Response to Ferguson: Restorative Justice – The Way Through

by Dorothy J. Maver, Ph.D.

As people all over the country take to the streets following the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, one thing is imminently and painfully clear. There is serious unrest and dissatisfaction at the heart of the US citizenry regarding the very system that was designed to keep people safe and secure. And the USA is not alone. All over the world we are recognizing the need for systemic change as we experience an all-systems crisis.

In response to the protests of the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Molly Rowan Leach, host of Restorative Justice on the Rise, and contributor to Kosmos Journal  shares:

“MLK Jr once said that a riot is the upswell of unheard voices. Restorative justice is foundationed in mutualmolly-rowan-leach-croppedrespect and a safe place for all voices to be heard, regardless of the pitch of the crime. The pattern of agony and injustice that continues with the Michael Brown case could, and I believe is soon going to be, addressed on a very deep community level–by practitioners of restorative justice, by all the wide circles of those impacted, and often with the blessing of those harmed and those authoring harm, in order to discontinue the cycles of violence that are evident at excruciating levels in this country. We are seeing an upswell of humanity calling for a better way, in places like Seattle in response to the recent school shooting, and a call for immediate and respectful actions that provide tangible avenues towards voicing pain and working towards any semblance of rebalance and implementation of longer-term systems of restorative response.”

Director Sandy Heierbacher, in her message to the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation community, stated:

 “Last night, President Obama addressed the nation after it was announced that Darren Wilson would not be indicted … He talked about America’s long-standing struggle with race relations and racial inequity, and how despite considerable progress being made over the years, much more work needs to be done.  He emphasized the need for criminal justice reform and for stronger police-community relations.  He mentioned that there are communities that have been able to deal with this in an effective way. Here is a quote that I’d like to draw your attention to: ‘But what we want to do is to make sure that we’re also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible, that the vast majority of people in Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri and around the country are looking for. And I want to be partners with those folks, and we need to lift up that kind of constructive dialogue that’s taking place.’ ” 

Director Heierbacher further shared that one of President Obama’s strategies is to work with the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS) which has offices in 15 locations across the country.

There is a window of opportunity in the USA for authentic dialogue regarding how to address social justice, criminal justice and an increasing prison population. The approach Kosmos supports is solutions-oriented, focusing on what we want and creating the conditions for that systemic change. It seems that the US is at a tipping point regarding such an opportunity. The question remains whether it can be done through dialogue and deliberation rather than protest and prosecution.

Restorative Justice Oakland Youth Executive Director Dr. Fania E. Davis shared the essence of her work in the public schools in a recent interview:

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“Learning about RJ integrated the lawyer-warrior-healer in me. Prevailing retributive justice harms people who harm people to show that harming people is wrong. It adds to the original harm. Harmed people go on to harm other people. Harm replicates, metastasizes. RJ seeks to interrupt this vicious cycle by healing the harm. RJ is a justice that is not about getting even, but about getting well. A justice that is not a battle ground but a healing ground. A justice that seeks to transform broken lives, relationships, and communities rather than damage them further. A healing justice rather than a punishing justice … Children in Oakland, considered one of the most violent cities in the nation, are today learning a new way of navigating conflict through Restorative Justice.”

In the Washington Post it was reported that U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Monday night called Brown’s death a “tragedy” that has “sparked a national conversation about the need to ensure confidence between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve.”

We agree and also know that DMC (Disproportionate Minority Contact) is a serious problem in cities such as Ferguson. In Gainesville, Florida, the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding (RPCP)  has been working for a safer community with Law Enforcement over the past three years. Their work includes a program directly addressing DMC, training in social-emotional skills, and is leading to embedding Restorative Justice principles in the system. This transformational comprehensive approach is now becoming a translatable process model for other communities.

Jeffrey Weisberg, RPCP Executive Director shares:

“We are so heartened by the response that we have received from officers and youth alike involved in our joint DMC program. Witnessing the shift of negative perceptions that both entities oftentimes have of each other after just a five hour interpersonal experience is extremely promising. This program feeds in beautifully to creating trusting relationships and community policing. Thanks to our Chief of Police, Tony Jones, many of our officers have taken restorative justice training in order to better understand our youth.”

As US citizens we share responsibility for what is happening in Ferguson and around the country. As global citizens we share responsibility for what is happening around the world. Let us put out a call to our policy makers local to global, demanding systemic change. And let us do this by offering solutions and ways to move through these crisis-filled times. One such solution in the area of law enforcement and criminal justice is Restorative Justice.

Dorothy J. Maver, Ph.D., educator and peacebuilder is Project Director with Kosmos Associates

 

#Bring Back Our Girls: It’s Still An Issue

It has been over five months since the kidnapping of more than 270 Nigerian school-girls and the northern Nigerian town of Chibok has not been at rest. Five months later the question still is where are the girls and why aren’t we reading news coverage on them?

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Family, friends and community of Chibok that has to deal with the unanswered questions. Eleven of the parents have reported dying from the stress of trauma of the kidnapping of their children. Seven of the girls’ fathers were killed in a militant attack recently near their hometown of Chibok, and at least four other parents have died from heart failure and other illnesses that the community attributes to trauma from the girls’ abduction. The trauma of the girls kidnapping has impacted not only families, but an entire community that we rarely hear.

And the twitter movement #bringbackourgirls has also faded. The media has turned their attention to the recent beheadings in the Middle East and ISIS, the Suni jihadist group in the Middle East terrorist groups and the girls have been left to fight a battle they won’t win without our attention.

Boko Haram continues to kidnap children and school girls in particular. The terrorist group abducted the Nigerian school girls to marry them off and use them as hostage tactics. And while 57 of the girls have managed to escape not one has been rescued. They were reported to have been located months ago, yet a deal to free the girls has fallen apart three different times in one month.

But have we given Boko Haram more attention than to the Nigerian school girls?

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The push continues to be made in congress. California representative Barbara Lee has become very outspoken on this issue in hopes of shining a light on the much attention to stamp out modern day slavery and human trafficking in all forms. She says it’s not only a Nigerian problem it’s a world crisis.

Human trafficking continues to be an issue around the world from the U.S. to Africa to Asia. A report from the UNDC worldwide states that almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children (with up to 100% in West Africa where Nigeria located). Men kidnapping children is become an everyday reality for many people and communities. It’s an injustice to these girls not be advocated for in the media.

Florida representative Frederica Wilson continues to push the #bringbackourgirls campaign. While Obama has said the immediate priority is finding the girls, more of the focus has been placed on dealing with the Boko Haram group. Once again, why are the girls not the center of this issue?

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These girls voices continue to get lost in our society because we move onto something that is more news worthy. These girls and families deserve a bigger and better fight for their dignity and freedom. Too often we allow the terrorist more attention in the media than speaking out for the survivors and victims. Lets #bringoutgirlsback.

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Proud to be a Survivor: Team Delkisse

Recently I stumbled across a house with a powerful sign that dug deep into ground. It read, “Survivor of Child Abuse.” I immediately stopped and took more notice to this simple white sign that had an inspiring message to share: I am not ashamed of my past violence because I am a survivor.

To put this sign out for the world to see takes courage and strength. Rarely will people openly talk about child abuse, but the fact is it happens too often for us not to talk about.

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In the U.S., 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boy’s is a victim of child sexual abuse according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. And sadly by the age of 18, 1 out of 10 children will be sexually abused. We are in a sexual abuse crisis, yet we tend not to see it that way.

The war happening in the U.S. doesn’t involve terrorists, bombs and drones it involves physical and sexual violence happening inside the homes of our neighbors, family members and close friends. It’s a reality that many turn blind to. It’s hard to imagine.

Violence that happens in the home is rarely discussed, but abuse inside the home is what is hurting people the most: men, women and children. Child abuse leaves a life long impact on a person. It changes the way they look at the world and cope with experiences. Many grow up not knowing the difference between good and bad intimacy.

The good news is child abuse victims can recover from their traumatic experiences and grow into healthy, loving adults and survivors.

644327_597467026959241_1793026832_nTeam Delkisse is a walk prevention event that has been held in Lansing, MI. The walk is dedicated to a young boy named named Delkisse who survived child abuse.

“I know Delkisse has touched somebody’s life one way or the other.”

Many of us are living around or with child abuse survivors. Although it’s painful to talk about, there comes a great power from recognizing children who were once victims turn into survivors. When we can begin to recognize the courageous healing stories that exist around us every day we reclaim our dignity and humanity.

It’s easy to get caught up in the violent stories we hear in the media or have experienced in our own life, but let us not forget about the survivors who have overcome the dark and entered the light. They are the voices that we should take the time to reflect on. They are the ordinary heroes.

The only way to move forward from past traumatic events is to create a new narrative of our life from victim to survivor. When victims use their past experience help others overcome their own inner struggles and find peace with their story they become survivors.  As survivors we can come together and provide this support to one another.

A Male’s Brave Journey to Becoming a Survivor

Meet Nathaniel.

A rounded glasses kind of guy wearing a baggy sports t-shirt, he sits in a cozy chair reading a book, sipping on a Starbucks drink he blended into the mall atmosphere. To many he looks like the average guy. There is something more to Nate, however. He has a special story to tell.

Nate’s personal journey is beyond average. His story begins with a childhood of violence, but because he allowed hope to be an important aspect of his story he has chosen to become a survivor of violence. Nate’s story is one not of despair, but of hope and courage. It’s a story of healing that will make anyone weep, but also smile because of Nate’s strength to pick himself back up. His story is one that should be shared broadly to other survivors.

Nate is also on this path to heal others because of his own experience with childhood abuse. As Nate bravely opened up about his story of physical, verbal and mental abuse along with being trafficked as a child, he realized he dissociated himself for years to protect himself growing up. The memories continued to stay in his body and mind. Over twenty years later he is coming to terms with his violent childhood experiences. He struggles to face the violent memories, but he is no longer willing to let it control his life. He is a fighter, a searcher and on his journey of discovering what it feels to be a survivor.

Two of Nate close friends have committed suicide because they were no longer able to deal with the memories of their violence. They no longer had hope. It scared him almost to death. Nate had a choice: He could choose to live or he could also choose not to. Nate made the choice to live and help others live too.

He remembers what it felt like to be at his friends’ funerals. He knew death wasn’t the answer for him, but in order to fully understand this he had to dig deeper into his trauma. That meant not covering it up with alcohol, like he did in the past. Rather, he had to put the pieces together in a way that he knew would allow him take back control of his life.

Every day is a battle, but Nate won’t give up. He has hope. He understands his violence does not define him as a person. He is smart, funny and can connect with people on a deeper and very personal level because of his experience. Nate is the definition of a survivor. And survivors everywhere honor and support him as he continues his journey.

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The Bathroom Stall Door: An Empowering Tool for Survivors

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At Reclaiming Lost Voice’s we believe that every survivor has the ability to create solutions to end violence. We believe that the traumatized have the potential to heal and find  empowerment to serve as leaders and teachers within their communities. We believe that survivors who allow themselves the time to heal can change the world.

Since November 2013 an important conversation has been unfolding on a bathroom stall door. And the conversation still has not stopped. It’s time we begin a discuss on healing from college rape. It can end in our lifetime and there’s a community out there ready to embrace you on the journey. Ready?  Take a pen and join the conversation of hope, healing and empowering survivors to reclaim their voice! 

 


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DSCN0260  Want to share your story? Send it to story@reclaiminglostvoices.org to become part of the movement to empower survivors to become part of the solution. 

FSU College Rape Survivor Poses One Question

Over the last few weeks a written conversation was started on a bathroom stall door in the Bellamy building on FSU’s campus. The question posed from an anonymous survivor, “How do I get over being raped?” Not knowing where to turn she took a marker out and wrote “the question” on the back of bathroom stall.   And women didn’t hesitate to respond.

fsusurvivorThe “estimated” statistic is that 1 in 4 college women will become a survivor of rape. But because 60% of college rapes are not reported, it’s hard to tell what the real number is. Which means at a university that has over 40,000 students an estimated 10,000 of them will survive violence and less than 4,000 will actually be documented. Maybe as more women reach out to one another they can also encourage each other to report their crime to allow for documentation and evidence that this crime is happening every day.

The good news is that the conversation on college rape is starting to happen more and more. Not  because more services are being offered, but because women are seeking a community of people that empower them to see themselves as a survivor. They are learning ways to prevent a future assault, report their own case the authorities, and they are also owning their healing and recovery journey. These women are all seeking a way to move on with their lives, continue their studies, and not allow their rape to stop them from pursing their dreams. And as more survivors speak out they become part  of the movement to restore justice back into their lives.

One woman responded to the original question with, “I have been raped too….just know you are not alone.” On this one bathroom stall 2 survivors chose to reach out and become heard. It has been incredible to watch a community unfold. And in order to move rape survivors in their healing, as a community we need to become more transparent about this huge issue. And we also need to create an environment and culture in which survivors begin to feel empowered to report their violence and not stigmatized

From practical self defense skills, to attending counseling, to seeking out other forms of healing college women are coming together and recognizing they do not have to heal alone. And these conversations might be the most important thing to allow survivors to understand that the recovery process of rape is filled with questions: and it’s okay to ask one another.

To the woman who posed the question on the bathroom stall thank you for reclaiming your voice. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Are you a survivor looking for empowerment? Contact Reclaiming Lost Voices are our team will help guide you in your recovery process: story@reclaiminglostvoices.org.

Sarah’s Story: Connecting Youth Activist Together To End Gun Violence

Sarah Clements from Newtown, Connecticut is a 17-year-old activist, daughter, friend, student. But she’s more than just ordinary girl-she has become an inspiration for hundreds and maybe thousands of youth. Educating and speaking out on sarah-clgun violence. And providing hope that the community of Newtown can move forward after violence.

Sarah didn’t dream of becoming of activist until it became a reality for her on December 14th, 2012. The day Sandy Hook Elementary School was devastated by gun violence. The second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in American history

And this past weekend was the Southeast Peace Jam slam conference. Hundreds of youth, leaders and teachers came together to unite for peace and social change. They talked about the tough issues. From war and poverty to women and children’s rights, rape and gun violence. But for one entire day I was surrounded around a group of ambitious youth ready to tackle the social issues many faced on a daily basis. Their positive words and spirit filled the room. And I came to the realization that the people who are capable of finding solutions for social justice problems are in fact our youth.

During Sarah’s keynote speech she made a statement that impacted me as storyteller for survivors of violence. As she was struggling to release her voice about a year ago she didn’t understand what difference it would make. But then someone told her this,

“Don’t let anyone tell you that your story doesn’t matter. Indeed it is the most important thing.”images

And this resonated with me greatly. Because Sarah has not only become an inspiration for me, but for what I am sure is thousands of youth. Each one of our stories is unique and raw. As we share them we become united with humanity and understand we are not alone.

6b7d3fc026e842f4a220c5168cba441fSarah’s story started with a simple word document. She opened up her computer and just started typing. Slowly releasing her angry and frustration into active words that could be used to create change in her grieving community of Newtown. Sarah reflects on the day she opened up that word document. She remembers the overwhelmed feeling of releasing her voice as she typed. But she points out that a tragic event does not have to define a person or a community. It’s only part of  the story and you can choose to see your story differently after violence.

And Sarah chose to keep writing to become part of the change. guns22n-1-webShe never thought gun violence would be part of her story. But she still remembers the day the shots were fired in her community. And now her mother who is a teacher has to go teach a class of 15 students, instead of 20 students. And Sarah understood her mother’s pain along with other countless teachers, students and community members. She had to do something to translate pain into positive action. She wanted to break sterotypes of those affected by gun violence and bring people together. And most importantly she wanted to show the strength people have to move forward.

heart2041From the children of Sandy Hook Elementary to the inner city schools Sarah believes that youth are the catalyst for social change. By coming together and understanding the emotional and physical pain they all experience, healing can occur. And they all have an opportunity to make peace within themselves and move forward in their community.

Newtown-Action-Alliance-logo-courtesy-courantblogs.com_Sarah joined Newton Gun Alliance and started sharing her story.  The importance of our stories is it can provide hope. It allows us to develop kind hearts and clear minds.  But beyond sharing our stories, we must become advocates for justice. And Sarah emphasized that young people should not be afraid of politics and politicians. Because youth have a huge voice as future voters and one day the youth will run our country. All of our voices count.

And then Sarah mentioned an important party to her story and to many activists. Dealing with push back and negativity. You’re going to have critics and you’re going to have people challenge you. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. What it means is you need to focus on building strength and optimism as you continue to speak out.And you need to surround people around you that will push you forward. When you become passionate about an issue you become unafraid. You are ready to fight with words and peaceful actions. But some people are going to be afraid of change. And you need to use their negativity to motivate you-because your voice can change the world.

And we must all remember that to create sustainable change is not a sprint, but a marathon we all need to run together. And allow bravery to become your biggest activist tool. For everyone is filled with the potential to create positive change. We must allow our conversation to turn into actions.

Hope-for-Newtown-Origami-OwlAnd maybe most importantly Sarah proved we must not be afraid to share our own story. Sarah’s is only one affected by gun violence and now she shares it around the country. She is providing hope that violence does not have to exist. We can all be part of the movement to provide solutions and hope. And it starts with the youth raising their voices.