The 180 Podcast: Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Four Pivots – A Pathway to Healing, Well-Being and Thriving
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Four Pivots – A Pathway to Healing, Well-Being and Thriving
In his new book, The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves, Dr. Shawn A. Ginwright provides what he describes as a “roadmap” for people to embody the change they want to see in society. He encourages readers to consider the transformative power of reflection, of considering not only what we do but who we want to be as individuals. That means grappling with trauma, harm and inequality as a critical step toward healing, well-being and ultimately flourishing.
In school settings, this means that teachers have to be well enough and self-aware enough themselves to foster the well-being and thriving of the young people they are educating.
More on Dr. Ginwright. He is a Professor of Education in the Africana Studies Department and Senior Research Associate at San Francisco State University. He is the Founder and CEO of Flourish Agenda, Inc., a national nonprofit consulting firm which designs strategies for healing and engaging youth of color and adult allies in their schools and communities. From 2018 to 2021, Dr. Ginwright served as Chairman of the Board for The California Endowment. In addition to The Four Pivots, he has written the books Black in School, Hope and Healing in Urban Education and Black Youth Rising. For his outstanding research and work with urban youth, Dr. Ginwright earned a Fulbright Senior Specialist Award from the U.S. State Department.
Chris Riback: Dr. Ginwright. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate the chance to get to talk with you.
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: I’m glad to be here. Glad to join you.
Chris Riback: So I felt I should start with what would seem like an easy question, but in reading your book, in learning about you, I think it’s less straightforward than I previously imagined. What’s the job description of a professor?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: That’s actually a really good question. The job description of a professor is to study a particular topic, research a particular topic, try to understand it, advance the learning on a particular topic. The second bucket is to teach other students about ideas and advance their thinking about a particular topic. And I think for me, the third bucket of that job description is to use the learning to help improve and advance the topic that you’re studying. So I think there may be professors who may not agree with that third category, but my work should, and I believe, have some impact in the world.
Chris Riback: Do you feel you’re better or worse at any particular part of it?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Despite the fact that I’m a professor, I’m still learning and I’m committed to always learning. So I’m learning how to improve my research. I’m learning how to improve my teaching and I still am committed to learning how to have the impact on the populations that I care about.
Chris Riback: Which segues beautifully to your book. In addition to learning, two other themes that you really set the stage for, personal challenges really that you lay out, are healing and inequality. What is healing? How do you define it? Why is it needed? Who needs it?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Healing is a process of restoring the well-being of individuals, groups, and institutions. It is the process of reconciling the harm, the trauma, the damage that has been done to the psychological, spiritual, and sometimes physical well-being of individuals, communities and institutions. Some people have talked about healing as an outcome and healing is a process to get to the outcome, which is flourishing, which is joy, which is abundance.
So healing requires, I think, three important kind of elements. There’s certainly a reconciliation of what caused a harm in the first place, kind of a grappling with that, and then secondly, it is a process of being able to place that harm or damage in perspective. It is sort of saying, “Yes, I could see the thing, but the thing is not me. The thing that happened, I see it and it is not me.”
And then thirdly, it is being able to lean into the desired future, to begin to see oneself in the possible future that they imagined. There’s a lot more into each of those, but in a nutshell, that healing is this process that involves reconciling, “What is the harm that happened to me?” The second is, “How do I see that harm and make it not me?” I always use the phrase, the story I tell about my mama, who grew up in poverty in Trenton, Florida and I didn’t know that she had grown up so poor, but one of the lessons from me visiting her hometown while she was there is that she understood poverty, but she wasn’t defined by it. And I think that’s the sort of lesson for that second step.
And then third is what do we dream about? What do we imagine? For our communities and different and reimagine institutions that in many ways create the harm in the first place.
Chris Riback: Does one need to be harmed in order to embrace healing and how does one even know if one is harmed?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: We are all healing from something, that part of the human condition is to go through something and come out of the other side. So whether or not it is a divorce, whether it’s the separation of a job, whether it’s, you’re not talking to your parents, we are healing from something. So the issue is that some of us, some populations have more to heal from than others, and that for black and brown communities, these issues of healing are not simply personal, like I haven’t talked to my mother or I haven’t talked to my children, right, black and brown communities have much more complicated historical contextual causes of intergenerational trauma and harm than those privileged communities. As a result, we haven’t yet grappled with the capacity for black and brown children and adults to come to grips with that healing process.
So, yes, healing is that harm occurs and also some populations, middle class, wealthy, white, generally, populations have much more of a bandwidth of resources to support the ways in which they’ve been harmed. That happens in schools, that happens in community organizations, there’s a bandwidth. So my questions are about, well, how do we actually understand the harm that our communities are experiencing and how do we come to grips with reconciling that harm and what is the responsibility of our institutions like schools? What is that responsibility if we know that many young people and their families come to the setting of schools with generations of trauma, well then what is the responsibility and the strategy, and how do we actually reconcile that?
That’s my questions that I’ve been grappling with for probably 20 something years. I think that my writing, my research has tried to move and encourage people to think more broadly and more deeply about the impact of trauma and harm and its impact on learning and what one could then do about it in a classroom setting, in a school setting, and in an entire school district setting.
Chris Riback: On that question of responsibility, is it educator’s responsibility to identify that need for healing, to help effectuate the healing, to design the ability to learn within those realities? So one, what is the responsibility of the educational system that you described, and two what’s the capability? Have we resourced it?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: We have a very myopic view of schools and education. And that myopic view is that the responsibility of a school and the responsibility of a teacher and the responsibility of education at large is to provide an educational opportunity and pathway for learning for students. That is antiquated. I believe that schools have a greater role. I don’t know if the responsibility of a flourishing, thriving, well society doesn’t rest simply on schools, but schools are part of a broader social ecosystem. So I don’t want to say that it is fundamentally the responsibility of the schools, but schools have a critical role to play into creating rich, vibrant learning environments for young people. You can’t get to learning with young people who carry trauma, you can’t get to learning with teachers who are carrying trauma and stress, you just don’t get there.
So what we tend to do in schools is we try to bury that, that’s not the responsibility, despite the fact that we have kids showing up and that we call them discipline problems, And that we treat discipline then as if it is classroom management, as if a kid that shows up and cusses out a teacher is just a discipline problem. It is not seen as a mental health issue or an issue around trauma. So we respond, we treat that as if it is… we misdiagnosed what that is.
Chris Riback: Thank you. I learned from your response, I think a proper phrasing would be given our shared responsibility, what’s the role of schools? What’s the role of educators? What about the capability portion?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Yes, your question is the capacity. Do schools have the capacity to actually meet the need? The simple answer is obviously no, and it’s because of the way in which we think about the role of schooling. Let me just give you a real quick example. I went to graduate school, one of the top graduate schools in education in the country, and I only had like one class on race and education. The only way I recognized the relationship between learning and trauma wasn’t from my graduate training and it wasn’t even working in schools, it’s because I was working in the community with African American young people here in Oakland, and when the young people came to me and said, “Man, I can’t go to school today because I saw someone get shot and I just can’t deal with that shit. I don’t know what to do. I can’t just go back to class.”
It was spending time in community that I began to see there’s a missing element, in schooling. So your question is, do schools have the capacity? No, at this point, which is why I’m advocating and writing about and trying to expand our understanding of institutions, where there are young people. One of the things that I’m asking and advocating for is that it’s hard to think about the well-being of students and young people when we haven’t yet addressed the healing and well-being of the adults in those spaces.
There’s this presumption that the adults can actually provide healing, when in fact they need healing, when in fact they have stuff that they used to be reconciled in their own professional and personal lives. So by expanding the capacity for schools to support the well-being of the teaching workforce, by its very investment, the hope is that will also open up possibilities to focusing on the healing and well-being of young people.
Now, this is one of the Keely’s heels of social-emotional learning. The social emotional learning of course is this process that suggests that learning is not just around academics, that it also involves non-cognitive domains of our learning process, such as tenacity, curiosity, grit, and so forth. And while those are important, the challenge is that it presumes that the teachers themselves can deliver social-emotional growth without having the opportunity to invest in their own social-emotional learning and growth. It sort of says, “You’re a teacher. Teach social-emotional learning, and don’t be social-emotional learning,” and there’s a disconnect there.
Chris Riback: The image that’s going through my mind, of course, are those old Russian dolls where you keep going inside, further inside and nested in there as a tougher problem. So if a challenge around education is that it’s very hard for kids to learn cognitively when we are not also addressing the social-emotional component, particularly in cases of trauma, you’re now bringing it a level deeper and saying, “Well, wait a minute, man, how can you even start to address that when the providers of that capability haven’t addressed their own internal needs?” So my question, I guess is, what’s at the root? Where do we start?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: For 20-something years in my own work with young people, I began working with young people and training other young adults to work with young people, using models like youth development and so forth, and we had these summer camps, these really profound summer camps. We called them leadership camps at the time, but one of the things we realized is that the adults in those spaces were transformed as much as the young people in those spaces. That the adults in those camps came out differently just as much as the young people came out in those camps.
And again, a missing part of the literature in the research, it presumes that the adult only needs the cognitive intellectual skillset to deliver whatever curriculum, but what other things that I learned from that, it is not only a cognitive sort of technical transactional process between adult and students. What I saw was that when adults were vulnerable in spaces and were dealing with their own trauma and healing, that gave them a sense of authenticity and safety, a sanctuary for those young people to say, “I see what you’re dealing with. I’m dealing with this too and if we can deal with this together, perhaps we can come out on the other side differently.”
So that is when I begin to think about the role of the adult in this process that we call healing. I think our society is moving and centering well-being in a much more important way. Why are we doing that? This is the time because all of us have had some social-emotional break over the past three years. We’ve had stressors that we perhaps hadn’t seen before in an acute way.
So the crux of it is that I think where we’re at right now in our society is a greater recognition that well-being and healing is a central feature in every institution. I’m not just talking about schools here. My domain is institutions that work with young people, whether that be social work, whether that be juvenile probation, whether that be foster care systems and certainly education, but the idea is that without the workforce having supports for their own well-being, that without those supports, then we continue to reproduce trauma and harm in those institutions. So when we center the well-being of the workforce, the idea then is that we begin to create more healing-centered environments that are important for learning, important for growth and so forth.
Chris Riback: So I want to ask you, of course, about the pivots. Before I get there at the beginning, I mentioned there were two pillars, I think, of major themes, is to set this stage for the personal challenges that you outline and one was healing. The other was, from my reading, inequality, and you define inequality differently than the definition that most of us know. What is inequality and perhaps more importantly, what has inequality done to us?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Yes. I think the way in which we think about inequality is really about the disproportionate access and resources to populations that create generational and legacies of harm. That there’s lack of resources in schools, there’s lack of resources and access to housing, there is disproportionate policing. So the conventional ways that we think about inequality is blocked opportunities, lack of access to the pie, and that’s important. That it is an essential feature in our thinking about structural inequality, but the structural inequality doesn’t just stop there. If you remove the structural inequality, there remains a residue of psycho-spiritual harm to that population that goes unaddressed.
I can give you hundreds of studies that have examined this and some really in my own work. So the structural inequality is an important prerequisite for equality, but it is not in and of itself the equation to create inequality. Once we begin to erode the access, greater access to jobs, greater access to quality education, all of these things are important, the residual psycho-spiritual impact also needs to be addressed. It is the harm that is caused by generations of lack of access. Now, some researchers such as Bill Wilson and others have called this poverty mindset. There’s a lot of research that talks about the consequences of poverty. That’s not what I’m talking about and I, in fact, disagree that there’s a deficit, because there’s a rich pool of assets that actually come from that experience.
My point is that it’s done psychological and spiritual harm. Psychological and spiritual harm is the inability or the challenge to see into the possible future. The challenge of being able to have a sense of aspirations. In my book, I talk about a form of inequality that we rarely talk about, which is around rest inequality and the inequality and the quality duration frequency of our ability to rest and engage in recreation. Now, these are the residual impact or results of structural inequality that very rarely we take on.
What we tend to do is we throw it in the box of mental health and I think that’s a mistake because mental health says that it’s a deficit frame. Let me just say this, if you talk about physical health, the image that pops into your mind is like, wow, someone could run a marathon and someone has muscles and someone is fit, right? When we say mental health, it’s the opposite. You think of someone who needs support, someone who is sick. It’s a different cognitive frame than physical health, it’s not equal. So when we talk about the residual impact and the psycho-spiritual results of structural inequality and throw that in the domain of mental health, we’re already placing populations in a deficit mindset.
What I prefer is for us to think about healing, that’s why I use the term healing- centered, and that if we place healing center, that means that we have to understand that there are consequences from generations of exposure to poverty, but that once we create the conditions for people to heal, that we encourage them to see and to develop their own possible futures, their own sense of aspirations, as well as reconciling and acknowledging that the harm that has happened did happen, but it doesn’t define the current reality.
Now, a lot of this sounds like pie in the sky, but we also know from research from neuroplasticity that when we begin to develop the neuropathways about future goal orientation, about seeing into the possible future, it begins to create different neurological pathways that disconnect or at least erode the initial response to ongoing exposure to trauma, that allostatic load, that flight and fight response. You can then look at it from a distance and say, “This happened,” but not actually be connected to it. So this idea around healing I think is exciting because there’s so many ways that we can enter it and I think that schools will continue to play an important part in that process.
Chris Riback: Dr. Ginwright, what are the four pivots? Give me an overview if you would and describe each of them for me.
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Yes. So the four pivots really are a roadmap for people to understand their individual role in the broader structural social change. The first pivot is a pivot from lens to mirror, which is a lens is the way that we’re all trained to have an analysis of social issues and social problems and it’s important have that analysis and understanding, but it is as an outward look. I’m asking for a pivot to mirror work, which is reflection. It is the deeper reflection about who we are, who we need to become. What has harmed me? What has harmed us? What do I need to heal from? The mirror work is about our capacity to understand who we are and ourselves on this journey to create justice and well-being. And it is a call to link us to our own personal lives to the broader structural change that we’re trying to create. It is asking us to go to that emotional space so that we become more intimately connected to what we’re trying to create.
The second pivot is a pivot from transactional relationships to transformative relationships. There’s a way in which we, in our jobs and in our workspaces, that they become technical, like completely technical relationships, particularly in institutions that want to have profound impact with young people, but you can’t have transformation through just transactional relationships. So the second pivot is a pivot from transactional relationships to transformative relationships, to relationships that are built upon the domains of what it means to be human, vulnerability, care, compassion.
The third pivot is a pivot from problem to possibility and it’s really about calling into question how much time we focus on problem-fixing and how much time we spend on possibility creating and really paying attention to the assumptions that go into our problem-fixing modality, even so much so that sometimes our focus on problems, we label the populations with those problems at risk, disadvantage, underprivileged, and so forth, and therefore the strategies that we develop are designed at those populations, as opposed to asset driven language, which this is from Trabian Shorters of BMe is an amazing thinker about his term asset framing.
So this pivot from focusing and problem thinking to possibility, also asks us to lean into and cultivate a possible future for ourselves, for our families and our communities and our institutions, what might a possible future be? And what that does is disrupts what is, and it just opens the door for a new way of thinking about how we might be in the possible future.
The last is a pivot from hustle to flow, and it is a call to question capitalist culture’s impact on how we work, live and play and it calls into question those things that we take for granted, like I mentioned, rest inequality and the ability for us to actually have the capacity for recreation.
The pivot from hustle to flow means that the frenzy, this addiction to frenzy that we have in our lives, that we fill them up with tasks, that we do all these things in a day, and we feel gratified that we’re so accomplished is actually is an antithesis to deep change and that we need to have an intentional pivot to flow, which is spaces where we can have opportunities for us to think, spaces where we can have opportunities forced to commune, spaces where things just slow down on a more regular basis, so that we can think about, we can build those relationships and that we can actually begin to engage in the kind of activities that restore us. As I mentioned, a chapter on rest inequality and how we need to be thinking about the importance of rest in our broader social justice work and social justice movement.
So those are the four pivots, the pivot from lens to mirror, a pivot from transactional to transformative relationships, a pivot from problem to possibility and then the last is a pivot from hustle to flow and all of these pivots are woven together like a braid. In order to do mirror work you have to have flow. In order for us to cultivate transformative relationships, we also have to have possibility in our thinking. So all of these things are woven together and build upon each other.
Chris Riback: So what comes first? How do we focus on the solving of the inequities that we all see, the ones that you identified, inequitable access to jobs, to healthcare, to education, whatever it might be?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: So I’ve been involved with large systems change over my career, schools that are focusing on equity, I work with foundations who are trying to give out lots of money to address race and racial equity, I’ve worked with juvenile probation departments that want to change their strategy. I’ve worked with, and I’m not going to name the city, but worked with a city government where they brought together all of this, the head of parks and rec, the head of budgeting, all these folks together that really wanted to change and have better outcome for young people of color in their systems and they’re marginal outcomes, even though they had the right intent.
I think for me what it boils down to is that people tend to see change as external from themselves, that they believe that they can produce the outcomes from a transactional, sort of technical way of seeing their jobs, that their jobs are somehow a conduit to create the outcomes that they want. In other words, that they are not oftentimes implicated in the change that they want to see.
So the four pivots is really about calling into question the way that we think about change and the way that I’ve concluded are the challenges with these large systems is that there’s this disconnect between who we are and how we show up in the world and the outcomes that we believe we could achieve. This idea is not new to social justice and social change. There are many others, including Dr. King that has written about the relationship between the personal and the social and the intimate and the structural.
So I’m building from that, those ideas, and I think that fundamentally we can continue to tinker around change, but until we actually integrate into our systems, the capacity for adults to use these four pivots on a regular basis, that these four pivots then implicate both the personal into the structural, that those two things dance together in a way that my belief is that we begin to see deeper forms of change in our society. You have to become the thing you want to see and not just do the thing.
In the book, brilliant quote from Benjamin McBride, brilliant thinker here. He says that oftentimes, when we create change the first wrong question is, “What do we have to do?” He says, the first right question is, “Who do I need to become?” and then we begin to unpack that and it’s so powerful because I saw this in my own life, I saw this with people that I’ve trained and to hear his eloquence on how, and, “Who do I need to become to actually engage in the change I want to become?” I think is one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned actually in writing a book.
Chris Riback: You ask a lot of any of us as individuals around the work that needs to occur to be able to drive the change that you imagine, even what you just said a moment ago, the quote that you just had. Imagining where one wants to be, or what one can be when one doesn’t have necessarily the ability, or even necessarily the emotional strength to grapple with where one is right now, at the heart, I found myself wondering: Are you asking too much of us?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: I hope I am. I don’t know about too much, but I hope I’m asking a lot in the book. I don’t believe we could achieve any of the environmental, social governance, any of the kinds of outcomes that we want to see if we are not deeply grappling with who we are as human beings, who we are as Americans, who we are as a cis-gendered, African American man, I don’t know if we can achieve that without at least attempting to grapple with it. How often do we grapple with our class privilege? How do I, as a middle class African American professor, grapple with my class privilege? If I’m just assuming that right, I can do harm. I can do harm unintentionally.
So these four pivots are not just like, “Hey, let me do some self-care and then I’ll be better, and somehow I will do better at improving the world. No, these are fundamental questions about what it means to be human and I’m saying, let’s go there. Let’s go there. It’s a grappling with, it’s in having conversations with your peers. It’s having conversations with your friends, about mirror work. What does that actually mean? And to actually begin to make it normalized where people are using these four pivots that we begin to see some movement institutionally and structurally. I am not convinced that it can happen the other way around, that the structure shift and therefore we heal. I think there’s a dance between both, but I don’t know which comes first, the chicken or the egg in that regard.
Chris Riback: Which makes me wonder as well, has our focus on trauma and harm done, even when well-intended, been misplaced? How is the healing mindset more effective or even better at promoting flourishing?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: It’s important to understand trauma and harm, and I think we have an amazing amount of research that gives us the contours of how people are harmed. Some of the challenges with some of the research of course is that, for example, there’s post-traumatic stress disorder, which we all know about, tends to understand trauma as past events that has current implications and we know from the past three years that trauma is much more persistent. So I don’t use the term post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. I use the term persistent traumatic stress environment because, one, there’s a persistent-ness of the stressors that young people and their families face as a result of structural inequality and so forth and that the disease itself doesn’t sit within the individual, the disease itself is in the environment that produces behavior. So you could treat the behavior, but the environment and the structure go unscathed.
So there’s an important domain of research that we can understand that talks about that harm, but we shouldn’t stop there. ACEs, for example, is important. Adverse Childhood Experience is an important domain of work, but now that we understand harm, such as ACEs and PTSD, what do we do about it? So the other part of the equation says that my work gives people permission, pathway, and the curiosity to say that if we understand harm, how do we then restore wellbeing from that? And the way that I have introduced that pathway in healing center and engagement is that it is not focused on pathology or deficits, that healing is a result of bringing our full selves, our assets and our aspirations and our community and our collectivity into the healing process, and it is not only an individual process.
We know from our African, as well as indigenous ancestors, that well-being never occurred individually. There’s not like, “Oh, he is sick,” that term, “He is not well,” doesn’t exist in many indigenous and West African particular cultures, “He or she is sick,” it’s “We are sick,” or “We are well.”
So this relationship between the communal, this relationship between community and the rituals that bind and bond people together is an integral part of how we depart from the “mental health clinical model,” and it says that if you’re going to create a new pathway to well-being and not just “treat mental health”, but foster and cultivate well-being, then we have to use new methods and new ways of understanding what constitutes wellbeing in that process of healing.
Chris Riback: Mental health resources are scarce, as we know. So the idea of healing together, as you’ve described, makes practical sense. Is there also a neurobiology that suggests a community-based approach is wise? Can you talk about the relationship science behind that?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Yes. On one level we know across educational research that the one domain and one feature of deep and effective learning is relationships in an educational setting, the relationships between a teacher and a student, the relationships that students have amongst each other, the relationships between schools and parents. That relationship, that is even more than curriculum, in some studies, even more than social class, that the quality of the relationships is commensurate to the depth and quality of learning that happens within that space.
We also know there’s some really interesting research coming out of New Zealand right now that is exploring the role of commune, exploring the role of community, exploring the role of collectivity in the learning and healing process. What we’re learning from that is, one, that there’s a way in which Western approaches to wellbeing have compartmentalized the human body and believes that, one, you can treat the mind without the body, we know that, but also that it is individualized, and this is a very Western way of thinking about well-being. The research that we’re seeing out of New Zealand is suggesting that you actually cannot achieve well-being without some form of collectivity.
So for example, even Western psychologists are recognizing the significance of collectivity. We know that “support groups,” we know that for example, AA, is a profound, transformative process around substance abuse and alcohol abuse. Well, some of the research is suggesting that it is not just the commitment to an AA program, but it is the way in which the collectivity and that community holds one responsible with care and vulnerability and authenticity throughout that journey without judgment, and that there’s something about going through that, that facilitates the capacity for people who have alcohol and substance abuse to actually be able to look at their own addiction and say, “I choose to do something else because I am accountable and I’m held in a loving, caring community that supports me in a different way than if I was just thinking about my own well-being in a therapist’s office.”
Now I’m not discounting individual therapy, but what I’m suggesting is from the research that’s coming out of New Zealand and even some of the research that we see now coming through American Psychological Association and others, that recognizes the significance and the importance of collectivity in the healing process.
How do we then create infrastructure for more collective healing in our society? The bandwidth that we have for mental health is thin, frail, and inadequate to address the mental health needs, even for those who have the resources. So how might we use the community assets that we have available to us to promote mental health? What would it look like to train barbers in barbershops how to have mental health conversations, to train beauticians to have mental health conversations? What would it look like if you got into Lyft and every Lyft driver was able to have a mental health conversation?
In other words, how might we open up the capacity for people to have intentional mental health conversations in spaces that we always be in? I use that black English intentionally, places where we always be in, particularly for young people. We can’t expect to support young people’s mental health if we’re waiting for mental health support because it’s not coming right. Even if we invest in an army of mental health providers and has years of training, and I’m not suggesting that we discount the significance of mental health providers, we need that, but we also need another model, that together with mental health training and training other practitioners, particularly practitioners of color for mental health, but then using the community, using mamas and aunties that can be trained to really provide that kind of support to young people, is another model that we should begin to explore and look at. There’s an example of that as well.
There’s a really interesting study, this was about 10 years ago, there was a physician in Philadelphia who wanted to increase the amount of black men to be tested for prostate cancer. If you’re tested, the likelihood if you’re testing, that you could actually reduce prostate cancer. So he received NSF Grants and all this stuff and like most researchers, he put up billboards and got graduate students to hand out flyers, and no black men, it didn’t increase. One day just struggling with that issue as he was getting his hair cut and he’s like, “Man, I got this study, I got all this money, but I can’t figure out how to get the black men’s prostate tested.”
And the barber said, “Hey, man, leave some flyers here. What you want me to say?” and he said, “Just say, ‘Hey man, how’s your prostate? Are you having any problems? You might want to go get tested?'” And that’s what the barber did and lo and behold, he was able to actually double the amount of prostate with that one barber. So he trained the whole barbershop to have just these basic conversations and lo and behold, that barbershop increased its testing. And they actually had nurses in the barbershop.
And then he said, “What if we trained all the barbers in Philadelphia to do this or other barbershops?” That’s an amazing study, one that uses the community assets that we don’t think about, but it opens up how we think about well-being from occurring just in the office, and it brings well-being to the community and it is a collective process. I think it’s a model that we should be exploring.
Chris Riback: What is it that you envision we all arrive to by taking the self-directed community-enhanced actions that you outline?
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: One of the things I say is that one of the greatest consequences of oppression is not just blocked opportunities, but it is the destruction of our capacity to dream beyond it. It is our capacity to dream beyond oppression and inequality and part of it is, this is why we have these terms like anti-racism or decolonial, which are important concepts, but there’s still intimately connected to the trauma, the thing that created the harm.
What I want to see is a couple things. I want to see us de-stigmatize. I want to see us embrace. I want to see us to have an asset way of thinking about well-being, that departs from mental health. I would like to put the concept of mental health in a museum. That we used to think about mental health as a disease, as an issue and we want a new term, like psychological well-being, I don’t have the term right here, but that it becomes part and parcel of… like I imagine us being able to go to well-being gyms instead of physical gyms, that just like in every school has PE… Well, I don’t think that happens now, but schools used to have physical education, that we should have the same kind of opportunities around healing for our schools, that it is not seen as something that is a deficit, but that’s something that’s an asset.
I imagine that we also have those same supports for teachers and educators, that every school day is started in community, that you don’t have any school day that starts without community, with people being able to share what’s going on in their hearts, what’s going on in their lives, that sets the tone of the school day and that there are terms that are used throughout the school day that bond people together and allow people to have that future goal orientation that we want and that becomes normalized. That’s my vision.
Chris Riback: It’s a vision that we all can aspire to. It’s a vision that will require energy and work, but that’s a wonderful vision, Dr. Ginwright, thank you. Thank you for sharing your vision. Thank you for the work that you have done and continue to do, and taking the time with us today.
Dr. Shawn Ginwright: Thank you, Chris, and I really appreciate the opportunity to share these ideas.
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