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Healing, Transformation, & Change from Ferguson

As negativity continues to swirl around Ferguson, MO and the country at large in the aftermath of the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson last week, the time is ripe for real and challenging dialogue about how we can transform this energy into something positive. Everyday Democracy program officer Janee Woods wrote a powerful piece for Guernica Magazine in which she says that both punitive justice and restorative justice models are inadequate for healing the deep wounds that racism has caused our country, and advocates instead for rehabilitative justice, saying that “[w]e need to rehabilitate ourselves and our relationships with each other, across differences of perspectives and background, before we can successfully change the way inequitable systems and institutions work.”

We were particularly impressed and inspired by the list of suggestions that Janee offers for those of us grappling with how to move our work and conversations toward the rehabilitation of people and relationships that we need now. We’ve excerpted those suggestions below, but we encourage you to read her piece in its entirety by clicking here.

Janee Woods: A Different Kind of Justice

…We may feel powerless standing in the shadow of institutions, politics and the long history that got us here but that does not mean that we are, in fact, powerless. We know there is power in public protest that demands large scale change but not all of us are ready to engage with the system in that way. Try to develop your power by engaging truthfully with yourself and with neighbors in your community on a smaller scale. The inaugural step toward rehabilitating our humanity is honest communication with those who are near us. In many ways, this might be the hardest step because we must first create spaces where we can come together as individuals with disparate life experiences, diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and varying levels of understanding about the legacy and impact of American racism. And once we come together, we must share a commitment to follow through in learning together and moving to action together. There are many ways you can create the space and structure that allow for this kind of communication and commitment.

Bring people together for conversations that transform conflict into meaningful relationships. Use conversations to encourage distrustful and defensive relationships to blossom into relationships based on curiosity, connection, and compassionate understanding of differences. Public Conversations Project helps people come together across backgrounds to explore conflicts driven by deep differences in identity, beliefs, or values.

Use dialogue as a catalyst for action. An approach that helps shift people from talking to action can involve diverse community members coming together to have deep conversation about their connections to the community, perspectives on sensitive public issues like racism, and what they can accomplish together to address structural inequities. Everyday Democracy coaches people on how to talk and develop problem solving that leads to inclusive action, in order to build a strong democracy and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Apply a racial justice lens in educational settings. Educators need a framework for opening dialogue around race issues in education. Schools and other academic settings can be opportune settings for public learning around racial issues. Courageous Conversations provides tools to address racial issues in order to uncover the biases that prevent all students, and especially students of color, from reaching their fullest potential.

Develop your empathy and ability to look outside your own personal experience. Strong empathy and the ability to understand the realities of others help foster the creation of a society where all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. EmpathyEducates is dedicated to guiding people in the process of collaborative dialogue to envision what it would be like to live in that kind of society. Using this approach, community members work together to eliminate racism, ethnic stereotypes, gender identity biases, and prejudicial intolerances in respect to sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, physical and mental challenges.

Talk in public about undoing racism. Take your conversation to a public space so that other people can notice the importance of what you are doing. Talking in public also helps to remove the stigma of talking about race in everyday encounters. Conversation Cafes are open to everyone and are usually organized in public spaces like cafés, although you can meet in places like libraries and classrooms. You can meet anywhere that people gather to talk and spend time together, as they explore the issues that shape our world. A Conversation Cafe is a low pressure environment because there is no obligation to join any organization, no prior reading or knowledge required, and no political agenda. This is a simple process that helps people to shift their thinking from their own experience to thinking about the big picture.

Even if you’re not ready to reach out and engage with strangers in your community, you can still come together with the close people in your life to have evocative conversation about how you feel about what has happened in Ferguson and how those outcomes reflect the racist realities of our society. What matters most is that you are bringing people together and redefining what it means to be a community.

Following the announcement of no indictment, Michael Brown’s parents urged us, “Let’s not make noise, let’s make a difference.” We shall do that. The endgame here is transformative justice. If we can transform ourselves then we can transform our communities and eventually our society. Imagine the possibility of what we could achieve together. The beloved community where we deserve to live does indeed exist, just over the horizon. Keep marching forward.

You can read the entirety of Janee’s article for Guernica Magazine by visiting a www.guernicamag.com/daily/janee-woods-a-different-kind-of-justice. Learn more about Janee and her work at www.janeewoods.com.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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