This Restorative Justice Life

79. Opening up the Circle w/ Vanessa McNorton

May 19, 2022 David Ryan Castro-Harris Season 2 Episode 15
This Restorative Justice Life
79. Opening up the Circle w/ Vanessa McNorton
Show Notes Transcript

Vanessa McNorton grew up and continues to live on the south side of Chicago in the Historic Bronzeville community. Vanessa is deeply committed to working with the community, intergenerationally, to be in the right relationship wherever and whenever called. 

You will meet Vanessa (6:31), hear some anecdotes about her time in schools (15:21), and her experiences with circle processes that span intergenerational lines (32:34). Finally, she answers the closing questions.

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David (he/him)  
Vanessa, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?

Vanessa McNorton  
Who am I? And I was gonna say, David, first and foremost, thank you for inviting me. I'm so excited to be here. You are one of my favorite persons. So glad to be present to, to speak, to speak. So it's always good to have voice. Who am I? I was gonna say, first and foremost, I'm the daughter of Simon and Virginia mcnorton. I was born and raised in Chicago, Chicago is my home. I'm lived in DC for a sprinkle. And I am their child. And I did go to elementary school. We call it an elementary school then, and high school in Chicago.

David (he/him)  
Who are you? 

Vanessa McNorton  
I am a proud graduate of Howard University. I just love my Howard family. I was a finance major at Howard. I chose to get into business which I realized I was not following my passion, but kind of like a money passion. And that soon changed. And I ended up going into I was in banking for 10 years at first Chicago. So I was a branch manager did some of that fun stuff, but realize it was boring. I was like, I not want to do this. So I changed and and taught at a therapeutic day school in Chicago in an area called Mount Greenwood. And really just loved the passion of educating young people and the group of people, young people that I was educating. They were students with disability. So that had counseling minutes every day. So that was the best frame of reference to learn from because I was teaching them according to their ability levels. So I'm an educator. I'm a former banker, that's who I am

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Vanessa McNorton  
I am a very, I consider myself a very kind person, very compassionate, very empathetic, very gracious person and just real. Feel like I'm a very real person, inside and out. And just very introspective. have had a journey. I've had a serious journey of life and health challenges, but have been through a lot that God has brought me through all of it. So I am a richly blessed person. So that's who I am.

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Vanessa McNorton  
I am the mother of a 12 year old chocolate cocker spaniel named Miles Davis. He is the apple of my eye. I wasn't sure towards this back as I was like, Okay, you should be sleep right? Right now this is you know, nap time and he's up looking at me and I'm like, Okay, I gotta get all his little bag of stuff together. So he's still waiting for the mailman. We might hear some barks, but um, he's a sweetheart. So I'm Miles's ma.

David (he/him)  
are you?

Vanessa McNorton  
I am a restorative justice practitioner. That is very passionate about people, people of color, black and brown people, all people, but especially black and brown people. I am a community person. I'm an activist. I believe in butuh I am because we are we are because I am. I believe that my ancestors are present all around me and are constantly rooting me on and my ancestors have prayed for me in such a time is this.

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Vanessa McNorton  
I am a good friend. I am a good friend. I am a supporter. I'm a person that routes other people on and believes that everybody should shy

Vanessa McNorton  
and

Vanessa McNorton  
I am extremely hardworking, dedicated and committed to people and myself.

David (he/him)  
And finally, who are you?

Vanessa McNorton  
I am a person that needs harmony and balance in my life. And I definitely talk to people I know about the need to have self care, harmony and balance in order to be an overall health Have the person that includes rest and sleep it eating the rainbow and getting sunshine and, and just doing you doing what you need to do to be healthy?

David (he/him)  
Absolutely. Well, thank you for sharing all of those things about who you are. We're gonna get to all of those intersections of when we come back.

David (he/him)  
Vanessa, thank you, again, so much for being here. Really excited to dive deeper in to this conversation exploring all those intersections of who you are when it comes to living this restorative justice life. But it's always good to start off with a check in so to the extent that you want to answer the question right now, how are you?

Vanessa McNorton  
How am I? Okay? Thank you for asking that question. I love check ins. I am I am well, I am feeling good today. Grateful, grateful for life, grateful to be present here grateful to be in this space, grateful to be able to walk and talk without any assistance. So I'm doing good. I'm doing good. Thank you, David.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, it's what I heard in there is like, the gratitude coming through from, you know, the place where we are. And sometimes for me, it's, it's hard to see those things on top of, you know, pandemic living and just all the other things that are going on in the world. Those moments of gratitude, and taking stock of like, you know, really am blessed for so many things is really healthy. I'm curious, you know, you mentioned self care in your, your introduction with the WHO ARE YOU? What are self care practices, if you've been leaning into that I've really helped you keep that at the forefront.

Vanessa McNorton  
Right, right. Thank you for asking that. So the self care is really needed. Because it's part of my health journey that I've been on, I was diagnosed with lupus at age 30. And never, you know, my life was wonderful, up until that time, never even thought of that I would have a health challenge like that. So lupus is for everybody, for anybody that doesn't know is is an autoimmune disease. And it attacked really my skin. So I was blessed. I mean, I you know, had the actual lupus diagnosed and then a couple of weeks later, I took like a month off because I was a bank manager at that time. And then I I went out and went to work, you're not gonna slack dag I couldn't take it, whether they call it you know, leave time or something for a while and just, you know, just rested. But I went on and went back to work. And the lupus I became a Lupus advocate, and I did lupus workshops, became the minority Outreach Coordinator for the state, you know, that was my, my service work. And I worked my full time job. And then the lupus later on to tech my organ so it attacked my kidneys. So I had a transplant, my two year anniversary just happened and that was to 2020 20. So I'm blessed to have had the kidney transplant from the donor that gave it to me. And then I'm blessed to be able to say that I'm doing quite well. And after that, it was four days later, I had a quadruple bypass, I had a heart attack. And I passed the tests at the university with flying colors in terms of the EKG and all that stuff that they give you. But I had that so I've overcome a lot of challenges. So self care is critical. So sometimes what I do is I do like candles even I might be you know, I didn't today I use it like like a sediment candles. So that's what self care means because it's very zen and calming. When I'm on Zoom, and I'm on Zoom a lot. Um, I do yoga, and I was doing Pilates previously. I'm a walker. So I do steps by Rick at home. But when the weather's good, I walk outside and my dogs a little older now as I've stated so you know walk a little bit with him, but when I went to do that power walking, you know, do it near the lakefront and have a good time out there. And then I just I'd like silence, I'll sit in silence and just relax. And I don't need the TV. I don't need music. But when I do want music, I will put some music on I'm a jazz person, and I'll put some smooth hats on and just relax with the smooth jazz. But just to be still in present is one of my self care pieces to get rest rest of my body and just, you know, go to a nice, warm, comfortable bed and put on some wonderful PJs that are nice and soft, that's a form of self care for me as well. So I do do those things in a good hot shower, you know, just sitting there, you know, standing there with the showerhead, just boom. And those are things that I do, you know, to make sure that my body is filling that piece.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, there are a lot of things folks take for granted, right? When it comes to their health and to have been forced to, like, take stock and like really slow down. Like it's something that like, I hope that like folks listening, and I myself, like don't have to do just like, do those things proactively right. And I know I'm talking to myself about this too. Because like to in order to be able to serve well and do our best work in community for others, like, you know, we need to be able to take care of ourselves and a constant reminder to myself, as well as making sure that folks providing space for folks who I'm working with in community with are able to do that, as well. Also, of course, your jazz lover with a dog named Miles Davis, come on, that was that was. So thank you so much for sharing all that, you know, you know, that life of a banker, where you went right back into work into, and then like, right back into activism, like that doesn't seem like incredibly like self care, like, right, like, you know, like not taking time for yourself. And you know, that was at a time when you were you were passionate about the money, right? You you diverted from that to work more towards community and eventually found your way to restorative justice. But like you said earlier, you know, you've been doing activist, or community work for a long time and have kind of just been this way. So you know, even before you know, even before you knew the word, how did this restorative justice life get started for you?

Vanessa McNorton  
Sure. So I didn't know about restorative justice when I was I was director of a charter school. So I had a dean that I that, that I that I had hired, and she was deep into RJ. And she learned restorative justice from a person at Chicago public schools. That was like the guru of restorative justice, but she would speak about it, you know, all the time and even deal with the interview too. And then I had a, I didn't have an issue, but it was a balancing. So I was one of the people that created our Code of Conduct book. So I'm like, I created this code of conduct in terms of how students if they violate policies, this is what's going to occur. And then on the flip side, I have the restorative justice, D, that's like, we can't just penalize young people, we have to have conversations and hear their voice and find out what's happening to them. So that happened in a situation where, you know, I'm walking around the hallways of the school, and a young man was, and he was African American was outside in the hallway. And I'm like, Why are you outside in the hallway? Teacher put him out, you know, she came out. She stated that she put him out of the room. And I'm like, well, he needs to be learning. What horrific thing has he done that he get pulled out of the classroom during learning time, she says, Well, I can't just I can't happen in here. I just can't happen in here. So I took them with me, my dean was there. I'm like, okay, you know, I've been hearing your name a little bit, you're gonna have to just, you know, I'm gonna call your mother. And you're going to you don't get three to five days, I'll determine based on what I find out from your teacher, and yourself that you have done. I say, but you're going to, you know, you've disrupted the classroom, that teacher can't teach. So I'm going by policy. You know, I'm going by that code of conduct book that I helped write. And then the dean and I both asked him questions about, well, why did you do this? And at first, he wouldn't say this was a young child. And then he said, you know, my mother and father are arguing, all you know, when I get home, they argue all day, all night. And then also, I don't have my only food that I get his breakfast and lunch at school. So we don't have food. So I'm like, okay, you know, we got to hear the voice of the child. And the reason why he's being disobedient is because he's, he's hungry. He's, you know, he's having there's violence in the household. So that's a lie. And then I thought about that. said, Okay, if I suspend him, then he's gonna just go home. And you know, they're gonna just have him sitting there for three days watching television anyway. So that doesn't make sense. So we have to have something in place, you know, in schools in society, where we're, you know, there's relationship building, there's community building with him and his family. And it can't be me just given him a three day suspension to go home and chill. So that's where I really first got introduced, and then a lady by the name of Mother Jun. 90, she's 91 years young now. And I know, you know, her day that she introduced me to Michelle day. And I started doing restorative justice, excuse me work in schools. 

Vanessa McNorton  
And that was phenomenal. Because I started learning more and more about restorative justice threw herself in Libya, Chase. And we started working in community, different communities in Chicago, and really, building relationships and, and really trying to be in right relationships with community members of all walks of life. So that was an within the school trying to really build a whole school approach. So it was, I don't like to say top down or bottom up, but just hold school, you're looking at the the janitor, the custodian, all the way through the security guards and the food, folks, the folks serving food to the kids. And then of course, you know, your, your teachers and the students and the principals. So trying to have that restorative mindset that everybody in the school understands, and actually sticks to it. And they actually, you know, working together as a school community in stead of in little pods, and not being in relationships. So that, to me, was a definite goal, in terms of community, in schools and within the surrounding communities around the schools as well.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, I want to go back to that story with that young man, what ended up happening? Yeah, both with him and the the teacher.

Vanessa McNorton  
Yes. So the teacher, you know, was taught to it was stated that she cannot, and it was a new teacher, too. So you look at the new teacher syndrome, where it's like, I'm just focused on educating the child. And I have to do this. So I've been there. And that was the thing that I wanted to do with the education was I gotta go with a teacher's plan, I gotta start where they went, and not start at a higher level, and really understand their classroom, the child and all that kind of thing. I want it to be, you know, that kind of individual. So with the teacher, we had a conversation, several conversations. And it really stemmed around building relationships in your classroom. And that was part of the problem, she didn't have a relationship with her students. So that was critical, you know, doing activities. Yes, we know that there are certain benchmarks you have to adhere to, because it's hard on teachers, but the relationship had not been built, where the child was comfortable enough to speak, and talk about what has happened in the in the child was seeking attention. So definitely letting the teacher know, if she saw warning signs, you know, the data is there to assist, I'm always there, I was always there to assist, and her having conversations with us. So, you know, we can support the teacher if this ever happened again, or if she is uncomfortable about certain things in her room. Now, we did talk about, you know, what restorative justice means to the teacher and how it can be effective in her classroom and how she can build relationships. We did talk about the check in checking in with your kids at their level, and asking them how they're feeling first thing in the morning, and when they leave. So we did those things, to kind of change and shift that mindset and kind of implemented some of those areas within the school building as well. And then the child was, you know, gradually very shy child gradually warming up to speak and communicating. He was smiled at me in the mornings and wave. Hi, Miss Nicanor, you know, so he was he was he was a happier child, a happier child. And then of course, we had to have the conversation with the family. And they, you know, definitely discuss some of the situations and things that were happening, making us aware. And we had social workers at the school that were supporting them. So we wanted to hit every every area in terms of the needs that needed to occur.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, I am excited. I was excited to have this conversation with you one because like, it's, it's just always good to talk with you, but to because like you've been doing this work across a lot of different sectors. And I just like to focus on the school part for a second, right? A little bit ago, I haven't shared this publicly yet. And maybe by the time this airs, I will have shared it publicly. I went into one of those big teacher Facebook groups, and left this question like, asking, you know, what, is it that? 

David (he/him)  
What would have been different in your schooling experience? If your school really practice restorative justice? And what I got in response? made it clear that like, not everybody has the same understanding of what restorative justice was. Right? Because so many of the people were like, you know, it's like, it would have been more bullying for me, it would have been like, it would have been the same because my parents taught me right. It would have, but then there were also people who were like, you know, I wouldn't have been expelled, and out of three schools, and kicked out of my house as a pregnant teen, right? I wouldn't have had all of these things. But like, again, on the other side, you have people saying like, you know, I don't like restorative justice, because like, it's not fair to the other 27 students in the room, when like one students acting on it, like that person's not getting their act together, they're not keeping everybody safe in the classroom. And I'm, I'm sympathetic to that. Right. And I don't think it's exclusive to new teachers, although, you know, people who have like less experienced classrooms, often often think that way. But when we're talking about those relationships in the room, like, you know, when you have those relationships, that's a lot more likely that you're going to be able to mitigate some of those problems or prevent those, like, if you had checked in before. And like, that's not to say that restorative justice is a panacea and will cure everything all the time, it will solve all the problems, right? It's not that going to the office to just get to talking to you is what solves it. Right? You talked about multiple conversations with the teacher, you talked about multiple conversations with the student's family to get additional support to like, prevent those problems. Like, that's what we're talking about when we're talking about restorative justice, not just like, Johnny was interrupting me in class, go to the office, like, three days suspension, right. And so, you know, relationship building, being at the core of that, and like, the additional support around those things, is what we're talking about when it comes to restorative justice. I know like you didn't have that background, when you first went into education. What about it? Like, was there a moment that stands out that it clicked for you?

Vanessa McNorton  
It clicked for me? After within the school setting? Definitely. I mean, it was just like, okay, every school in Chicago needs this. I was just like, Okay, we have to change because the way Dean's are handling discipline, it's like, you know, in the words that are being said, because we talk about how words have meaning, and the voice has meaning. So even when I was working, when I work with me and my attorney rising now, and in the beginning, when I was going to the schools, that the language that I would hear from the Deans and the language, I would hear from the teachers, you know, and it wasn't everybody was just very harmful to the student. And to me, very traumatic. So that's something that those children kept, you know, in their, you know, in their space. I mean, they will remember some of the language of the rest of their life. So I felt that change has to be made. So some, you know, and that's where I came in, where it was like, Okay, maybe we need girls groups, you know, we had etiquette circles so that the circles that I created within the schools were sometimes topic driven. And some students absolutely love to be in circle, and welcome, you know, having circle weekly, because it was something different. It got to the point where we had some passengers that were able to lead circles, young folks that were ambassadors, which was dynamic and powerful. And students just sharing and talking, it wasn't a punitive thing. You know, sometimes in the beginning, the the students would say, you know, no, no, no, you know, because they've sat in circles that were placed because of negative behavior, and they had to sit there and be in circle with a counselor. So changing that mindset and shifting it was critical, but we had some wonderful I had some wonderful and successful circles that at some of the schools that I was at for CPS, yeah, it's

David (he/him)  
definitely would you just said like the first and only time people are in circle can't be when they're in trouble Exactly. Like what are the things that you're doing to like proactively show that, while you're using circles for community building relationship building for teaching for learning, like using, you can have all kinds of different discussions, sharing learnings in circle. And, you know, it's not just a discipline thing, it's not just a conflict resolution thing. You know, you, you were taught by some people in CPS and your dean, but then you talked about Mama June, but you know, you got connected with Nehemiah. And, you know, started shifting and you transitioned out of like being in school full time. What did that time look like? What was that journey?

Vanessa McNorton  
Sure, we wouldn't start with Nehemiah. Because Mama June again introduced the wonderful purple lady father June introduced me to Michelle de who is the CEO of Nehemiah, Trinity rising. So we started working, when I started with Nehemiah, I was assigned to working through RJ work in schools. So there were several schools, I was going to in different parts of this city, south and west side, and working with the entire school community, to shift mindsets to be in right relationships, to build community so that RJ practices could occur. And we could, you know, help the school communities and classrooms of various age groups to really, definitely a hope key is being in the right relationship with each other. So there were challenges, you know, even when I was an educator for 15 years, you know, in schools leading them are, as a classroom teacher, you know, there were challenges, but we, but I worked as hard as I could to make sure RJ was in, they understood, we, you know, we talked about our values, we created our guidelines, and how we're going to live together with each other. In the circle space, we I developed topics that we would have for each circle, and included their language, you know, their, the icons that they felt were icons, and kind of motive that into, you could call it my lesson plan, you know, my circle plan that I created for each session. So it was great, you know, some of just the single gender circles were powerful, were powerful. I actually also worked outside of schools and community. For three years, I was working with young men that were on electronic monitoring in the Roseland community. And that was powerful, you know, the first it was a six week program for them each, each year. And of course, the first two weeks, not of course, but in this situation, it was, you know, had had challenges. These young man, a couple of them were used to sitting in a circle because of a punitive thing. And having them you know, just doing the basic things in terms of incorporating our guidelines with, you know, sitting, taking your head off and pulling up the pans and things of that nature. That's what we worked on. But then we did develop a wonderful relationship. I was like, ah ha moment, Mama June was in the circles with me too. And they were just come to the circle, you know, pants full, heads off, and ready to just talk and they lead some of the circles in terms of the checking, you know, are actually the opening ritual. So they would come with a rap or a song, and they would open it up. So I included them in that space. You know, they were included, of course, from the beginning the first circle, but they finally felt comfortable, they trusted, that was the key they trusted, they felt comfortable, and they felt they were part of the circle, there was no judgment. So we had dynamic and powerful circles, you know, after getting through the hoops of the first couple of weeks, but that was a strong implementation of RJ but again, it takes time. You have to feel safe.

David (he/him)  
You know, a couple of weeks ago on the podcast we had on Eric Butler and he talked about manipulating people into accepting RJ and you know the word manipulation it is harsh and like there are a couple people I reacted a certain kind of way when he's at the end like when we posted that clip on. On social a couple people like had some kind of reaction to the framing of my stipulation, right? Yeah, you know, what you're talking about is like, creating points of connection, creating the space, like using language that people are familiar with using meeting people where they're at. Right? Invite them in to more restorative ways of being because like, if you come in and just say like, this is what you have to do, because I say so. Right? Nobody, nobody, nobody's gonna do that. And, you know, if you come in, even things like, if you come in and say, first thing, you say to a young person, like, pull up your pants, take off your hat, right? Like, what does that say about the relationship? And so like, the way that, quote unquote, manipulate that the way to invite them into relationship, like you're talking about talking about values, how do we want to be together in the space and telling those stories that explain, you know, specific needs that people have? And then within the context of those relationships, people are like, this is the way that I'm going to be outside of this, but because of you, Vanessa, and our relationship, like, this is what I'll do here. Right? That was just so people, I'm curious, like, what did that look like working with adults in schools? Right? Because, you know, with young people, in many ways, it's a lot easier to do that. Oh, what were some of the ways that you did that? Or like, is that? Are there any specific stories of ways that you did that in schools?

Vanessa McNorton  
In schools? Yeah, I mean, we did them. And I would say an example is working with parents at school, we were working with parents at a school on the west side. And the parents were apprehensive even to be in circle space at a school because they've had bad experiences in the past when they were younger, in schools, so even walking into a school building for them was difficult, even though their children were there. So I had to know that I had to understand that. And then, so that meant I had to make sure the space that was created was safe. Or they felt it was safe. So with the parents, you know, had a script, you know, organize that with my, my Cole keeper, and we had everything down that we wanted to talk about it with, through it, you know, how you're planning all this wonderful stuff, you know, you're putting your head together trying to, you know, really say, Excuse me, what is the best method in terms of having the circle, you know, in terms of lively, you know, activities in the beginning and interesting quotes that might really be powerful for that. But sitting in that circle space, they just really wanted to talk, they wanted to talk about their past experiences, their harms in school buildings, and how important it is for them to be in right relationship with other parents within their bill within the building. So that's where we were, you know, and sometimes an RJ, you do with the circle does, that's what we always say, if the circle goes a different direction, that's the way the circle goes. So with those parents, we just realized we're listeners, you know, we kind of moved some questions, you know, what we thought of a spot, and we were like, this is the way we're going to do it. And that was a good length of time for a program as well, in terms of circle activities that we did with them, as well as circle spaces. So we just took some time to sit in process and just talk in reference to areas that they felt they needed to discuss and say, in terms of their discomfort with school, in order for us to get deeper into that RJ conversation. But we did. Yeah, so we had to go there first. And kind of, you know, let them speak, let that voice be heard.

David (he/him)  
I think about the framework of lean, you know, white supremacy culture, where there's like, these are the objectives, these are the things that we have to achieve. These are the outcomes, and like, this is the plan is a script, we're going to stick to it. Right? And when those things don't work, right, yeah, or not even when they don't work, when you sense from jump to that, like, that's not what needs to happen in this space. You know, you have to be able to adapt, and then out of those conversations, what, what happened?

Vanessa McNorton  
Yeah, so with those, I mean, they were just so appreciative because they didn't feel they liked the school building. They liked the administrator, but they just didn't feel based on their insecurity say so they, out of that came a sense of self and self esteem. We talked about that with them, you know, one of the circles and just the fact that their voice was important. Some of these parents, and most of them did not finish, like even high school. So for them to walk into a middle school building, and have a conversation, and, you know, that is they felt was important was difficult. So, for us to give them that space, I mean, they were grateful, they just love the fact that somebody was listening to them, they planned the time to come every week, they told other parents about it, and they started coming in the door and, and talking, but it brought, you know, you go back to those values, you know, one of the things that we always ask is, what are a couple of values, what's even one value that describes you being your best self, and then talking about some of those values that are important? You know, to them, it was, you know, we had some crying sessions, it was some very deep things that came out. So that was important, you always think about some of the circles that have meaning. And you will always remember some of them, you know, that just stand out for you and the impact that it makes on other people and understanding restorative justice practices. And then of course, them coming back and telling you some of them that they're doing within their home. And they're having circles at home with their child. And with the family even getting dead to participate. What more can you ask for? You know, that was fat?

David (he/him)  
Right? And so like, I'm thinking in, in terms of like, you know, a school brings you in to, like, fix our kids, right? Or like, fix relationships with parents or like build capacity for restorative justice. Right? It's not just about like, the teaching the skills, right? It's actually about like having those experiences and those things take time. I think we're in a moment where a lot of people are looking for quick solutions, because the problems that we're facing are very urgent, right? And I don't think, like, I want to be generous to people and say that, you know, when people are looking for fast solutions, it's not because they don't want to put in the work. It's because like, there are just like, the easiest things, like, the perceived easiest thing to do, I guess there's this framing of nothing that's worth doing comes easy. And when we're talking about undoing generational trauma, right, a parent coming into a parent bringing their child to school where they've had traumatic experiences, like what does that child thinking when they come into school when they have negative messages about school that have been passed down? Even like not intentionally do their parents, right? So like sitting down, and having a conversation with parents, and not just the conversation like listening, right? And validating their voices, validating those experiences, like exactly changes how a child is going to be in the classroom changes how a parent is going to participate in their child's education with the dialogue batad with the teachers, I'm curious where we're school staff a part of those circles.

Vanessa McNorton  
Yes, there were some school staff circles, sometimes, with with the parents, with the parents, no, because of the timeframe where teachers were teaching at the time. So that's always one of the things in school where it's like, where is the time, so there were separate circles, with the teachers. And we did those, like with grade levels. And then parents had their time, like, mid day, when they had the most availability, because the teachers during the day had rigged, you know, demand. So we did the circles after school with them.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, I'm curious. Um, and I don't know the answer, because I know it looks different in every school circumstance. How do you then take the circle practices and that these people have had individually and then build relationships between staff and parents?

Vanessa McNorton  
Right. And that's the whole key. And that's the big issue with I mean, we have to have in home school, but everybody needs to be sitting in circle spaces within the school building. So even with professional development, there were several that we've done. Nehemiah treaty rising is has had several cycles, phases have occurred with professional developments, and we were able to sit with the school community and have several there, but again, we look, you know, in there were several circles that occurred with conversations. But you know, it's a tough, it's an administration issue too. So the administration definitely has to have the bite. And definitely has had the buy in to say, I know my security people, my lunch people, my, you know, my PE my art staff, my eighth grade teacher, you know, needs to be able to be in circle spaces together and give up that time. And that's the hard thing, because there's so many demands on school, you know, wasn't always weren't always able to have that happen. Yeah, like we would have wanted to, you know, so that's that heart piece that happens within the schools that exist right now, you know, in terms of having everybody in circle spaces together and taking the time to do RJ practices. With the whole school approach. It has to be that buy in, it has to be the buy in from everybody.

David (he/him)  
Yeah. And part of that buying is what is the time that you're going to allot for this? The people often don't think about, like, what are you going to not spend time doing? Because like you only have so many hours? I don't think there's a prescription for it. Right? A one size fits all thing. But for folks who are thinking about what does it take to do this within schools, within organizations within your communities, events, like, you know, we all have 24 hours in a day, and we're doing something with those hours and the time that we have, whether it's contract hours at school, work hours at work, or time and community meetings, how much of that are you dedicating to building relationships, so you can go you know, African proverb like, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go together, so we can make sure that one these movements these relationships. Last, speaking of restorative justice education, we have a free training the eight key concepts every educator must understand about restorative justice, available now. If you're looking to build community with other educators doing restorative justice work, you can join our mighty networks community group that meets twice a month facilitated by Deloitte and Stephanie, wrestling with how we implement restorative justice while working to dismantle oppressive systems in schools. And if you're an educator who wants to really go deep with your restorative practice, this summer, we're offering a restorative justice Summer Intensive for educators. It's a six week program, a mix of facilitated sessions live on Tuesdays starting on June 21, augmented by asynchronous learning lessons, and collaborative opportunities with educators across the country. Links to all of this can be found in the show notes. Now, back to the conversation. You know, you talked a little bit about the work that you did in Roseland with the young people there, you talked about, you know, the work that Nehemiah continues to do training, folks in restorative justice and circle practice. You know, how has restorative justice impacted your life personally?

Vanessa McNorton  
Sure, sure. So restorative justice definitely just doesn't stop with V two in the work, you know, in community during the day. So it's a way of life. And people are like, exactly what do you mean, it's a way of life. So it's a way that I communicate with my friends. And I, I have changed my mindset to be a deeper listener. You know, sometimes I was passive, I have to admit it, you know, you kind of listen, you kind of don't to people, I try to be a better listener. I restorative justice definitely has made me a better person looking at you know, really living my values that I truly believe in that really describe me, if I'm, you know, my best self, so I try to live be you know, not check myself when I don't do certain things, and trying to be kind and trying to be compassionate and trying to show empathy and have an empathetic listening ear and trying to, you know, really walk the walk and talk the talk. And being non judgmental when I meet somebody. So it is the way of life for me. Definitely, it is in Booth two, I am because we are in VR because I am so I really look at it. If one person is harmed in a community, everybody is harmed. You know, if I'm feeling within my circle, somebody feels harm, then we're all harmed. So we need to sit and talk or you know, just be silent. Once again, that silence that silence is powerful. Just be silent. And, you know, then definitely, of course, you know, have a have a conversation to get to the root of of what's happening. But I'm living RJ day to day and it's made definitely made me a better person.

David (he/him)  
You know, it's been how many years since you've been introduced to this work?

Vanessa McNorton  
Gosh, I'm thinking 10 Plus Yeah, so,

David (he/him)  
so decade plus is there. Like, if you think about, like, you know, 15 years ago, Vanessa, like, is there a situation that happened in your life recently that you would like, because, like, I have this way of being now, like I reacted this way, as opposed to what I would have done 15 years ago. And part of that is like, you know, just age wisdom experience, but like, specifically, with, like, restorative ways of being in mind,

Vanessa McNorton  
definitely, I like talking about, there's a group of seniors that I work with, I call them ageless beauties, you know, and I do service work with them. And it's not always easy, you know, it's not always easy, um, because sometimes, you know, you're, you're thought of as a young person, and I'm, like, I'm really, I got some, I got some wisdom here. I'm not a child, so but you got to be respectful. So I, you know, I, and I've learned that too, you know, working with, and being a good friend with mother Jew. And that has taught me wonderful patience, as well as with these other ageless ladies. And it just teaches me to be a deep listener, but still invoke voice, also to be kind and patient and to realize, you know, you're gonna be a senior to, you know, down the road. So how do you want to be treated? So again, you know, treating people as you want to be treated, and just, I really just walk those values, even when I'm doing service work, you know, and working with these agents, ladies, and working on a project where I might want to fume up and I'm, you know, upset. And I'm like, you know, they're not hearing me, or, you know, and I'm the one kind of guiding all of this and putting it together when we're doing a specific service project. But then I realize, you know, let me let me use a different tactic, which is a our che tactic, which is a way of life that we all should be using, I think, and that I try to hold true to. And that's by definitely, you know, being the person that is, is definitely deeply listening and listening to voice and not just jumping to a response. So I try to, I try to live that with my, my service group that I'm working with. And it has, you know, there were a couple of times when, you know, I was like, Oh, my gosh, this and that. And then, you know, the next meeting, you know, I prayed about it first. And then the next meeting, it was just like smooth sailing. And it was because I changed my tone and was reflected about reflective about invoking RJ practices within the group that

David (he/him)  
I was working with. Yeah, it's not just this thing that we do at work for professionally, right. It's, it's this way of life. It's his way of being. And like, you know, you have made this a part of your professional life professional work with with Nehemiah. We talked about, you know, y'all support communities, you support schools, you have monthly trainings, right, that happened right now on Zoom, last week in the month. But y'all have also been at the forefront of organizing the upcoming and ACR J National Association, National Association of Community and restorative justice conference happening in Chicago. This summer. Tell us about what's happening there.

Vanessa McNorton  
Wanted to talk about the gathering, you're calling the conference, the gathering, we voted on that part of the name. So just wanted to say it's going to be phenomenal. The dates are July 7, actually, the pre conference begins on the sixth. So it's the will include that definitely the sixth Ruby, actually, the ninth. So the pre conference is that Wednesday, it's going to be fabulous. There's full sessions and two half day sessions. And there's wonderful, wonderful pre conference activity that people definitely should attend. There's folks coming in to Chicago on that date or earlier, because, of course, the Fourth of July weekend ties into the conference. And then we definitely want Chicago and to come. We definitely want Chicagoans to come to the pre conference. And then we do have the the conference opening begins on the seventh. And there are plenary sessions that will have arts and entertainment right before the actual plenary where the speaker is the speakers will be speaking. We have speakers coming from out of the country from New Zealand and Rwanda. And definitely it's going to be fabulous. We have Bluetooth that's going to flow through our The conference and that I am because we are. And we are because I am. And then we have several. We're calling them breakout sessions that will flow throughout. So there's 25, flowing in and out. And that several breakout sessions flowing in and out of the conference throughout the actual gathering on Thursday and Friday. And then Friday, we will have Eddie cloud, who will be speaking, and he will be speaking as the lunch plenary speaker. And Eddie Glaude is known for being on MS in BC and is a strong advocate of restorative justice practices. And we do have the Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, that will be present. And speaking as well. She's a strong, strong advocate for restorative justice practices, that we are so excited, in tiptoe, anticipation, and peacock proud of this conference, we're excited that people will be able to get together and speak with each other and talk to each other. And that's going to occur on the day of reflection, which is the last day. So that is the that Saturday. And that's the day of reflection where we'll have reflective circles and World Cafe or the posting World Cafe where people will be able to share and talk. And then we will have power workshops, where people will have conversations about different topics that will be presented for during the conference at the at the end of that. And then we will have our closing with our guest speakers, Xavier Raimi, that we're very excited about the conference because we want restorative justice people on all levels of knowledge to be able to participate, folks can learn and folks that have been involved with restorative justice practices for years, will be able to obtain knowledge as well. And we have some fantastic workshops and breakout sessions that are going to occur during the conference. One of the other things we wanted to notice about the day away in the day away is where people will sign up to go into three different communities within the Chicago area that are doing restorative justice practices. So there will be a bus that will take people to the different communities. And we're excited about that, because that has never occurred at any of the conferences. And this is something that is very exciting. And it's something that we're highlighting as well. So we're very excited about that be. So definitely we're encouraging Chicagoland people, people from all over to attend a conference. And we're excited to welcome you to the restorative justice conference that is going to be held in Chicago.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, I am really excited to be back in Chicago. It's been, it'll be like three years since I left. And it'll be good to see people again, just in general, good to breathe Chicago air, see the lake at the trains all of that. But you know, there's so many great things, great connections that happen is I've been to the one in Denver in 2019. I've been to the one in Oakland and 2017. And there's always so many takeaways. I wanted to explore the breakouts and the day away a little bit more. I think there are a couple of separate tracks for the breakout sessions. Could you talk about what types of tracks that people can engage in with those breakouts?

Vanessa McNorton  
Sure. And I do have a handy sheet, I can make sure I don't forget any of them. But as I say that, you will too will run throughout. So that's considered kind of our track to but we have six others. So they are indigenous roots of RJ trauma and healing systems change, as well as radical peacemaking and change and faith in spirituality, as well as points of tension and innovation. So we have six of these wonderful tracks that are going to be placed in certain days. And people will be able to really sign up for workshops to according to the tracks that they're interested in, because we talked to several people in different walks of life, and areas that they are really interested in hearing about as they connect with restorative justice practices. So we have been very careful about selecting workshops that would have appealed to the the people that will be attending the restorative justice conference this

David (he/him)  
beautiful right so different tracks to engage in different communities to go out and learn from in Chicago. You're also, I don't know that you've mentioned this outside of like planned conference activities, workshops, stairways, they're also going to be self care and healing spaces set up for people to engage in, right?

Vanessa McNorton  
Yes, we have a wonderful wellness committee. Yes, and let's be, let's talk about what's happening the beginning of each day, we're having wellness activities from six 8am, to 7:45am, where people are going to be able to get involved in yoga and meditation, and other activities just to start their day. So what a way to do that on the lakefront, and just by the stillness of water, and inside the actual convention center, what we're excited about too, is that where we're located with our convention center, it's on the east side. So the east side is right near the lake. So we have a terrace area to where activities can be held in terms of wellness activities. So that's very exciting. And within the conference, they're going to actually have a cart, that will be like a wellness card, and they'll have different items for people to take and use throughout the conference, take what they need. And then they're planning different wellness, wellness activities for people to partake in. So that's all going to be you know, it's all absolutely wonderful, because it's this time in our lives with things that are happening in the world. And especially with us being in pandemic and our conference being rescheduled, we definitely wanted to make sure that the wellness area is a strong area within the conference, as well as all the other activities that are going on and breakouts and things of that nature. But we definitely wanted to make sure that we are doing self care, and practicing self care and letting the folks know how important it is. And then we want to make sure that it is available to them. We're excited, we're working hard to make sure it's successful. And we're going to be glad that people will be coming. And one of the things that we always talk about how ora had mentioned, she wanted to make sure there was time for people to actually talk to each other, to reflect with each other to talk to each other, not just go from one workshop to the other but Bond and talk. So we are being purposeful about making sure that that happens, where folks can converse and talk to each other

David (he/him)  
well links to sign up and get involved with either both Nehemiah and the conference will be in the show notes. But now it's time for the questions that everybody answers. So in your own words, define restorative justice.

Vanessa McNorton  
Yeah, restorative justice definitely is about is a way of life. And it is about being I cannot say this. Enough about being in right relationship with each other. So that is that is our RJ to nutshell.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, thank you. You've been doing this work of restorative justice for you know, 10 plus years as you've been going through it, like what's been an oh, shit moment, or like a moment you made a mistake? And what did you learn from it?

Vanessa McNorton  
I think sometimes you go by a script, and you are just like, because I'm very like that. That's my bank management mindset, as well as administer administrator mindset, where I'm like, Okay, I gotta follow this script, I gotta follow it. ABCDE and realizing that you just kind of go with the flow, when you're in circle space, you do have a script to follow. But you do go the way of the spirit. The circle, I might have mentioned this before the circle does what it does. So sometimes you have to just, you know, go according to what happens in space. And I think my, I haven't had any really big aha was, I think, you know, with people getting emotional, and, and how to handle that, you know, when I was a brand spanking new, it was kind of like, okay, so what do we do now? And then now that I'm a little bit more knowledgeable, I, you know, I understand the significance, of course, having that Kochi, and then, you know, and just keeping the circle going, but still attending to the needs of somebody that is crying out, you know, so I, that has been a big aha, with that, and, and trying to meet those needs of, you know, of both parties. So, that probably is that biggest aha that's occurred where I had to say, okay, you know, we, what do we do here, you know, how do we do this and just be an observer in the beginning to the process and use my own instincts, you know, I'm like, I'm a smart chick, I can figure this out. So using your own instincts without saying, Hey, I gotta rely on this, that has been extremely helpful to me, you know, and changed my whole big. Yeah, in the way I act, you know, and the way I weigh I'm being within space. And I love training, because, you know, within Nehemiah, we always talk about recreating an avalanche of people. So that have a passion for restorative justice work. So I love during the trainings because more people are becoming knowledgeable, and then they can, you know, multiply and do more work within community or within their family. So my gosh, how powerful is that? You know, because some, you know, it's kind of a buzzword, RJ is a buzzword to some people. They're like, Yeah, I heard of it. And they don't really understand what it is. So it's phenomenal to educate people, and to see the power of it, and to really understand that there's deep emotions that occur in the circle. But there's also we can have fun, we could giggle, you know, we can enjoy each other and laugh. So yeah, yeah. So that's how

David (he/him)  
there's like, more lessons in there. And if you missed them, go back and rewind. Because I think a lot like with amplify RJ like, you know what, as you were talking, I, like you sparked something in me. And so like that last piece, I was, like, you know, a little bit of passively listening, because like, my mind just went to this place of like, you know, what does that avalanche look like? What does it look like, to continue to build that movement of, in the life of amplify RJ right, but also bigger? Because, like, on one end? Like it is like that knowledge that people people just need knowledge. But it's also like, how do we build communities where people can practice these ways of being right? Because it's not just like, hey, this thing that we do, when we're in XYZ circumstances like this with me. So I'm gonna have to go back and like, rewind with the rest of you get the rest of those gems in there. But thank you so much.

Vanessa McNorton  
It's your excuse. Yeah, it's so because, you know, even once some of our folks take the trainee, it's like, okay, what do you do now, and we accompany people. So that's one of the positive things about one of the several positive things about me and my attorney Rhys, and where, you know, once folks go through the four day training, we don't just leave you to figure it out, we'll help you with your script or plan. We'll help you develop it and, you know, help you figure out what you want to do the who, what, where, how and when, and will journey with you, you know, instead of just, you know, say, Okay, this is it. You know, you go ahead and do your circle, figure it out. You know, if if there's a need for us to Kochi sit in a circle, we do that as well. Yeah,

David (he/him)  
yeah. You get to sit in circle with four people living or dead. Who are they? And what is the one question you asked the circle

Vanessa McNorton  
for people living or dead? I will sit in circle with definitely with Martin Luther King, Jr. Um, I was sitting circle with my grandmother. I would sit in circle with you said for is that including myself? No, no. I Bucha was, so my grandmother, my Martin Luther King Jr. I would sit with living or dead I would sit with Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. and I would sit with my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Harrison, who taught me about taught me deeply. My parents taught me about black history. But Mrs. Harrison, I mean, she went there was black history. And we were reading from the book called Black voices. And I learned so much about so many poets, Langston Hughes it you know, so many other poets deeply. We did all kinds of Act, and so it would be her. All in a nutshell, it would be Mrs. Harris, seventh grade teacher. And you said the question that I would ask my first question, who are you? That's what? Yeah.

David (he/him)  
Sometimes on the podcast, we flipped this question on the guest. But you've already answered you, are you so we don't get to do that. I can't flip that on you. Killing me. It's okay. Totally. And finally, how can people support you your work in the ways that you want to be so boarded. I

Vanessa McNorton  
think, well, definitely learning about RJ and definitely going through trainings. So they deeply understand what restorative justice is, you know, if you go through a four day training, David, as you and I know, you're not an expert, you know, you're not like, you know, getting the big confirmation that, you know, restorative justice, but at least if people go through trainings, and then bring it back, you know, and figure out how to use it with a community within family that's supporting restorative justice, you know, I was supporting me means you're supporting the work that I do, you know, as RJ practitioners, so learning about restorative justice and learning how powerful it is, and how it can be used to change people. And we're talking about advocacy, you know, all different walks of life, in terms of advocacy, advocacy, advocacy, work, and trainings and seminars, and community work that we do. So that would be to me the best way to support it to be engaged learning, and understanding and questioning, you know, asking questions about it, and how can it work? And how can I apply it, but people creating an avalanche within their pockets based on what they learn, you know, and being in community being reflective about how they behave and how they act and the words that they use? And if they're giving voice in life to people? You know, that that supports me based on supporting restorative justice.

David (he/him)  
Yeah. And, you know, Nehemiah offers those trainings, there are other places where you can go there also lots of people to learn from at the upcoming and ACR J conference. And again, all the links for those things will be in the show notes. Vanessa, thank you so much for sharing your time, your wisdom, your stories, anything else you wanna leave the people with?

Vanessa McNorton  
You know what I mean? RJ rocks, please learn about it. Please ask questions about it. Please attend our conference that's going to be in Chicago in July, we want to see you there. We want you to be a part of RJ communities love to have you within our space for you to learn as well. So thank you so much. I just love being in the space and, and having had the opportunity to speak to everyone. So thank you so much.

David (he/him)  
All right, y'all hope to see you very soon. I mean, I will be seeing you very soon. But everyone else, you know, we'll be back with another great conversation with a restorative justice practitioner next week. Until then, take care

Transcribed by https://otter.ai