September 9, 2015

Doubt, Dreams, Security. Duda, Sueños, Seguridad.

by Queen Nefertiti Shabazz '17

Queen is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow. She is the founder of Radical Cards, a bilingual card game that encourages young people, especially those who are identified as "marginalized," "at-risk," and "of color," to use their creative self-expression for interpersonal social reflection. This summer, she took Radical Cards to Oakland, San Francisco, New York, and Cabarete, Dominican Republic.

Four Radical Cards lay in front of Carlitos, a four foot tall young boy from El Callejon de La Loma. Carlitos turns each individual red and white Image Card in his palm, peering at each one like a gemcutter finding the right angle to shape the stone.

He looks at me and the other student to my right, Dioni. After five minutes pass, I pick up the Word Card I had placed in the middle. On the card are the words, “Doubt, Dreams, Security,” “Duda, Sueños, Seguridad.” In the middle of the table, I reorganize the three Image Cards each one of us think relates to the words, “doubt, dreams,” and “security.”

Each of our Image Cards show a different person, place or object, which may have some relevance or connection to the words on the Word Card in the middle of the table. I had put down the Image Card of two people holding hands; Dioni had put down the card of the young woman holding herself; Carlitos, the last person two draw from his hand, had put down an image of an older woman smoking.

It is now Carlito’s turn to go. Dioni, a timid boy from a campo in Santiago, sits to my right cunningly smiling at Carlitos. This is the first time, throughout my counseling and art-as-therapy work in DREAM’s campamento, that I see Dioni behaving socially and playfully with another student. Dioni hardly speaks, but the Radical Cards game really seems to inspire and motivate him to exchange stories and perspectives with his peers.

After a few more minutes, Carlitos opens his mouth to tell his perspective, or “story,” with the Image Cards of the hands, a woman holding herself, and a woman smoking, using the Word Card words, “doubt, dreams,” and “security.”

Que ella [la muchacha que se abraza] tenía una duda de esa señora, pero esa señora [la que fuma] tenía una seguridad de sí misma. Entonces, se tiene que abrazarse para ver la diferencia entre el sentido de sentirse con seguridad, y el sentido de sentirse con duda.

Carlitos looks up at both of us and smiles. Dioni and I smile back at Carlitos, and before I can respond to his story, Dioni begins to organize the Image Cards in the order he wants to express his perspective. “¿Me toca a mí, profe?” “Is it my turn, teacher?” I nod my head yes. After two minutes of arranging and rearranging the three Image Cards, Dioni shares his perspective.

Mira, mi historia es que ellas son muy bien amigas, entonces [hay] seguridad. Pero a ella [la mujer que se abraza] no le gusta que ella fuma, [por eso] la duda. Entonces esta mujer quiere que esa mujer deje de fumar, un sueño.

“¿Entonces profe, quien gana?” “So teacher, who wins?” Of course, at this moment, I am just in awe at the connections Dioni and Carlitos made using the Image Cards. I don’t want to choose winners. There is no winning in storytelling, but there is also no losing. I tell Dioni that if he can remember Carlitos’ story, and explain the connections Carlitos made, Dioni is the winner. If Carlitos can remember Dioni’s story, and explain the connections he made with the cards, Carlitos is the winner. But if they can both explain each other’s stories, they’ve both won.

I want to hear the stories and perspectives of young people who were told they would not live long enough to form a single narrative. While not every young person identifies as a storyteller or literary artist, every person develops experiences that express stories. I created Radical Cards as a tool for verbal and visual self-expression. Radical Cards is a reflection of the varied ways in which a story can be told. 

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