Restorative Justice and the Rebirth of Chicago

Restorative Justice and the Rebirth of Chicago by Robert Koehler

To read this article in its entirety on the Huffington Post website, click here.

The vision to interlace Chicago with RJ hubs is, ultimately, a vision to create, rather than impose, peace. It’s the opposite of the fear-based, every-man-for-himself culture that’s been gnawing at our soul, and eating our young, for far too long.

One facet of the Restorative Justice Hubs movement is “recognizing that violence causes trauma and trauma causes violence; hurt people hurt people.” We know this, of course, but not at the levels where power and money congregate and big decisions are made. At those levels, all we get is more of the same. Something has to jolt our world out of its commitment to war and violence, at the cost of our children.

Supporting alienated young people, helping them realize their dreams — “this is where the idea of RJ hubs came from,” Father Dave Kelly said at the RJ meeting. “We don’t expel, banish or shun young people, even when they act up.”

As long as we continue to perpetuate a city in which so many young people, especially young African-American and Latino males, are pushed to the social margins by racism and poverty, we will lose them. But “when you feel you belong,” Kelly said, “you become co-creators” in your society. “RJ strives to build a web of relationships.”

This movement to reclaim Chicago has five pillars, or guiding principles, for the community centers it anticipates:

1. They are welcoming: places of safety and respect that nurture the spirit.

2. They are places of accompaniment: Young people who become part of the hub are no longer alone; caring adults will accompany them as they pursue their goals, often against forbidding odds. “The commitment is for the long journey,” Kelly said.

3. They are places of “relentless engagement” with young people and their families, no matter what sort of difficulties a given individual is struggling with. This engagement includes: “peacemaking circles and mentoring to promote healing, honest communication, conflict resolution, healthy relationships, connection and a sense of belonging,” according to the website.

4. They are also places of relentless engagement with the larger community of stakeholders with whom the young are dealing, including: schools, police, probation officers. The idea is to transcend adversarial relationships in all directions.

5. Finally, the hubs are all in collaboration with one another. They are connected, creating a citywide network of healthy support centers for young people. “True collaboration,” the website notes, “is a process where the collaborators continue to learn and be part of a learning community.”

The hubs are not imposed from the outside but must emerge from the heart of each community in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. The process has begun: in Back of the Yards, North Lawndale, Little Village. These neighborhoods have community centers that welcome young people and bring restorative justice into their lives. Other community hubs are in formation. Everyone has a role to play in the rebirth of the city. The vision is growing; the birth process is underway.