In the spirit of Black History Month, CCEJ would like to recognize and uplift the voices and experiences of Black CCEJ staff members. Restorative Practices in Communities Case Manager Jamelle Fortuné Turner began a series of dialogues with other Black staff on how they see their work with CCEJ connecting to their Blackness. Here’s what some of them shared:
As Black staff here at CCEJ, it is important for us to connect our Blackness to our work. Each of us takes part in CCEJ’s mission to eliminate bias, bigotry and racism through different pathways. While utilizing Restorative Practices, we promote alternative approaches to school discipline and conflict resolution in neighborhoods, workplaces, and the criminal justice system to create justice for all. I asked my colleagues, what does the work of Social and Restorative Justice look like specifically to them and for us as Black people? How does it connect to this work we do at CCEJ and why is it important?
Restorative Practices have always existed within the different cultural practices amongst Black folx in the States, diaspora and on the continent of Africa. I come to this work from the lens of Ubuntu, an African philosophy which means I am because we are. As a case manager with the Restorative Practices in Communities department at CCEJ, I work within the communities where I am from and currently reside in, which are South Central Los Angles and Inglewood. Having the opportunity to heal harms within my own community is important to the restoration and transformation of Black people due to legacies of trauma caused by systematic oppression and anti-black racism. Healing harms via circle keeping is humanizing and offers people the opportunity to speak their truth, gain understanding, and create dialogue.
Utilizing Circle keeping for Black affinity groups creates a sacred and safe place for Black folx to express themselves and share their experiences. Building Bridges for Youth champions this practice while at Camp and their many other programs.
Building Bridges Program Coordinator (Residential Leadership) Jamaica Carter said, “The reason I do social justice work with youth and adults is because it’s important to educate folks on the history, specifically Black history, past and present. This country was founded on oppression and we must acknowledge and confront this oppression for real change to happen.”
Jamaica’s work is pivotal in deconstructing the ways in which society views and portrays Blackness. There are many intersections of Blackness that exist and the work of Building Bridges helps to elevate the multiple identities of Black folx that often go invisible.
While Blackness and Black identities are rendered invisible, in other cases Blackness is hyper-visible and criminalized. Restorative Justice in Schools Strategist and Trainer Taharka Anderson shared his thoughts by saying “Restorative Justice continues the legacy of fighting for racial justice evident in Black History Month. As a Restorative Justice Strategist and Trainer, my work seeks to transform schools into nurturing relationship-centered schools for Black children. The ultimate goal of this work is to end the criminalization of Black children and create nurturing educational environments where they have support and resources to succeed.”
Taharka’s work is critical for two reasons. First, while some may see schools as vehicles of opportunity, schools have worked to systemically stratify society, and they have harmed Black people in ways that have contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline. Second, if we are going to rectify the legacy of institutional racism in schools and in our communities, it starts by healing the harm done to youth and communities of color by changing the practices with which teachers use to engage Black youth.
CCEJ and organizations like it can play a critical role in Black social justice work for three reasons. First, it can help to humanize Black people and allow the world to see us for who we are. One of the key principles of Restorative Justice is to understand both the person who is harmed and the person that harmed. In order to heal from that harm and violence, it’s important to see the humanity in someone, even when we are taught not to. Second, the work of CCEJ can be a tool for education for social justice by uplifting communities and their truths. Specifically, in our shared experiences, we can work to identify ways to acknowledge our histories and resiliency. For Black people all across the globe, it is our deep and unapologetic love for humanity that continues to move us forward to a more truly equal and democratic society. Finally, organizations like CCEJ help us to visibly see what we have been trained not to see. For too long queer and trans folx, Black communities, undocumented youth, sexual harm survivors, and others who have experienced the worst of humanity, have been made to suffer in silence. Through our work here at CCEJ we can work across our pain, our agency, and our differences to build bridges that connect us all. By being connected to Black communities and doing the work to “un-do” anti-Black racism, we move one step closer to achieving justice for all.
Happy Black History Month!