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After St. Paul rec shooting, nonprofit is making space for healing

The Black Youth Healing Arts Center in St. Paul will provide a safe space for the 16-year-old victim's close friends and youth who witnessed the shooting.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — Wednesday marks one week since a then-city employee shot a 16-year-old in the head outside the Oxford Community Center in St. Paul. 

"To see someone get shot, to see someone get hurt and harmed in that way... that's all trauma for those young people. We want to help them deal with it because trauma will be passed on if it's not dealt with in a time and space that's safe for young people," said Dr. Darlene Fry, founder and executive director of Irreducible Grace Foundation (IGF). 

The nonprofit, based in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, provides healing opportunities and safe spaces for youth of color. IGF then opened the Black Youth Healing Arts Center (BYHAC) in the fall of 2022.

"We just felt like Black youth, especially, needed a place where they could feel safe," Fry said. 

On Wednesday, the center will be holding a private event for the victim's close friends and youth who witnessed the shooting. 

"Sometimes they'll (youth) make it so it feels like it's just normal and it's not normal for our students and our young people to see this and to go through this," Fry said. "That's what we want to probably also help them deal with tomorrow is to say, 'It's not OK for someone to be harmed like this. It's not OK for this to happen in your community.' So we want to talk about how you deal with your nervous system, how you deal with all that that's in you right now that maybe you can't put into words." 

IGF Workshop Director Natalia Gaston-Davis will be leading the youth in mind-body medicine work with a healing circle. 

"It's not that everybody's going to walk out of here and we're all healed. But it's a circle that we've created to where young people, whoever's in the circle, we can witness their voice and what is going on. In the circle, unlike a lot of circles, we implement the mind-body medicine tools and while we do that, we explain what happens in the body. We explain that stress and trauma lives in the body and this mindful, physical movement, the breath can help to shift that for that time," Gaston-Davis said. "These are things that we can do when we start to feel our heart beat fast, or our hands get sweaty, or our breath becomes shallow. We can do this stuff because that's the body saying something's wrong." 

Gaston-Davis said they will also give the youth a chance to talk about their feelings after the shooting. While it's only a two-hour event, IGF staff said they will also invite the youth to participate in some of BYHAC's other programming. BYHAC has all kinds of programs for youth of color, ages 14 and up, from yoga to drawing classes. 

"IGF, there's a quote that we standby... 'Trauma that is not transformed is transferred.' That was very traumatic. Using your voice, and these breathing tools, and these practices, can help you metabolize that pain and that stress," Gaston-Davis said. "These young people are going to grow, whether we like it or not. If they can grow with some tools and practices that can help them regulate their body as they are on this journey, why not?"

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