations ask their participants to share personal stories that can be ethnographies of trauma and harm. Additionally, the process of creation is always laced with doubt and vulnerability. When these issues and experiences are brought up, teaching artists and educators don’t always have the tools to facilitate healing. Healing Circles provide a space for youth to bear witness to each other’s stories / experiences and create a peer support network. It is a way to help shift the art and performance away from becoming just expressions of trauma, harm, and oppression and into something that offers both personal and collective healing.

TIME: 60 to 90 minutes

WHO: Youth in an arts or performance program (or any youth, staff, or community group)

ROOM SET-UP: The space should feel open and welcoming. It should roughly resemble a circle and welcome everyone to sit comfortably and be in a line of sight with each other. To create it, invite the youth to help set it up. Use blankets, cushions, chairs, and “items” of significance to the youth (e.g. mementos, photos, stones or crystals, religious objects, etc.) to make the space familiar and inviting. Healing Circles often resemble altars, or spiritual or familial ways of connecting to our ancestors, so asking youth to give ideas for this space is crucial for their comfort.

A spatial consideration: Consider how you can also include space for someone to “be themselves” while also near everyone else and how the entire environment can encourage youth to take what space they need while being in community with others.

They make you feel like more of yourself, like another step towards healing and healing is a lifelong journey. -Isaiah Grant

WELLNESS CHECK: This kind of space feels intimate and vulnerable, which surfaces many deep emotions and reactions. It is important to build a support network outside of the Healing Circle that can offer one-on-one check-ins, case management, employment, healthcare, or therapy. Ask, who in our community can also support these youth + young adults in their personal and collective healing? And make sure you know an answer before opening up Healing Circles.  


  • Sage, lavender, copal, myrrh, etc.
  • Blankets, mats, pillows, cushions, hairs, etc.
  • Water, juice, cups, snacks, etc.
  • Mementos, photos, stones / crystals, religious objects, etc.
  • An object to help focus on who is talking (a plushy, a ball, a hairclip, etc.)



NOTE: We have not identified “Group Agreements” for this particular activity as it is part of a larger program and theory of liberation. It is important that there is already a culture of open communication and expression and that expectations have already been outlined. It is crucial to us that this culture and our expectations are also created and sustained by and with youth.

  1. Invite youth (or have them invite each other) to help set up the space in a manner that is open and inviting to them with the materials available.
  2. Invite youth (or have them invite each other) to get into a comfortable position where they can see the other youth that are part of the Healing Circle.
  3. Remind youth (or have them remind each other) that the purpose of the Healing Circle is to help facilitate open access to vulnerageousness as a way of moving through trauma into finding and centering our joy by way of arts, movement, and performance.
  4. Ask youth (or have them ask each other), what other things do we want out of the Healing Circle in this moment?
  5. Identify which object will be the “Speaking Stick”.
  6. Remind youth (or have them remind each other) share + offer what is comfortable to them and they can offer silence as a response.
  7. Open with questions like,
  1. How is your heart?
  2. How are you feeling today?
  3. How are you coming into the space?
  4. Who are you right now?
  1. Invite youth (or have them invite each other) to respond to one of the four questions. Whoever has the “Talking Stick” is the one sharing their response.
  2. Make sure everyone in the Healing Circle has had the “Talking Stick”
  3. After everyone has checked in, open the space for reflections of societal harms or personal stressors they are experiencing.
  4. For youth who can relate to a statement that someone said, they can snap or can used the motion for agree in American Sign Language.  
  5. After those who wanted to share have all had a chance, facilitate an acknowledgment of those issues and or frustrations by validating their lived experiences. Afterward, facilitate a conversation around a litany of gratitude. Have everyone go around in the story and list three things they are grateful for. (It is important to not open a conversation up as if we are looking to solve anything, but instead learn skills of how to navigate through these oppressive systems.)
  6. Check-in with youth (or have them check-in with each other) as people share to see if a break is needed, and give one if so. (This can look like taking a collective breath. You want to be mindful not to put too much pressure on youth to fully facilitate or request so much from other youth, as they may be in a tender space, and not feel comfortable pushing others to respond.)
  7. Once everyone has initially shared, invite youth (or have them invite each other) to ask questions related to the objective of the Healing Circle [See bullets 3 + 4] and facilitate story sharing.
  8. Continue to check-in about any needed breaks.
  9. Close the Healing Circle by inviting youth (or having them invite each other) in sharing appreciations, leading a chant, or some other way that facilitates ending on a positive note. Viable options for a chant are
  1. Assata Shukur :It is our duty to fight for our freedom, It is our duty to win, We must love and protect each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains. This is repeated 3 times, and each time it gets louder.
  2. NAS:(This is a call & response)  I know I can (repeat) Be what I want to be (repeat) If I work hard at it (repeat) I’ll be where I want to be (repeat).
  3. Holla Back: (This is a call & response) Holla Back -> I got yo’ back (Repeated 3 times, and led by 1 or 2 people)
  1. Offer additional support from your community to youth in the Healing Circle for any issues, challenges, questions, or possibilities that came up during it.


As part of The Alliance Youth Media Network Virtual Summit happening October 25 to November 15, we’ll be interviewing RYSE Member Isaiah Grant about his experience of RYSE’s Theory of Liberation and how he  is realizing YouthTopia today.Youthtopia: In the Face of Gentrification is a multimedia showcase written and performed by Richmond youth. Through spoken word, dance, music, visual, and video arts, explore the stories and experiences as told by our communities’ young people as they root themselves against displacement, prejudice, and systems of oppression. Interview is Thursday, November 7, 2019 via Instagram Live. Tune in on Instagram: @alliance_arts