3rd Citywide Roundtable on Restorative Approaches Brings Together Restorative Practitioners
On January 10, 2020, Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI), in collaboration with the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution at OATH, hosted the third in a series of convenings to bring together restorative practitioners and supporters from multiple sectors. The event was highly successful, this was our first all-day session and drew over 255 participants–by far our largest turnout to date.
How we designed the day
The goal of the roundtable was to think critically about how to build a restorative city–a locale committed to non-punitive responses to harm and meaningful accountability practices, predicated on authentic relationships and communities working together for social justice.
While other entities have organized restorative justice conferences in the city, our convenings provide a unique opportunity for people to meet in circles to contemplate ways to move towards collective action.
These roundtables—based on principles of equity, shared power, mutual responsibility and youth leadership—are modeled after a quarterly citywide restorative justice meeting that has been taking place in Chicago for more than fifteen years.
In planning the event, we established a few important objectives at the outset:
- Host the event in the Bronx, a county that has some of the highest incarceration and school suspension rates in the country
- Transition to a day-long schedule to accommodate feedback we had received from past participants requesting more time “in circle” and for networking
- Ensure there was a greater youth presence at the event
Activities at the roundtable
The event was held at the Andrew Freedman Home, a community center with a long history of serving the needs of the people of the Bronx.
The event was emceed by Sethu Nair and Ashley Ellis, who also served on the planning committee. George Stonefish, a Lenape elder, opened with a blessing and land acknowledgment including some of the history of his people and their way of engaging in prayer. After hearing from the co-sponsors, participants were entertained by Kevin Nathaniel, an Afro-Diasporic performer.
The bulk of the day was spent in two circle sessions. We recruited 27 circle keepers to lead 10 different circle topics such as: restorative justice and institutions, preventing and responding to violence, building a youth-centered RJ movement, accountability and RJ, restorative approaches to addressing the impact of climate change and climate grief, restorative justice and social media and restorative justice 101.
During lunch, participants were treated to a fabulous meal catered by B.R.E.A.T.H.E. Cafe, the foodservice arm of the B.R.E.A.T.H.E. Collective. After lunch, we enjoyed performances from two Bronx high school students, featuring original poetry and a song accompanied by ukulele.
Since we were intentional about increasing youth participation, we collaborated with two Bronx high schools to bring over 40 students to the event. Four of these students led circles on youth leadership and engagement. In addition, most of the foodservice team were young people working on behalf of B.R.E.A.T.H.E. Cafe.
The event exceeded our wildest expectations. Initially, we anticipated a turnout of 150 participants. However, 255 people attended the roundtable. According to our post-event survey data, 90% of participants said they would attend another similarly structured event.
The attendees expressed deep gratitude for the opportunity to meet so many people from different walks of life who were committed to restorative approaches.
While our in-person programing has been on hold due to COVID-19, we are looking forward to welcoming people back in community on April 1st, 2021 from 10:00AM to 4:00PM(ET) at the 4th Citywide Roundtable on Restorative Approaches: Imagining a City Transformed by Racial Justice, Accountability, and Healing. Click here to register.
Building a restorative city is a long-term goal that requires long-term investment. Restorative Justice Initiative is a leader in this effort as we bring together practitioner-advocates, community members and institutional leaders to share knowledge, wisdom, strategies, and resources.
We are the only grassroots organization in New York City bridging gaps and breaking down silos between diverse stakeholders and maintaining the alliances that will propel the movement forward.
Rather than transform the city solely through the adoption of institutional practices, we can build a restorative culture that all people can participate in and be proud of.