By Sam Piha
Kwame Scruggs, Ph.D is ED of Alchemy Inc. in Akron, Ohio. He was featured in the 2014 documentary, Finding the Gold Within. This documentary chronicled the transition of young black men from high school to college, the issues of racism they encountered, and the role of Alchemy Inc., an afterschool program in supporting this transition. We were so taken by the film, that we sponsored several screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area. (To watch or stream the documentary, Finding the Gold Within, click here.) Below are Dr. Scruggs' responses to our questions about the documentary and the strategies he has incorporated into his afterschool program, which serves boys of color.
Q: In the film, Finding the Gold Within, it portrayed the use of "talking circles" to provide support for the young men. Why do you believe that "talking circles" are an important strategy in youth work?
A: I think any format that allows youth a safe setting is important. A circle is ideal because of the symbolism of oneness, there is no real beginning or end, everything is connected. You can have order or non-order in a circle. Our circle is somewhat unique in that the youth sit in the circle by age, from youngest to oldest.
Q: You also encourage the use of writing/ journaling. Why do you believe that the use of writing/ journaling is an important strategy in youth work?
A: Writing causes you to reflect. When speaking we often blurt-out the first thing that comes to our mind. Writing causes you to pause and give your thought more thought.
Q: People often comment that young African American youth do not like writing, therefore this is not a good strategy. Your comments on this?
A: I am not certain if this only pertains to African American youth. In our situation the proof is in the pudding, so it IS obviously a good strategy for us. There have been numerous occasions where our youth have informed me that it was opening-up their journals that assisted them through their darkest moments. It was the quotes and recalling moments in the myths that allowed them to persevere. It was their responses to questions that reminded them of what they thought at a certain moment and how that same thought would add comfort to a challenging situation.
To find where to view/ stream Finding the Gold Within, click here. For an update on the documentary protagonists, click here.
G. Kwame Scruggs, Ph.D is the founder and director of Alchemy, a non-profit organization in Akron, Ohio established in 2003. Alchemy uses mythological stories to engage urban adolescent males. In 2012 Alchemy was one of 12 programs to receive the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities—the nation’s highest honor for after-school and out-of-school programs. Alchemy was also the backdrop for the award-winning, feature-length documentary, “Finding the Gold Within.” Kwame has over 20 years of experience using myth in the development of urban male youth. He holds a Ph.D. and MA in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology. Kwame also holds a MS degree in Technical Education with an emphasis in Guidance and Counseling. In 1993, after being formally initiated into the Akan System of Life Cycle Development (African-based rites of passage), Kwame became a Certified Facilitator of this process. In 2016, Kwame was one of seven recipients awarded the National Guild’s Milestone Certificate of Appreciation and one of three to receive the University of Akron’s Black Male Summit Legacy Award. Kwame is a recently appointed board member of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and serves on the National Advisory Committee of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.