This Restorative Justice Life

90. Ancestors in Training w/ Veronica Agard

August 04, 2022 David Ryan Castro-Harris Season 2 Episode 26
This Restorative Justice Life
90. Ancestors in Training w/ Veronica Agard
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Veronica Agard (she/her) is a writer, educator and connector at the intersections of Black identity, wellness, representation, and culture. She experiments with creative healing modalities and puts theories learned into practice. She curated the Who Heals the Healer series and the conference of the same name and facilitates the Ancestors in Training educational project. Her initiatives are housed in her freelance platform, Vera Icon LLC.

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

Veronica Agard (she/her): I am a daughter of the diaspora. I am a friend confidant, somebody who walks with their ancestors anytime they enter a room.

David (he/him): Who are you?

Veronica Agard (she/her): Someone who's guided by the personifications of nature, students of many mystery. An ancestor in training,

David (he/him): Who are you?

Veronica Agard (she/her): someone who still plays the Sims and is in the comic book, a junior record collector, someone who could be many other things if they wanted to. But I'm glad that I show up in the world,

David (he/him): Who are you?

Veronica Agard (she/her): someone who believes in the phrase, if you are the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

David (he/him): Who are you?

Veronica Agard (she/her): A writer, a reluctant poet, a community resource community educator,

David (he/him): Who are.

Veronica Agard (she/her): constellation of my benevolent ancestors, somebody who seeks to amplify the voices of those who walk with them. A guest on Lenny Lenapi land for their whole life.

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

Veronica Agard (she/her): My late grandmother's name sake.

David (he/him): Beautiful. Well, thank you, Veronica so much for sharing all of those intersections of who you are. We'll be back with our full conversation right after this. 

 Welcome back everyone. It is so good to be with you, Veronica. If you're someone who listens to this podcast weekly last week we aired our live episode at the NACRJ conference. We had so many folks come and witnessed the conversation between me and, and a handful of folks.

And Veronica was an attendance and we talked after was like, yo, we gotta get you on the pod. And so here we are later in the month chopping it up. Thanks for rescheduling after you know, I was dealing with COVID but it's always good to check in at the beginning of these conversations. So the fullest extent that you want to answer the question in this moment, how are you?

Veronica Agard (she/her): am. Doing pretty good. I am on the, the other end of what it feels like to get my, what is this? My second booster shot. So every time I get the shot, it's some other different reaction. So what I'm learning right now is how to continue to listen to my body and move at the speed in which my body communicates like, Nope, go lay down or like try again, or like do a spin around the block, go buy another plant refresher alter, and then go do something else and try and do find ways to the beauty of these times means that we can, you know, check in or work remotely.

But the challenge with that is I'm finding with my eyes. So I tend to, for whatever amount of time that I'm looking at a screen, I try to offset that by looking at something else. So that's how I'm feeling today. More in tune with my body and trying to move at the speed in which she dictates that I can move as opposed to my wishful thinking.

David (he/him): No, that's so beautiful. Even before the pandemic, I was very aware that, you know, so much of my existence was staring at a glowing rectangle, right. For connection reasons, for work reasons, for entertainment reasons. And that is not how humans were meant to spend their time. And, you know, I'm curious, you talked about a couple of the practices, but you know, what are some of the things that you do to engage your body more?

Veronica Agard (she/her): Yeah. So the being a Sattari means that the stereotype of knowing where the party is is, is correct. Now, whether I'm going to it as a whole other. And I am very fortunate. And this is, this is a bit of a love language because my father in his younger days was a DJ. I would argue he still is. And one of the ways that I tap into that is by, or at least tapping into my body is by following my DJ friends, like, okay, cool.

You're playing near my house. Okay, cool. I can come here. It's as safely, as I possibly can be in all the ways in which I, as a black woman need to consider my safety. There's a reason why I only go to certain sets of friends that are playing. So obviously I'm talking about dancing and moving my body.

Making playlists is also another way that I can create different moods, right? So like, if I want to be like, when I have winter blues and I wish that it was warmer, I have a very tropical, like back to the future kind of playlist that I'll listen to. But. If it's not movement in the sense of what I can actually do.

Sometimes just listening to the playlists that remind me of the different movement practices that I've used in the past that are always in my toolkit, no matter what the world is doing. So for example, if I really want to listen to something more meditative, then I have a playlist for that. But if I really want to zone out, this is actually this is gonna make some people laugh when they listen to this.

One of the ways in which I can mentally detach from the world at times is to listen to God music because I used to 20, 22 once upon a time, about six years ago, I used to train very heavily. And then a series of events meant that I did not train anymore. However, I still listen to the playlists and I still listen to the music.

So hearing a beer and bow actually is very calming for me because when I trained in it. One of the things I learned very quickly is that you have to be out of your head. Like you cannot be in your head and like trying to Dodge somebody's kick. Like that's how you get kicked in the face and in up where if you, if you get hit by the person that you're playing with, it's your fault because you weren't paying attention to that person's body and their, what they were communicating with them.

What they were communicating with their body. So for me, even though I haven't, and especially, I don't know how people train it up, where in COVID times, I still have not figured that out, but it's still it's still very soothing to me to listen to it.

David (he/him): Yeah for the uneducated. And I count myself among those. What is a beer and bow?

Veronica Agard (she/her): A beer and bow is the it's a pretty tall string instrument that has wood that's bent and then there's a string on it. And basically it creates tension. And then you can take like either a coin or something else, and you flick the coin on the, the string kind of like any other string based instrument.

And it creates a different sound. And depending on how tall the beer bow is, are short, it makes a different sound. And how like there's there's levels to this. I never unlock a level of like learning how to play. I was just, you know, I was learning how to, you know, do it mayor Lua and not, you know, and land the right way.

And AME Lua is what we would call a Cartwheel. And one of the things is like, you have to spread out your hands flat on the ground. Otherwise, like you're, you're likely to break something because where you're not using any weight, you're not using anything you're using your own body as a counterweight to be able to sway, to move into.

Be in conversation with not just the person you're playing with, but what the, what the beer and bow is communicating because there's different types of Capella there's which is what I was training in. And then there's Angola. And then I believe there's another, there's another kind. It might just be traditional there's three.

The one that I trained in was so that way I could know how to play with the other two. It was more in the middle and by in the middle, it was communicating that it's in the middle speed wise. So ware Angola is very slow and it's very to the ground, but then what we were playing was more upright. So the long and the short of that is the beer and bow dictates the speed.

It's basically whoever holds that or whoever is the lead in the sound section is the one that's dictating. How fast you're supposed to go or not, depending on who you're playing with.

David (he/him): Yeah, this brings up a couple things for me. Speaking about the N a C R J and thinking about like all the sessions that were going on, I'm thinking deeply oh, this just like brought up like my friend beta's session he did on the application to.

From Kae to restorative justice and I'm like, oh, we've gotta get him on the podcast. And so, so thank you for bringing that in and for everybody else listening, stay tuned for that conversation on a future episode. 

 We talk about restorative justice and we were at this conference. You've been doing this work that we call restorative justice for a long time now. But also in ways that like don't necessarily flow with the words, restorative justice in your own words, how did this get started for you?

Veronica Agard (she/her): Yeah, so, geez. Okay. So I've lived in New York city for 2022. I've lived here for 12 years now. I started my journey and I, I started this by talking about my late grandmother. So this is about to weave all of that back, but I attended city college of New York in the CUNY system, which is our local public higher education system here.

Studied international studies, culture and communication history, which is a lot of words to say that I was learning how to show up in the world and how to hold space and had professors. Would make a point to have a sitin circle as opposed to, you know, another power dynamic or configuration that communicated that they had power in the space and you know, that we weren't necessarily an active part.

So Sodo to Dr. Garel Rodriguez Solomon for that experience in the class called transnational feminism, which if I'm not mistaken, she still teaches it question mark exclamation point. But it I took that class in fall 2012, and that was the first full year after my grandmother had passed away.

She passed away due to early onset Alzheimer's and dementia. Oddly enough, her death certificate, didn't say that it just said failure to thrive. That's important for later. And one of the things that I learned from how Dr. G as a lot of us call her facilitated our learning around different feminisms and especially back then, because asking people's pronouns was not a thing.

It really wasn't. And like, and if it was, you had to be in the right class and you had to be unlearning gender in the first place. So I think one of the ways in which I got started was by being fortunate enough to like, not only go to academia, but to graduate within a four year span, right? Like that's one point of privilege.

But the other side of it is in terms of how I got started from that class. Some folks I was in that class with, and other people who had taken a previous semester of the class, started something called the sister circle, collective. Which ran from 2012 until 2017. So it ran for five years. And at first our goal was to take some of the knowledges and some of the teachings like around like bell hooks and Audrey Lord, like all of the scholars and bring them outside of the class, not just for the people who, you know, they signed up late, but for people who were in the neighborhood of Harlem or Washington Heights, but did not go to city college for whatever reason.

And then as we grew, we realized that there were a lot of folks who needed circle and they needed venting spaces. And also that was at a time where within movement culture here in New York city, this is, you know this is the same flash point when Eric Garner was killed by the N Y P D. Right? So there was a whole political wave.

There was a generation of folks who were being politicized in that regard. And they used to discredit the value of what we were doing. Like they just thought that it was just like a bunch of women and fems, like sitting around in a circle, you know, like all the, you know, all the witchcraft memes and just thinking about it, of like, oh yeah, that's not really doing anything or whatever.

And then we realized very quickly that there were a lot of fellow survivors in the room who were surviving things in real time. And I think that was around the era when I first started to even hear the combination of words, restored justice or conflict transformation or conflict resolution or all the, all the other J's as I called them, because I was trying to find language for the feeling of, you know, I'm not necessarily worried with all due respect.

I'm not worried about the cops, not. Like I have an expectation of how they're gonna move because of how all the things, right. I'm more worried about the people that I'm supposedly in community with that I'm supposedly in movement with that are fellow PAC folks, but they're harming people and there's no mechanism for change.

And when I say harm, I mean any kind of harm, right? So whether it's just using them just for movement stuff and not necessarily, cuz like there's, that's a whole rabbit hole. I don't want to go down, but within sister circle collective, what we stuck to was trying to center healing as a part of our way of showing up in movement spaces.

And then eventually all of us who were steering that work. And it was a horizontal horizontally led project by that we mean there was no. There was no vertical hierarchy. We were all in a steering committee kind of lane. And what happened was we ended up not necessarily being able to figure out a way forward.

So some folks went on to no, not some, all of us went on to do our respective things and the things we brought to the table. We were just able to focus on that individually and me focusing on, oh, how I wanted to show up within healing and wellness turned into what we now call ancestors and training as a project.

David (he/him): I want to go back to, you know, those classes with professor G. Right. What was it about that model of teaching that made you feel, oh yeah, this is it. Or like, I want more of this.

Veronica Agard (she/her): The days when whoever used her classroom before her would lead the room, you know, scattered like the desks and the chairs would be all over the place. So if you showed up the class early, one of your things was that you had to help, right. Not had to, but like eventually after a certain point, you already knew what the vibe was gonna be.

So you wanted to help reset the room or set the room for the day. And there would be some days where it would just be like, life was lifeing and we'd all just kind of be like, yeah, like, what is, what's the point of anything right now? But so I really have to say like the first, that was the first time that I had experienced, like what circle keeping.

Without it actually being like, this is circle keeping like, hello, like here's the whole, it started here, it started here, it started here. And I was like, no, like that's just the standard, that's the floor. Right. So that way we can see each other and like, we can actually get to know each other's names and like, understand like who's speaking and like or even community guidelines, right.

Like step up, step back. Like I'm, I'm clearly a wordy person. So I, after a certain point in class would kind of be, you know, politely told like, all right, Veronica, like let somebody else speak. Right. Not in a bad way, just like, that's just, that's just me as a academic, like professor that was that the same professors would be like, Veronica.

You're good. Like, like, but I'm trying to think what also was also to see Dr. G as a, like a Afro Latina, like in that position to. To share a knowledge with us. Like I always said to myself back then that if I was ever a professor, I would want to be like how she was, because she's was almost like almost near peer.

And I also think after a certain point, like we would have certain flexibility within the class so we could choose some of our adventure. Right? Like there were some parts that she was like, no, I have to do this because you know, This is an institution. This is where we are, but the other parts of it, she would say like, okay, like here's something that's happening in the world that's really relevant to this text that I need you to read for next week. Like, let's talk about it or let's just talk about something or also just asking us how we were feeling or what the text brought up for us. Trying to think. Yeah, I can't believe that was 10 years ago. I probably still have notes somewhere.

Cuz the writer in me always keeps, if you ever give me a notebook, I will always have it. Now whether I have it in this apartment, probably not, cuz I don't want to even count how many times I've moved since then that's a tragedy. But it was the way that she held space for us and how she brought her whole self into that space at a time where, you know, unfortunately they were, and this still happens like for BIPOC folks who are in professor positions they are not treated well at all by these institutions, but then they end up being the, the soul of whatever program or whatever department or class.

And they're the ones that get talked about 10 years later.

David (he/him): Yeah. The, the ability to Be seen and heard right. Is different than one. Just being lectured at like awesome knowledge that you're maybe getting from a professor who knows a lot. It reminds me a lot of, you know, just to plug the episode that we did with professor Daniel Rhodes who I think this episode aired early July talking about like the pedagogy of, of circle practice in specifically higher education him being a social work professor but like the ability for the students to turn to each other and learn from each other.

Right. See as, as teachers, as well as like, you know, of course there's texts that you have to read because like it's a class

Veronica Agard (she/her): right. There's stuff you gotta do in order to get the grade that you want. Like, that's just, that's just the way that it goes.

David (he/him): but there is a way to. It's so much more community driven and allows students to make connections for themselves. When they're doing those work, you took that feeling of being in class and with your, your comrades, like brought that to, to other community spaces. And I'm curious, like, you know, some people are just like, oh, this is great.

I, I love this beautiful cool. Moving on. But like, what was, what was the thing for you that was like, oh, no people in my community need this too.

Veronica Agard (she/her): People kept showing up. That's like my standard, like in all of the ways in which I show up in the world or hold space, if people keep showing up or ask when the next one is, that is an indication to keep going.

So I learned that from that era of like, okay, so we're, and this is about as DIY as it could get, we would either a rotate, one of our apartments or B like somebody in community would let us borrow their space. Cause again, like there's no budget, there's no, you know, there's no grant, at least at the time, there's no grant for that kind of stuff.

And then eventually we were able to get some, some limited funds to be able to. Offer free workshops, because eventually what would happen is we would host venting circles and healing circles. But then we were like, okay, what happens if we bring people who have skills and we offer space and time to those people to share their skills with people who may need to know or don't need, or don't know that they need to know how to make their own, you know bug spray that doesn't have harmful chemicals in it, or like a healing through writing experience led by somebody who's a poet, right?

Like there were summer series that we used to do with limited funding to be able to expand not only the type of work that we did, but actually to be active within our sense of community. And at the time that was. Especially because most of us lived in the radius of city college, because even after we all graduated, most of us still lived over there.

So it was easy for us to facilitate and do work up there. But then when we we started getting a reputation, which is good, that meant that we had to mentor out and be in collaboration with other collectives and other communities. And I think that that was I'll speak for me, that kind of branching out was helpful because then when it became questions of like, what does it even mean to live in Brooklyn?

I have lived in Harlem for seven years. My father, when he immigrated from Guyano St. Kits and Barbados landed in Harlem. So Harlem is very dear to me. And I didn't really want to leave. And then somebody was like, no, you know, Brooklyn is cool. Like, there's this space over here? There's these people over here, like Veronica would like this.

Like there were ways in which The community that we had built, supported that transition. And I've been in Brooklyn ever since. So I clearly, I mean, I clearly like it, even though I'm a reluctant like Brooklyn person now, it's like, I've been here for 20 17, 20 years, five years. Eventually my ratio of like how long I've lived in Brooklyn versus how long I've lived in Harlem is gonna cancel each other out.

So we'll see how that goes.

David (he/him): You talked about how sister circle doesn't exist in the same way that does people have moved on to do the things one of the things that I like to think about a lot in this work is that like our initiatives, our projects don't always have to be like these long lasting institutions

Veronica Agard (she/her): not at. Like it doesn't have to be institutional lives because we never, we had that internal conversation of like, okay, if we become a 5 0 1 C three, we could unlock a lot of funding, but do we really want the government in our business like that? This is before we figured out what LLCs were. And like also there were a lot of cost.

There's a lot not worth. There are a lot of cost barriers to folks who want to do this kind of work and wanna show up in community, but they either have to do GoFundMe. I'm like one of the things that I've written about a lot is how so many people that I know. And even from the era, when I first wrote it in 2017, our di wanting to survive and literally making these spaces, because they know that like, that is the space for somebody and that somebody needed that space, you know, for whatever purpose that they did.

Because they knew that they either couldn't find it somewhere else or B they couldn't afford it somewhere. So I think one of the ways in which I try to think that through is like we could have done certain steps or we could have taken certain paths and that might have been cool, but it wouldn't, it wouldn't take away from the need that we had towards the end for us to sense that.

Right. And when I say that, I mean like, okay, like we had a very good run as a person who, you know, is the, the techy oriented one, like making sure that the website still exists. So that way people can look at it and like view it as a archive of like, this is what we did. This is a living. Cause depending on how you look at it, a lot of us are living archive.

Not a lot of us. We all are living archives of those who came before us. Right. So especially when you're doing such vulnerable work from a place of. Being invested in people's healing. Like it didn't feel right to , not pay for the domain still doesn't feel right. Like to this day, I'm like, nah, I don't think I'll ever take it down.

David (he/him): What you were doing was being responsive to the needs of your community, right? And there's no, there's nothing that says like, Hey, this circle space has to continue to exist for in perpetuity. Right. If it is not in line with like the needs of one, the people who are benefiting it, but also like the people who are like contributing to, to making it happen.

And I think oftentimes like in, in organizing spaces, and I think like in general, people get so attached to these ideas of

Veronica Agard (she/her): Mm-hmm

David (he/him): Hey, like this thing was there for me, this thing is something that I should continue to benefit from. This is thing that should continue to exist because it did X, Y, Z for me in this time space.

And I'm curious, like from the people, not the people who were in quote unquote leadership, but like from the people who were participating in coming into those spaces, like, what has the impact of the, the sunset of this been on them? Like where have they gone from, from here, if you know,

Veronica Agard (she/her): woo. That's a, that's a, if I know question some folks who were steering that work, I'm still in community with some folks who used to attend. I feel like I kind know, and I'm kind of in community, but that sound effect is because a lot of the folks that I. Actually, I can say it like this. A lot of the folks that I met towards the end, I am very much like still in community with, or have been able to collaborate with.

So one of the people that comes to mind as I made that pivot of like, no there's people from that era of my life, that I am very much still in community with like my my friend Shire share. They go by at Shirac NYC on the internet streets and they were also a part of a collective at the time.

And they too have since like moved on to doing, you know, their own individual work. So, you know, Shira and I kind of clicked around like, yeah, we just went through the same experience. Like we knew who we were in this constellation of people. And now we're in a space where we get to completely either a like flip the table, start all over or.

Don't flip the table over build, or like put something new on there. So a lot of what got generated in that sunset were things that I, cuz I believe in this wholeheartedly, like you have to make room for things, right? Like you have to make room for blessings. Like it's not enough for you to pray or do whatever at your alter respectfully without actually letting go of some things.

So now in hindsight, and again, I couldn't, it's one of those things you can't see it until you're well path it, I really thought that I was gonna be doing that kind of work for a while. But then I realized that I'm still doing that work of like holding space where people are just it's in a different way.

And right now it's more, it's more ancestor and spirit led than anything else. And I move with and that's a whole other conversation. I move with seasons. I go by, what's keeping me up at night. In terms of like holding space for it. So I can't really, the internet is a funny place because I can't really answer that without going into the archives or like, without thinking about, and naming specifically like people who are still my friends from that era of my life.

But then the other part of me is like, I, I really aspire for in general for people to be able to find whatever sense of community that they need to find. So I believe that folks who were a part of that era have moved on in ways that they needed to for their own healing journey. But I can't speak on, I can't speak on a lot of that, to be honest. And it's not because I don't want to it's just because like, after a certain point, our reach was pretty high. So I don't know. And I was like pre, pre Instagram algorithm foolishness. Right. And like, we, we, we almost didn't have an Instagram because I was like like who, like, what's what to distribution of labor with that, cuz this just ends up being me like, so like I was very much like,, like there's certain things and this is a circle keeping practice that I still do. There's certain things that are only for the people that are in the room. Not everything needs to live in the internet

David (he/him): People will be okay. People will find their spaces. Like you have to make room for, for the growth which you named. And like that's growth for them as individuals, but like also like making room for the next thing for you. Speaking to like the internet ness of this all you, you did mention ancestors in training, which has taken on lots of different forms.

I encountered it as an Instagram account when I was initially. Exploring this idea of like future ancestors a as, as a concept to organize, not just like restorative, the restorative justice work of amplify RJ, but in many ways like this wor the words restorative justice are so limiting to like what this work actually is.

And I think like the words, restorative justice are fine, beautiful and useful for folks who are doing work in lots of different sectors, whether it's in school, the criminal legal system, bringing it into the workplace. And I do that. But what we're really talking about is living into our ancestral values and these ways of being in, when you log onto ancestors and training.org, right.

This idea of like seven generations, it is key there. I'm curious, like without now, I think I'm just gonna ask you to like, tell the story of like gen Genesis of like ancestors and training as a concept and like the different evolutions of what that has been over the past few years.

Veronica Agard (she/her): Okay. So in the. In the, in the Twilight and the sunset of sister circle collective, I, the writer in me started to dig into different texts and different things that I found interesting because I had capacity for it. At that time also like Shiro was getting ready to organize a conference called the Aspers in the Bronx.

And one of the things that they asked me, they were like, I would love for you to do like some kind of healing experience, like healing through writing, cuz like that's, that's my jam, but also like to figure out a frame for it, but I didn't necessarily have a frame at the time. And I, it was one of those, like it kept me up at night kind of things because I was reading a book by yay.

Yay. Lu Satish. Who has a book called Jim Belia. This phrase that I'm about to quote is not from that book, but every time somebody asks me this, I'm like, Nope, she flowers for the living. She gets all of the praise. She has a quote that says we are the ancestors of the future. And what we do now will have an impact. And that found me in the, the, of the idea that I had in my mind of how I was gonna show up in the world. Not anything else. Again, the, the ideas that I had of like, okay, I don't know what to do, or I don't know how to show up, or like, what does it mean for me to hold space just as me and not necessarily as a collective body of people.

And what happens when, you know, you go from mourning that to being like, oh wait, like I can, there's a freedom here. Right? Like I can move in a way that I hadn't necessarily been able to move. Before, and I can move at my own pace and my own timing. So after that I Googled ancestors and training.

 I realized that there weren't necessarily a lot of people talking about it, the way that I wanted to talk about it. And especially to your point about socials and, you know, trying to see who's doing what, like, I wish people did that more. I wish people, when they had an idea or they had a concept or they had something that they just took a look around to see like who's doing what and how they can literally be in community with people over, you know, some kind of competition based type thing.

So I really rooted ancestors and training that first round in December, 2017 at that conference. By asking questions that I wished I could have asked my grandmother or things that I like, you know, especially because her memory started to go towards the end, like, like what names on the tree did she have?

Like what things were gone, like whole other separate podcast episode on what happened to, or did not happen to my grandfather? Right? So like there's a whole, there's so many different levels of like trauma and the lack of potential for healing that happened in her transition that I started to develop writing prompts that were things that I wished I could have asked her. And then eventually I started asking my grandmother, who's still living. And I started really, really building out my family tree cuz. I've had ancestry as an account, and this is not a plug. I've had an ancestry.com account since 2009. Like I've been trying to be the one to be like, okay, so where, so what was, what was this person's actual name?

Not their nickname. And where were they born? What about the, I've been that one on both sides of my tree. And what ended up happening was after a certain point, I realized that there was a difference between how well, first of all, as a person who is descended from slave enslaved Africans on both sides, there is only but so far that you can go. But I had this in my spirit to be like, okay, I, I wanna know just cuz one I'm nosy, but also two, like I wanna be able to say with authority, like, okay, like these are where my people are from. Like, these are where my people are buried. Right. And if, I don't know, like maybe there's another. Thread that I can pull to find out more or like maybe there's questions that I can ask my dad that will help him recall a memory about his grandmother that ended up being like crucial to this whole question of like, you know, where do you come from?

Because a part of a veneration overall, as a practice, as a religion for some folks including myself, depending on where you fall in that spectrum, you have to know where you've come from in order to know where you're going.

David (he/him): Mm.

Veronica Agard (she/her): Right. And like, within that practice for me, I learned even then I'm like through the writing questions, because all of the prompts that live on Instagram have ever been asked in a circle ever are things that I've asked myself.

So not just like what is it, the higher ordered thinking of like, okay, I wish I could have asked my grandmother this. Okay. But now I'm gonna ask my grandmother. Who's still alive. And then now I'm gonna make sure that I ask myself this, that way I'm in integrity within this concept and this practice of like holding space for people to think about what it really means to understand that their time is finite, not from a place that's root and fear, not, not fear based, but one that's more generative and a open Palm.

That's like, okay, so cool. Since we have this time, like, what are we gonna do with it? And then learning and listening to, and reading and going down the rabbit hole of like a traditions and like the different types of medicine that are out there and the indigenous folks to these so called Americas, right.

That are thinking through like, what does it mean to look through the lens of doing whatever work that you do with the seventh generation in your line engine mind? So that's how that started. And it was mainly, you know, me holding circles for people in real life. Again, a circle like telling people like yo bring a notebook and a open heart yelling on the yelling on the internet.

Pre-Instagram, you know, not being just a photo based app anymore. What a time, but and then holding space for people and like doing things seasonally. And then I was able to teach it to youth sad, NA stateship project here in Brooklyn which is an organization that services high school age youth, primarily young women and fem that has expanded since to include gender nonconforming folks and ages. The youth are. So like, I got it, like, okay, this concept is amazing. One of the things that I've learned is like, at times it's hard to explain it to near peers or elders, but youth are like, yo, I get it. And like, then I go down like a Disney rabbit hole of like, yeah. So clearly the black Panther has some ancestral culture going on in it, like the entire time, like, let's talk about it or like Moana and like Coco, which makes me cry every single time I watch it.

And like, thinking about the ways in which ancestral veneration does show up in popular culture and media, or does not. And like, what does it mean when certain traditions get depicted one way and certain traditions that are not that far off or like are cousins get depicted in a more negative light?

So I'm thinking about, you know, how. With all respect to the hive. I don't want the hive to come after me. I am a reluctant member of the hive. I'm more a Navy girl of Rihanna, but I remember when lemonade dropped and everyone was like, oh my God. Like, oh my God. Like, yeah. And like all the visuals to UNE and all the things.

And everyone was like, oh, she a child of full shoot. Oh my God. She has to be like that entire loop on the internet. But then also understanding that there were people who were like, oh yeah, I'm gonna learn about this. Aha, da, da. And then in the same breath, be like, oh, but not that voodoo stuff. Like not what Haitians do.

, like you can't, you can't talk trash about one tradition and then big up its cousin. You could totally do that, but I'm gonna have a lot of questions. .

David (he/him): And like everybody approaches, you know, reclamation of ancestry in different ways. And we are limited by in this land that we call the United States one, our education two, like even like knowing to go look for certain things.

I remember very clearly in the, at the 2017 NA C RJ conference, when I, I talked to FAIA Davis at towards the end of the conference about like, you know, like as a black person, as a Filipino person. None of my one, like I only have living grandfathers right now and I don't have incredibly close relationships with either of them.

And when I think about like connecting to ancestral path, like so much of that is like, there are, there are lots of like structural blocks to that. One like the, the nature of the interpersonal relationships, two, like Christianity two us imperialism and militar. Right,

Veronica Agard (she/her): on everybody.

David (he/him): right. And like, so like where do I go is what I was asking here.

And she was like, well, no, you just have to pray to your ancestors. and like those, those people will, will find you. And you know, you're not just thinking about like ancestors who are directly in your lineage, as important as that is. But there are lots of other ways that you can connect to these practices.

And sometimes it's a Google search right. Like, like you were saying earlier, sometimes it is a Google search where you know, thinking about like, you know indigenous Filipino traditions. Right. And like figuring that

Veronica Agard (she/her): because y'all have them.

David (he/him): Right. But what that led me to was this tattoo shop called spiritual journey tattoo.

Like not that far away from where I live now and like these folks you know, who are there building this tribe called mark of the four waves and the four waves of like immigration in the Philippines from Negritos on, into like Spanish and Spanish colonialism and like American imperialism and like.

Reviving our ancestral ways through our, our tattoo traditions and storytelling and all of that. But like, there are myriad ways that people are reviving these these ancestral practices that like any of us can tap into white people included, like if you 

Veronica Agard (she/her): Ding 

David (he/him): to like put in the energy to learn, right.

And like everybody like has a different, everyone has a different path to that. And so when we're talking about being, you know, you know, this podcast is called this restorative justice life, right? We're talking about ideas of restorative justice. And you know, if you're a longtime listener to this podcast, you know, that we're talking about, you know, of ancestral values of interconnection as the core organizing principle of who we are as people, whether the words or qui like are the words that like are of your people, these ideas exist for, for everyone. And, you know, part of that is like, of course we repair harm, but like we're also proactively building and maintaining our relationships within our communities.

What I leave out of that definition, but I often say in trainings with folks, like when we're building and maintaining and as well as repairing relationships, like the first relationship that you have is the relationship with yourself. So like, what is the work that you're doing to be not just like restorative justice practitioner, circle, keeper, but like ancestor carrier of this work and this way of being so you're tapped in.

So you are caring for the relationship inside of you and like that connection with the folks who have. Allowed you to be here, like like period allowed you to be here who have survived all of the struggle and trauma that have allowed you to be here in the space to carry on this, this vital work.

How can people like, like, you know, I just gave people a framing of like, pray to your ancestors and like, this isn't about like isn't like, anti-Christian, anti-Muslim anti Judaism. Like you can, you can seek answers from your ancestors without having to like Dey them. And however that works for you, that works for you, but you know, prayers to ancestors, Google that shit go to the library.

How else have you encouraged people or invited people to tap into these practices through ancestors and training and in other ways 

Veronica Agard (she/her): thank you for that. For, in the context of what happens in folks circle with me around the concept of how to be an in training as per what it means to me at any given moment there is a living document called the syllabus of the same name. It's just the ancestors in training syllabus. I don't know how long it is at the moment, but there are books in there there's movies.

There's podcast episodes. There's what else is in there? There's links to past recordings, a lot of articles that a lot of people have written that I think are just good primers for folks that are just curious about, like, what does ancestral veneration even mean? Like when you say this, I hear this how, you know, girl boss culture has infiltrated the social media aesthetic of witchcraft.

Like there's so much in there. So I usually just go woo. And like, just send it to people after they've circled. And I'm like, here you go have fun. Tuesday, your own adventure, or like send me stuff that should be on there, which if this finds you and you think that there's something that should be on the ancestors in training syllabus Holly at your girl.

So that's a concrete example. The other thing that I say to people. Personally, and I've tried to do a better job of saying this on the a to and training account itself is how important mentorship is. Like, especially in this era of like all the internet scammers, trying to be like, oh, like I, I had a dream about you and I needed to reach out to you.

Like in an era of like people scamming in people's DMS in the name of, you know, this really beautiful space that people are trying to be in. They're trying to figure out what their ancestral traditions were or like what kind of things they wanna pass down or what sort what cycles they wanna break.

Mentorship is important. So that way, you know what feels right in your spirit, what does not, if you have questions, you go to that person. Addition to mentorship, discernment is important too, right?

Like to be able to see, like, not only is a particular practice or, a way of showing up for yourself that is in the alignment with your high is good, is to just kind of sit with yourself to see like, if keeping a cup of water underneath your bed, if that does anything for you energetically in the morning, if it doesn't do anything for you in the morning, doesn't make you feel like refreshed or like some things, you know, washed off of you, then you don't need to keep doing it.

Right. Like you might be able to find something else that might be. More of a release or might bring you more clarity. I'm trying to think, because the other challenge with this is understanding or trying to find things that were aligned or trying to follow the traditions that some of your ancestors did, but then after a certain point, if you've done the DNA test, you know, that some of your ancestors might have got there in ways that are problematic or might have caused harm, especially if you are a descendant of enslaved Africans, like that is the hello.

Like if this reaches somebody and they're like, oh, you know, like how don't know, like, yeah, we, we got right ancestors. We do. Right. And they did not get there most times in a way that was. Pleasurable experience for lack of better term, you know? So one of the things that comes up a lot when I hold space is okay, but when we talk about praying to our ancestors, which ancestors are included,

David (he/him): Hmm.

Veronica Agard (she/her): right? Like who, like, who are we calling? Right. Cause like, if are we calling everybody, like, even the ones that like enslaved some of my other ancestors, like, what does that even mean?

Right. Or like indentured, some of my ancestors, like, however you show up in the world or just weren't necessarily living, you know, righteously when they were on this planet respectfully. One of the ways I think about that, as I say, like, or even at the beginning of this, I said, I'm a constellation of my benevolent ancestors. Right? Like I am a personification of them, you know, like benevolent, meaning like wishing the best for me, like. Whatever your ancestral generation practice tradition, whatever you want to do, please know that it is an active relationship, right?

Like we're talking about restorative justice being a relationship and how we're in relation with other people, like, do not get transactional with your ancestors. Please don't do it. Like don't only go to them when you're in a crisis or you need to know like whether or not somebody loves you or not like, don't, don't do that.

Like, or if you're gonna do that, like please be in a, you know, consistent relationship with them. Don't only go to them when, you know, you need or want something. Like that's a like, and the aspects of which that's a relationship is like doing simple things, like, okay. Like I know I Veronica know that.

Through asking my father, what my late grandmother's favorite flowers were, they were roses. So on her birthday and on the day of that, she transitioned, she gets long stem, red roses. So I go do what I need to do. Like go find the nearest vendor or whatever, go sit there, refresh it, cut all of the leaves off.

So that way they don't fall in the water and then make the water icky. That's a hack. And then just talk or like one of the things that I say in terms of all of the ways in which I show up in the world, one of the root questions that happens is like, I wonder like what they would think, like people that I've lost or depending on how you look at it, people that have gained in my, a court I'm like, what would they think of what I'm doing right now?

Like, would they be proud of me? Like, I would think that they would be proud of me. And if I'm doing something that wouldn't like, make them the proudest or like would make them go. Hmm. Like try that again. You know, like what can I do to be in better? And as you said, like all of this circle, keeping holding space, all of these practices, like they have to include us that are holding space for other people to navigate those things or how to build potentially build it better into interpersonal relationships with some of the folks that they still have here, or to ask questions that are a little tricky or a little complicated, especially if you come from a diaspora where in order to assimilate, you had to lose a language or you had to lose a certain cultural practice, or you had to lose an accent just to be able to fit in cuz you know, the world, the world is cruel at times.

So I think that there's so many different ways and lanes in which people can return to that. And also just to echo what you said earlier, white folks y'all have traditions too. The way that white supremacy worked is that it, it practiced it on itself, right? Like the Greeks and the KTS and all these movies that they put out.

Like, there's so many things and like the fair I'm like, there's so much that we black and brown people have to quote unquote, learn about some of the ancestral traditions of white folks. And I'm like, which is a whole other thing around like whether people who are not of the particular tradition it's like origins or roots can practice that tradition itself.

That's a whole, that's another podcast. That's a whole other thing.

David (he/him): What are other invitations or steps that you want to invite people to take, to continue to engage in the work with you? Or just in general?

Veronica Agard (she/her): Follow us on Instagram at ancestors in training, all, you know, all one word check out our website because we, and by we, I mean, me and my ancestors updated with like, here's what's happening or here's what we've done in the past. Or like, especially in moments, like right now where we're not technically doing anything actively, but we will be in the future.

So like I said earlier, I. In seasons and in ahead or in advanced of whatever season that we're in. So right now I'm thinking about how I want the project to show up for the rest of the year. And that's the other thing too. Invite me to spaces, like talk to me like, if this really resonates me, like I have a community of people that would really enjoy hearing from you just DM me, like while my DMS are calm.

If you've ever circled with me and this is the nature of the game, like affirmations of the work like written testimonials are cool, cuz that also helps me Bring the work to other folks or, you know, when folks are like, well, what does it even mean to circle with Veronica

David (he/him): beautiful. Well have many of those things linked below but now it's time for the questions that everybody answers when they come on this podcast. So in your own words, to find restorative justice 

Veronica Agard (she/her): restorative justice seeks to find ways to be in. Right or as close to right. As you can get relationships with other people especially if harm has been caused. And at the root of all of that is consent. Like consent stops it before anything can go any further, like before a process can happen. Like both parties have to agree to it.

If, if one doesn't that's it. It's also a way of holding space for people that is so old, like the combination of restorative and justice to some of our ancestors, they might be like, what are you even talking about? Right. But like, they might have had a tradition or a way of keeping space and holding space for people who have been harmed and, or have caused harm in a way that wasn't Punit. In a way that centered people's humanity.

David (he/him): As you've been doing this work what has been an oh shit moment. And what have you learned from it? So often, like a mistake or something you wish you'd done differently? 

Veronica Agard (she/her): And this is the challenge with any kind of circle keeping at all, but like you have an agenda and you have a flow and like it's both versions of this, like, oh shit. Like that was really profound, what that person shared. And I wanna go on that tangent of what they shared versus the other side of that, where like, you know, like the person.

Shared something that even threw you off as a facilitator. So I think that most of my moments have been like, okay, like I had a flow, I had an idea of how this was gonna go. And like either, either way it's wings can happen. Like it, like we deviated a little bit too much and now we don't have time for the other things that I wanted to get to.

Or like, Nope, we can pivot, like I'm here for this kind of pivot. So I think that that's that's happened to me.

David (he/him): I guess, like, what is the learning?

Veronica Agard (she/her): The learning is to continue to be adaptive and to continue to be teachable from those kind of moments, especially when folks like when, when I'm holding space for them around ancestors in training will drop a book or drop some movie that I've never heard of.

And I'm like, wait, wait, like world stop. Like, hold on. like, like I need to add that immediately. Or I need to watch it and like screen it or do something. You know, to be able to be to continue to stay like a student

David (he/him): Absolutely. That was also like, you know, the coffee's wearing off moment. time to refuel. You get to sit in circle with four people living or dead. Who are they? And what is the question you ask the circle?

Veronica Agard (she/her): My paternal grandfather prince Rogers, Nelson, AKA prince, the artist, Octavia Butler. Who else would I put in? The eldest branch of my family tree on my mother's side, I ever found Elizabeth Harper lover. Those are the four people I would put in there.

David (he/him): And what's the question you would ask the circle.

Veronica Agard (she/her): what do you want your legacy to be? Like that is a, it's a oversimplification of a feeling of just, you know, not only wanting to hear what they say, but just like I chose those four people because I believe in like blood ancestors and I believe in chosen ancestors and then the ways in which both of those have influenced my work. That's why I chose folks who are no longer with us, but have influenced me and both that are no longer with us, but are a part of me.

David (he/him): beautiful part of this framing is now I get to turn it back to you. What do you want your legacy to be?

Veronica Agard (she/her): Whew that I made choice that I made choices with the future in mind that I moved in a way that. Created different kinds of wealth for those who come after me. And when I say wealth in that sense, I mean, love, I mean care ways of being outside of all of the isms in the world that I wrote for my life. Like not just for, as in like a practice, but also like wrote for my life in service of what I wanted it to be and what I needed to create it to be. And that they through me have the power to literally create their own world because when I'm gone, that's what I, I aspire for them to call on me for. And that I there's. There's someone on Instagram who goes by, Hey, a Laia and a Laia is their name and something that they said, is that the way that you move through the world now and how to be kind and how to move through the world with love and like just being a good human and keeping good character. That, that is how the light behind your photo on the alter stays bright or stays lit. So ever since I saw that, I was like, whatev whatever I gotta do to be able to keep a spot on my future descendant alter, like whatever that is. That's what I need to be doing to be able to create different kinds of generational wealth that don't have to do with capital. That's what I overall want my legacy to be.

David (he/him): there's a way that we think about like legacy. That's like, you know, Alexandra Hamilton, like who lives, who died, who tells your story? That's like a lot rooted in ego.

Veronica Agard (she/her): yeah.

David (he/him): And on, on one level I'm like of my, of my blood ancestors who lived even like.

Four generations ago. How many of those names do I know? How many of those people can I look back on and say like, yeah, like, that's cool. Like, I also have like the ancestry, I, like, I know 16 great grandparents. I, I know 16 great grandparents, like all 16 of my great grandparents, the names of all 16 great grandparents.

And that's thanks to my mom's mom and my dad doing. And like one of my aunts, like doing a lot of that work. But like beyond their names and whatnot, like, I don't know, I don't know what they did. I don't know like that their marks on the world. And like part of me is just like, you know, I, it's not for me to determine what my legacy will be.

Like. I just wanna like live in the best way. How do you navigate like the, the eagerness of it all versus like. This is just the way that I wanna be in the world and whatever happens, however I'm remembered is what it is.

Veronica Agard (she/her): Yeah, I think I appreciate that. There's a duality here of like all of the things that we're doing in the present moment shaped the future. But also we can't control that. So we have no idea what it is that, you know, somebody is going to remember me for. Right. Because they're probably going to find either my words or something else, or they might have, they might even have different language by that point for like what it is that I do that again here in the present moment, we have no idea what's gonna happen.

So for me, I think the way that I surrender to that kind of ego based thing is like to surrender to. The idea that I can control that outcome of like, if I do this plus this, plus this, that they'll call on me for that. Like, no, no, no, no, no. Like I aspire for them to, like, I aspire by living a certain way and like doing the best that I can with what I have, that they will, that they'll call on me.

Like, that's, that's all the, the call like to call on me at all. Right. Like that's the way that I surrender to the ego based part. I think it's hard just because of the times that we live in too. Right. And like, just like this idea of like, it's, it's nice to be. It's nice to be recognized at times, and there's nothing wrong with that feeling.

But if we stay in that feeling too long and we only do things for the I'm thinking of the chronic song, like we only do it for the likes, right? Like we only do it for the, the affirmations of other people. Then we'll never really be. As whole, as we could be, or as fulfilled as we could be. So it's hard too, because then especially in the sense of like egos, because then it's really hard in the ways in which this hit white supremacy, capitalism operates to see anything outside of yourself and to like, be doing things like that will be outside of yourself and like your people, but like the environment, like the planet, like the world, the, all the creatures that we're in relationship with, like, it's really hard to move forward in that way.

So I. The way that I move past ego is letting go of a particular outcome. It's not easy though.

David (he/him): What is one thing? It could be an affirmation or mantra that you want people to know. 

Veronica Agard (she/her): It's something that my mother says very often cuz my mother was was an educator here in the New York city public school system in Harlem. And one of the things that she says very often is that everything is an extended deliberate practice. So the way that I have flipped that and internalized that is that every day I'm in an extended deliberate practice of being myself, whatever that means to me at any given time.

Sometimes it means one thing. Sometimes it means something else. Sometimes I put, I pick up something from a toolkit of healing. Sometimes I put something away and figuring out whatever it means for you to be in an extended, deliberate practice of being yourself. Will allow you to show up, however it is that you show up in the world in the most authentic and aligned way possible. 

David (he/him): Where can people support you and your work in the ways that you want to be supported?

Veronica Agard (she/her): For folks that want more resources on restorative justice in general, I have the privilege of being the communications associate. Restorative justice initiative NYC. There's a lot of resources on there. We have a weekly digest that I get to curate and make sure that there's resources and job opportunities and RG in the news and events and all these things.

So that would really be cool if folks want to learn more about that in terms of ancestors in training, it's the same kind of thing. Following us on all the platforms to see when we're gonna do something next and being a community to see how we can be in relationship with each other,

David (he/him): There you. All of the ways

Veronica Agard (she/her): all the things

David (he/him): in the show notes. Veronica, thank you so much for being here with us on the podcast. We'll be back with somebody else living this restorative justice life next week until then take care.

Meet Veronica
RJ teaching models
Ancestral community
Ancestors in training
Everybody questions
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