Builing an RJ City - January 2010

We at the Community Justice for Youth Institute are wishing all of you a joyous start to 2011. Our work would not be possible without the tremendous community that helps us to get through each season, and you are a vital member of our community. Please take a moment to read some of our highlights from 2010 below, and please consider making a tax-deductible gift to CJYI to end your year. Click here to make that gift, and to help sustain our city-wide peacemaking efforts.

With Love,
Ora & Cheryl

2010 Highlights

This year was full of new achievements and adventures for CJYI. Not only did we help to train and sustain hundreds of Chicago Peacemakers, we created vital new partnerships with Chicago Public Schools, we led a restorative justice delegation to South Africa, and we helped organize a city-wide Day of Healing. Here are some of our favorite accomplishments from the year: Working with local artists and scholars, CJYI helped launch an innovative peacemaking program at Fenger High School. Through close collaborations with Fenger staff and student leaders, we have helped to heal old wounds in this school and to create a brighter future for the surrounding neighborhood.CJYI partnered with the Banner Schools Network to transform their approach to student discipline, and to infuse their school culture with the principles of restorative justice. This unfolding experiment is starting to show tremendous results, and we are excited to share stories from this project in the new year.With generous support from the MacArthur Foundation, CJYI took over 15 restorative justice practitioners from Chicago to visit peers in Cape Town and Johannesburg. In addition to making new friends overseas, the delegation brought back tremendous lessons and strengthened relationships with one another.The 2010 Day of Healing helped to catalyze over 40 peacemaking circles, showing yet again that circles have the power to create spaces of healing and power in neighborhoods across Chicago. To learn more, www.healingchicago.wordpress.com

Training Opportunities

For information on future training opportunities, contact Ora Schub at ora@cjyi.org
Voices from the Field

In this edition of CJYI News, we feature the work of Circle Keeper Ilana Zafron

who works at Manley High School. She serves as the Director for Leadership and Justice for the Umoja Student Development Corporation. The following interview with Ilana was conducted by Michelle Lugalia-Hollon.

Where do you use Restorative Justice?

I work with UMOJA Student Development Corporation, we partner with schools to work on school culture and impact the lives of adults and young people involved. I use restorative justice in trainings, for our staff, for teachers in collaboration with CJYI and day-to-day I do a lot of RJ work at Manley High School.

Why Restorative Justice?

I got trained my first year in Chicago by Cheryl and Margaret. At that time I was running a leadership group of students who wanted to change their community. We let them select the issue that they wanted to work on and that year they really wanted to work on how violent their school was. Once they decided they wanted to work on that issue, my co facilitator and I tried to bring in different resources to learn about violence including Restorative Justice and peer juries.
Then in my 4thyear here, 08-09 Manley decided they wanted to implement some restorative justice practices in peer jury. Similarly we were getting requests from some of our other schools to do RJ. I think it was emerging as a tool to help really decrease the amount of violence going on in schools because it was a way to really help young people process. There was also a lot of interest in schools in general because some of the ideas driving RJ are really about prevention.There’s also a lot of emphasis on being able to decrease the numbers of expulsions and suspensions, a very good by-product that administrators want to get from restorative justice.

I absolutely believe in RJ because it creates spaces for people to connect, heal and have an experience of themselves that they wouldn’t otherwise have. This is about young people and adults being successful in life and getting what they need from each other.I think it really has the power to transform individuals and as individuals are transformed that's how communities and schools are transformed.

What are some ways you use restorative justice?

Last year, I ran a weekly leadership group in circles. We looked at leadership through the lens of healing and restoration. We had students coming every week and we took them through a curriculum about what it means to create a culture of healing and restoration. Being able to sit in spaces and talk to young people about why we need and what it means to heal, “Is crying a part of healing”, “Do things happen that you could never heal from?” was really powerful for me and the students. Then really beginning to understand, “how do we create these spaces for my friends?” and being able to have young people who can articulate so clearly, that “this is why we need to heal” and who can come find me and say “I’m not ready to heal from this fight I had with my friend”. That kind of language and lens is something they’ve integrated in to who they are. At the end of the year when we asked them to tell us what it means to heal, students wrote really powerful stuff, it was very clear that they had a transformative experience around what their understanding of healing was.

We’ve done some traditional conflict resolution and peace circles and we’ve seen the full spectrum of conflict being resolved. We’ve seen some tough conflicts get resolved through the circle and seen students who for whatever reason aren’t ready to resolve stuff through a circle. What’s been powerful for me is to be able to show students that there is another way. To be able to watch two students who have been sitting in the disciplinary office all day be able to sit in a space together and have a conversation, even if there is still a lot of tension, for them to prove to themselves that “I can make a different choice here and it doesn’t have to resolve to a physical fight”, is a powerful thing.

At Manley we’ve also incorporated check in circles into our weekly advisory sessions. So every student every week writes down something that they are hopeful about and something that they are sad about. We’ve been doing that for 2 1/2 months and it was a little tough in the beginning but the students have really been talking about how that space has really helped them open up.

What steps have you taken to bring this method into your work?

We’ve been entrepreneurs and inventors about it. Instead of saying, “This is the answer”, we’ve said, “What are the questions and how do we get really creative about how we do this?”. We’ve had to think outside the box on how we do things.This year we have an actual peace room, so we have a lot of the systems in place. Last year we didn’t have that, I had a box I carried around with talking pieces in it and the exit slips I was using for circles.

Building relationships with everybody is very important to this work. In a school its really important to identify who can be impacted with this work most directly and who you need to work with and start building relationships with them, I think its important that you spend time walking in another people’s shoes. I spent a lot of time in the disciplinary office. You can identify pretty quickly who the key players are, who’s name keeps coming up in all the interpersonal conflicts and I invested a lot of time with them. Building relationships with students helped too.

We also fused leadership development and restorative justice work. We trained our student leaders last year in restorative justice so that they can help us promote a culture of restoration at Manley. A lot of what they are doing is taking a leadership role in restorative justice work. So for example last week we trained some leaders who help with the peace room, some conflicts with students and they’ve just launched a peace challenge.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced?

I feel like we’re cutting corners on a full-blown RJ approach. In an ideal world we would have all day to sit in a circle or have pre-conferences with students, but we are constantly having to make decisions between what we have to do to be true to RJ principles and values and get the impact of RJ versus what is best practice and ideal but we might not be able to implement in the school. In some ways there is a lot of work to be done to figure out how to build the theory – practice gaps between the ideal way we should do circles and RJ in schools and the reality of being in a school every day.Making those calls is really hard. Having to deal with the fact where there were a few times that I’ve been forced to sit down with students who don’t want to talk. That for me is a non-negotiable because it’s difficult to work with people who don’t want to be in that kind of space. Having to choose those battles has been a big challenge. I think for us, being able to say, we are gonna take circles and do what I do in a circle training for a week every day in the schools is not necessarily the answer but being able to say, “how do we look at the philosophy and the values that guide RJ” and then figure out every last place in the school building that we can integrate those in…I think that makes a ton of sense.

Any highlights?

It is great to help students restore relationships.Watching people have different experiences of themselves watching students physical presence and facial expressions change, “Wow I can be this person” it’s pretty unbelievable.This last year I got to do a great healing circle with a group of athletes that lost their coach, and being able to sit with them for 2-2 ½ hours and heal on the anniversary of their coach’s death was really powerful.

I remember Cheryl and Margaret saying this when they were training us, and I thought it was corny, about how powerful it is to sit in circle with people. I’m realizing how powerful it is to sit with people in sacred spaces and watch them negotiate, build and heal relationships, being able to do that everyday is a real privilege because it's a glimpse into the sacred part of each individual and creating spaces where people can do that, and I really love that part of the work.

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