In many of the conversations we have engaged with around restorative justice during this program, there has been a strong focus on the “restoration” aspect of this form of justice.
It is difficult to reflect on what I have learned. Not because I have learned nothing, but rather because I have learned so much and have struggled to remain present so that I may absorb each moment as it has arrived. But what I have learned is that knowledge is not contained in the moment the painter passes their brush across the canvas but instead knowledge is the portrait comprised of those many strokes. With this in mind, I wish to attempt to show you the portrait I have been left with.
What makes restorative justice important in my mind is the way in which it centers those who have been harmed in naming and reclaiming their own restoration
.In many of the conversations we have engaged with around restorative justice during this program, there has been a strong focus on the “restoration” aspect of this form of justice. For me, the revolutionary focus of this work has never been the irony Dr. David Hooker pointed out which is that “restorative justice indicates that at one point there was a good relationship [between the harmed and the harmers] to return to or restore.” Instead, what makes restorative justice important in my mind is the way in which it centers those who have been harmed in naming and reclaiming their own restoration. I believe that to focus on the restoration aspect of restorative justice without the context of an individual who has been harmed is to reinforce our current structure of justice. However well intentioned I may be, restorative justice and this program have taught me that my intentions cannot be imposed on someone else’s idea of justice. As those fighting for justice, we often cite the experiences of the harmed in our case for retribution, thus turning their stories into statistics and case studies to support a larger fight for systemic change. That fight is necessary, but too often we allow the harmed individuals who make up those numbers to slip through the cracks. Restorative justice is the way we catch those individuals, lift their voices up, and prioritize their healing.
While not every person’s interpretation of their history is one I would agree with, it is a beautiful thing to be part of a culture that takes the time to look back before jumping forward.
Formally I have been asked to write about restorative justice. And I have given you a glimpse into my understanding. But the gift I truly leave with from this program is my renewed love for the south. I grew up in the Deep South spending so much time looking outside of it I often need reminders of what it means to be southern. But this program has cemented it for me. To be southern, truly southern, is to seek kindness. While we are no strangers to throwing shade, the core tenet of any southerner is the gift of kindness. We offer unprompted good mornings to strangers so they know they are seen. We are willing to share our stories at the drop of a hat because you never know who will be touched by what you have to share. We hold family close and uplift them above all else. To be southern is also to develop a deep relationship with the past. Whether clinging to a flag or reaching for the souls of ancestors who marched the same streets you can now walk in, every person from the south must develop a relationship with where they have come from and how they got there. While not every person’s interpretation of their history is one I would agree with, it is a beautiful thing to be part of a culture that takes the time to look back before jumping forward. The south is not a monolith nor is it without its problems, but regardless of where I call home for the moment or how fast my life may get, I will always be a southerner making fans out of anything I’m holding, taking time to say good morning, and enjoying a moment in which I can just slow down and enjoy the sunshine.
I would be remiss if I did not uplift Roslyn Pope and the many elders and ancestors whose words, ideas, and actions have forever changed the way I see myself in the movement.
I would be remiss if I did not uplift Roslyn Pope and the many elders and ancestors whose words, ideas, and actions have forever changed the way I see myself in the movement. Roslyn Pope once said to us “Young people, we didn’t have cell phones at that time. All we had were bullhorns and dimes.” With so little, they accomplished so much. Roslyn Pope and the many more beyond and beside her gave me bullhorns and dimes. And with the push of the button I have the world at my fingertips. The saying has never been truer: “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?” I often experience insecurity about my work as a storyteller. Surrounded by such brilliance in so many different fields, I sometimes ask myself what the point of telling stories at a time like this is. But as I have moved through this program I have realized something: everything is a story. Racism is a series of stories we have told and been told. They are stories that create a value system to human life and imagine and inspire new ways to privilege certain lives over others. As storytellers, we have the power to resurrect the dead, reflect the present, and imagine the future. By studying the civil rights movement, I have found new names, new stories, and new people who have been left out of the pages of our history books. By telling their stories I may begin the work to ensure their legacy is not only felt but also remembered and recognized. By hearing from such incredible leaders currently working in the movement, I now have language for a present that often feels too big for words. As I tell stories and help others to do the same it is my duty to share that language so that we may all name and claim it for ourselves. And finally, because of this program, I have new tools that will craft the future. Just as I now walk with new elders and ancestors whose wisdom guides, inspires, and challenges me so I am now called upon to share these elders and ancestors with the young people I serve.
It turns out it isn’t very easy to paint an entire portrait of a month of long days, new friends, and life changing moments. It was probably an ambitious goal to set for myself. But maybe painting the portrait for you is not what we need now. Maybe it’s more important that I show you the canvas, show you where I’ve painted, and hand you the brush to keep the work going. You have bullhorns, dimes, a paintbrush, and a canvas. Imagine the possibilities.