What is the Bridge to Thriving Framework?
The Bridge to Thriving Framework© (BtTF) explores three big ideas: (1) Surviving Encounters with Oppression, (2) What Thriving Can Be, and (3) What’s on the Bridge to Thriving (i.e. healing, chosen family, etc.).
Ultimately, although thriving is not a permanent state of being, and people can thrive in some aspects of their lives more strongly than others, it is possible to increase one’s capacity for, duration of, and return to thriving over time. Some of this is individual, but ultimately, it is a community- and society-wide project. Here’s a description of the framework through the lens of schooling.
Surviving the Encounter
One of the key concerns that violent, oppressive systems present is that they are destructive – even deadly. Lives are cut short through mental and physical anguish that can lead to suicide and other forms of self-harm, through accumulated toxic stress that results in illness and predisposition to illness (cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.), through acute violence at the hands of police, and so on. All of this shows up in schools, including aspects of what’s known as white supremacy culture with features like perfectionism, urgency, quantity over quality, paternalism, and others. Reflecting this, schools are institutional spaces that rank and sort children, and their bodies, using tracking, grades, physical space, exclusionary cultural norming, and more. These, too, can be violent and oppressive.
Creating the conditions for thriving requires attending to threats to survival – emotional, spiritual, and physical. As educators, we are on the front lines of preparing our students to survive their encounters with racism and anti-Blackness, as well as other oppressions, inside and outside of schools. This can include teaching children how to communicate with adults and authority figures in a way that reduces risk to the young person. It certainly includes ideas about how to write, think, learn, and demonstrate “knowledge” in order to have one’s work “taken seriously” or counted. We also train children to sit still for prolonged periods of time, to ignore thirst or hunger or the need to use a restroom, and to accept that their needs and desires are not only secondary, but must be confined by what adults can imagine. A key threat of schooling is its culture of compliance and control.
Many students do not survive their encounter with schooling with their souls intact. Bettina L. Love explores this throughout her scholarship. For example, in describing “spirit murder,” Love writes:
Legal scholar Patricia Williams coined the term “spirit murdering” to argue that racism is more than just physical pain; racism robs people of color of their humanity and dignity and leaves personal, psychological, and spiritual injuries. Racism is traumatic because it is a loss of protection, safety, nurturance, and acceptance—all things children need to enter school and learn.Love, B. (2019, May 23). How schools are spirit-murdering Black and Brown children. EdWeek.
While there are a variety of rich theories about thriving, flourishing, and well-being, they typically center a normative (i.e. western, white, well-resourced, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual, male, able-bodied) experience. Morality, wellness, and happiness in these frames fail to take into consideration the wealth of thriving practices that marginalized and minoritized communities have designed, nor the contexts within which they have developed.
Most literature about communities under duress focuses on the challenges they face. There’s a robust literature on resilience, as well as stigma, stress, and trauma, and, often “thriving” discourse for these communities is actually “resilience” discourse in disguise. This is understandable, to a degree, because we need to focus energy and resources toward eliminating inequity and hardship. Unfortunately, however, the way solutions are imagined — the solutions that are proposed — tend to stop at ease of participation in the existing social order (i.e. being able to afford stable housing), rather than reimagining the world, its institutions, and its possibilities toward universal vibrancy and profound well-being (i.e. all people are housed, no matter what).
A framework for thriving that centers marginalized communities goes beyond resilience or integration. People experience thriving when they have supportive, affirming communities (particularly affinity community); can come to know their true selves, love themselves, and self-assert in a self-determined and empowered way; have not just economic stability, but abundant resources for thriving, including time, space, funds, and – very importantly – hope, aspirations and dreams; experience relief from stressors like unsafety, economic hardship, social isolation, and other worries, and can heal; and can engage in pleasurable activities (with or without others), pursue their passions, and be joyful. In particular, people describe the optimal state of thriving—one when all of the five “petals” of the thriving model are activated—as “simply being,” or being able to exist without challenge. Fully and wholly.
The Bridge to Thriving Framework can be applied broadly, and will look differently in different communities and contexts. For example, from a Black transgender, queer, bi-/pansexual, lesbian, gay, and same gender loving (TQBLG/SGL) youth perspective, thriving includes such boons as:
- easy access to other BIPOC TQBLG/SGL folks;
- the resources and proximity to develop a chosen family kinship network;
- social justice focused community and engagement (the ability to enact meaningful social change);
- defiant and resistant identity development that allows for love, acceptance, and assertion of the true, whole self;
- identity integration across all facets of the true self, including strong, positive identity-related beliefs (i.e. Black queer pride);
- a feeling of entitlement to determine what happens to their bodies, lives, and futures;
- abundance that manifests in such things, for example, as local, affordable yoga classes taught by TQBLG/SGL people of color or the ability to live in a TQBLG/SGL-friendly neighborhood;
- freedom dreams and visionary imagining – a sense of hope in the possibility of a world where they can simply be;
- the psychological space and resources to discover and pursue passions, rather than just survival activities – an example might be hiking outdoors without worrying that white and/or cishetero-invested hikers will threaten them;
- ample opportunities for authentic joy and laughter;
- the relief that comes from abundance, safety, freedom, and opportunities to heal in asset-, identity-, and community-affirming ways; and finally –
- spaces and circumstances where they can simply be their whole, uncontested, fully expressed selves.
Although thriving states are not permanent, possibilities for thriving grow when people are invited to (1) see themselves as someone who is entitled to thrive, (2) imagine what their thriving can look like, and (3) receive affirmation around their vibrant future dreaming.
As people center thriving, particularly through the expansiveness of a Black TQBLG+/SGL youth lens, they begin to notice the parts of their lives that don’t quite measure up and make plans to change them. People also begin to name strategies and practices they can (and do) use to advance their thriving (from using a special planner, to meditating, to making time for friends, to prioritizing their musicianship, to activism, to changing jobs, to changing partners, and so on).
When people describe feeling like they can exist fully or “simply be,” all of the other dimensions (community, selfhood, abundance, pleasure, and relief) are usually activated in some way. Finally, people being asked to consider the question of their thriving has continuously been called a new and welcome experience. Time and again, people say that they’ve never been invited to really think about it or take the time to reflect deeply upon it. Moving through the BtTF© reshapes people’s ideas about themselves and their futures. Pursuing the Bridge to Thriving is a both/and proposition. Yes, we do have to pay attention to survival and healing. And. We have to balance that with dreaming in order to get to the business of visionary remaking. It begins with a demand. Thriving is what we deserve, but we have to imagine it into existence. The world we need doesn’t yet exist.
The Bridge to Thriving
The Bridge to Thriving is the space between survival/insufficiency and a state of vibrant, holistic well-being. The pathway is not linear and it’s not a one-time journey. Think of the Bridge as portable. If you want to build a thriving community, you can apply the Bridge. If you want to build a thriving school, you can apply the Bridge. It is, essentially, a way to remember what people need in order to flourish.
It is also important to remember that different individuals or communities may construct their “bridges” differently at different times. One person may need to have the time, resources, and space to play music regularly, while another person may need to be truly seen by a caring friend. One community may need clean drinking water, while another may need a police oversight commission. These needs may be shared in some contexts or unnecessary in others. Ultimately, the bridge invites an analysis of what is needed for access, wholeness, and a life well-lived.