Chris Nguon breaks down the foundational elements of CARMA

In this episode, host Chris Nguon dives into the foundational elements of CARMA. Why is this podcast called the CARMA Chronicles? Where did the title originate? What does it stand for? And why is CARMA (C.A.R.M.A.) significant in healing work? We’ll also share two clips from Dr. Shawn Ginwright, including a poignant story about his experience working in a prison that encapsulates how Healing Centered Engagement can show up in the most unexpected of places.


Chris Nguon:

Peace community. Welcome to the CARMA Chronicles podcast, where we talk to the nation’s leading healing centered practitioners. Today’s episode is going to be a little different. We are going to change it up and spend some time breaking down the concept of CARMA. What is CARMA? Why do we call this podcast the CARMA chronicles? And how does implementing healing in our environments, in 2021, so important in youth development work. We’ll also share two recent clips from Dr. Ginwright, including a really poignant anecdote that he’s shared in the past about an experience he had working in a prison that displays how Healing work, through the CARMA model, shows up. Next.

First before we get started. I want to take a quick second to extend our biggest gratitude, love, and appreciation to the many, many listeners who have given us such positive feedback about this podcast since our launch two months ago. It’s been graciously overwhelming, and we are really thankful that our listeners have found some value in this space, with obviously the biggest thank you going to our guests so far – Dr. Ginwright himself, the incredibly talented Jenn Johns, the rising star Ree Botts-Ward, and the dope brother that he is Aman Sebhathu. We also want to thank our current team at Flourish Agenda and the many, many community loved ones over the years who have helped to craft this healing model, including Nedra Ginwright, Aisha B, Farima Pour Korshid, Christina V, Sai Viegel, Mizan and Sizwe, Jazz and Bhankele, and so, sooo many others. And for new listeners who are with us for the first time, please feel free to share, like, and comment on wherever you are catching this podcast, whether its Apple or Spotify, or our website,, as it helps spread this healing work to an even larger audience. Thank you.

Now for the folx out here listening who work or have worked with young people, we all know how stressful life is for our young and their families. We are trained, whether we want to say traditionally or otherwise, to show up for our young people as positivity as we can, as present as we can, for as long as we can – and do it again the next day. But how many times have you, let’s say you work in a school, how many times have you come onto campus not feeling your best self? How many times did you have something on your heart? Maybe it was something personal that went down with the family, maybe it was a comment, or a decision made that rubbed you the wrong way? Maybe it was an experience of racism, or sexism, that devalued all the beautiful and wonderful humane aspects of yourself? Where do we put all of that, all of those feelings, as we walk into campus to heal young people? That’s where Healing Centered Engagement, through the CARMA model, offers an approach.

I want to share a short clip, it’s only about a minute long, from Dr. Ginwright that I think helps set the stage for what we are going to talk about today.


Shawn Ginwright:

But you may have heard me say before that our society right now is sitting directly between trauma on one hand and transformation on the other. We as a society are navigating working through trauma as a result of Covid and layers complexity of our daily lives have changed. At the same time we are moving towards transformation and the only way we move towards transformation as a society into transformation is through the work that you are doing. Transformation happens with your engagement with each other and deep engagement with each other and their families in a healing centered way. And the degree in which we create the kind of spaces, the degree in which we create space for young people to share their stories of both trauma and hope. For you to share your stories of trauma and hope we begin to move slowly out of this sort of context of trauma into another realm of transformation where we actually see each other differently and have the ability to work with each other differently.


Chris Nguon:

We are living in complex times folx. And we are on the cusp of transformation as a society, where we not only dive deep into the strategies that will best help young people and their families, but in acknowledging that those strategies should include how we, as even adult practitioners, like myself, approach our own healing work, more specifically this concept called Healing Centered Engagement, which is essentially a paradigm shift in how we think and work with young people in our systems and how it does requires a change in the adults who support them.

Healing Centered Engagement builds upon Trauma Informed Care. There is a collective trauma that we experience, that our young people experience. We can go from places like Detroit, New York, New Orleans, or where I grew up right here in West Oakland, there is a collective shared trauma experience that extends beyond the individual.

HCE centers on 3 things; it’s a perspective on how to work with young people; it’s an approach that allows us to change the eco system of where young people are and it’s a strategy of how to work with young people in the spaces that they reside – at home, school, summer camps, juvenile justice, schools, etc … HCE is a strength-based approach and centers CARMA. What is CARMA? Now CARMA is a model of practice through the lens of Healing Centered Engagement. In his recent book, Hope and Healing in Urban Education, this is how Dr. Ginwright breaks down CARMA.

Starting with Culture, which serves as an anchor to connect young people to a racial and ethnic identity that is both historically grounded and comtemporary releveant. This view of culture embraces the importance of a healthy ethnic identity for youth of color while at the same time celebrates the vibrancy and ingeneuinity of urban youth culture.

Agency, which is the collective and individual ability to act, create, and change external and personal issues. Agency compels youth to explore their personal power to transform problems into possibilities. And we’ll come back to agency too, because I think that’s a really important one.

Relationships, which is our capacity to create, sustain and grow healthy connections with others. Relationships build a deep, and I do mean deep, deep sense of connection and prepares youth to know themselves as part of a long history of struggle and triumph.

Meaning, which is discovering our purpose and building an awareness of our role in advancing justice. Meaning builds the awareness of the intersection of personal and political life by pushing youth to understand how personal struggles have profound political explanations.

And Aspirations, maybe the most important principle of all CARMA principles, which aluminates life’s possibilities and acknowledges life’s explicit goals. Aspirations means to understand oppression, but not be defined by it, and it encourages youth to explore possibilities for their lives and work towards their personal and collective advancement.

Now here is where I want to share a really memorable story that Dr. Ginwright provides, it’s about 10 minutes or so, about a time he did some work in a prison and how the practice of CARMA can show up anywhere in a person’s healing journey. Check it out.


Shawn Ginwright:

So um I want to start with a story. And again if you've heard the story before forgive me, but I think it's an it's a story that actually sets up where we are. As a as a society and where we sit in our work with young people about probably about eight years ago now, I was asked to come out to a prison. not far from here to speak to a group of about 10 African American men that had been incarcerated, but they were from Oakland. And the email read something like this, Dr Ginwright, we have a reading group here in the prison, and we would like, for you to come to talk about your book The book was black youth rising at the time. And some of the men actually grew up in Oakland and really wanted to have an opportunity to talk to me about their experience growing up in Oakland so I debated whether or not I was going to take. The invitation or not, and so I decided to take the invitation and drove out to the prison one Saturday and talk to the men and the reading Group when I arrived at the prison.

The prison gate the correctional officer says, Dr. Ginwright we’re so glad you're here, you know there's a group of men that have been reading one of your books Black Youth Rising. They're in the cafeteria and it's kind of hard to get to the cafeteria so just make sure you follow the instructions and they had already told me not to wear jeans or certain colors and so forth, so I was prepared to follow the instructions, when I got behind the gates of the prison. And so, as I walked as I sort of left my car and went into the prison, I was met with a correctional officer. And the correctional officers said, Dr Ginwright right the men are in the cafeteria and I, you have to follow my instructions and there's these different colored lines that mark. The hallways that will guide you to the cafeteria So the first correctional officer said just find the red line on the floor and follow that to the end of the core door. So I open I followed the found the red line I followed it to the end of the core door where that door opened at the end of the corridor. Buzzed open and I walked through it and it shut behind me boom.

And I was met with another correctional officer and that correctional officer said Doc general I know you go into the cafeteria just follow the green line to the end of this how hallway and you'll. Be met with another door, I found the Green Line I followed that all the way to the end of the hallway was met with another door and that door bust open. And I walked behind it is shut behind me boom guess what there was another correctional officer there. She said you're almost at the cafeteria Dr Ginwright just follow this blue line, all the way to the end of the core door and you'll be near the cafeteria and I followed that blue line, all the way to the end of the core door and that door buzzed open. And it shut behind me boom.

And something shifted inside of me by the time that third door hit I don't know if y'all have ever been in a prison or visited a prison, but when you're when that third door shut something shifted inside of me I began to feel the sense of. Of incarceration I began to feel the sense of that I can't get free and I began to imagine what those men who I was about to speak to what they must be going through every day. They couldn't you know they couldn't smell the fresh rain they couldn't hug their children and I became deeply insecure about what the hell is I’m going to talk about to these men. And so I had to pair to talk and I began to really think about they're not going to want to hear me talking about research or anything like that. And so, at that point, I decided to throw my speech away and whatever I was about to what I had prepared and I wasn't going to talk to them about what I had.

Developed and so as I got closer to the cafeteria they finally walked me to the cafeteria doors and the doors swung open and I was shocked at what I saw. I had expected 10 men waiting for me, but when the door swung open there over 200 men in their orange jumpsuits excited to see me. They walked up to me hey Dr Ginwright how you doing and I was like wow man I wish I would have known there's gonna be 200 a year right, and so one of them walked up to me hey man, my name is Chris I said, Chris nice to meet you man, he said I’ve been in here since 1987 brother.


Chris Nguon:

That was Dr. Ginwright, on a recent talk he did with a cohort of youth development practitioners, really lifting up how even in the most inhumane of spaces, like a prison environment often is, can still offer a sense of self agency that values how the individual contextualizes their environment in a healing space, even for just a moment.

Now we talk about healing, we know it’s nuanced because healing also means trauma came before it. And when we think about trauma, we often think about it through the lens of PTSD, which certainly is a vital form of thinking about trauma in our communities. But what healing through the CARMA model encourages is to look at trauma from the lens of what is called Persistent Traumatic Stress Environment (PTSE), which is an idea that trauma is a result of laws, policies, and practices that are embedded in our institutions that re-produce harm in our young people AND adults. We have to assume that everyone has experienced some form of trauma because we know trauma doesn’t go away after 18 years old or after you leave high school, or after you get a job.

Now when we think about CARMA, we can think about CARMA as a value system of how to go about integrating healing centered care into your work with young people. Think about how honoring culture, holding space for agency, focusing on relationships, searching for meaning, and actualizing aspirations creates a space that allows communities to heal.

James Gabarino, in this book, (Raising Children in a socially toxic environment), introduces this concept called social toxicity, which like physical toxins, such as asbestos, can over time infiltrate and embed negative aspects that society offers that hinder our ability to be our best selves. Now Dr. Ginwright offers that we should think about social toxicity as rain clouds and rain drops that come from the -isms, what are the isms? – heterosexism, ageism, racism, colonialism. And that identifying what these are, how they sink down on us, like rain drops, collectively, and how it shows up, allows space to center the CARMA model in this collective healing practice.

Now we also know that research shows that when we engage with young people to produce a sense of agency that doesn’t limit their ability to foster an individual and collective aspiration, this process of really lifting up agency for young people creates and cultivates well-being. In order for young people to be well, the adult allies have to be well, too. We call that a parallel process of well-being where the adult is engaged in their own healing along with the young person – and where we as adults question our racial biases, we examine our privilege, where we get underneath our own perceptions and undercover those things that might be preventing us from being more human to one another.

Now over the course of 30 years, our work family at Flourish Agenda, and I do mean family y’all in so many ways because Flourish Agenda’s family is so extended, have seen the impact that healing work has had on young people at leadership excellence, through Oakland Freedom Schools, Camp Akili and most recently through Akili Family Camp (which we’ll talk about on an upcoming episode). Healing work, for a lack of a better term, works. That’s why we wanted to start this podcast, to not only talk about our work at Flourish Agenda, but to share all the deep and resonating work that so many people in our communities around the world have already implemented.  And we’ve already highlighted four practitioners who have done just that on this podcast.

Now some of our listeners have asked how to we learn more about our healing work? And how to integrate it into their agency and their work? Flourish Agenda recently, in February of 2021, launched our Healing Centered Engagement certification training program, which is an online certification course for youth development workers, teachers, social workers, and other youth development professionals, that can be taken anywhere at any time as long as you have a computer The beauty of the course is that it is self-paced, includes videos, animated scenarios, Q&As, along with interactive and reflective learning activities. This certification is a way for practitioners in the field to really dive into healing centered engagement and all that comes with it. And at the end of the course, every participant will receive a Healing Centered Engagement certification as an HCE practitioner, signed by Dr. Ginwright. You can find more information on Flourish’s website,

We hope that these ideas, the context that it provides, gives you a pathway towards healing our young people. The certification aims to also foster a learning space where ideas and tools that you yourself, the youth development professional, can cultivate in relation to your setting with your young people, as we know no two spaces are exactly the same.

And ultimately our collective hope, our shared vision of what could be, is that collectively, we offer a healing centered space for all young people, all around the world, in the spirit of Ubuntu, so that young people can heal from their trauma and flourish together.

So that wraps it up for this episode folx. We’ll be back next episode with another awesome guest. And a reminder that you can find our work on social media at @flourishagenda on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and our website Feel free to like, comment, send us a direct message. We love having conversations about healing because this is what we do, this is our passion, and we love to spread healing work in all of our communities.

Until next time my good peoples, peace and love, thank you so much for listening.