How the Art of Coping helps kids reclaim the health practices of their cultures

Meditation, crystal healing, yoga — how have you seen these practices depicted? Google a healing crystal meme and you might see images of upper-middle-class white people somewhere on a remote getaway relaxing. Those memes poke fun at the perception of crystals and meditation as health practices for wealthy people.

Shalina Ali runs the Art of Coping at TRUESkool. She says that, yes, these practices are known outside of their origins in Black and Brown cultures. However, the Art of Coping provides a process for Black and Brown kids to reclaim these relaxation and restorative practices for themselves, usually as part of their heritage.

“Most young people are aware of how to cope,” says Shalina. “It’s just not common to be amongst your peers and have those conversations. The idea of being well is a very isolated experience.”

Shalina says that Black and Brown communities are often depicted as having a stigma against health and wellness. However, she says, many wellness strategies come from indigenous communities. 

The Art of Coping helps students connect to oral traditions, art and meditation. That may look like students refining their poetry and flow techniques. Shalina says the Art of Coping helps students refine their craft so that, if they want, they could make a career out of performing. There’s still an emphasis on care, healing and safety for the students. The Art of Coping helps students cultivate self-care practices within themselves. 

Shalina Ali On the deck, a crystal and cards | Photo credit: Shalina Ali

“It’s more than a notion, even for us as adults, to really truly talk about our experiences,” says Shalina. “The Art of Coping is especially important for young people in those high school age ranges because of the way that their brains are learning these critical coping skills. It helps them prevent mental health diseases or struggles that tend to take place in the early 20s. And then when not addressed, continues on to the rest of our lives.”

The pandemic has stopped in-person classes so the Art of Coping has held group sessions virtually. Shalina says the kids still connected to each other even though interactions took place behind screens. She says they look forward to when they can meet in person. 

Jamiah is 16 and is one of the students of the Art of Coping. Here’s her testimony on what the classes did for her.

“It gave me that confidence to know what I want to say,” she says. “It also brought me out of my comfort zone artistically. I don’t like adding color to my art and it forced me to do that, which was good. It also allowed me to know that everybody’s going through a hard time in this quarantine and it’s normal to feel the things that I’m feeling whether they’re good or bad.”

Themes like the pandemic and racial justice come up in the Art of Coping classes as well.

“The rush on Capitol is huge,” says Shalina. “They need a little extra time to process that. We also were very intentional. And when I say we, I mean myself and the young participants involved, we were intentional about how much space we give to negativity.”

The Art of Coping will be hosting a virtual gallery to showcase the students’ work. If you’d like to see what they’ve done check out their website for more information.

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Angelia S. Rico

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