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Building Restorative Justice in Our Schools, Our Community

"We've been talking about restorative justice and peace circles for a year now, but when are we going to get started?" asked Mozart parent mentor Aleida Arzeta at a restorative justice workshop in March. Her sense of urgency resonates with parents, teachers, students and LSNA staff.  One year ago, the LSNA Congress kicked-off our community-wide restorative justice (RJ) journey. For the last 12 months, hundreds of teachers, parents and students have participated in RJ trainings. In May, LSNA—along with Northeastern Illinois University and Grow Your Own Illinois—convened the first city-wide Restorative Justice in Schools and Communities conference. The conference brought together new and veteran RJ leaders from across Chicago for discussion and skill-sharing. LSNA is now ready to take the next step and deepen the implementation of RJ in our schools.    

What is restorative justice? RJ promotes repairing relationships harmed when there is a conflict. Through RJ, ordinary people and classrooms can work together to prevent conflict, and when conflict happens, can deal with it in an accountable and healthy way that can strengthen the whole community. Often schools and criminal justice systems are set up to promote “punitive justice,” which focuses on isolating and punishing the offender. Lynn Morton of POWER-PAC, explains, “RJ is not a toolkit; it’s a lifestyle.” Implementing RJ means changing the way we traditionally look at conflict and the way we look at our relationships to others. That shift takes time and effort.  In the past year, LSNA youth organizer Brian Perea has seen changes in Kelvyn Park High School. “I hear the freshmen checking each other,” he said. “When someone says something disrespectful, someone will say, ‘Hey, safe space.’”

After attending the RJ conference, Mozart parent coordinator Shirley Reyes is ready to move forward, especially with a parent-led peace room. Reyes explained, “It’s a sacred place where children can go and open their hearts. It’s like a sanctuary; a place where you can trust that you are safe. We need one for sure.”