Kwame Scruggs: Can mythology save our kids?

Jun 6, 2024


Art Credit: Jano Tantongco, jano.tantongco@gmail.com


Can myth-based storytelling transform urban youth?

Kwame Scruggs knows engaging in urban youth development requires innovative approaches that resonate deeply with the youth’s experiences. Myths hold a profound power to connect with young minds, fostering emotional healing and personal growth. Understanding how mythological storytelling can empower urban youth offers us a unique avenue to drive transformation and hope. Recognizing the effectiveness of Myth in youth development, we explore how this ancient practice can modernize our educational methods and cultural empowerment programs.

Mythological storytelling programs introduce young people to narratives that mirror their life’s challenges and triumphs. They find solace and strength by relating to these stories, learning they are not alone in their struggles. Kwame’s programs provide a safe space for young individuals to explore their emotions and experiences through the lens of Myth, creating a bridge between their inner world and universal narratives.

Analytical psychology emphasizes the archetypal structures found in myths. They are not just fables but rich with themes and images that reflect the human psyche’s complexities. This approach helps young men navigate their inner landscapes, understanding their feelings, desires, and fears in a symbolic context. It empowers them to make sense of their experiences and consider new trajectories.

Healing through myths is a transformative experience. Their symbolic language speaks directly to the unconscious, offering insights and facilitating emotional release. By ritually engaging these stories, young men can process their trauma and repressed emotions in a safe and structured environment. This myth-based healing is a cornerstone of effective youth empowerment.

The hero’s journey is a compelling narrative framework for youth. It frames their life challenges as part of a larger quest, giving them a sense of purpose and direction. Seeing themselves as heroes in their life stories motivates young people to overcome obstacles and pursue their goals with renewed vigor. This journey is not just about personal achievement but also about contributing to their communities.

Cultural empowerment programs incorporating curated mythological storytelling are especially effective in urban settings. By weaving traditional stories with modern experiences, these programs create a tapestry that empowers young individuals to take pride in their identity and heritage. Integration of historical and cultural elements enriches the storytelling experience. By connecting myths to the participants’ cultural backgrounds, these programs make the stories more relevant and engaging.

The emotional depth of these stories is what makes them so effective. Myths speak to the core of human experience, addressing universal themes of love, loss, struggle, and triumph. This emotional resonance helps youth connect with the stories personally, making the lessons more memorable and impactful.

Joseph Campbell’s research into the archetype of the hero informs Kwame’s model of adolescent development. Campbell’s insights into the universal patterns of human experience offer a robust framework for understanding and supporting youth. These programs use his theories to design activities and discussions that resonate deeply with young participants.

Transformative myth workshops provide hands-on experiences where youth can actively engage with mythological stories. These workshops often include activities like storytelling, art, and role-playing, allowing participants to embody the myths and explore their meanings. This immersive approach makes the lessons of the myths more tangible and impactful.

This work combines depth psychology with traditional educational methods. The approach acknowledges the importance of the unconscious mind and the symbolic meanings found in myths. It enriches the educational experience by addressing the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—and fostering a more holistic development.

Urban youth empowerment through mythic storytelling is not just about individual growth but also about community building. By sharing these stories, young people develop a sense of belonging and mutual support. This collective experience strengthens community bonds and encourages collaborative efforts to address common challenges.

Educational insights from Kwame’s programs highlight the importance of narrative in learning. Stories are a natural way for humans to understand the world and incorporating them into education makes the learning process more engaging and effective. By using myths, educators can tap into this innate human tendency to make sense of information through stories.

Narrative richness is a key element in the success of myth-based programs. The depth and complexity of myths, as opposed to scripts developed by Hollywood, provide a wealth of material for exploration and discussion. This richness engages young participants and encourages more profound reflection on their experiences and beliefs.

Authenticity in storytelling is crucial for these programs’ success. Genuine engagement with the stories and the participants builds trust and credibility. This authenticity helps youth feel seen and heard, making storytelling more impactful and meaningful.

The efficacy of these programs is a testament to the power of Myth in urban youth development. They offer a unique and effective way to engage with youth, helping them navigate their developmental journeys with greater understanding and support. By leveraging the power of Myth, we can empower the next generation to become heroes in their own stories.


I’m inside a one-room barn with a dirt floor, a deep ditch dug next to the inner walls like a moat, and two planks of wood placed over the ditch that makes exiting possible. It’s mid-afternoon. I’m only in my underclothes. In the room with me is a pile of clothing, a dog, and a rattlesnake – the snake can talk, but the dog can’t, and I am aware that they are both me or a version of me.  It begins very calmly with the snake, and I make polite small talk as we lay in the sun coming through the windows.  However, the snake turns on me once I put on the clothes to leave.  The sun is beginning to set.  The dog and I are locked in a battle with the snake, although the dog is mostly too scared to help, so I’m left trying to stop the snake from hurting either of us while putting on my clothes.  When I fall into the ditch, I discover the sides are lined with barbed wire, and I severely injure my hands, climbing out of it to save the dog.  Eventually, I noticed a pile of rusty tools and used a shovel to cut off the snake’s head, but by then, night had fallen, and I had been bitten by the snake five times, losing the ability to move my left leg. The dog is frightened but completely fine.  I am suddenly aware that I have a curfew and only have a short time to return to the house nearby before I am locked out.  I also know that if I get locked out, things are waiting in the night that will kill me if the poison from the snake bites doesn’t. While I limp out of the barn, red emergency lights begin to flash, and a strange combination of an alarm and the same four high-pitched notes on a violin play. As I start going up the road to reach the house, an ashamed-looking male friend drives past me, making eye contact with me but refusing to listen to my pleas for help. The dream ends with the dog and I staring at the locked gates of the house.”

KWAME SCRUGGS, founder and director of Alchemy, Inc., has over 20 years of experience using Myth in developing urban youth and adults. He holds a Ph.D. and MA in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California. In 1993, he was formally initiated into the Akan System of Life Cycle Development (African-based rites of passage). 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. Kwame accepted this award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. In 2020, the Association of Teaching Artists (with Lincoln Center Education) presented Kwame with their Innovation in Teaching Artistry award. In 2016, he was one of three to receive the University of Akron’s Black Male Summit Legacy Award. In 2013, Pacifica Graduate Institute presented him with the Wendy Davee Award for Outstanding Service and contributions in the tradition of soulful service. Kwame is also a board member of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and a graduate of the National Guild Community Art Education’s CAELI (Community Arts Education Leadership Institute) Class of 2015 and a BMe Fellow (2017). More information on Kwame can be found at Kwame Scruggs, PhD.

DONATE to Kwame’s Vision at: https://www.alchemyinc.net

JOIN Kwame live in New York City on June 22, 2024, as he introduces his training method: https://www.alchemyinc.net/rsvp


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1 Comment

  1. Morgaan Sinclair

    Hi there …

    Did you know that when Walter Odajnyk died he was collecting dreams? He collected one from me, but I think may have had dozens or hundreds. Did that file get turned over to Pacifica by his family? It might be a really great read! I will send you my own Dragon Dream if you like. [s]


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