December 2, 2016. The four teens nervously eyed the fourteen attorneys assembled before them. These teens were from a South Bronx high school, and for them this Brooklyn conference room was more than a subway ride away. They were there to share and teach lessons of Restorative Justice, the process that had reduced the suspension rate in their school by 65%. These 15 and 16 year-olds were TRC NextGen Teen Circle Keepers.
As a group, the practicing attorneys tallied hundreds of years of legal experience. Continuing Legal Education brought them to the training. They were looking for an alternative model to our broken justice system. They had signed up for a new program, never offered before, The Restorative Center’s 19-hour weekend Restorative Justice training for Attorneys. The idea of grassroots Restorative Justice intrigued them.
Teen as leaders in Restorative Justice. Guided by their TRC circle keeper training and experience, the teens demonstrated their understanding of Restorative Justice as the space for shared power through storytelling. The teens explained how to design prompts to invoke a story, create empathy, and modeled vulnerability. They were able to discuss the phases of a facilitated circle, the flow of energy the circle can create, the use of a talking piece to create the responsive and not reactive encounter. In the end, the attorneys learned that TRC’s unique model for Restorative Justice offers the profound experience of shared humanity which is beyond the divide of race, education, age, or economics. And that through this space transformation is possible. It is a viable free standing alternative to the criminal justice system.
The students were the teachers. “It didn't take very long for the lawyers to warm up to us, thanking us for our work and asking for help when necessary,” Adrian reflected. The attorneys left the weekend raving about the experience of sitting in a multi-generational circle where community wisdom can emerge. The experience was “excellent,” “training must be replicated throughout the nation” “life changing,” “the best training I have experienced,” and in the end all felt the weekend training had been “an honor and privilege”.
TRC recognizes the future is in working with young adults. Our 2017 goal is to train and develop Teens as circle keepers throughout New York City and in Newburgh. We need your help to fund the week long trainings for the Teens. We have witnessed the power of community circles to transform relationships, reduce suspension and most keenly reignite the dormant power of wisdom within us all. These results can happen with the skillful use of the circle process. Teens will be the leaders of Restorative Justice. In fact, they already are.
We ask for your charitable contributions to support the future of Restorative Justice.
The TRC Board, Team and Teens.