A Soul Language That Few Are Fluent In – Shani Douglas
In 2022, RJI invited a contingent of New Yorkers to join us in traveling to Chicago, Illinois for the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice conference. Here are excerpts from an essay written prior to the trip from one of the extraordinary members of our local restorative justice community about their relationship to restorative practices.
I grew up as a very sensitive child in a family and community where violence (verbal, emotional, and physical) was the main disciplinary action, and primary response to any perceived threat, or discomfort. I could sense very early on that there had to be a different way. As a child, I knew I would receive correction best by being talked with, rather than being screamed at or whupped. But a Black Mother from the south raising 4 kids on her own only really knew (and had the energy for) one form of discipline. At school and in my neighborhood in Oakland, California, disagreements between classmates and peers were mostly solved with physical altercations. To avoid school suspension, those who could contain their rage until after school hours, would plan to meet at the nearby Taco Bell to handle the matter. And like clockwork a crowd of students, myself included, would gather there 1-2 times a week to watch or participate in the brawl. I’ve lost so many childhood friends to incarceration, and gun violence, that the news of it became numbing. And all the while, I knew there had to be another way.
What I saw and experienced during my upbringing instilled a lot of fear in my bones that I carried around with me into adulthood. When I encountered Restorative Justice, I was just scratching the surface of my personal healing journey. Sharing the restorative practices I learned was like a balm to my soul. My professional experience with RJ has shown me the transformative power of listening, being heard, getting to the root of an issue, and the healing work required to truly repair harm. As I began working with countless youth (and adults) across the Bay Area, and NYC, I quickly discovered that the same mindset and heart state I was raised with is still very much at work in the homes and societal institutions today. There is much to be undone. To truly repair harm is a process and involves much more than punishment or perceived consequences to actions. It requires honesty, accountability, safety, vulnerability, community, and trust. I am personally invested in the embodiment of these values in every space I occupy, as well as the wellness and restoration of the minds and hearts of Black children specifically. My passion for and commitment to my community, healing, and the wellbeing of humanity at large is what drives me to continue in this very important work.
It is my hope that with the tools and information gathered from this conference I will be able to expand my restorative practices toolbox, refuel my fire to continue the work, and build/extend my network of dedicated practitioners in restorative work across the country. I am currently embarking on more independent RJ consulting and it is my goal to further these practices in collaboration with other practitioners, NY schools, and organizations in the near future. I plan to use this conference to help improve my facilitation skills for trainings and or Restorative Circles for the young people and adults in my community. From my experience, RJ is like a soul language that few are fluent in, and much of my work as of late has been in isolation. So I would love the opportunity to be amongst my fellow practitioners for a time of connection, growth, learning, and reflection.