The Emoji: Is it Conversation Hell or Heaven?

Everyone is texting, not to mention the numbers of young people […and adults, too. if you will admit it!] who are also sexting these days. In a time where cell phones have replaced landline phones, you can take these with you wherever you go. Right along with this new cell phone generation, is the text message. Everyone is texting. No phone calls- just text messages.

Gone are the days when if we wanted to have a conversation, deeply private talks or just checking in with another person, we would actually pick up a landline telephone and speak real English. If you are old enough to remember, most of those telephones had authentic rotary dialing-no tones. In fact, the expression, “hang up the phone”, originated out of the fact that the earpiece had to be hung up on top of the phone base. Today, when we wish to do the same thing, it is via text messages on mobile devices, mostly smartphones

.amelia future pc

The thing about text messages though, is that they are rarely written in grammatically-correct sentences. It is all in shorthand. Fragmented sentences. Abbreviations and acronyms like, ‘WTF’ and ‘lol’ are used to express our innermost thoughts. We ask others ‘wyd’ instead of ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘Are you busy?’ What about the ABC network TV show called, ‘WWYD'[What Would You Do]! It has gone viral- and oh so mainstream.

It seems that just as I am beginning to understand these abbreviated terms, they’ve gone and added a new layer of difficulty to the equation. We now see emojis….everywhere. These emojis are images that are used to convey some type of emotion or behavior as an expression of our reactions to some external stimuli. When something is funny to us, we say ‘LMAO’, or has that changed to something new already? 

I ask the question about learning new words to increase our vocabulary. Is it relevant any more? How does this new lingo impact schools and Language Arts instruction where students are given weekly vocabulary words to spell and use in sentence format? Is it still relevant? What about the art of the written word, storytelling, and the ability to communicate our thoughts and ideas on paper or via a word processing program? Will books morph into continuous emojis as a means to creating prose or literary works?

Emojis have advanced and expanded. In fact, they have exploded, going from a simple, :), the smiley face, to everything under the sun. It has become a language all by itself. It is possible to use images alone, no words at all, to convey full messages. For parents who are basically ‘old school’ such as myself, these damned things represent a real generation gap.

woman in teal white and black plaid dress shirt standing beside brown wall

Emojis can be likened to my speaking in Pig Latin when I was growing up. Pig Latin was used among kids when parents were around, in order that they didn’t know what your conversation was about. Emojis are cryptic in a similar way. Remember when they were called, ‘emoticons‘?? Your kids can now have fully cryptic conversations without you understanding one word or image, as it were. It is like a secret language, and almost hieroglyphic in appearance. Parents,  with the help of technology and creativity, the times have demanded that you ‘get with it’, if you want to know what your children are saying and doing. Your awareness does not constitute spying, either. It’s simply called ‘parenting’.

But, the thing is that not only are teens and tweens using emojis  in text messages. Adults are using them, as well. You now see them in online posts and messages on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and professional networking sites like LinkedIn. In a lot of ways, it is unbelievable and somewhat counter-intuitive to professionalism itself, that career-minded professionals in all industries communicate with them, too. At one point, I thought that these expressions were too casual to be considered appropriate for a professional networking platform, such as LinkedIn.

To my surprise, they are normalized and totally acceptable.  These damn millennials have taken the art of communication and the rules of engagement to a new level. When are they appropriate and inappropriate? What I do know for certain is that I must raise my level of awareness. I must step up my game. I suggest that all parents and grandparents read the emoji dictionary and keep up with your kids. Ageism is real and the inability to comprehend or communicate with emojis does nothing more than scream out that you are ‘irrelevant’, out of the loop.

I decided to write about this because a friend, a male suitor, sent a text message to me with the last one being a blue heart. I had to check with Google to decipher its meaning. Wow! I feel old.  Learn to speak Emoji, and become fluent in it. It is clearly here to stay, and either we are relevant or we fade away. For myself, I often feel as though this is purgatory-neither heaven nor hell- until I consult with an Emoji dictionary. Yes, that’s a thing, too. 🙂

Practice Healing-Centered Engagement Via Affirming Interactions

In response to recent protests and uprisings by young people in this country, it is imperative that social justice defines the ways we interact with one another.  Deeply tied to ensuring social justice is that we share a healthy respect for diversity and individuality everywhere we go.  What is urgently needed is more inclusive, equitable and anti-racist frameworks in child and family-serving programs and systems, especially community-based organizations  and public education institutions.

The most avoided acknowledgement of this country is the centuries long harm done to the groups of people whose central plea represents a strong and unwavering demand for justice. What has been a continued reality for these folks, is characterized by  persistent culturally and racially-based structures and systems commitment to inflict harm upon their daily lives.

Awords and  sincerity with which There are concrete actions to take both at the organizational and individual levels, that will build supportive service-oriented, people-focused and healing-centered work  and learning spaces.

  For Organizations:

  • Make inclusion, equity and anti-racism a priority, in policy and practice
  • Require accountability from everyone in the organization, at all levels
  • Recognize exemplary staff and departmental units, to reinforce positive actions
  • Provide resources to support these efforts[ like training, time, budgets]
  • Identify and implement best practices, such as racial equity frameworks
  • Utilize SMART[specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound] goals to strategically align with objectives

For individuals:

  • Take personal responsibility for your actions and failure to take actions
  • Educate yourself about equity issues, which includes listening out to the voices who “
  • Practice the platinum rule: treat others the way they want to be treated
  • Become more mindful about equity issues in your daily life
  • Work within your areas of influence to be a positive force for change
  • Discover and disclose the uniqueness of others around you
  • Engage in affirming interactions every day.

What are ‘Affirming Interactions’?

Affirming interactions are positive micro-message or micro-affirmations that show others that you value and respect them. Central to these messages is the language used when they are expressed or demonstrated to others. Words are important and actions support and align with the words. Whether in policy, practices, or perspectives, the words we use will be reflected in our actions and will define our approach to engaging and empowering others.

Examples include:

Advise       Advocate     Apologize     Acknowledge     Assist

Believe      Commend    Compensate     Consult           Credit

Educate      Empower     Empathize      Entrust           Guide

Inform       Listen            Mentor              Notice          Recognize

Reward       Sponsor       Support             Train              Trust

Understand      Value       Yield, etc… 

In creating equity, and inclusion in anti-racist frameworks, it is critical that there is a shared understanding of key concepts and terminologies.  Thus, there must be common definitions of each by which we are informed, beginning with the concept of ‘race’.

Race is “a social and political construction—with no inherent genetic or biological basis—used by social institutions to arbitrarily categorize and divide groups of individuals based on physical appearance(particularly skin color), ancestry, cultural history, and ethnic classification.” (CSSP, 2019)


Inclusion is when everyone feels valued and respected.
Equity is “the effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.” (CSSP, 2019)
Racial Equity is “the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities, not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.”
Anti-Racism is an “active process of identifying and challenging racism, by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices, and attitudes, to redistribute power in an equitable     manner.” (CSSP, 2019)
Anti-Black Racism is “any attitude, behavior, practice, or policy that explicitly or implicitly reflects the belief that Black people are inferior to another racial group. Anti-Black racism is reflected in interpersonal, institutional, and systemic levels of racism and is a function of White supremacy.” (CSSP, 2019)

Public Education or Mass Incarceration? Prisoner Versus Pupil: Are You Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

All I hear from politicians to principals to the people on the streets is how valuable education is for the future. The promises and benefits of a quality education is productive citizenship and positive contributions to society. I think that we all agree that this is true. “Education is the key to a better life.” All that comes with education, will determine the paths we travel in life-and with a good education, children grow into adults who matter.

If all of these things are indeed true, then why are we so fascinated by and reliant upon the potential of imprisonment? It is a fact that black and brown people, young men, greatly outnumber whites among the prison population. For the most part, it is the poorer, least advantaged person who actually does prison time. The more wealth you have, the least likely are you to be sentenced to serve time in prison or jail.

Public education, k-12, is funded by the federal government, and that money comes from taxpaying citizens.  We agree that education is more important than imprisonment in fostering productive law-abiding citizenry. It is educational attainment that greatly increases one’s income potential and quality of life. At least one’s most basic needs will be met.

The higher the level of education, the higher the salary. The higher the salary, the less likely we are to commit crimes or engage in criminal activity. This informs us that, when we place our tax money in the hands of the federal and state government’s hands, we want a substantial portion of those dollars to go towards education-into our public school systems.

What we say and what we do are contradictory. Government spending on the prisoner population outnumbers the spending on public school students. For example, in fiscal year 2015-2016:

  • Alaska spent $52,184 per prisoner and $17,510 per public school student.
  • California spent $57,049 per prisoner and $11,420 per public school student.
  • Connecticut spent $40,746 per prisoner and $19,615 per public school student.
  • Florida spent $17,155 per prisoner and $9,176 per public school student.
  • Hawaii $19,894  and $13,1748 per student.
  • Idaho $26,492 and 7,178 per student.
  • Massachusetts $89,532 and $16,1986 per student.
  • New Mexico $43,573 and $9,959 per student.
  • New York $51,449 and $22,231 per student.
  • North Dakota $49,567 and $13,358 per student.
  • Oregon $35,112 and $10,823 per student.
  • Utah $27,181 and $7,006 per student.
  • Washington $35,865 and $11,484 per student.
  • Similar statistics apply to every other state in the U.S.

The United States, as a whole, spent $24,836 average per prisoner and $11,841 per public school student in fiscal year 2015 and 2016.

Do these numbers indicate how much we value education over incarceration? In particular, it is the imprisonment of black and brown men and boys. 23% of the general population make up almost 72% of the prison population, depending on the state. In some states, it can be higher. We can look at this as an indication of just how much we are willing to spend to keep young black and Hispanic men in prison, locked away from society. The emphasis ought to be on educating these people in prevention of incarceration— entire generations of black men and women.

Our states spend as much as 5 to 1[$5.00 to every $1.00], to maintain prisoners and  relatively little to educate children, beginning from pre-Kindergarten, age 4. If we were to concentrate most of the money spent on prisoners, into our education system, criminal activity would decrease significantly. However, along with education comes the required shift in mindset and perception of black and brown people and the desire for equity.

Beginning from early childhood, a black child, boys particularly, are already being seen as suspects, criminals, threats to society. It is absolutely impossible, unlikely, illogical to believe this about five year old children. They are innocent. It is the way they are socialized and educated in school that influences their behaviors and the ways they engage, react and respond to the world. 

Although they may live close to violence, poverty and despair, it is in school that they learn to engage in pro-social ways. Without denying or dismissing their culture, values or time-honored traditions, we can  foster and cultivate hope. We can build skills,  increase civic awareness, and ensure youth receive a sense of validation, encouragement and acceptance needed to pursue their potential. 

Since we say we aim to teach life long skills, as well as academic competencies in school settings, why do we deny any responsibility for outcomes? Children, once entering the school system, are taught and prepared for life primarily within these environments. Parents and home environment supplement what is learned at school. Dare we state that parental and environmental influences outweigh all taught in schools? If this is what we tell ourselves, then we are just ‘passing the buck’.

Do students who drop out of school do so because of their environment or because of what happens in school? Understanding the communities in which students live and the circumstances enables us to anticipate possible challenges students and families may face outside of school. If we presume that educators follow science, data, statistics and probability theory in their curriculum design, culture and climate, programs and services, then their offerings would also presumably have some contemporary relevance to the populations.

Aware of family structure, income, housing and community characteristics, schools should be better able to plan instruction, interventions and programs which will address these components with relevance and aimed towards strengthening both children and families’ ability to cope. Moreover, not limited to coping or resilience, schools should also be instrumental in advocating for change in concert with the families and students. Generally speaking, we assume the lack of information among families and absolutely their children. We assume they lack the skills and resources to self-advocate.

Whether it is organizing, networking and building social capital, or providing safe spaces for youth and families to support one another’s ability to remain focused on their wellness, outside of the negative influences of daily life, schools have a significant role to play. Reaching out into the community and proving anti-violence training, crisis intervention and parenting programs, fall within the provisions of educational offerings.

What we spend towards housing folks in prison, should be re-routed into education and community programming. Even the prison system itself, considering the money spent, should be used to provide learning opportunities, education programs and related services. Funds should be earmarked towards education and rehabilitation, and address trauma and mental health and the restoration of wellness of the incarcerated.

If need be, as a condition of being in prison or jail, there should be mandated programming in that environment. Mandated vocational training and education completion and/or continuation, mental health counseling, anger management, fatherhood and family-oriented programs, and restorative justice/conflict resolution initiatives. Schools have always had limited numbers of counseling staff. The monies placed into prison systems supports mental health counseling as a standard service in every prison, and includes every prisoner coming into the system, without regard to the nature of alleged crimes.

American dollars are being spent sometimes as much as 5 to 1 on prison systems, and are much better and more wisely spent to fund education systems and schools. If we feel that we can’t change the other systems impacting and intersecting with the lived experiences of children and families, then education ought to be the places where we place more money to properly prepare children for life’s challenges outside of the school setting.

Do black lives really matter? If so, our spending patterns would not reflect the numbers they currently do. In light of the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd and countless others, to put our money where our mouth is, there should be active efforts being taken to contact our state officials and leaders. We should be advocating for re-routing of our tax dollars into education. We should be collectively and deliberately withholding tax contributions to our state and local government, until they use our contributions more wisely.

The criminal justice system can strategically initiate more diversionary programs and mandate education, counseling and job training as a conditional ‘sentence’, rather than disrupting families and derailing lives and life trajectory. At times as critical as is our upcoming presidential election, the numbers of young adults of voting age are summarily locked out of the process. Stripped of their rights to vote and participate in influencing the direction of this democracy, that is counter-intuitive to what is needed most- more voters.

Why aren’t we letting the huge numbers of black and brown men and women of legal voting age, to participate? And we shut many of them out for life. Is it not true that people do make mistakes, especially young people? Do we not believe that people can change? Or is it only some people? Who does this serve? Certainly not the interests of black people, whereby many of their arguments and societal concerns lie at the heart of politics. Coincidentally, their cries and causes are neither novel nor illogical-they have only been allowed to linger for generations. No vote equals no hope for change.

Changes such as these, come primarily from public demand for them. We decide what must change and where we expect our money to go. We decide whether black lives matter much more than being complicit in maintaining their mass disproportionate incarceration, mis-education and marginalization. We demonstrate what we value more-learning or prison. What’s your choice?


See more data here: The State of America’s Children 2020

From Trauma-Informed to Healing-Centered Engagement: Essential Strategies

Healing-Centered Engagement[HCE] moves beyond trauma-informed approaches by focusing on well-being. Trauma-informed approaches to engagement focuses on treating the symptoms of trauma itself.   It is individual, rather than collective. HCE emphasizes collective well-being framed by the knowledge of the impact of collective trauma.

Being healing-centered means that, in this case, young people are more than what happened to them, seeking to saturate young people with opportunities for healing and well-being. Shifting from trauma-informed care or treatment requires expanding from a treatment-based model, viewing trauma and harm as isolated experiences, to an engagement model which supports collective well-being. For professionals whose work involves engaging with young people:

1>Start by building empathy

This model begins by building empathy with young people who have experienced trauma, which takes time. It is an ongoing process, often characterized by having the feeling of two steps forward and three steps back. Persistence is important. Don’t give up on these young people. Critical to this approach, adults are encouraged to share their story first, taking that leap into being more vulnerable, honest and open to young people. This process creates an empathy exchange.

This empathy exchange also strengthens emotional literacy which allows for youth to discuss the complexity of their own feelings. Fostering empathy allows them to feel safe sharing their feelings and emotions and ultimately restores their sense of well-being because they have the power to name and respond to their emotional states.

.the bully

2>Encourage young people to dream and imagine

A critically important ingredient in this type of engagement is the ability to acknowledge the harm and injury, but not be defined by it. The ability to see beyond the condition, event or situation that caused the trauma originally is a great tool. Research shows that the ability to dream and imagine is an important factor in fostering hopefulness and optimism, both of which contribute to overall well-being (Snyder et al. 2003). Daily survival and ongoing crisis management in young people’s lives can make it difficult for them to see beyond the present.

******The casualty of trauma is not just depression and emotional scares, but also the loss of the ability to dream and imagine another way of living.******

“Dreams matter.” 

 “As long as a man [woman] has a dream, he [she] cannot lose the significance of living”  

Howard Thurman

By creating activities and opportunities for young people to play, re-imagine, design and envision their lives this process strengthens their future goal orientation. These are practices of possibility that encourage young people to envision what they want to become, and who they want to be.

girl holding dandelion flower

3>Build critical reflection and take loving action

Healing and well-being are fundamentally political, not clinical. This means that we have to consider the ways in which the policies and practice and political decisions harm young people. Healing in this context also means that young people develop an analysis of these practices and policies that facilitated the trauma in the first place. Without an analysis of these issues, young people often internalize, and blame themselves for lack of confidence. Critical reflection provides a lens by which to filter, examine, and consider analytical and spiritual responses to trauma.  ‘Spiritual responses’ means the ability to draw upon the power of culture, rituals and faith in order to consistently act from a place of humility, and love. These are not cognitive processes, but rather ethical, moral and emotional aspects of healing centered engagement.

The other key component, is taking loving action, by collectively responding to political decisions and practices that can exacerbate trauma. By taking action, (e.g. school walkouts, organizing peace march, or promoting access to healthy foods) it builds a sense of power and control over their lives. Research has demonstrated that building this sense of power and control among traumatized groups is perhaps one of the most significant features in restoring holistic well-being.

We need to listen and learn from young people who have insights that can advance how we think about trauma and healing. We will have the ability to ask new questions, and formulate new and relevant strategies about how to support young people who experience trauma. Healing centered engagement is just a step toward a more holistic, and humanistic framework to support young people who have been harmed. Such an approach encourages us to think and act more boldly about how to restore young people and create places where they can truly flourish.

girl jeans kid loneliness

Continuing to insist that young people be resilient, see them as victims or worse yet, villains, does nothing to address how environmental factors impact their well-being. Practitioners and educators must expand their approaches to promoting the healthy development and wellness of  youth. Particularly relevant is this approach to engaging young people of color, who face intense challenges on a daily basis.

When we view trauma as a collective experience, we are better positioned to identify the systems intersecting with and impacting their lives. It is the necessary awareness of systems, policies and practices with which young people engage, react and respond,  that must be addressed in engagement practices. A step farther, addressing these factors guides practitioners and all who engage youth to also take action. Empower youth, encouraging and arming them with useful tools and skills that will be relevant to the healing journey. Enlighten them, highlighting people, places and pathways into their possibilities. Validating, affirming and encouraging the restoration of  hope, with an eye on the future, promotes their sense of agency and potential for creating changes necessary for life success. Healing-centered engagement prepares young people to upset the setup.

Healing-centered engagement calls educators to expand their reach beyond the classroom. It calls practitioners to expand their reach outside of their offices. It calls us all to do more than ask young people to be resilient and to cope, and adapt. We are driven to see the potential of young people, hear their cries and help them create their solutions. When we see young people beyond their skin color or income or culture or religion or sexual orientation, but as individuals who each have potential, the possibilities are endless.

We believe in them until they believe in themselves. We believe for them and act as parts of the solutions while demonstrating and modeling to them the ways to advocate for themselves. We tell them what their options are, we give them their histories, and we celebrate their cultural and personal identities. Preparing children for adult life means building academic skills, social-emotional literacy and the capacity for civic engagement.pointing gun

We often look at the choices young people make and wonder whether they consider a better tomorrow. Well, many grow weary from having to cope day after day, struggling to survive the immediate challenges and cannot imagine life beyond the present. No, they don’t see themselves in a different life or a life absent the trauma and toxic stress. That is not their fault. They can’t and shouldn’t be held accountable or blamed for many of their inadvisable choices and actions. Do not allow children and youth to assume and/or internalize blame. They didn’t make the rules. We did. We did so, either purposefully or without any concern for the impact on their development.

Don’t wonder why they use violence and guns for conflict resolution, disengage from school, disrupt classrooms, and present with an angry demeanor. Don’t wonder why they don’t trust us. They tell us why, when we look outside of our comfortable environments. We follow the rules and willingly uphold the policies that lie at the root of the trauma they experience-individually and collectively. They can’t change these rules by themselves-not without our help.

Help them to upset the setup. Guide them toward actions that are organized, mapped and well-thought out, and intentional to create changes. Healing-centered engagement is strictly political, not clinical. Remember that!