In this episode, learn about restorative "jazz"-tice with David Yusem and how to include care within your classroom.
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David (he/him): David. Welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I am trying my best to do right.
David (he/him): Who are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I am a father and a husband, father of two daughters and a husband to Kate.
David (he/him): Who are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I am someone who loves to help people resolve conflict.
David (he/him): Who are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I am a healer and a community builder.
David (he/him): Who are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I am someone who gets healing from nature.
David (he/him): Who are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I am funny
David (he/him): and finally, for now, who are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I am a musician.
David (he/him): We're gonna talk about so many of those intersections throughout our conversation, but thank you so much for being here. We'll get back to it right after this.
David, it is so good to be with someone who shares my namesake, David, I believe you're the first other David to be here on the pod.
So good to be among the beloved. You know, we've had a handful of conversations before this, so it's good to get this recorded. To the fullest extent that you want to answer the question right now, how are you?
David Yusem (he/him): I tend to have a pretty sunny disposition a lot of the time. I try to keep it positive even when things can get me down. Right now school just started last week at the beginning of last week. So there's a lot going on. There's a. You know, I'm juggling a lot of things which can be stressful, but you know, ultimately I think I'm blessed to be able to do this work, especially with young people.
So feeling pretty good about that.
David (he/him): For people who haven't read the show notes yet, or haven't like fully looked at the description you're working at Oakland unified school district, some would say, or many point to, as one of the examples of like folks who have been doing restorative justice work well, and for a long time, we're gonna get to the story of you and doing that work with O USD in a minute.
But you know, you've been doing work that is restorative for a long time, probably before you knew the words, restorative justice. Oh yeah. So in your own words, how did that get started for you?
David Yusem (he/him): I think I've always sort of naturally was inclined to helping people resolve issues, conflict, misunderstandings.
I am able to see multiple sides to a thing, and I didn't really realize that not everybody had that skillset or sort of natural way of being in the world. In my late twenties I happened to I was kind of trying to figure out what I wanted to do in this life. And, you know, I was playing music and in a band and touring and recording, and I was really enjoying that.
But I was also kind of searching for, you know, what. What am I gonna do in this, in this life? And and the funny thing is I was down at the grocery store, down the street and in the parking lot, there was a, a sticker on the back of a car and it said, mediators do it until everyone's satisfied. and I was like, mediation, huh?
Mediation. Maybe I should look into mediation, you know? And right. As I was leaving a note on the car to be like, Hey, do you know of any trainings or anything like this? This was in 2000 mm-hmm . And The woman came out and she's just like, yeah, we have a training coming up. And that was with this organization called conciliation forms of Oakland at the time.
And so I, in the spring of 2000 I took a mediator training at the 40 hour mediator certificate, community mediation training mm-hmm. That just lit me up. Like I was like, yes. I mean, I didn't even know like what an "I" statement was or like anything. I was very clean, but all I knew was that it, it really felt good and it felt like it was something that you know, reached into my soul, you know, and it was like, wow, this, this feels like I could do this.
And so I started practicing at volunteering basically. And they put me on all kinds of mediations. Anything, you can imagine, you know, families, landlord, tenant, neighbors, organizations, schools, like all kinds of things, fender benders, you know, you name it. And so I kind of cut my teeth and I started mediating volunteering for organizations in Contra Costa county and Berkeley castor valley, just anywhere around here that did community mediation.
I eventually ended up getting a real entry level position at what was used to be called mediation services in Castro valley and real, you know, case development position. And within about six months, the program director left and I became the program director there. Same time. I was on the board of the organization that Berkeley and Oakland had merged and I was on that board.
And so anyway, long story short is all three of those organizations merged together a into one called seeds, which is where I became the community mediation program manager. And was running that, you know, mediation program, working with volunteers, helping people resolve conflict in the community, served all of Alameda county here in, in bay.
And and it was in 2007 that I had first heard about restorative justice. So I'm gonna pause you.
David (he/him): You talked about early on in life, you realized that not everyone had this analysis of, you know, I want to help people. I can see both sides. Like where did that develop for you?
David Yusem (he/him): I think it's from my ancestors I think it's just passed down through the ages from my ancestors and my sense of justice, my sense of doing the right thing of of healing and, and providing a space for people to. Talk and reason together and work things out. And and so I feel like it's it's that deep for me.
And, and it's a skill set. I think that can be honed like, or, or worked on like a muscle mm-hmm and I think unconsciously, I was been doing that my whole life. I can remember in elementary school, you know, kind of being the person, you know, breaking up fights and being like, look let's, can we just he's just saying this.
You're just saying that it's really the same thing, you know, that kind of thing. And then I noticed people started relying on me to be that person, almost like thinking it was okay for them to get into a conflict if I was present, cuz they know that I would be there to be like you know, let's just, let's just talk about, talk this out, you know?
And so I think I became conscious of it though in my twenties at some point like I said, and, and started realizing that while not everybody feels probably has this ability or the skill or even the desire, you know, and interestingly enough at, at around that time, one of my my grandparents had this picture up in their house and it's a picture of my greatgrandfather with his family in ale is like a Jewish ghetto.
And this is in Ukraine mm-hmm and They it was him and his family. So it had pictures of, you know, my great grandfather. He was eight years old and then, you know, his family up to my, you know, great, great, great grandfather and great grandmother and so forth. But the the point is that someone pointed to the old man in a picture long white beard, classic, you know old school, you know, look.
And and they said he was the village mediator. And he was the guy that helped people resolve disputes in this village. And back then, everybody just had a first name, you know, and at one point they were made to take a last name. And so his last name became what he did, just like a lot of people at that time.
And so his last name became dying or Dean. Which is the Yiddish word for someone who resolves disputes or helps people work things out. And so that's why I kind of say it's, it's my, it's my ancestors.
David (he/him): I was gonna ask for a specific ancestor, but like you just shared that. And of course, I imagine, you know, some of those skills, those ways of being get passed down mm-hmm but yeah, no, that's, that's beautiful when you talk about like, being that person who people go to and like, knowing that like, oh, it's okay.
That like we can get, David will like help us sort this out. That's either embraced or that's something that people back away from, it seems like you really embraced that way. And so when you were doing mediation work it sounds like you were really energized. Were there any like particular cases that stood out and that felt really good?
Like yeah, I'm really doing what I'm meant to be doing in this.
David Yusem (he/him): Wow. I, I mean, I mediated hundreds of cases probably. You know, I did guardianship mediations for the, the court and Contra Costa county. So young, you know people who had been removed from their parents because their parents had done something, typically it was had to do around drug addiction or mental health or something like that.
And so I would the judge would refer to mediation and so I would sit there with the young person in their. Often their mom sometimes their, their parents and and just talk about their relationship and, and what it would take, you know, to, to reestablish it. And, and we, we didn't really necessarily work out like visitation plans that was for someone else to do.
It was more just the relationship and, and those were really, really powerful. And I, I can't necessarily point to one. I mean, there, there was one where a mom had read this, her son's journal, you know, which was very private to him. And that was just for him, that was like the worst invasion of his privacy.
And he couldn't possibly see being having a relationship with her having found this out. And so I was able to, you know, create a space for them to talk about that. And for the mom to, you know, explain. Sort of a deeper reason for that.
David (he/him): You were doing this work with seeds, mediation, all of these community organizations. And for about seven years before you encountered the word restorative justice as a framework, what happened when those words were introduced to you.
David Yusem (he/him): So, you know, mediation is really about problem solving a dispute or an issue coming to sometimes a compromise, sometimes it's collaboration, but it's usually around a particular thing that happened or something that's been ongoing or a misunderstanding.
And it's about problem solving and coming to a resolution, you know, and, and I really enjoy helping people with that. But when I first heard about restorative justice and, and dug into the philosophy for me, it was like, wow, this is so much deeper and goes so much further on the relational part of it, you know, and also repairing harm.
And then, you know, building community, all, all that stuff that we can get into. But I was when I was at seeds and I was managing the mediation program, someone asked me to come to a meeting at the Oakland city attorney's office with some folks from Oakland unified school district mm-hmm and they wanted to talk about some of the processes that the district that could be made, you know, mediation could be used, but someone came by one of those meetings, you know, I think it was Heather Manchester who was just one of my mentors when it comes to youth engagement in restorative justice she came by with a, like a flyer for a talk that I think Suha BGA was gonna give on like happiness or something.
And, and she meant, and the talk I think it was sponsored by restorative justice for Oakland youth. And I was like, restorative justice, you know, what's that? And I just started Because I had this platform at seeds where I could practice it. I just started to like really get into it. I connected with RJO pretty deeply at that time with FYA Davis.
And I got some initial training through Rita, Alfred, and and our joy at that time was bringing out a lot of people from like Eastern Mennonite university and from Minnesota and all over to to do training. So I just took as much training as I could possibly get. And because I had this platform, it seeds, I just started practicing it, you know, like instead of a mediation, if it seemed like a circle could be a good option, I would, I would ask people if they'd be into it.
And and I just started, you know, learning, failing, trying again. And I just really got into it. I just, it like lit something within me that. That propelled me on. And I was just working really hard and starting, you know, I got some resources, it seeds to start the RJ program there. And then I was able to start to build some pilot, you know, programs at juvenile hall and Berkeley, Oakland, that kind of, that kind of stuff.
I just got lit. And I've actually been lit about RJ ever since then. I just, I really love it.
David (he/him): Yeah. To spell it out, like really specifically for people, like what is the difference between restorative justice and media?
David Yusem (he/him): I see mediation can be restorative. I see it as like a, it can be under sort of the RJ umbrella, I guess mm-hmm mediation is a very, a specific facilitated way of and by the way, there's lots of ways to do mediation, including very directive, which is what a lot of lawyers do. Or even evaluative where the mediator's like, okay, I've heard from everybody here's what's gonna happen.
Right? Like a judge might do. But the style of mediation that, that we used was called facilitative, which is basically creating a space, allowing the parties to come to some understanding and work some things through. And so. But you know, oftentimes like a relationship wasn't repaired, it, it didn't really contain all the impacted parties or members of the community.
It didn't have tendrils out into other aspects. It was just very focused on this one particular conflict or this issue. And so it's also highly you know, the power balance is different, you know, because in mediation, the power is sits with the facilitator, the mediator, and it's triangulated through them, to the parties.
They are very much facilitating this dialogue and in in restorative justice and circle process, that, that the power balance is leveled in such a way that that's not the case. If done, I think it done right. I mean, it can definitely I've seen a lot of circles and probably even ones that I've done that where Where I made sure that the power sat with me, you know, because that's my comfort zone because I, I come from a mediation thing.
And so I try to be conscious when I do circle to not have that happen and, and try to just create a space and then kind of sit back and, and let the power get shared. Or, you know yeah, experience that.
David (he/him): Mediation is about like solving problems. Not necessarily like attending to like underlying relationship issues and like restorative justice. We talked about being in right relationship. Whether or not those relationships exist in the first place.
We can, we can help to build those proactively or in efforts to repair. And then like the power balance that you, you spoke to. Right. So much more power. Like even though with mediation, you're getting people you're the goal is to get people to like come to decisions that everyone's on board with. There is an element of power over as opposed to power with.
And I think like restorative justice in some aspect, like will take more time. Yeah. Right. Depending on, on those things. Depending on the factors, depending on the relationship involves depending on, you know, lots of different factors, but. I guess, like, what is it about restorative justice? You were like, mediation is great.
That's something that's like in my tool bag is something that like I can lean on. But when you like devoted a lot, a lot of your energy, a lot of your organizational resources towards this work, like you've been on fire for it. What was it about restorative justice that made that it for you?
David Yusem (he/him): I think that it was probably just experiencing it and seeing how powerful it was, even just a community building circle, like the ability for people to share deeply like the, how the process can create.
I've always seen it as like a crucible for relationships. Mm-hmm, like, it's almost, you can't help, but bond with the other people in a circle. And I noticed that people would allow themselves to be vulnerable and then not regret it afterwards. Which I have seen in other kind of processes witnessing transformation around harm and conflict, you know transformation and relationships transformation in, in people's own selves transformation in as a circle, keeper, understanding myself better.
And because I think, you know, to be a good circle keeper, you really have to hold up the mirror and, and understand yourself and do that work. It's really important. So it had more depth. It allowed for further investigation further understanding of you know, the harm that caused the harm, you know, that kind of thing, or what makes people take what motivates people and not just problem solving.
And I think mediation, you know, oftentimes I'll do a circle with a group of people and a mediation will kind of come out of it. Like, sure, it'll be clear that a mediation needs to happen between two or three people. And sometimes I'll be doing prep with a group, like a staff at a school or an organization.
And it'll be clear that we need to do this mediation before we can come together in a circle. Right. So, you know I can see it, I see it as a tool really, that can be used before, after, you know I guess sometimes I've probably even done it during, you know, put the talking piece down and just went for it in the, in, in the middle of a circle, just because it felt right at the time.
When I first started learning circle, I kind of learned things in a purest sense. You know, when I learned something, I learned, I try to be a purist about it. Yeah. But what I learned pretty quickly was like I, I started doing everything in a circle. Staff meetings were in a circle.
Every meeting was in a circle, everything in a circle. And you know, realized after a couple years of doing that, that that's actually not the best use of,
David (he/him): not everything has to be a circle.
David Yusem (he/him): No, not everything has to be a circle, some things, you know? So, so when it comes to mediation, like yeah, not every thing has to be a circle.
Sometimes it's a mediation that's necessary or more facilitated dialogue between people to work out a specific thing. And then we can get back to the larger community and the stakeholders and maybe a bigger harm or something more deeper that's happening. You.
David (he/him): Yeah. I resonate with that a lot. Not that I had the platform to, like, all of these meetings are necessarily going to be circle but like there was this time when I first learned this where like, you know, peace making circles, like it's just like the circle way that you have to be.
And I think like it's important to distinguish between like work that is restorative and like formal processes, right. A restorative way of being versus like, I'm gonna pass the talk piece. You can pass like a talking, like there's this book called talking stick by Steven Byer. And he talks about, you know, in your, in your day to day actions in your day to day relationships, it's not that you're like physically carrying a talking piece or talking stick and like, all right here, we're gonna pass it.
But like the way that you move and embody listening deeply, not just to, you know, the people The words that they're saying, but your environment and the things around you, like helps you live in that he doesn't use the word restorative. He, this book is written from like an indigenous P spiritual peacemaking tradition.
Yeah. He doesn't use the word restorative justice, but like doing this work, living your life in that kind of way is how we embody this work. Even if we're not like, you know, sitting in the circle with a centerpiece and talking piece and values and, and a candle and a plant and some water in the center.
David Yusem (he/him): My friend who used to work at OUSD with me in RJ, who now does consulting his names, Arnoldo Garcia mm-hmm and Ardo has always said the goal of circle is to be in circle when you're not in circle.
Yeah. And that, to me, that kind of piggybacks on what you just said, you know, that, that you build that community in circle so that when you're not in circle, you maintain that. You know that vibe or that way of being, and that's really the goal of all the work that we're doing is, is to create that to spread the philosophy and way of being, rather than you know, follow this curriculum or something like that.
David (he/him): Yeah. I was gonna make this transition a little bit later, but like, this seems like a good segue. Like you talked about like your background as a musician, right. And that being something that like has been helpful for you as, as a circle keeper at the NACRJ conference, you ran this session about John Coltrane as a circle keeper.
Right. I'm curious, like how you made that connection in your life and like specific, like just to like being a musician and doing circle work, but like the application to Coltrane and how you've you know, shared that. Shared those ideas with folks as you've taught this work.
David Yusem (he/him): I mean, I love John Coltrane. I love his music. It makes me it's, it's some of the only things I can listen to. Only music I can listen to that just instantly will make me weep or like have ecstatic, you know, feelings. I just, it really speaks to me, but I, you know, and I should say, I am a musician and I've played professionally and, and toured and recorded.
And, and and it's a part of who I am. You know, I'm a musician, I like to play music and I play guitar and sing. And but I also love to do, you know, mediation and, and restorative justice circles. And I kind of just, you know, saw them as two parts of myself. There's other parts of myself too. I love photography as well.
I did professional photography for a long time, and I'm sure I'll do a workshop at some point, weaving music, photography, and restorative justice together. But there's different aspects of myself that give me, you know life and music and restorative justice or, and conflict resolution or two of those things.
And they existed. Like side by side or like concurrently. And I would, you know, I would be doing mediations. I would be doing circles and then I'd be playing music and, and the, they did never really met, you know, mm-hmm but what is it about all of that that speaks to me and, and that feeds something within me.
And so the more I did this work, the more I would just get like these little inklings about how they were similar. I think the first way that popped in my mind was the ability to improvise and be comfortable with improvisation. And also what, what improvisation, like the amount of practice that it takes to be able to improvise inform, right.
It's not just something you just do. It takes a lot of work. And one of the things that you hear about John Coltrane is. He practiced nonstop. People would hear him. There's stories of people, you know, saying that they would hear him in, in his hotel room, running basic Doremi Faso, lado, scales, you know, over and over and over, or the minor like modal scales, just over and over and over again.
Playing with them, picking them up, picking them apart, turning them upside down, inside out, but still very basic scales because then when he, when he actually played with people that allowed him to improvise, and I feel like that connected with restorative justice, you know, and with conflict resolution, the ability to have a structure.
Yet within that structure be flexible enough and, and okay. Enough to, to leave it if, if that's where it needs to go. Yeah. And, you know, I think of, you know, a lot of jazz music, especially Bob, which I love, you know, bebop, which called train played a lot of, but he also played, you know, other types of jazz, but, you know, bebop tends to have a structure where there'll be a head, you know, and which is like the main melody, you know, then there's like this improvisational part where people turns playing and then it comes back to the head and it, and it's, and it's out, you know, or it might come back improvise again and then go out.
And I see circle a lot like that, where you've got this structure. You're, you're, you're setting a set you're, you're building relationships, you're creating some shared values together. You are working on how you want to be together. But then you just, you, you, you know, you step off the Le the ledge and you, and you blow and you just see where it goes.
And and so that was probably the first element, but then I started thinking about it. I'm like, well, what other elements of music? And not just music, but being like a, a playing in a band, you know, mm-hmm, connect with this work. And so I started thinking about like, dissonance, you know, like the use of dis, which is for, for those of you who some folks might not understand what dissonance is, but in music, dissonance is something that sounds, I guess, the easiest way to describe it is it just sounds like not right.
yeah. Like something's off. Like it's not necessarily. The opposite of harmony, because you can have dissonant harmony, but it just, you know, like the theme from jaws, you know, something that may provide a scary feeling or something that feels wrong, something that's, maybe someone might be a little slightly flat, you know, mm-hmm
So that happens all the time in circle, right? Where something is just, you know, you've gotta work on something or dig into something so that this dissonance could then could then resolve, you know something that's, that's not being said something that needs to be uncovered. The use of silence you know, space, you know, miles Davis famous famously talked about playing this space, read the notes.
And if you think of his, yeah, the notes between the, the, the. Yes, the space between the notes, like the tension that can be created. I love reggae music too. And reggae is, is so amazing at the space between the bass and the rhythm the drums and the bass. It can create that tension. And and so I mean, there's, there's so many connections, you know, and so I've been thinking about this for a really long time.
And eventually I was like, you know, maybe I should really like sit down and see if I can put together some kind of workshop, you know? And I was able to do that at the conference and I just, it, it really, it went well and I just, I made me just want to pursuing it. And there's a lot of the things that the audience said that struck them during it.
I hadn't even thought of, you know, that how it hit them. Like we would listen to a Coltrane piece and you know, listen to how he would revisit a theme, which constantly happens in mediation. It happens in circle too, but in mediation, you know, you're looking for themes. And the way I like to think about it is you separate them from the people, right?
Like you, you don't wanna be focusing on the people as much as what the problem is and themes might arise and I'm a visual kind of person. So I visually place the theme or the problem, like literally like about two feet above the center of the table. And I just feel like I'm just like flipping it around almost like it's a holograph, you know, that you can move around, like or something.
You can flip it around and look at it, look under it, look above it, peel it apart and really dig into this theme. And then you might digress and you head down some path and then you'll revisit that theme. And if you listen to Coltrane, especially on a love Supreme, his, you know, master work, his homage to the great spirit.
He does that. And so we played, I played some about a minute and a half of acknowledgement part two, that's the, the piece. And you could hear him, he had the same, you know, three notes that he would just investigate in a million different ways. And then he'd venture off, you know, on some tangent, some digression, and then he would come back and revisit those notes.
And I was just like, my God, this is just like, How I do, you know, conflict resolution or, you know, and so so I named it John Coltrane circle keeper, because I wanted to lift him up as an example of how music being a good band leader could also be this the same skills necessary, or that would be helpful to be a good circle keeper.
And the last one is also just understanding what I call the psychic space. You know, like what's the, the space of like the body language, everything, but the words, the energy where people are sitting how they're representing themselves, what they say when it comes to them, how, you know, all, all the unspoken, I call that the, the psychic space.
And when you play music with other people, that's a huge. Part of playing together. And, you know, when you, when you've been in a band for a long time, there's communication between you, that is psychic in nature, that's energetic, that's not spoken and you, it's hard to explain, but that's the same thing you need when you're keeping a circle to be able to, to to kind of feel that and open yourself up to that.
The first one I would listen to is giant steps. The, the song giant steps, because to me that is the, the, how they lay out that song to me is like circle.
The intro sounds like to me, it sounds like coming together, working things, how are we gonna be together? And then he steps off into the improvisational piece and then, you know, and it's pretty straightforward, Bob jazz. And to me, I I like it as a And you have to stretch your mind for this.
You have to open yourself up to, to expanding your concept of what, you know, restorative justice is, right. Like, because it's a stretch and I, you know, you gotta kind of like go with it. Right. So but to me, giant steps is a really there's other examples, but that one's a good one to just start, you know, listen to giant steps and think of it as a circle and see what comes up for you.
Right. And another one one, the piece that I played where he would investigate a theme is I think it's acknowledgement part two. And I think I even went from like one minute to like two minutes in or something. I played that little might have been right there, but you can hear him and you know, work with a melody, you know, and he just exhausts that melody.
Like he just, and it's literally like three notes, but about. You know, he's like Baba, Baba, blah, beep Baba, you know, and he's just like figuring this thing out, what it is, digging into it, and then he'll, you know, go off. And so but the whole album like that, a love Supreme is, is pretty amazing album.
And it's not, you know, I don't, some people it's hard to access because he, he goes on some pretty astrol planes, you know, but but there's parts of that album that are like stunning in his ability to latch onto a theme. And then, and the theme is usually some melody that really, you want to keep hearing over and over, you know, Yeah.
David (he/him): Yeah. I mean, and even like, as you're talking like, Hey, what are the themes like, Hey, what are the values? What are the agreements that we're gonna express? Mm-hmm over and over to make sure that we're coming back to like being this way together so many things as you were talking, I was, my mind went in so many directions.
I don't know if you've ever seen this YouTube video. I think like, I think it's wired that puts out like expert explains and they had Jacob Colier and herbi Hancock talking about harmony. Right. And they're like, there's the simple harmony or like, you know, just like the third note above of the first, but like all the like five different layers of like a minor diminished.
I don't have my music theory down enough to be able to like fully express the things that they were talking about, where when you were talking about dissonance, right. Like things that might seem dissonant, like things that are like four and a half steps apart, right. Can be connected and made part of that hole.
And so when somebody says something that's out of line from what you, as somebody who had like, gone into that circle with a plan had like, you know, like that that's, that was relevant to that person. And so that's probably relevant to what's going on in this space and it, and it all belongs and you can always find the way to make it back, back home, like, or to the root note in, in that YouTube video.
The other thing that I was thinking about is are, are musicians like snarky puppy or like dirty loops who like, take like these? Well, I, I mean, I think. Different approaches, right? Like snarky puppy modern modern jazz group that like has the most complex of rhythms and like constantly changing time signatures.
And like, when you're talking about like working in concert with, with a group of people, like the ability to listen and make those make those alterations as you move together, just takes hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of, of time together. Right. And that like the relationship building in order to be able to take on these, like, Enormous task.
Like if you were like to site read that music, right. Like would be, would be really tough, but like when you've put in hours of work, both like as an individual on your own craft, but then like, as a collaborative on this thing that you're working on together you can, you can achieve great things. So, so, so, so many connections.
What, what else was present for you? Yeah
David Yusem (he/him): oh my, so there's three things and I don't even know if probably ever remember the first one is, look, you can look up a drawing that John Coling gave CEF Latif, and it's, it's a circle. It's, it's this circle of fists, but it's so much ter than that. Right. And it's It just can, for me, it's like the physical manifestation of what I'm talking about.
Like he gave this and he didn't even really describe it. Like nobody knows. I've read articles about it, like very scholarly, you know, articles about it. Nobody really knows what it means, except for that. It has something to do with this circle of this, but it's this beautiful drawing that he gave him. So you can look that up and, and check it out.
And the other thing is dissonance is cultural, right? There's there's a cool, so I played during the workshop, I played some Bulgarian folk music by a band called Chika and to the Western ear, it's like, something's something is wrong. something is wrong about this, you know? So I find it beautiful and it is harmonic.
And obviously in Bulgaria they find it beautiful as well, cuz it's their, it's their music. But to the Western ear and I played it and I saw people in the audience like almost tilt their head, you know, how like a you know, just tilt their head, like, Ooh, that's, something's flat. Something's not right.
So what one culture or person might find beautiful. Another might find dissonance. So it is, there's also a cultural relevance there and I think that's also relates to circle two.
So the part about poly rhythms and coming together and, and Creating creating rhythm as a, as a community. And I, I feel like there's a human need for rhythm. And what I did at the workshop is I learned this game from some middle schoolers in Oakland and I it involves little stones, like little rocks like maybe about this size, you know, mm-hmm and Or smaller.
And what I did was I brought 12 of these stones or rocks too. And I had, I got six volunteers and I, I had them stand around a table and I had them each have two rocks in front of them and it's called grab, click, pass this. And I learned this from from students middle schoolers. And you basically, I just counted them down, but I didn't do it in a timing so that they could follow my timing.
I just said, 3, 2, 1. Right. And you grab the stones, you click 'em together and then you pass 'em to the person, to the right of you and you put them down in front of that person. And what happened was, yeah, you grab, you click you pass mm-hmm, grab you, click you pass. What happened is it starts out very poly rhythmic and not cohesive.
And everybody's kind of figuring it out for themselves. They're operating as an individual within this larger organism, but yet they're not aware yet of the larger organism. And then eventually. People get to people start to realize like, oh, wait a minute, there can be a rhythm here. You know, mm-hmm, , you know, the, the bang on the table and the click and then the bang on the table again.
Right. And and eventually every single time a rhythm is formed yeah. Out of chaos, out of seeming chaos or be, and it's because the individual becomes aware of the group and they become part of a larger, you know, like a machine or an organism, something that's more holistic and bigger than them and their consciousness expands to that.
And it's so cool to be a part of and to do, but also to, to witness to see it happen. And I just, you know, I see that as related to circle as well.
David (he/him): When you're as lit about restorative justice or when you have this orientation to the world you see the connections in, in so many places, you see the places where it's like, oh man, I wish those two people like knew this way.
Like you, you wish that all the time. I'm curious. And like I fully acknowledge you. Like, we haven't even started to talk about like specifically your work in Oakland unified school district. I I'm curious before we get there, like, as you've moved through the world as, as a person, like yes, as a musician, but like as a parent a partner, a friend community member, how has this way of being both like with this restorative justice lens circle, keeper lens, how has that impacted your relationships?
David Yusem (he/him): That in a way that like wasn't present before you knew this work mm-hmm You know, I was, I was bullied really badly when I was in my freshman year of high school and sophomore year. Really, you know, humiliated, beaten up just the worst kind of bullying, no help from any adults, you know? No, nobody at the school, no adults.
And I think I, I like resolve to myself after I experienced that, that I would just try and be nice to people and, and try and, you know, honestly, to try and be nice and to do right, you know, to do the right thing. And I don't, it's not that restorative justice made me feel like I want to be that way.
I think me feeling that way made me want to do restorative justice. Hmm. And and so I think now. Having been doing restorative justice, especially in Oakland, at Oakland unified school district. When I it's provided different lenses for me definitely the lens the, a racial justice lens of being a white person, especially in this work trying to understand how my whiteness impacts everywhere I go, every environment I'm in and and to try and be aware and, and conscious of that out in the world, as well as my sense of community.
You know and my sense of community ex ex you know, has there's like this small community that is like my family and close friends, and then there's like larger and larger communities, but I see everything as being being in a community and what needs to happen to maintain that community and what needs to happen to provide healing so that we can move forward, you know?
And I think of that on a national level, you know, on a NA international scale. And, and so I think my it's impacted me in that way. And I also just think that, like, and this is more of a, sort of just a a whisp of a thought, but like, I think something about just being in circle a lot, it just impacts you it's, it's like a somehow it connects to the systems within your body.
And I think it's just healthy for you. It's. It's like a, a holistic medicine, you know, that, that nobody quite understands how it, how it works, but it does .
David (he/him): You said you think about this at a national level.
Yeah. Do you see this work as a way forward as way to heal?
David Yusem (he/him): I would say to you that I think we actually are in an armed conflict with one of the sides having guns. Sure. And these folks who are sort of, you know, quote lone gunmen are actually, you know, unwittingly or unwittingly soldiers for the, the far white far right. White supremacist. That was not a Freudian slip
So so I would, I would submit to that we probably are already in some form of civil war, which is a really scary thought. So the question then is about what needs to happen. And yeah, we, we are so far caught up in this, us versus them binary right now that it's gonna take a long time to walk it down.
But I think what really needs to happen is. Truth and healing and truth before healing, but truth and healing. And, you know, you've, you've heard of truth and reconciliation. Mm-hmm the, the reconciliation can happen, but right now we need truth in healing and nothing is going to happen with this country.
I don't think. In terms of moving forward together, unless we do that truth and healing bit, and I'm talking specifically around slavery and genocide of native peoples and what we did with Japanese folks during world war II in terms of internment and all the harms that have been done to people genocides and exclusion that kind of thing.
And we, we see the results, you know, in our education system, we see it in our criminal justice system and we're gonna keep seeing those results unless we do some truth and healing. And that's the, I that's really the only thing I think of, and it's gonna be a. Process, but it needs to happen. There needs to be some storytelling.
Storytelling is, is healing. And it's, it's the only thing that that has been, you know, as long as humans have been humans that we've done to provide community healing and it still works. We just need to embrace it and do it, but you know, how that's gonna happen in a large scale. I don't know. It's definitely happening in smaller pockets. ,
David (he/him): to what degree are we relying on white people to convince other white people, to like humanize, not white people. right.
David Yusem (he/him): I mean, FAA Davis in her book, race, the little book of race and restorative justice, which always keeps like an arms reach away. Mm-hmm she says, you know, like, White people of today did not create the mess that we're in, but, you know, benefit from it and therefore are responsible for, you know correcting it and not leaving the onus on people of color to do that.
And so I agree with her on that. And so so white people have a job to do. And so that, that part, I actually do agree with it. White people have a job to do, but a lot of white people don't know that yet , or, or, or, or care enough to want to do the work, to do that because the whole part about being, why is you don't have to do that.
We live in a capitalist society, right? It's a military prison, industrial complex that we all have and that we exist within.
And so, you know, what makes change or what motivates people within a system like ours? Well, it's money, right? It's the bottom line. And so when you see change in our society these days, it's usually because you just follow the money and it's the money that, you know, like when you, when, when our prison systems went from like state facilities to corporate, privatized prisons is because it, people made money doing that.
And so the only way at this point to like, make that change to, you know, something better would be to somehow make it profitable, right. Within this capitalist system, while also working like what I was saying earlier around truth and healing. And that's unfortunate, but capitalism is responsible for.
You know, if not all of the pain and suffering that was experiencing it for a lot of it, that is that.
David (he/him): Is that how you think like, The argument for getting restorative justice into Oakland unified school district went down. Right? Because like, people weren't necessarily like all the way, like altruistic about like, yeah, we should just do this because we should do this.
David Yusem (he/him): Right. You might say yes, because there was really not an argument for getting it into, into O U S D. It didn't it came in grassroots, it came in from community stealthy. And as a legacy of the work the black Panthers were doing. And, and so therefore it had sustainability and and some staying power and people were able to connect to it in a way different than if the superintendent said, Hey, I went to a conference, heard about this thing.
We're gonna do this now. Right. It came in from grassroots. It was supported by restorative justice for Oakland, youth, and, and others, and made its way into the school district that way. But to answer your question. What people noticed after the first three years of, you know, a coup one or two schools doing it is that suspensions went down, expulsions went down, referrals for violence, went down, people dealt with things as a community rather than as hyper individualistic.
And so that kind of success is the kind of thing that school districts wanna see, you know, suspensions going down, that kind of thing. And so if you wanna liken that to. What's the bottom line. The bottom line is school districts. Wanna see suspensions go down. What's gonna work to do that. Okay. If RJ has done that, then that's gonna so that's when there was some initial success at Cole middle school and west Oakland, the superintendent at the time, Tony Smith said, let's embrace this because look, what, look what happened at this school.
Some amazing things happened. And so that's how it kind of came in. And that's what made the district kind of take notice and decide to embrace it as a strategy. So in, in that sense that, yeah, it's, you know, it touched on the, what, what the district sees as the bottom line might not have been money necessarily, although I'm sure somewhere, if you dig deep enough, money's, you know, tied to that and suspensions and all that
David (he/him): No, I, I think that's one helpful context.
Thanks for sharing, like the short version of that story. But when I think about like, what is the incentive for schools wanting to continue to engage in this work? The timeline's gonna be messed up on this, but like this week I posted on Instagram and I've been thinking a lot about, you know, when we're going in to teach this work to people who are not given this in their teacher training, right?
Like restorative justice is not a part of teacher training beyond like, Hey, here's this two hour thing in most universities. And I'll say like, I think all universities, except for like Eastern Mennonite universities, like teacher education program I'm not, and if somebody's listening to this and they're like, Hey, no, my school is doing this and doing this with depth, like, please let me know.
So I can stop saying that. And I can like champion somebody else. Who's doing this work on that, on that level. But people aren't coming in with this orientation through their teacher training, right. We all grew up. Most of us grew up in a schooling system that was rooted in punishment. Mm-hmm and of course, white supremacy, as behavior control.
And so when we're asking people to one at an institutional level, embrace this work slow down so we can like learn these steps, learn these notes learn how to play and then learn how to play together. Right. We get hit with like, oh, we don't have time for that. Right. Or like there are, and it's not that like necessarily that like, people don't want to learn this.
It's like we have like 18 other competing priorities. Like how do we make this something that people want? I think there's one way that I know different places have tried to like, okay, so you get grant money for doing this. You have this grant position and then like that funding runs out. And then where the, where is that school left with these practices when they're relying on this?
I, I don't know that there's like a clear like question, but as somebody who's been doing this work at a district level and has been on the ground in schools, like how do you see the trajectory of this work? Both in Oakland, in your context. And I know you've been in conversation and with people across the country, like where are we.
David Yusem (he/him): In this space and time with restorative justice in schools. Yeah. It is hard to do this in the institution because the institution in many, many ways, Aho it, you know, like resists it with everything it has. Because the homeostasis like the, where it finds balance is in oppression and harm, unfortunately based on the history of the institution.
And I think, I think a couple things. One is the, the, those of us who do RJ in an in institution have to model it. We have to, we have to be RJ. When we go to schools. When we, when we talk with people, we have to show that there's another way, there's, there's a way to be relational and not transactional within this institution.
So, so just simply that is helpful. And also restorative justice is not another thing that we're trying to get people to do. And you ask any, you know, so many. Teacher leaders, like people who've been teaching for a while. Who, who other teachers look up to? Yeah, they've told me, like, you know, I've kind of been doing this already.
It, it may not be like how you described it. It may not be maybe using a talking piece or maybe we won't sit in a circle or maybe we, we didn't talk about values and stuff, but, but the idea of creating the environment for learning before teaching and learning can happen creating a welcoming, caring, dare I say, loving environment, that's relational in the classroom while also maintaining some expectations and having systems and rituals and traditions, you know, that people understand they they'll say that, you know, this is, you've kind of put a word to, to something that I've a way of being that I've already been.
And it's their relationships with other teachers that look up to them that. Is the leverage for moving this forward at a school, because if they're the, I think luckily the it's the teacher leaders that tend to embrace it first, you know, and other teachers who are maybe newer, who are looking to, to them to figure out how to best create their classroom environment they can influence them.
And so. We never force people to do RJ. We never mandated. One of our principles is participation must be voluntary. That's one of our, our foundational principles. And so, and that, to me, that's like just like alleviates the stress of trying to convince people about. RJ, like we just do it. We get people to experience it because experience really proceeds belief when it comes to RJ meaning you have to kind of just be in it to understand what it is.
We just do it, you know, one circle at a time, we build our relationships. We work with the early adopters with the people who are like, yes, please give me this. Help me, coach me, support me. And we work with them. And then we I've seen people go, you know, do it 180, you know, I've seen administrators be like, you know, I thought this was BS.
I thought this was just coddling kids. I thought it was just hollow. Apologies, you know, all the low hanging fruit that people that don't understand what RJ is pick when they say why they don't like it. And then I've seen them get into a circle witness transformation right before their eyes and be like, oh, I get it now.
I get it. Can I get trained in this, you know, that kind of thing. And I've seen that a number of times.
David (he/him): Can I get trained in this? Like often when I hear that it's like, can I get trained in like facilitating this process? Right. Mm-hmm like, how do you make the connection for like yes.
Process, but also way of being, yeah.
David Yusem (he/him): Well, number one, I think we've never developed a curriculum on purpose. We have all kinds of tools. If you go to our website, we got a hell of tools, you know, navigational tools, I'll call them, you know posters, question rings, circle, templates, videos, you know, things that help people understand what it is.
Implementation guys. We just released an elementary toolkit for elementary teachers and people in elementary school, whole school and peer RJ for elementary. Just last week we released that. So So we don't have this. Here's the, here's the thing, just follow it, follow it. And eventually what happens with that is it gets, you know, put back up on the shelf.
Right. And I've seen that happen with some, some good, you know, like conflict resolution things like second step and tribes and Things that are useful, but when the money runs out, they get, you know, they get put up on the shelf and it's a curriculum and, and stuff. So we I've been pressured a lot to come up with the curriculum and we've resisted that and instead provide these other resources, but, and then in our trainings, people walk away with a couple things like they walk away having experienced a circle.
For sure. It's like literally the first thing before, even talk about what RJ is. They're sitting in circle, start to finish opening the closing and experiencing the power of it. Even just a community building circle extremely can be very powerful. They're gonna understand what RJ is. They're gonna understand how we roll it out in O U S D.
They're gonna hopefully walk away with an understanding of this is how we. We're asking you to be something as well as to do something and we can help you we'll help you do that, but it it's a, it's a shift in how we typically are in our culture. And so we, we support people in embracing that kind of, you know, working with rather than doing to involving stakeholders and decisions that they're, that impact them.
Having a racial justice lens, having a healing centered approach, you know all those things. And we and we do that without giving people the, that, that curriculum. And so they don't have the thing that one thing that people are used to relying on, you know? Yeah. Which, which is kind of like a way out, because all you have to do is open up to page one and follow, do this, do this debrief, that show this debrief that.
You know, wait for the bell. And so so they, since they don't have the curriculum to rely on, they have to really deeply engage with, well, what does this mean for me? And what does this mean is for me as a human in this environment, in this system and in my classroom with these young people. Yeah. I mean, back to our music analogies, right?
Like things like, you know, the question sheets and, and those like tools, those toys, if you will can like, be like the scales for you know, foundations like things to like to refer back to like as practice, but, you know, actually practicing and actually being this way, like listening and getting those reps in is what helps build practitioners.
Jo, not just like not just people who are.
Asking, asking a different set of questions, right. Anybody can ask those restorative questions right now and the space and, and the ability to like, hold that space, the ability to like build those relationships know who you are and how that impacts the folks that you come in in contact with.
Like that, that is what is going to. Determine whether or not you're like somebody who's like just reading the sheet music and playing it straight, or like making it a masterpiece mm-hmm . And it's also about flexing that muscle building the muscle memory and PR that's what practicing is. Like, if you're learning a piece of music, you're not gonna be stellar the first time you play it, you know, you have to practice it.
You have to get the nuance, the feeling, the Tamber, you know, all that needs to, that comes with practicing it. And it's the same thing with circle. Like I tell teachers or anybody for that matter, I'm like, don't expect this to work at first, like expect failure, but be patient, be persistent, keep doing it.
And eventually everybody will understand how different it is and what we're normally used to, and also see how great it is because they'll people will be empowered by. You know what I mean? And that's what I've seen at school school after school is that, you know, it often won't go well at first, especially with adults, you know, like adults are uncomfortable, they walk into a room, chairs are in a circle.
They're just like, oh my God, like, I don't wanna deal with this with my colleagues. You know, students have a little bit less experience than that because they don't have all that baggage that we do as adults, you know?
David (he/him): Hey, this isn't school work. And we play games, you know, one thing we do in USD, we play a lot of games in our circles.
David Yusem (he/him): We make them fun and play as Albert Einstein said is the highest form of research. Right. I mean, that's where you really understand your boundaries and how to resolve conflict and what you like. And don't like, and so we, we do a lot of play movement games, so that kind of thing. But but let's see, where was I going with that?
But. But it takes practice and, and, and, you know, oftentimes people they'll speak out of turn, they'll get up, they'll roll around on the floor, you know, you know, kids and it's not, it might not be engaging to them. Maybe we're asking a question that we care about, but not anything that the kids, the students will care about, you know?
So, but eventually if you're persistent, you it'll it'll work. Yeah.
David (he/him): What I want folks to take away is that yeah, you \ right. But like, when I was a kid, like I hated piano lessons, like, so I would do my lesson, but like I wouldn't practice and like go back and just like, oh, I don't know this music.
I canceled the teachers like, well, did you practice? Right? It's like, no, how are you? How are you expecting to get better? And like, you know, you're not gonna play, play it right. The very first time or the fir the second, third, fourth, fifth, like, I think you, to your point, like, there are people who are like maybe more naturally inclined to being this way.
And it does take practice to build these skills. What else do you wanna say about restorative justice in schools and in general or O U S D before we transition to the questions that everybody answers That we aren't going to give up, trying to make this change, you know, I've, I've definitely had some people tell me, like, David, you you're, you're fighting a losing battle trying to change an institution.
Even when as progressive, as you know, in Oakland where we have an office of equity, where we, where we have a director of anti-racist curriculum, where, you know, we do restorative justice, you know even as a place, as, as progressive as Oakland can be people just say, you know, you, you, you just, you're wasting your time.
You're not gonna do it. And I, I just, you know, I don't, I can't believe that I have to believe that, you know, we are going to make a change and it's gonna take a long time. Probably, you know, could be generations, you know, but we have to ignite that spark at some point. And so districtwide restorative justice.
It may appear like that. It's not. Gonna work or that it doesn't work. And there's so many reasons for that. One is the systems in place are so punitive. And so to try and change then takes time. But a lot of times there's laws that forbid you from, you know, using restore justice. Like if someone violates one of the, the, the big five, you know which are the, the five infractions that have to be sent to expulsion, you know and and you know, other systems in place that make it really hard to do RJ.
But we, we have to. We have to keep at it. We have to keep making a change. The other thing that's difficult is churn teacher churn, principal churn. There's so much turnover. But we just keep training the new teachers, you know, and hopefully the teachers that stay and the principals that stay will continue to do this work and slowly but surely you make a change.
And then the one thing I haven't spent a lot of time talking about, but perhaps is one of the most important things that we've done is around youth engagement. Training and supporting youth and embracing restorative justice. It's in my work, there's nothing more beautiful than witnessing that. It's kind of, what if you would ask me what keeps me going that I would say that's it.
Things that I hadn't even thought of before when it comes to ReSTOR justice. So I learn a lot from them and I, I just find their embracing of it so beautiful. And at the same time, it takes a lot of work to support youth in a youth development framework around restorative justice. It's not just about training them in RJ supporting youth to do RJ takes a lot of prep, work support while they're doing it, debriefing with them afterwards.
It, it takes commitment from adults. Yeah. And but. When you look at who's at the district, the longest it's usually the students, you know, not the adults, they come and go yeah. There for, you know, 12 years or so. If they're there the entire time. And so just from a, you know, programmatic model in terms of sustainability, I know the best practice, you know, technically is, you know, changing adult behavior and working with adults at the same time.
I've never, I I've seen a lot of youth drive the adult behavior. You know, the youth engagement in RJ can drive adults to do it.
David Yusem (he/him): Yeah. I mean, I would say like, assuming that there is like, still like the infrastructure for those youth to be supported yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. There need, there needs to be at least one adult ally that can work with you.
Can't have a P RJ program at a school that I've seen work where there isn't an adult that it's their responsibility to. To and to do it, you know? Yeah. And when exactly, and for the people who may be talk like thinking, listening's like, oh, like, like, you know, how can I start these programs for, for young people in the school?
David (he/him): Like, please, please, please don't start there. right, right. It, it is so much easier for young people to embrace this work, but like, you can't put them in the position of doing this in a situation, in an environment that's not like conducive or like where they will be supported in doing this work. But yeah, to your point about like, you know, them being some, like oftentimes at schools longer than like adults schools, definitely.
And like in the district as well, I like to think. The adult work that we do not just as like for the purpose of this school amplify, like I'm not in the position that you are in. Right. Amplify RJ comes into schools and supports like adult learning for the most part. Of course we have our public facing things where adults come and learn.
But when I think about going in and supporting adults, doing this work in schools, like there's always this acknowledgement in the back of my mind that like this work is not, this work is probably not gonna take root in all of the highest aspirations that we have for restorative justice in this institution.
The institution is not built for this. People can make those individual choices. And so for me, the goal is. How do we help people have this like, liberatory experience? Right? So like wherever they go, they're taking this with them. Right. Hopefully like in the time that they're at the school, they're in an environment where they can help develop their practice with the people who they've learned alongside.
But like, they're also able to take this with them, not only to their next job, but like when they go home right. In the communities that they participate in, like this podcast is called like this restorative justice life, not like this restorative justice teacher, this restorative justice principle, this restorative justice social, emotional learning person.
Right. Like to, to all of what we said, like this is who we are. And if school happens to be the place that you learned about it.
I agree with you a hundred percent. I wanna make a transition into the questions that everybody answers
when they come on the podcast, you we've talked around it, but in your own words, defined restorative justice.
David Yusem (he/him): It's about it all comes back to community. We One, you know, we want to create the, the community to, to that. We want to restore too, right now, the community in our institutions and in our society is not something that's worth restoring to because it's based in oppression and racism. And so first and foremost, we have to create that community to restore two so that when we have the conversations around restoration or harm, conflict healing, that we can restore to something that's positive and based in relationships.
And so to me restorative justice is about is about community and We have to connect with community as we do this work, we, it, schools are notoriously insular places. They, they can feel like they can be exist in a vacuum. And it can be difficult as a, in a school district to reach out to community, but we make a point and always do that.
So I could, you know, if you ask me in an hour from now, I probably have a completely different answer, but restorative justice to me is a, is about it. It emanates from community, and it's just very different than our way of being in this hyper individualistic society. It's, it's about the collective wellbeing and and yeah, there's a part about harm and justice and, you know, repairing harm and doing that in a, a way that it's non punitive.
But for me, it's, you know, I'm feeling the community aspect right now.
David (he/him): As you've practiced this work and I'll leave this work. As broad as you want to answer this question, what's been an oh shit moment. What did you learn from it?
David Yusem (he/him): Restorative justice is this beautiful holistic thing.
It's this, it's a holistic philosophy with, you know, with a set of practices, right. And one of the ways that we scaffold it in education is On these three tiers. And I admit that I think the word tier sounds carceral to me, right? Cause prison tears. Right? Sure. But we broke it into these three tiers along this multi-tiered system of support or what used to be called response to intervention because it's a educational framework.
Yeah. That teachers understand. And we, we realized early on that anything we can do to connect this so that teachers it's easier for them to understand is, is better. Right? So we started to create some tools for teachers, things that connected to things they already know, like social, emotional learning and, and things like that.
And the, this MTSS multi-tier system of support is, is that thing that teachers understand that educators understand tier one, being everybody tier two, being small groups and tier three being the individual. And so we scaffolded our RJ work. On this three tier models. And when we did that, we noticed just the uptake, the people amount of people, understanding it and doing it increased dramatically because teachers realized, oh, tier one, that's my thing.
Like I just need to focus on that, you know, and it made sense. And so we started to scaffold like our trainings in this way. But still we would describe RJ sort of as this holistic, you know, system or model. But when you talk about the, oh, shit moment, I had probably about five years ago when I was like, oh shit.
I wonder if the thousands of people that we've trained, if you would to ask them to define restorative justice, if they would go to define in terms of three tiers and the answer's probably like, yeah, actually they, unfortunately I think a lot of people. When I talk about the three tiers, you know, in our trainings I don't think I did a good enough job making them realize like, Hey, this is just a framework for scaffolding.
It doesn't even exist outside of the school district. Like most people don't talk about tiers in the community or the criminal justice system. It's like a way to scaffold in schools. And I don't think I did a good enough job at first at explaining that I always make sure and do it now, but I had this oh, shit moment when I was like, oh no, a lot of people that we've trained are probably defining RJ in terms of three tiers.
David (he/him): Yeah. Really. It's just an easy way to describe it so people can understand it in education. It's just a framework. It's true. You know? Yeah. That , as you were describing that I was waiting for like the hammer to drop, like yes, you want to contextualize it, but like, we don't want people to like limit it to this context.
David Yusem (he/him): It's very Western to compartmentalize things and to not view things as holistic. And so I, I really hesitated it first when we started to kind of do this scaffolding, I was like, well, this kind of goes against like, what I think of in terms of RJ.
It's it's, once again, we're starting to box things up, you know, but when I noticed the impact of it, I, I kind of decided to go with it because because educators, it made it like understandable in a way that I hadn't seen them understand it before, before they would be like this philosophy. I don't, how do I do it?
Like, I get it. I understand it. I like it. I like the training, but I don't know how this impacts, like, I don't know how to do it. Class, you know? And so, but so now I'm very clear in the trainings. I'm like, look, I'm talking about three tiers right now. This is not how you define restorative justice. This is just a simple framework for you to understand how we do it in schools.
And please don't go out defining RJ as well. There's three tiers. And that's how, that's what RJ is. Cuz it's, it's not.
David (he/him): Yeah, yeah. When you're doing this work within the context of schools, like. What are the be because you have such limited time, like, Hey, we have these 2, 3, 4, maybe we have this whole day for professional development.
How are you helping people make the connections to like the outside application to this work when you're so focused on like, Hey, I want you to like, create community agreements with like your students and like do this thing collaboratively instead of like, these are classroom rules and if you break them, you're out.
David Yusem (he/him): Yeah. You know, that's a great question. I think I think my thinking on it is that it happens naturally for people is that they start to make the connections in their own life. You know, many people are connected to organizations, people, things that they, you know, outside of, you know, groups that they belong to and they start to make those connections students as well.
Yeah, I've had a lot of students tell me they, you know, pick up a talking piece in their home now because they, you know, they saw their two brothers fighting or something. And so I think people, people begin to make the connections and also. One thing I think that's really important about RJ is that, you know, in institutions or even in like our businesses, a lot of times people put on this professional front, and I really encourage people to, to be leaders that allow themselves to be present in the space.
Like, like this thing about music, for example, like John Coltrane. Like I talk about that a lot, you know, as a way to, to to describe RJ, like, Hey, you know, when people tell me, oh, I've already taken that training. I don't need to go to an RJ 1 0 1 anymore. I'm like, well, actually you should never stop going to RJ one oh ones because John Coltrain never stopped practicing the basics, you know?
And so I try to bring things that I like into the space, things about who I am what I enjoy outside of. My work environment and be a, a full human being in this space. And I think when people see that when they see the other people that I work with doing RJ do that as well, it models for them. And then they feel that they can do that.
Like they can bring who they are into the space, not just as the professional, like I'm a math teacher, but like I'm a math teacher who also makes kombucha, you know, or yeah. You know, loves to garden or plays clarinet or works with this, this nonprofit, you know, and and it, and so they can bring that into the school and then they can bring the, the RJ work that they're doing in school, out to those, you know, so that there's this like free flowing energetic thing happening.
David (he/him): Yeah. Yeah. Love it. This question's hard in a different way. Yeah. You get to sit in circle with four people dead or alive. Who are they? And what is the question you asked the circle? Oh my God.
David Yusem (he/him): Two of whom have to probably probably be Bob Marley and Nelson Mandela. Bob Marley Because he's just influenced me a lot. And I have probably a lot of questions for him and Nelson Mandela, because he's what he was able to do after being in prison for 27 years to come out and, and do truth and reconciliation in South Africa rather than just go immediately to punishing his oppressors was something that I would love to hear from him.
How, what his thinking was, what, what was it like when he was in prison? What, how did he keep hope alive? You know, all that Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley. The, the I would love to have the my ancestor I, I talked to about who was my great, great, great grandfather who was like the village you know, mediator.
Mm-hmm, , I would love to hear from him and, and hear what his, his thinking is. The last person, john Coltrane? I would say, what makes you feel alive in community, in your community? Mm.
David (he/him): The other reason that this is a really hard question is now I get to turn that back to you.
David Yusem (he/him): Stories, hearing people's stories, humor. I love humor and, and places where people feel like they can embrace humor where people don't take themselves too seriously, but yet serious enough and certain things. And you know, I think one thing that we don't talk about a lot, especially in education is love and love.
To me, when you, when you ask the question, how do we know RJ is effective? The answer is for me. Is there love in this space? Is there love in the. Right in the school and you can't really prove that which is why people don't talk about it so much, cuz we're so into proving things in our culture by numbers typically, you know, how many, you know, what's how many of this, how many of that?
But to me nothing's more important than creating a space where love exists and where people feel like they can give and receive love. And to me, if you're doing an RJ implementation in a school, that's how you would determine if it's effective. If people are able to give and receive love in that space.
And so that, that's what makes me feel alive. If there's, if I feel love present.
And I don't think bringing love into an institution doesn't necessarily mean that you make yourself completely vulnerable to to attack or whatever, you know, like it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to know when to put your guard up when to protect yourself, how to do that, that, that exists as well, because you can be harmed, you know?
Yeah. And but there are spaces where, where you can express love and you can provide a space where love can be present. And it's my job to do that.
David (he/him): Finally, where can people support you and your work in the ways that you wanna be supported?
David Yusem (he/him): Oh, interesting. I mean, Hmm. One way is, I mean, we have, we do have resources that we put on our website and I would love feedback on them.
You know, like, like I said, we just released this elementary RJ toolkit and anybody can access it and I would love if people were teachers specifically, we're able to use it and then get back to me and let me know, like, Hey, this could be changed. This is amazing. This worked, this didn't that could be helpful.
I mean, obviously if people have like hundreds of thousands of dollars that they wanna give us, we'll take that as well. Money's always, you know, us too. Yeah, you too. We'll split it. Split that bag. absolutely. But we can direct people to the. O U S D like restorative justice website. Yeah, that'll be in the show notes.
David, thank you so much. Thank you. You it has been a really fun conversation. We'll be back next week with somebody living this restorative justice life until then take care.