Ethan Ucker was a 2018 Mellon Collaborative Fellow for Reaching New Publics. ethan explores autonomous capacity- and infrastructure- building projects that have arisen in the context of social movements for Black liberation and Indigenous resurgence in the U.S. He studies the strategies used to materially provision these projects: the organizational containers and administrative forms that house and protect Black and Indigenous radical political imaginaries; less the manifestos and the speeches than the grant applications, budgets, and fundraising plans that they inspire and require. He is a co-founder of the hip-hop infused restorative justice organization Circles and Cyphers.
Check out our LIVE Events
Send us feedback at email@example.com
Join our Mighty Networks platform to connect with other people doing this work!
Rep Amplify RJ Merch
You can connect with Amplify RJ:
Email list, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Website, Reading list, YouTube, and TikTok!
SUPPORT by sharing this podcast, leaving a rating or review, or make a tax-deductible DONATION to help us sustain and grow this movement
David (he/him): Ethan, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Ethan (he/him): I am an abolitionist, restorative justice practitioner and an organizer grounded in Chicago.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Ethan (he/him): I am a infrastructure builder.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Ethan (he/him): I am a son and a brother, and a homie and a partner.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Ethan (he/him): I am a, beginning potter or ceramicist. Beginner. Very emphasis on beginner.
David (he/him): Who are you?
white cis hetero. Dude, trying to figure out, how to leverage these overlapping, privileged identities in a, just an equitable way.
David (he/him): who are you?
Ethan (he/him): I am a disruptor in a lot of spaces. A network weaver in a lot of spaces and a solidarity economy. Strategists.
David (he/him): And, and finally, for now, who are you? U
Ethan (he/him): curious, Pretty empathetic learning, Experimenting. Creative. Could I do one more? Who am I? Damn it. Yeah.
David (he/him): Scene worker. Beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much for being with us, Ethan. We'll be back with more of our conversation, getting to the intersections of all of who Ethan is right after this.
Ethan (he/him): How do we refashion our professional positions into nodes of redistribution And thinking about this at the end of the day, at the bottom line, you could be wherever you are in the ecosystem, but it's like How are you advancing us toward redistributive horizons?
I think that's really like kind of helped crystallize something for me personally that like, it really doesn't matter where you work in this. It really doesn't, and I'm thinking of folks with privilege and I think especially white folks and especially cis men, but like, it doesn't really matter where your position, if at the end of the day you're, we can like kind of hold the line on like a redistributive.
Ethos and mission that we're not using our professional positions, It's like how do we use the school-based education, the mobility that accrue to us because of our privilege, how do we use all of that mobility and leverage it not for our own individual ends, which means not to maximize my earning potential, not to advance my career, but really how do I refashion my professional position into a note of redistribution so that I'm actually actively moving material resources from places of abundance to places of scarcity.
I don't, I feel like that's the shit I want to be in community with other white people around. You know what I mean?
David (he/him): Yeah.
Ethan (he/him): I don't really care to talk about all the talk . It doesn't matter. It's too much talk. I'm about the action. how are you redistributing shit? How are you moving material resources and how are you doing that in a way that's leading.
Leaving that open to the discretion of those who are like most directly impacted by the problems we're all trying to solve. Like not in the paternalistic Phil philanthropist way or whatever, but like I've been finding that as like, that really has been telling me like who's about it? Of all the whites who say they're about it and there's more than ever and they're doing the virtue signaling and they're doing the whatever and they're attending the things and the book groups and the study sessions.
It's like, are you down to redistribute your wealth? Are you down to make, begin a practice of redistribution of the, of moving resources this way? And if so, then like, let's build and let's be in community anyway for whatever that's worth. I've just been like finding that to be kind of helpful. Just clarifying, like you can talk all you want, You could read all the Angela Davis you want.
That's fine. Like how did you move money to. People of color, young people of color, young people who are like experiencing criminalization at the hands of the carceral state, like whatever the thing is. But like, that's easy to actually know. It's not a, an abstract theoretical thing. It's like, did you do it?
No, let's, let's talk about it and then let's have that be our standard for like how we could be in community and solidarity and coalition together. So I'm just curious, how does that redistributive lens like showing up for you?
David (he/him): I'm thinking back to the very, very, very first interaction that we had.
And I don't know if you remember it, and this was in 2015, I had gone to the circle training with Aura at Precious Blood and someone there had mentioned something about circles and ciphers and I lived, on, Just like right off of Columbia, West Columbia in Rogers Park, right? And so, like the United Methodist Church was like just a walking distance.
So I walked over there, after that training and, and I mentioned this on the episode that I had with Jenny, but you were there and it was like one of the community circle that's like, so cool, I'm gonna come here. And then I told you, afterwards, cuz I identified you as like, you know, the white dude in charge.
or like in that, in that position of, you know, organizational leadership, right? Like, hey, this is who I am. I'm David, I'm just learning about restorative justice, trying to figure out how, to take, you know, what I've learned and like, make impact with people who have been impacted by the criminal legal system and do well, first of all, do you remember this interaction?
David (he/him): I don't expect you to.
Unfortunately I don't.
No. And so like your immediate question to me was like, Well, why aren't you thinking about how we can like, make this work financially for young people or something to that create jobs doing this for young people. Right? And so like I know that that's been something that you've been interrogating for, for a really, really long time.
when I think about the, Luisa Duran, according to - on the internet, for those who are listening, talks about the great white awakening of 2020, Right? Or when my, my other friend, Brett Hawthorne talks about, you know, what happened? There were people when so many people who were doing anti-racist work, had an influx of people coming, coming in.
it's like, great, you're here to learn. And. What are you gonna do about it? Cause like we can build, many people in the space have built businesses off of white guilt in the last two years. And like right now, at the moment that we're at, like we're seeing that like trail off. Like there hasn't been like, there haven't been like highly publicized, attention grabbing, acts of police violence.
I'm saying that, I'm not saying that they don't happen every day because they do. And if you're in these communities and paying attention, like you know that this is happening every single day. but because we're not like all locked down in our houses, like forced to like look at all the same things at the same time.
Like there's not a public consciousness to it. People are tired. And like on some level I understand that, but like what you were saying about like who are the people who are still here? Who are the people who are really interested? Redistribution of resources, redistribution of power. Like there are very, very few.
I spent a lot of energy in 2021, trying to talk to folks who were doing DEI work in corporate spaces. Okay. And, you know, so much of as I was talking to these, chief diversity officers or directors of diversity whatever, people who were like sympathetic to my value system, they were saying, one, I don't have the power within this organization to like, actually like influence that change two.
we're still trying to have conversations about bias here, which like, cool. That's, that's important. And like people need to be like not treated like shit in the place where they go and work every day at the intersection of their marginalized identities. And like, we're really just talking about making, Yeah, I'm not gonna temper my language.
David (he/him): Like making like the plantation more tolerable, right? We're making like-
Ethan (he/him): Less hostile Yeah.
David (he/him): Overlords, like more compassionate, right? Instead of like, no, what does it mean to share power? And none. And most of these companies, like, aren't interested in that. I, I'm not gonna say all because I'm not into like, making like, absolute statements, but most companies aren't that.
And I think, like, even within the constructs of Amplify rj, right? This is a organization owned by me. I have a full-time employee who, like, we've negotiated salary and benefits and all of those things. They have some semblance of a job description where they, you know, do these tasks in exchange for time and, and money, right?
we, I think I do like to the best of my ability, like a job at collaborating and sharing power, but at the end of the day, like, you know, This is my vision and this is the way that like I am doing things and of course, like I contract with other people and like that's a little bit different where it's like, Hey, will you do this thing for, contracting?
And like, people who are employees are, are a little bit different. But when it comes to like the redistribution of resources and for me, I, I'm still a person who's like in tens of thousands of dollars, of debt, right? Both as, both as a student, student loan and like someone who's partnered with someone who has more loans than I have.
also as somebody who is a homeowner, right? and so like there. For me, the calculations that I'm making are primarily right now about like, how do I do this? How do I structure this in a way that is sustainable for like the Castro Harris family? Right. so I can continue to do this work as I think about like, the greater vision for what Amplify RJ can be.
David (he/him): I think about not replicating, higher, higher education institutions of like learning where people can go to learn about restorative justice, but like, how can this be a accessible space? Yeah. For people to like learn foundational knowledge. Like I don't think that there are a lot of resources out there.
I'm gonna reframe that. I don't think. There's a lot of public knowledge about what restorative justice is like on a mass level. And so like that's the primary, that, that is a primary goal, like just massive public education about, like restorative justice is a philosophy instead of value in indigenous values of interconnection, where we repair harm when it occurs, but also proactively like build and strengthen relationships, both to prevent future harm and to help us like navigate harm in a better way when those, when those incidents happen because it's, it's bound to happen.
David (he/him): I think like that on its face, like if everybody. The world knew that, like, that would be great. and then like, how do we invite people into deeper learning? There is a way that I have I and many others have commodified this like productized as like, Hey, come get this training and like, you know, we can talk about the professionalization and like the certification, like for us explicitly, we're not talking about like, like I I say on like the letter of completion, right?
Like, this certificate says that like, you participated in this experience, like the certifica, like, but I can't certify you to be like a restorative justice practitioner. You do that in your everyday life, right?
Ethan (he/him): Like, did you do real quick? Did you feel like some pressure to have a certificate?
people like I , yes and no, right?
David (he/him): People ask like, oh, when they learn about restorative justice, like, hey, like, do you know of a place that I can get certified and like, I have four emails or dms like. Unanswered to that question just because like I, for, for a couple reasons. First, like, I haven't like, figured out a great way to answer that question.
Two, I don't feel bad about it because like if they're looking for it, like why Ask me, ask Google three. Like, I don't think that I've like produced the thing, the response awareness or like, I don't believe in like this certification xyz, but like, here's the thing that I can't offer that will help you learn this way of being.
I, I'm also like, very aware that I can't replicate the way that I learn this work, online, right? Because the way that I learned this work was, yes, like I read the articles, I watched the videos, and then I showed up to, Precious Blood took this training and. Pestered Aura and Cheryl to like continue to be in a relationship.
Right. I talked my way into an internship with another organization in Chicago doing what I thought at the time was like an embodiment of restorative justice work. And like, but like so much of my learning around that was about restorative justice and like how to be in a relationship.
Like people like Tomas Ramirez, like inviting me to come to sweat. Right? Based off of like relationships that we had, and like being invited or like asking to. Be included in, in deeper learning, Right? Like, I can't replicate that online. Right. So like I can, I can give people foundational learning. I'm trying to figure out the part where like there's accompaniment and then like doing that in a way that is like financially sustainable for, Yeah.
Not only me, but like the others who are helping, like guide people along the journey because like this, like, I, I set up the tension of like, you know, charge worth plus tax and tip also like this work has been preserved and passed down from generation to generation, from people who just believe in it to, you know, keep this work alive.
And, you know, so many people that I know who like I really, really deeply respect in this work, who are my age, not people who are on their second careers and are like financially stable. Like all the recovering lawyers who have now like found a restorative path, like are doing this as a side hustle. I've made it my main hustle.
Ethan (he/him): Mm-hmm.
David (he/him): And so like, How, like what's the balance of all of those things? Especially now as like, I, I employ somebody and hopefully like more people, right? Like we've gotta find money somewhere. And you know, one of the steps that we've taken in the last little bit has been about like, getting fiscal sponsorship so we can, solicit donations, go after grant money.
Ethan (he/him): Mm-hmm.b
and I know that like, that that will be a helpful thing. But as far as like the redistribution of resources, like when I have those funds available, like, okay, so who are the people who are already doing this work, who already know this work? Who can then, who I can then, invite into, facilitating like being these guides for people, being these people who are accompanying, Like, I guess like that's some of the ways that I'm thinking about it, in the scope, in the, in the grand scope of Amplify rj.
David (he/him): But. When we're, when we're talking to the, like for me, but like when I'm talking to folks in organizations and most of the people that we work with are schools, like, because the institutions of schooling exist as they are. One, the person who is making the decision or the people who are making the decision got there by playing those systems and playing them well.
And like there is limited will to either redistribute power, give up power, or do things differently. And two, even if they are willing, there are just limits of what they can do within the construction of their jobs. And they don't always have the power to make those changes as individuals or as a team.
Ethan (he/him): Could I interject something?
David (he/him): Yeah.
Ethan (he/him): This is, so this is not in the context. I'm not thinking about school specifically, but I'm thinking about. What I, I think about how I was conditioned in this culture, you know, and the way, and I'm white, so this is like, and I'm got all these private, cis male, all those things.
So like, I have that, these privileged identities working on my behalf and I'm, and, but the conditioning is a crew power. That conditioning is hold and accumulate wealth. Like there's no learning about what it looks like to see power or to relinquish authority, expertise, resources. and some cases there's no will for that.
I'm really thinking about this across professional positions. There are some cases where there's no will. Someone is just trying to hold on and accrue cool, whatever. I can't real, I mean, that's just where people are at teach their own, I can't really work with.
Those kind of folks just for myself. But when, what I'm noticing is then there's another kind of awakening or some kind of dawning among a lot of other professionals who are interested in that, and I'm saying I'll include myself. We are not equipped, like we just don't have skills and practices for relinquishing authority, giving up resources, seeding power, Like that's just not how we were conditioned in this culture, in this racial capitalist system.
And I, I just want to, maybe I found that I changed and became more empathetic of that position when I realized like, Oh, actually, like we just don't have those muscles and we don't really have exercises to like build those muscles. We don't have the practices. That isn't what we were conditioned to do.
I think the learning community piece for me, or the scene work piece for me is really about what does it look like to de professionalize our work? What does it look like to actually work ourselves out of our jobs? What does it look like to give up, to see like relinquish? And that is like an open-ended mystery box question because there are people who I respect who are doing that, and I've seen it.
Okay. Word, they, they sunsetted their organization or they gave up their shit or whatever. But like as a community or collectively, I feel like we're, we're lacking an imagination around that. And it's been really interesting for me to include myself that I, that's something I've been frustrated by, but I too am lacking that.
And I, I yearn for a community of scene workers. I yearn for community of people who are down to do. Let's be nodes of redistribution. Let's de professionalize when all the training and all the messaging is about professionalization, be professional, professionalism, join a profession, all the, all the professional things.
it's hard. I just wanted to just listen. Name it. So even in a school, I mean, again, that's a little less where my work is these days, but like, I think of that across a professional spectrum. And I think it's, it's highlighted, maybe this was like a really extreme way that I was sort of like, focused on it, is when people are like, Yeah, defund the police.
Ethan (he/him): The police should go away. They shouldn't, there shouldn't be police. Should there be any professionals? Like who gets to stay? You know, like if we're really like giving, it's, if it's like really about that, you have to stop doing your job in, in these communities, for these communities to thrive and be safe.
Like who gets to keep their job? Who gets to. Accruing and amassing wealth and professional privilege is a kind of privilege. That's how this stuff accumulates. That's how it accrues. So I'm like wanting to extend that. Like if you have animosity toward the police and the police should stop and go away, abolish the police, they should.
What, what do you do? Like, how do you get ready to, to get out? How do you get ready to leave? How do you get ready to give shit up and, and get out? And I just feel like that's where we, we kind of come to a, that's where you can, the rubber meets the road because then it's not just you pointing out at others who are like flagrantly harmful or racist or whatever, but really like, oh man, like how am I doing that on a day to day while balancing, to your point, and not to take the, not to minimize that I have material needs, I have to care for my loved ones.
You have a family, whatever like that, that I have debt like that. All those things are real as well. So, I appreciate and I'm like finding myself craving more thought partnership around those questions and experiments with those kind of practices de professionalanizing.
David (he/him): When you said that you can think of like people who are examples of this, like are there any that come to mind right now?
just to keep it kind of like local and like very close. Like I think what we've been able to do with circles and ciphers is really exciting to me and I didn't want it to continue. I didn't think it, the organization after a few years, it was like, okay, like let's, let's, let's shut this down. Like we're good.
Ethan (he/him): Like we don't need to become a nonprofit with build up a big whole infrastructure. I'm very wary of that model. I've seen it too many times. I've seen how there's like, A temptation to freeze your work and get more funding to keep doing the same thing, rather than continue to kind of innovate, be nimble, respond to needs.
David (he/him): Right.
but I think, and especially a lot of the work, Emanuel Andre, my partner in that project has done over time is like really to get resource and equip young people to lead the ship. if my preference selfishly was this should go away, we need more models for sun setting. but there, but there was people who didn't want that to happen and there's a need and a desire for it to continue.
Ethan (he/him): At least now it's in the hands of young people who are, who are running with it and taking it in their own directions and kind of reinventing things on the fly. So the container, I really like that. I think that's really powerful to see something get handed off that way in a really comprehensive way, like really thoughtfully, Someone getting built up and leveled up to take an expanded role to take on responsibilities that were previously my responsibilities, Emmanuel's responsibilities, whatever, a contr, an adult professional contractor's responsibilities, whatever.
And now they're just sort of doing their own thing. And it's real, I don't know. It's just like I get to sit back and that's dope. Like respect and like honor, and what a, what a delight to see that. So on a lo on a very kind of small scale or local level in this kind of ecosystem, I mean, I really think that is, exciting to me to see, to not have any control or, I mean, I'm, I'm, I'm asked to give, counsel or, you know, let me, it'd be a sounding board for the folks that are doing the work with really, they're the ones completely controlling and determining the direction and strategy and I don't know.
I just, that I think is really cool. You know, I think there are other bigger organizations nationally that have sunsetted. But I was always like, I even remember talking to, now that I'm thinking about Anne Marie Brown, who's one of the co-executive directors now at Circle and Cyphers about like, we should do some kind of like write something or create a resource for what it would look like to go away and sunset and here's the best practices for that, or something.
Just cuz I feel like really what happens usually is another org. The opposite of that happens, I won't name names, but an organization we had partnerships, deep relationships with, got canceled, basically called out excommunicated, got, you know, all, and then they went away and they reacted to all of that and we're like, wow, we should just fold up the tents.
That's, I mean, whatever. That's just not, I would like to see the proactive, the thoughtful, the groundwork for what it looks like for something to sunset to end. a death as like a beautiful thing. A a creative thing, a beautiful creative death. Like, I think that would be, I, I lack resources. I, again, I said I lack imaginative.
Maybe it's a, we, we lack some imagination around that, but I just think that would be exciting. And I'm flooded by the opposite of people, just like you said, Oh, I'm a DEI consultant, I have a DEI business. I'm a restorative justice ex. Now I have an llc. Then we have this and we're consulting da, da, da da, and everyone's got their professional thing.
You could look at that conference that happens every couple years. It's like growing more and more. It's like, yeah, more and more people just doing their jobs to keep their jobs and advance their careers. And I think that's not it. That's not transformative. That helps people live. That helps people sustain their lives and their families.
And I'm hopeful that it, it's, it's a both end that we could have that, but also be building toward like a. These containers are flimsy and they're, and they're provisional and they can kind of, we could create an experiment, then we can go away and like we learn some things from that. Let's try something new and like it can take a different form.
Now I just want us to be experimenting with the forms, the mechanics of the shit. That's what I'm really thinking about now. Cuz all the people, you know, many or more than me, of all the people doing really dope work, thinking about harm and reimagining how to hold space for people who have survived harm and all that stuff.
Like, great. But the containers we're putting that work in and encasing it in our, too often undermining the work. You know?
David (he/him): What would, like there's, there's no like starting from zero, right? We don't get to wipe away any of those things. I'm curious, you know, you have come to. This work, you know, like, sorry, you've done this work in the, in the formations of circles and ciphers. you've learned lessons from that. Like what were the lessons that you took from that, that you've applied to the way that, Stick Talk, has, has grown to be right?
Because, you know, as I'm listening to you and other people are listening to this, like people are looking for models. Like, and while what you have in place like isn't perfect, like what were the things, what were some of the things that you took into consideration as you constructed that? And like, if you could give like the, the two minutes about like what Stick Talk is.
Ethan (he/him): okay. Well, something that I noticed. So, so just to back up, like what we did when before we thought of something called Circles and Saves as an organization or named it or had the desire to make it a thing. And it was just kind of like, And it's very incipient stage. There was a, again, I mentioned Emmanuel Andre, my partner in this, at this, in this work.
And at that time there was a group home, in Rogers Park that, was essentially being demonized. The young people who lived there, who were dually involved with, dcfs, like Wars of the State, I don't know what, in different states, like, you know, Department of Children, family services, and also so duly involved there.
And also in, the criminal legal system court involved, all young black men really living in this community where their neighbors, everyone around them was just like, yeah, demonizing them, stigmatizing them, calling the cops on them frequently. Like every couple days there would be like three cop cars that would pull up to the house.
and so me, Emmanuel and Miriam Kaba, our mentor, were sort of like, we. See a need to. we are hearing a lot about this group home. We're hearing how it's a blight on the community. We're hearing how this group home needs to go away. These young people are, predators. They're violent, they're bringing down the neighborhood, you know, all those kind of narratives.
Ethan (he/him): But we're not hearing, from them. We're not hearing from like what they need and how this is affecting them. So Manuel and I started meeting with. The young men who were at that group home and just kind of sitting with them. And again, curiosity, no, like we didn't know. We're not coming in with as experts.
We're not coming in as we know what you need and we have the solutions. which is sounds simple, but maybe that's all you need to do. Just humble yourself that you actually don't know what other people need. So that, I think was maybe the only thing we were doing differently than what all the other professionals and licensed specialists were doing with these young folks.
Those folks were kind of pres prescribing to them what they needed to be healthy and well. And we just weren't. We're just like, What do you all need? Let's gather, Let's break bread. We sat in circle, we listened to the music that they like, which me and Emmanuel also liked, which is nice. A good, alignment.
But yeah, just, and then, and then talked. That music, which is really coming from and speaking to their culture and their experiences and built that emotional intimacy. And I felt like that's the work in its purest form. We're just holding space for young people who are, closest to the problem to begin to think about and imagine solutions to that problem.
And at that point, it's just like, what do you need? You know, what's, what's your needs? Like, yeah, food. Okay, well, we'll bring pizza every week. I think at one point it became about we need money. So that's why actually I think that was the impetus for actually beginning to go get grants for this work.
Cuz it was like, well actually we're not, we're not paying. We don't have money, but we could go and get it. And so we started applying for things and build this organization. Okay. So that's I think, like for me and Emmanuel and I, I hope I'm doing justice. And speaking on his behalf in a, in a appropriate way.
But I think that was kind of our emphasis, our focus. And then I think what happened, and this is the temptation, as you get money, as you get investment from. Philanthropic foundations, there's a temptation, again, to freeze the work, to keep doing what you're doing again and again so that the investment essentially is safe.
Like, Oh, we know what you're gonna do with the money. You're not gonna take it and run or something.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
it also, it is extreme. I, I learned very early on the, the hardest thing to raise money for is just to give young people money. Like un no strings attached, unrestricted funds. It's easy for me to raise money for myself.
Ethan (he/him): I have advanced degrees, I have whatever you say, I could talk the, talk to the systems, and a manual, like we have the professional position, like we could, we could raise money for professional staff, but just to give money was like, no, we just want to give the money to young people who are, who need the money to survive for their needs.
It's like, that's the, that's the thing that a lot and this was years ago too. This was like in 2011. So at that time, I think that was like a really hard thing for a lot of, Foundations to get behind. And I think that the needle on that has moved to like, to be honest, which is cool. But anyway, I think because of all those pressures of professional of, of the non-profit industrial complex, essentially that's what's going on here.
can I read this quote from Insight, cuz this is kind of what it is. They say that, insight is like a network of radical feminists of color and they say that profession pre one of the kind of products or pressures that the non-profit industrial complex exerts on on organizing work is the professor to, is a pressure to professionalize.
And they say these pressures can harness and restrict our political imaginations and redirect activist energies into career based modes of organizing instead of mass based organizing, capable of actually transforming society and like, I feel like I lived that theory, I saw that practically play out where it was easier for us to just kind of keep doing the work, freeze it, keep doing it, rather than continue to be as agile as we had been when we had just kind of been experimenting with like, what do you all need?
How can we best hold space for you all? What might that look like? So I think now's kind of fast forwarding what happened is that, I, I don't, you know, there's a lot of vulnerable or people who live very precariously in Chicago. It's a very increasingly unlivable place for more and more people.
It became e especially if it's a numbers game, especially if you're getting money to have a certain, you know, level of engagement or numbers in the door, that kind of thing. What I notice is it became a lot easier to engage young people who are already connected to their community. Then young people who, like we had started with were like the outcasts, the the demons, the predators just because of the labor.
Like, it's just, those are the young folks. It's really hardest to gal, It's hardest to organize. It's hardest to mobilize. So like the pressures kind of, he like move us to focus more on people who need a less, a lighter lift, right?
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Ethan (he/him): So I noticed that over time. I think we were always talking about it.
Always noticing it, and I felt, I felt illiquid. I felt kind of helpless. do anything about this drift that I saw that the young people who we can engage and who can speak to this work and who can help us continue and sustain the work are the people who are like, kind of more proximate to like a, whiteness professional, position, professional kind of, mobilities and, can speak, can can talk the talk can make funders feel good, can set them at ease, can like, Oh, this is an articulate young black man.
Oh, you know what I mean? Who make, Oh, making them feel even warm and fuzzy for like, you know, that Oh yeah. You know, like, now we wanna support this or we want more of these kind of people. So we kind of, I don't know. I felt like even though we were very critical of that, very much pushing back on that, I will say, I think I learned that it's really easy, it's really difficult not to, See that target move in terms of target population who are bases who are organizing.
and I remember being like, and, and of course I have relationships with all these young folks, so like, I remember going, you mentioned the church in Rogers Park where we have our peace room and there's the Cabo studios there now. So there's, you know, a bunch of things that, that are in that space. Great resources.
And I remember one day, like I had, been at a meeting and I was coming back to the church and I just saw young persons that I knew who has, has, I think had at that point had been out not very long. He had been locked up and then had been, had gotten home for a little bit. but I was like, Hey, like just checking in with him.
Saw him on literally on the street hustling, like he was, I just, you know, was talking to him. He was on the corner and I was like, he was kind of describing where, where he was at and some of the things he needed and. I was like, Well, you know, like not to, you know, it sounds like there's some things that inside the church here with circles and cybers that we could do to help kind of meet some of those needs.
And I got the sense from him that it was just like, he said something like, That's not really for me. And that's not really like something very offhanded. Like, That's not real. Yeah. Like, that's not really for me. That's not really me. And basically he was like, essentially like, We're good, we're in good relationship.
I respect what you all are doing. Keep it up good work. But I'm not really like feeling included. I don't feel a sense of belonging. And I was like, Man, like that's a failure. You know? Like that's exactly who we would like to feel a sense of belonging, inclusion, leadership in our work. So, I'm doing a long view, but I guess that's sort of what this stick talking thing is about.
Like what we know now is like there's a lot of youth service, violence prevention, Yeah. Youth work infrastructure built up around our city and in what we've seen and noticed over time is that the people who are not included in that, who don't feel a sense of trust and who don't feel that that infrastructure is providing support that's relevant and responsive to their survival needs, is young black men who carry guns routinely.
Like that's it. Like who? And, and, and they, and carry guns cuz for protection. Because, because they don't feel safe, because they, you know, they don't trust the police or they hate the cops to be more. Honest about it. so we decided, like, and I think also there was a really bad summer, 2016 was a rough summer in terms of gun violence in the city.
Like it felt all of a sudden, like every young person I knew was getting shot or getting locked up on gun charges or both. Like, it just felt like, Oh, whoa. Like we are, this is truly something we are, not doing enough about and don't have enough answers for. You know. So stick talk sort of start, started in that moment of like, what would it look like to really design a project that is for and by, gun violence survivors, young people who are on both sides of the gun who have authored and survived gun related harm.
That's really, really, that's really designed to be responsive. And again, Yeah, relevant and responsive to their survival and community needs. And let's start there. So we just started at, so, and I think that was sort of us resetting and like, if we've moved the target, how do we refocus it? How do we really, and not have that be an additive, not have that be the token really exceptional young person that gets trotted out for like to be on a panel or something.
No. Like that, that we're only gonna do this work for, for in this space. And that's, And it's not gonna be for everyone. It's just gonna be for those folks cuz we feel like they're being left behind. They're being, cuz they make white folks uncomfortable. They might, they do not get embraced by the middle class liberalism.
They are, everyone thinks they're demonic and dangerous. pre, you know, you know, the super predator language that we, we now, that's happening. That's happened again. We see that again. they're get then they started getting called, like, you know, then the, it became, the narrative about the Chicago's being marketed is this war zone, right?
And this is, that became the bigger and bigger narrative that circulated even nationally now. Like, this is who we're not focusing, that's, these are the people we're not, that we're leaving out when we're like circulating and advancing those kind of narratives. So, yeah. So basically this open question, like what would it look like for gun, a safety solution that's designed for and by people who are like directly affected by gun violence.
And that's what we're doing. That's what this is. So that, so, and then the two minute thing, or the very, the last thing that you asked for is like, Quickly what that is. I, I think that's what stick to is. And then what that looks like for us is we're doing firearm harm reduction. So we're creating a network of healing spaces around the city for young people who are on both sides of the gun.
And those spaces are animated by a firearm harm reduction strategy, which is, we don't condemn or condone it. If you're carrying gun to feel safe, who are we to tell you to put the guns down? We think that abstinence based approaches to guns, which we see all over the city, even in really otherwise dope, youth workspace, the no guns, the guns are bad, the no, no gangs, no drugs, no guns, like the abstinence based approaches that that doesn't work.
It's actually, quite frankly, dangerous and unethical to do that. And to have an absence based approach in a community where everyone is armed, everyone is carrying, like that's just, that's really dangerous. And then the other thing that isn't working as a war on guns, which is the new, the. The pre, the contemporary of the war on drugs, right?
Where now there's all the, it's a bipartisan project to criminalize gun possession. And the people who bear the brunt of that who are is, is urban communities of color that are getting over incarcerated. that's, that's what that project does, much like the war on drugs before it. Over incarcerated, black men around drug charges.
This is happening again today with over incarcerating black men around gun charges and, It's wild. Like young people that we work with, they're like the children of the war on drugs. Like their, their parents are locked up for, you know, like they're, this is the new generation and this is our new, the new state strategy to sort of manage and contain and confine.
so yeah, harm reduction is a, this fire harm reduction approach. We're trying to thread the needle. We're not doing abstinence based approaches. We're not doing, we're not criminalizing people for caring and using guns. We're simply trying to provide space for education, political education, critical conversations and skill building about guns.
Ethan (he/him): If you're gonna carry it, how can you be as safe and informed as possible while you do? yeah, It's about safety. It's about reducing violence. It's about people, young people living longer and surviving, but we need a different path to get there. So we're doing this. You know, experimenting with it in, in hopes that it can kind of like get us to the, to the, to that safer horizon, I guess.
David (he/him): So I heard a lot about, you know, being responsive to the needs of like a very marginalized segment of individuals, right? Like primarily black young men who carry guns, right? And, you know, from the framework of like, Oh, we wanna resist like the non-profit industrial complex, which we were pressured, we were feeling heavy pressured to do with things that circled in Cypress how the, how do your day to day operations with stick talk. Like confront that.
Ethan (he/him): Yeah. Well this is my job. This is like literally my role in the organiza is I support these organizers who. Whatever you would call credible messengers from the same class and culture and background as the young folks they work with who are themselves gun violence survivors to do the work, the frontline organizing.
And then I'm in the back room trying to figure out exactly the que the answers to the question that you just asked. one thing is I think we dug in on some of our history and the pandemic was helpful for this. Like really helpful for me and folks I work with is just like learning how Garby structured his organization, The Universal Universal Negro Improvement Association, U N I A, Not what they did.
Not their pol, sorry, not their politics, but their infrastructure. So to me, I think my job is like infrastructure building. I'm an infrastructure builder. And to do that, what are the mechanics of creating this container to avoid the pitfalls we've fallen into in the past and allow some capacity or some possibility that is again, responsive to what people are asking for.
So the, Yeah, the U N I A, the Black Panthers, like again, not what is their politics, but like how did they fund their work? Like truly, how did they fundraise to have a revolutionary program that they could advance such that the funding that they were getting wasn't undermining their ability to do the work.
They put in free people's medical clinics in all these cities. They needed a, they needed money for that. They got money for that. In all these different ways, some local chapters raised their fundraising strategies vary, but the point is they knew they wouldn't let the money. They wouldn't take the money if it was, if it wasn't gonna allow them to do what they needed to do and when, and then, and they made mistakes like we all do.
So I think the learning from those models, the MOVE organization is like my personal pet favorite shit. Incredible. I, they built a little urban, we, we talk about urban . They built like an urban, they're urban separatists. So they like separated from the shit in the middle. Then they never left. They stayed geographically in the middle of the city, but they separated completely from the modern society and its culture.
How did they do that? How did they raise their children in such an environment? what were their strategies, their infrastructure building strategies. So I think tapping into that history, learning from some of those examples have been very informative. And this may not seem next level to anyone who's like smarter about it than me, but in, in some way, I feel like I would felt, into the trap of undervaluing these questions of not thinking and prioritizing the infrastructure building questions because I was so focused on the organizing work.
The, the more, not, not, it's all organizing the more like, I don't know, Lexi Frontline like me. To me, me, I think in the past I had all these values on it. Like, Oh, that's really what is important. Well, in order to sustain that work, we really have to be intentional about these questions. And I think, I haven't always been, I'm more informed now, I've been in the, in it for a minute.
Like I know what's going on now. But I think, so yeah, building on pa past experiences, what we've seen with the non-profit infrastructure that kind of can constrain and harness our political imaginations here, looking at these historical models and then, Getting some help to figure out. Okay. Like, I think that the, the really, the way we're currently experimenting with answering this question is with this mutual aid funding structure where we're getting, really trying to direct young people.
Like for, so if we say that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, then we have to trust those closest to the problem to figure out when, how material support gets, Leveraged and distributed and not have strings attached, not have restrictions, like not pretend to know best what money should be used for.
And so freeing up money, liberating funds and just getting them to young people in a way where they can make decisions together about how to address their immediate survival needs, their community needs, how they can build and grow shared assets. Like that's the big, mystery box we're trying to unlock.
So I think with the mutual aid arm of what we do is like, yeah, I mean, we've heard from young people over the years, like, you know, and not, I'm just talking about stick to, I'm talking about in my life, like over and over again. Yeah. You know, we get, what we know is that we get little crumbs, we get little stipends.
We go to that program, we get a little stipend for going, but meanwhile, the people who run that organization get salaries. We get stipends. This is inequitable. They just sense, they know, you know, that's not equitable, that's not honest, really. and so how do we start to like, get young people a space and a practice for, for doing resource pooling, I think is really what it, like, thinking of money as a collective resource, getting into the right relationship with money, getting past some of our conditioning around money and scarcity and our, our trauma around money and scarcity and really rebuilding the way we think about, talk about and move money.
So in some way we're taking these two very stigmatized subjects, guns and money, and we're trying to like, Re-envision and reimagine the way we like, the way we do things with each . You know, what, how do we do things with money? And I, I will say one other thing and different cultural lineages, like with this resource pooling practice would be like the susu, which I think is sort of like, to me, I learned that is like a, specifically an Afro-Caribbean kind of, prac cultural practice or the to, there's like a lot of Latinx communities, basically pooling resources, folks who are excluded from like white financial institutional support, who aren't banking, you know, getting money together, kind of having a rotating savings club or a way to like pool money and use money to advance themselves in their community.
So just kind of borrowing from that. Mm-hmm. reintroducing that into spaces. what we try to do now is when young folks are kind of, we bring young people into the work and meet them where they're at and they need money. So we try to do what we can to give people. Resources. But I think as soon as we are able, we try to transition them over to like doing this more collective resource sharing model.
and incentivizing them too, because that seems more sustainable and more like the future than, and, and to do it we have to have a lot of like, really we have to push past the conditioning to ha and have like really seemingly impertinent conversations about like, what do you need? How are you doing?
Ethan (he/him): How is your resources? Like I'll just share this one thing. I was just doing, a workshop on this, in Humboldt Park a couple weeks ago, and. it's a group. I was probably like about 10 people and I was just facilitating. So I had no, no skin in the game, but I, you know, I brought in money, cash, and I was like, Here's money.
Let's put it in a pot. Let's divvy it up. What do you all need? And the group had big dreams. Big dreams. And so for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, they were like, Yeah, let's use this money for, they have a space and then the winter's coming. So they're like, Yeah, in the winter, if we get this like, greenhouse grow light set up, we can grow food all winter in the space and then we can offer food.
Like they had these Oh, and they were looking up on Amazon, like, how do, oh, this like, I heard about this like portable greenhouse setup. Oh, it's only this much. Let's use the money to get that. Like, and then like, we were like, okay, like we kind of moved the money around. As we do get to a place of balance, we can't meet all needs, but like, do we feel good about this?
And we were in the collective decision making, sort of like, all right, are we ready to go forward with this? And at the very end, this young person in the group was like, Hey, I think this is really great. I love these plans. Would it be okay if I just had like $5 so that I could do my laundry? Cuz I, I don't have like quarters, I just could use some cash to like make sure I could do my laundry for, you know, next week or something.
And him having the courage, I think, to voice what is like a very, maybe there was some shame, maybe there was some, whatever feelings about having that very basic, immediate need low down on the, on the hierarchy of needs. Like he's talking about clothing, you know, it broke open something in the space where people were like, Oh, like we can actually be honest about what we really need and like, oh, well, first of all, yes, we can do that.
And I should mention like, I'm having difficulty with rent and like my, my, I could use money for diapers for my cousin. Like something changed where we can actually just be honest about our material needs instead of kind of like feeling shame and having to put those aside and thinking that our individual needs should not enter into our collective freedom, dreams and organizing.
so then that it would like re they completely redid it. It was like, okay, nevermind. Like that, that's not for now. Like that's a great dream, but right now we gotta take care of our people. We gotta make sure everyone's immediate survival needs are gonna be met. It's gonna get cold. Who needs a coat?
Ethan (he/him): Let's use money for like, just basic shit. Rent, diapers, a winter coat. Like let's put some money on someone's books. Who got locked up? Like, I felt like that was, Like in a slow, and, you know, just in that moment that I got to witness it, like just a slow pushback, a small pushback against some of our conditioning around money and starting to see money as like a medicine for collective wellness rather than something that's like secreted away, individualized, scarce.
so anyway, I don't know. I think that's kind of what that I, I hope that answers your question. It seems to me like that's us learning from the past and the way that resources are accruing and trying to do something different. Like, with that,
David (he/him): I'm curious, a couple things. One, like where did that money come from?
Ethan (he/him): Ooh,hey, hoodies.
David (he/him): Okay, So, so like self, revenue, from like things that you've sold, Right? Cause like I'm thinking about like, who's the funder that says, right?
Ethan (he/him): Like, No, no, no funders. Zero funders. Okay. Yeah, no, and funders are very clear when I've asked. They're like, you know, they're down with what we're doing.
They're like, Yeah, we're not giving you money for that. We're, This is not a redistribute. They, I, Oh wait, someone said literally, Hold, lemme find it. It really struck me. I was explaining it, Hey, we could really use the said, Oh yeah, that, that's wealth distribution, not philanthropy. And we're like, Oh, okay, well nevermind.
We won't ask you for money for that. But, yeah, no, we have to do, So I think that means we have to get serious about building out our network of individual con supporters and contributors. and for that, I will shout out like this white edge that we have that I, I think that's actually, Another kind of historical piece, like these underground radical black, black radical organizations that actually have been able to have this, I'm thinking of like maybe the Black Liberation Army ha other groups that had above ground white supporters that could like, siphon them off resources.
Not, not that, not that that's like a unique to those organizations, but really taking seriously that we need to have that. And so having ind a network of ind individual supporters who can give us money to do with what we will, who are themselves making a decision to trust us young people to use that money as is needed.
Right. So that's like a big, hurdle I think for a lot of people who wanna give money. Like I saw that we talked about the, what did you call it? The. White Awakening or something
David (he/him): great White awakening, not my term. Duran Lisa Duran. But yeah,
it was like, it was like, people are like, I wanna give money, but also I wanna make sure I get a tax break off that, or I wanna make sure that it goes to something.
Ethan (he/him): So this is like, no, you just have to give up the shit and trust that the people who are most affected by the thing that the problem know where the money is best, to be, you know, distributed and used. And then, yeah. And then I'll just mention like, you know, we have been taking seriously the grassroots fundraising thing.
We have merch and hoodies, and that gives us, not, that gives us a lot of small donations, which is great. And then we can use that money in, in much less restricted way. In unre Well,
David (he/him): I was gonna say, yeah, unrestricted. And I, you know, I know that money exists out there, right? Both in the, like, the grassroots and, you know, a large portion of.
Amplify RJ summer programming was funded by the summer. was somebody who I, made contact with who's like, I'm a, I work in finance, right? I have this material. Well, my, my girlfriend's a teacher. I understand like the need for this. I know what you're doing. Like, here's 30 gs, right? And like, cool, wonderful.
Like, one, we need more people like that period for like so much more, of this work. and like. One. Where are they? I'll let you. Boy, we'll split it between us right now.
Ethan (he/him): You're approximate to them. Then you're the one that lives in the state where they all seem to reside and have startups or something, and a venture capitalist firms.
So you're close.
David (he/him): So that, and like, you know what you're talking about, like with the infrastructure building, like you now have some of those structures to receive, like the money, like if it is donated, but like you can say like, Hey, this is unrestricted. We're gonna do with it. We want, like, when you're not like soliciting grants and all that, that's so important.
And I think about, you know, I was having a conversation yesterday with, with folks who are doing work around land back and like, for people who are, and I, and I'm hoping that we're gonna have them on the podcast soon, but for folks who are,living on stolen land, right? Like what is your commitment, at the intersection of your.
Financial privilege to like rematriating the land to the people who have been taking care of it. Similarly, what is the commitment that you have to like reducing harm and violence in, in your community? It doesn't look like more police, obviously, right? And like, yes. Vote and all that shit. But like, what are the things that you can do for like, the benefit of our mutual wellness
Ethan (he/him): Mm-hmm.
David (he/him): Right? and like when you say the word mutual, like who does that extend to for you? .
Ethan (he/him): Hmm. I think my issue with a lot of the mutual aid projects that I saw spring up after the, I don't know, White Awakening?
David (he/him): In conjunction with Covid.
Ethan (he/him): Oh yeah, yeah, True, true pandemic as well. Yeah. Was, I mean, actually I don't have issues with them. I think a lot of small, experiments, you know, are needed. And I just think, like, what we notice is when we're talking about young black people who carry guns, that is like a group of folks that young, that white, that, white folks, professionals, I, I don't want to just say white folks.
I would say educated class profe professionals, like do not have much open hardness and empathy. Even though they're survivors, by the way. Like even though all of our work is like, let's have survivor centered healing. Well, these young folks who are authoring harms are also survivors 100% of the time, both sides of the gun.
and then that's not everyone's job if, if you're working in different spaces all around the ecosystem. So our space is like, all right, let's create some of the mechanisms and infrastructure that's of support for that group, because we notice that they're being left out and excluded from a lot of the other kinds of, of projects.
So I think, and, and I, I don't think any one project or mutual aid thing or space or something should try to check all the boxes that, and then you're just, that's not it. We know that's not effective either. and I want, I just wanted to say also, Rematriation of land is like the horizon to move toward, right?
Like, and people who are doing land back projects now are like building their muscles and capacities and competencies toward that horizon of like decolonization. Basically, I'd like to find more small scale ways, lo hyperlocal ways to build these redistributive muscles here and now for me and with my people to advance toward those same horizons as well.
And we can figure out the politics of decolonization or reparations or something down the road, along the path. But right now we can all just get together on some of this like redistributive. Capacity building and learning together how it looks. And what I'm liking to seeing is like these small scale res hyperlocal resource pooling groups.
As we build more and more of them, as we build out these hubs or this network, having them be able to compare notes and say, All right, what are you learning in, you know, how we're using your resources? Or what are you kind of learning from this practice? And let's talk about, let's troubleshoot together and we're doing it over here and our community has these needs.
And that may be different than yours, but like, let's have this kind of like inter, let's have this coalition, across community lines, local lines, gang lines, geographic lines, whatever. Let's start to build some of that coalition energy and, thickness so that we can like be. Yeah, like, I want to be like, and just, and our, and our model is the harm reduction.
Like we specifically are saying like, we want to treat, black and brown people who carry guns the way that like we treat white people who use opioids
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Ethan (he/him): So we give them, we don't criminalize them. We're doing less and less criminalizing of drugs. More and more. Here's harm reduction. Here's a con, safe consumption site.
Here's a needle exchange more and more. And, and it's not, coercive. It's not, demanding that you put the drugs down or that you stop using drugs or that you submit to treatment you may keep using. If you are going to be using here, let's help like build you up to learn practices to keep yourself and your loved one safe.
We're just trying to do the same thing. Guns and what's cha, what's go good and challenging about learning from that mob? Cause first of all, there's no other firearm harm reduction work happening right now in the, in this country that we've been, We've been looking and trying to find partners who are doing this kind of similar thing.
There aren't, so we have to use this, you know, other harm reduction movements and projects as sort of our like reference point and their open source technology, like a needle exchange is not like David's idea, tm, you know what I mean? Like no one invented safe consumption sites and now you have to contract with them to have a safe consumption site.
It's a movement that's happening in all these places. It's open source, it's shared as collaborative. People are doing it over here, over here, learning, talking, sharing results, sharing findings, troubleshooting. So just having a more like that network growing a network, growing laterally and as a network rather than like, Vertically as a bureaucratic institutional infrastructure with millions of supervisors who supervise supervisors or something is much more about that collaborative sharing and advancing and experimentation.
And I, I feel like that's also lessons learned or lessons we're figuring out is like, yeah, we don't want to be the, we wanna go away, We don't wanna be the sole providers of something. And we're getting requests from other places, other cities now too, which have surging gun where same thing surging gun violence.
massive numbers of gun arrests and abstinence based approaches are not yielding reductions in shootings. You know, the arrests, the abstinence based stuff, Let me say that again. Massive numbers of gun arrests and based approaches to gun use are not yielding significant reductions in shootings, in homicides.
Ethan (he/him): They're looking for help too. And I think we're conditioned, and I've seen it in Chicago, when people come in to be the expert and teach us something that they've like perfected in their local ecosystem and now they're bringing like they want help and he, and help to think through this and new practices and capacity and we wanna help, but we don't want to be We don't wanna be needed.
We want to build you up and then go away and continue to be in dialogue with you about how we can continue to learn together and be in the learning community around this. Rather than that, you need to hire us to come in, be there forever, and set up shop in your space. I think that's the kind of growth that I've seen a lot and we know is not like, maybe that's like proprietary growth, you know, professional growth, institutional growth that doesn't grow the work or like the capacity of people to do the work.
So I think, I don't know. I'm thinking about that stuff too and I'm thinking about that in relation to the redistributive question around this harm reduction stuff. So, I don't know. I'm sure I've gotten far away from your, Questioning, but I'm thinking about it all.
David (he/him): Well, and I'm thinking about like right, you don't want to get caught in the cycle of like the non-profit expert of like, expert of like, Yeah, this is how we solve this problem.
But like when I hear what you're saying about like, you know, we want to work ourselves out of a job. Like when I hear people say that, I think like there has to be this acknowledgement and often times when I recently, when I've heard that it's been in the context of. Anti-racist, anti-oppression worker.
Like we wanna work ourselves out of a, but like, we have to be really real with ourselves about, like, these problems aren't going away in our lifetimes, . Right? And so like, what does sustainability look like, right? I'm not saying that like, it's like, hey, we're building up this institution of like, come learn how to like, do like gun violence, harm reduction.
But like, what are the ways that like these things are documented and shared and like people have accompaniment in thought partnership, right? Like this exchange of ideas in the quote unquote application quote unquote implementation of these things. And like, that is work that is like worth compensating, worth, funding, right?
worth building infrastructure around. Like how do we not get trapped in the nonprofitization of all of that? I mean, I know that's what you're wrestling with, but like with that prompting, are there any other thoughts?
Ethan (he/him): That is what I, that's the big question. And it's not as simple as the, once the need is met, we go away because we're not, that's not our time horizon right now. Like you said, this is not something, this is not something like my generation will see to completion. I, I think the multi-generational piece, this is not an answer and I think it's a big, an important enough question that I can't pretend like I have any
David (he/him): Sure.
Ethan (he/him): One kind of tidy response. I've been wrestling with it. I will say like I'm very big on leveling young people up into leadership. I think that's extremely important I think the multi, so like, basically it's like a competency around multi-generational like lines of transmission or something. And, I'll just use, so, so here's the cautionary tale is to me what's happened with restorative justice as something that was a good tool, a great set of values and principles and practices, and that is now a full blown industry and professional field with all these professionals working and profiting from it.
Right? And I think, like I saw that happen in real time because when we started doing the work, it wasn't a thing and now it's, it's, it became codified. And what happened is there was a potential, and I saw this as young people that I work with were. Living it out in their lives. Not in a theory, a theoretical academic journal way, but like they're making decisions around how they navigate harm and healing, how they identify causes and root causes of violence and harm in real time as they walk around their neighborhoods.
And there it was like, Oh wow. Well there's a lot of money now. There's increasing resources and support for this kind of work. Let's get young people into positions to lead that and be the leaders of that. And they got kind of crowded out by like professionals who have master's degrees and who have educated, class mobilities and lingo and.
Those are the people who have those jobs. You know, like, and everyone's hiring. Okay. Restorative justice coach or restorative justice counselor or all these new positions started cropping up and then going to people who are approximate to like white, professional middle class, even though they're not all white folks.
I'm not just talking about white folks, I'm talking about educated class professionals, which is an integrated field now. racially, I mean, and it's like that was a missed opportunity. You know, like in the evolution of this and the kind of consolidation of this as a professional field. now we have all these organizations around Chicago where the people who are in these positions that are relatively newly created in the last five, 10 years are like
folks with a master's degree who just got a, came out of social work school who do not live in those communities, who now make $80,000 and park their car in a gated parking lot to work in those. It's just like, man, we just shut the window before it even open to like give that power to young folks who may not talk in the professional way, who may not be legible in certain like professional spaces, but who like know it and are the, and are the appropriate, culture carriers of the work.
I think that was like sad to see. That was a shame to see and like see that in real time as that happened. And I, I guess the question is like how to not reproduce that, you know, how to not as we move forward with this work, which is some kind of intersection of restorative justice and transformative justice and abolition and harm reduction, whatever we're doing now, like.
To make sure that the people at the center of the work, the culture carries of the work are gun violence survivors now today and in three years, and in five years and in 10 years, even if the organization goes away or changes form or whatever. And that means that young people get leveled up, gets supported and resourced so that they can sustain themselves to do the work and then bring more young people up as well.
Like, I don't want it to just go to like other adults who look like me or can talk like in the language of the institutions. So something about being better able to like build capacity, competency and leadership along multi-generational lines, I think would be really helpful. And, and yet, so that's, that's one way I think, right?
Like, so that it isn't like, so that young people are truly at the forefront of the work. Not in a tokenized way, not as an additive, but really like, Determining the strategy and the direction and that me and others, like in my generation and older are like, Cool, let's sit back. Let's just support, Let's be in the back room.
Let's do the work to support and platform those other voices and who, who should be at the forefront. I think we've kind of failed at that and it would be really good to get better at that. And, I think also the, just the hyperlocal, so insisting on like a youth leadership focus in a meaningful way and also not like just training people to like advocate for like policy change.
Like no young people that I know. Want to, Most young people I know don't vote like or they can't vote cuz they have felonies. Like, so there's a lot of, they're not like interested in that in certain kinds of change that we, I other professionals might think of as like really legitimate and helpful change.
So, okay then, then don't, then don't try to get young people to look like you and do what you do and prioritize your, your priorities. That's a relinquishing of control and power and seed and power that is like really hard to do, especially if you're like professionalized. and like called on for your expertise all the time.
and then, yeah, the hyper lo hyperlocal thing too, just because again, like part of that professionalization is now these like big institutions, these institutions, I'm sure you've seen, I don't know how it looks where you live, but here it. There, the nonprofits are a gentrifying force, like the big institutions that come into the community and have their new building, that they get a bunch of fund grant funding to build, and the multis stories and big glass like side, you know, windows everywhere and a big parking lot for everyone works there and everyone making a hundred thousand dollars.
Ethan (he/him): It's like, that's, and then down the block it's like a bando and down the other way. It's a, it's a open lot with like overgrown, no one's lived. Like, you know, it's like, what is, what is this? This is a really weird concentration of wealth in, in a community that is, under resourced in certain ways. So it's like, yeah, we just have to get, I think we just have to de professional.
I think that's, that's my big thing. Like how do we de professionalize our work and our skills? How do we share, how do we like, have that kind of be our- fundamental value that we won't stray from, even if we have to do certain acrobatics or. Machinations to sustain the work. At the end of the day, how do we de professionalize, how do we get out of our professional, mindset with stuff?
And like, I'll just use an example cuz it can be abstract like, so the Panthers, free medical people's, free medical clinics, people's medical clinic in these communities, they partnered with doctors, medical professionals, but the Panthers were like, You can come work with us, but you can't be like, we know these working class black communities have suspicion and distrust of the medical industry.
We know they don't seek medical attention because most hospitals are racist, are going to make them, like, alienate them from like wellness by giving them a lot of professional jargon that they don't understand. So certain members of the Panther Party would like sit in the office with the person from the community and the, and the doctor and like, Basically like mediate and be like, Wait, wait.
Do you understand what you were just told? Do you understand the language that they just used to describe what your medical issues are? Okay, say it again. Like make sure that you're making this knowledge that's like you need degrees and accreditations to understand. Make that accessible before you leave here.
And if you're not willing to do that work, then you can't partner with us and be a doctor here. You can't help us in this way. I just think holding a line like that is really dope, like very helpful. I'd like to see and practice with you and others, like how do we hold that line? We're like, we're not going into a space and then amassing and accruing more.
like there's no gate keeping in that way. It's all about open access sharing open source. Let me help you understand like what you're talking about with your podcast is exactly that. Let's make this accessible so anyone can kind of like have a question about what this means and then find. Tools that are speaking to and written in or shared in their modalities and their literacies that they can understand that, meet them where they're at and not feel like, whoa, that's like something I can't enter into, or that's a realm of a professional thing that I can't access or something like that.
I just think we're over professionalizing everything and it would be really cool to see movements on the way to decolonization. Like, let's begin by Deprofessionalizing, cuz that's giving up and that's practicing that redistributive muscle.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm. . so acknowledging time.
Ethan (he/him): okay. But well tell me your thoughts though now I want to hear, I've rambled.
David (he/him): Yeah, no, there is so much in there. I'm thinking really specifically about some of the things that I've experienced in my work in the nonprofit industrial complex, which like, you know, people, white folks coming into these communities with their unknown paternalism, saviorism and like, and I, I do think like you can also categorize like, it, it isn't just white folks, it's often white folks, but yes professionals, who are are doing this work, can like, have a lot of harmful impact on the communities that they come into.
When it comes to like the deprofessionalization, like there's, there's this thing that like, there's always the balance of do you have the knowledge, do you have the experience to do this? Like on a scale larger than like what is like directly. Within like your purview in your community that I, I think like we need to consider, and like if we are limiting it to like, like a bunch of like little hyperlocal experiments, right?
A a bunch of hyperlocal, projects. that, that's cool. But then like, I'm just thinking about the scalability and like, maybe that's not the right question, right? you know, white supremacy capitalism has us all thinking about like, alright, cool, it worked here. How can we translate it to like all 50 states, all however many neighborhoods, however many right blocks.
Like, because on, on a lot of levels, like this is a block by block , this is a block by block problem. And like each of those, blocks have like things that are unique about them and require unique solutions. but like, how do we build the infrastructure to share. Not quote unquote best practices, but share experiences, build relationships, and then like share resources to make sure that like this work gets done in a good way.
I don't have, again, like I don't have the answers to that either. You don't have the answers to that, but like, you know, that's the ongoing work of people who are building the infrastructure for this, like, like you're doing. So, no, those are some thoughts.
Ethan (he/him): This is a very tough thing to say or hear that it is not just white folks who occupy these, roles.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Ethan (he/him): like in, I am a white person and so I feel very authorized to speak about the whites , but I don't, the people in these kind of, resource amassing modes professional. Careerist, maximize earning potential mindset because of what white supremacy has done to everyone who lives under racial capitalism.
That is not just white folks. I, I just wanna be clear about that. And I think that's like hard to say to, people of color who are like finding a way into a middle class mobility that they've never had or access to. I think that's really hard to say to like, women and fems who again, like use careerist and professional,roles and norms to like insulate themselves against like misogyny and gender based violence.
Rely on that kind of thing. Like let's keep it professional, you know? so I like, I have all of that in mind, but I also just know, like what I see is like, it isn't really just like white women who graduated from social work school. Like it would be kind of easier if it was, but it's really like, just a general educated class privilege that is like getting, that's like blocking some of the like community capacity, building wisdom.
Solutions, You know? So I just, I think that's more uncomfortable to acknowledge. And I think what I've noticed in the spaces, a lot of spaces I've been in is, has been caucused racially, like we're white people in the work, but people who are reaching for whiteness are proximate to whiteness. And, other ways are also implicated in this.
Ethan (he/him): And I think that's why it's, it's both like, that's a little scarier, but also more exciting. Like, so that's that. And then, yeah, the scalability thing is,yeah, I think like you, you said it, you know, like let's all get, it's like let's get, let's get people invested in their like hyperlocal experiment that's addressing and responsive to like hyperlocal needs, which are not gonna be the same everywhere. Like what we're experiencing in Chicago is not the same as what's happening in wherever.
Baltimore, I'm thinking of the places we've been getting, Requests and calls for help from is like all these other cities. It's like, whoa. Like I have no idea what's happening in your city. I don't know what's happening in Milwaukee. I don't know what's happening in Denver. I don't really know anything about Chattanooga, Tennessee.
So you gotta be kind of putting the people in place to drive that. But we can be in, we can be in sharing mode. We can, and it is best. We can develop best practices that way. Probably not that they're like, we have to be doctrinaire about them, but like, we can troubleshoot, we can learn. And then yeah, having.
A network that's like really making decisions as a network about resources. That would be the goal ultimately is to be able to fold up these organiza, this organization and seed to a, a network that's self-sustaining. So that the network is doing all of the kind of determinations about what funds are necessary, what resources are necessary, where, how to distribute them, how to share them.
Much like a my network, like that's our model. We use these mushrooms, like that's a whole, that has its own intelligence, you know, and it's moving resources from places of abundance to places of scarcity and it's networked and hyper interlocking and it's able to support all these different, you know, kind of a tree, a different kind of tree over here than over here.
Different plant life over here than over here. But it's all that like underground, ability and, and agility to like pass and ch and, and move. Resources, I think in MyUM is like a redistributive infrastructure. but yeah, I think, I think the, my, network and logic, like, yeah, that's it. That's, let's, let's grow our, let's scale our things in that way.
and also I will say like there's something about being underground, like, and I'm probably guilty of romanticizing that I think Bill and, Bill s and be, I like, they're like, Ethan, you're, you're glorifying this. It wasn't all that great. I remember like, I was like, Oh man, under, under, you're underground.
Ethan (he/him): Like, I think you have a little bit more. There are certain things that you can do when you're not, when you're outside of the system, when you're, extra legal, unlawful, whatever it is. I think, Yeah, like maybe that's not for everyone all the time. We work with young people who move like off the radar of the system who are, fugitives and it's fugitivity, like our organi, it's fugitive organizing.
So like there's probably a place in there for that as well. But anyway, yeah, those are my little like notes on what you said. Yeah.
David (he/him): Love it. And now we're getting into the questions that everybody answers when they come on this restorative justice life.
We've talked around the ideas, but in your own words, define restorative justice,
Ethan (he/him): a repertoire of like practices and principles for healing, justice, and transformation.
David (he/him): Beautiful. You get to sit in circle with four people dead are alive, who are they and what is the one question you ask? The circle?
Ethan (he/him): Ooh, I really like Octavia Butler. She would be there for sure. My heroes Sheroes. I admire the move organization. Maybe Ramona Africa. hmm.
Hmm. Sam Greenley, author of the Spook who sat by the door. Big plug, big shout out. For those who don't know, please read the, that by the door. And that's it, right? Four.
David (he/him): That was four. And what is the one question you would ask that circle?
Ethan (he/him): How do we fund the revolution?
David (he/him): Beautiful. any ideas from you?
Ethan (he/him): Yeah, Yeah. All this is, is me trying out those ideas with my partners and team and collective is like, if we do need to fund it, even though we know certain ways aren't gonna work, and we know from insight that the revolution will be funded by the non-profit industrial complex, how do we start to, you know, transform the ways.
Talk about and think about and use money so that it can become a, a medicine for collective wellness.
David (he/him): Are you going watch-
Ethan (he/him): That's the question. That's the question, not the answer.
David (he/him): Yeah. Are you going to watch the, Star Wars show and, or,
no. Unfortunately that's not on my
David (he/him): Okay. Radar. That's okay. So spoiler, for those who are going to watch that, you know, when they're thinking about like how the Rebel Alliance gets funded, they steal, right?
And like that has to be part of it too, on some levels. And what is saying that? Yeah. Like what is the redistribution, force redistribution of that? Like we're getting into,
Ethan (he/him): I'm glad you said that. I think you're right. I, I mentioned it before about sort of the underground thing or the, that there needs to be an underground component.
And I would say there needs to be a network or community of scene workers. This would be a really good place for white people to feel like they have a place of belonging in the movement so that they're not overstepping their roles, but they're really leveraging the resources and privileges they have.
So let me see if I can articulate it. Like refashion your professional position into a note of redistribution. And instead of using the, your mobility, your, your privileged identities, your educated, class bilities to like, think just about maximizing your own earning potential, just about furthering your own career and continuing in your role or sustaining your organization, think about how you are using it.
I. As a note of redistribution to take, literally steal from, remove, liberate from places of abundance and send it underground, send it to that underground network of people who know what to do with it, and have a wisdom and intelligence that far surpasses yours that knows and is in tune with where that those resources need to go.
Don't be afraid to steal. I love stealing. I used to steal a lot. I probably don't as much anymore because I need to have access to prisons and I don't wanna get arrested. But I, I think stealing and, theft is really gotta be part of it because we can't just think about doing this lawfully, like the law is not just, you know.
David (he/him): Yeah, yeah. neither like, what did you say? Neither condoning or condemning. Right. Don't,
Ethan (he/him): I don't condemn or. We don't condone firearm use, we don't condemner condone stealing. We don't condemner condone what people need to do to survive, but we wanna be responsible about it and accountable about it and make sure that there's healing when there's harm, and make sure that needs are met so that their people don't have to cause harm sometimes.
David (he/him): Absolutely. as you've been doing this work, what has been an oh shit moment and what did you learn from it can be taken two ways. Both like, Oh shit, that was a mistake. That was a fuck up. Like, Oh yeah, you didn't do that. Or it'd be like, Aw shit. Yeah, we did that, and it like, worked out really well.
Ethan (he/him): Well, I thought of the first connotation first.
So let me first thought this thought. I, you, I work, I've been working inside prisons for like, I don't know, 12 years I think. But I, I think at the beginning of my journey, I remember being in a space with a bunch of young people and. we're doing some sort of a workshop or circle or something. And I think I was that day the only, I was the only facilitator of this, which is not necessarily good practice, but that's just what it was.
And then at the end, we were in the visiting room. I had all these chairs set up and so, and so they left, they like were taken away by the CO to go back to their unit or something. And I was like cleaning up the space, resetting it or whatever. And like I saw, this young dude who had been in the space, like kind of like come back to the door and like peer in and like he seemed to have want to just say something to me or something.
And He came back in, his eyes are downcast, like really nervous and stuff.
And he said, Ethan, are you black? And I was like, Whoa. What Again? Oh shit moment. What the fuck? How did I, No, sorry. I stumbled over whatever words. And what I realized is in his experience, all the white people that look like me, fea typically in his life to that point, and he many, he had been bringing up teachers, judges, police officers are like sources of violence and harm and domination.
So something he was thinking about in terms of race, which went deeper than phenotype and was like much more sophisticated than I was thinking, was like, well, this is a person who looks like those other people but isn't behaving in that way so you're not white because you're not behaving in the way that white people behave.
So are you black? You know, like it was a really great question and I was like, Oh shit. And I think what I learned from that is like always be really clear and upfront and transparent about. My identities, I guess I had not done so in that moment. I, I think that's a great question, but it shouldn't be because I had not acknowledged like, my overlapping privileges and, and my identity.
So I think that was like me being like, okay, in the future I can't have that be a question that someone will wanna know, even if they think I'm different than other white folks, which is great. I think cool, but it can't be because I didn't properly like, make sure that information was accessible and available about who I am, you know?
David (he/him): yeah, for sure. how can people support you in your work in the ways that you wanna be supported?
Ethan (he/him): Ooh. We would love. this is not in me, This is not an I, this is, we, we have a collective, organizing collective that's doing this firearm harm reduction work and this mutual aid work that's currently, I mean, that's in Chicago and seems to be kind of having some tentacles reaching out and expanding in other places.
Please go to www.sticktalk.orgsticktalkwiththehyphenbetweenstickandtalk.org, and contribute. Become a monthly sustainer of our work, just $5 a month, $10 a month. We just want to have a lot of people giving us a small amount every month so that we can take that money and give it to young people to do with what they need to do.
Link and buy a hoodie.
David (he/him): Absolutely. Link in the show notes and then. Finally. Oh no. Dang. That was the last question. The second to last question was supposed to be, who's someone that I should have on the podcast and you have to help me get them on?
Ethan (he/him): Well, probably Emmanuel and. My partner, co-founder of Circles and Ciphers and, just a really, a radical attorney doing really important work in the Public Defender's office here.
David (he/him): Let's make it happen. Beautiful. thank you Ethan, so much for your time, your stories, your questions to me. I
Ethan (he/him): have another one.
I have another one I think now that I think about it. Take that one if you want. Also, Anne Marie Brown and Akim Soy, who are the co-executive directors of Circle and Cypress, who are really taking that organization in exciting directions and doing really cool things with that container and these practices and tools.
And, I think having them on to talk about the work and the kind of new iterations and evolutions of it would be really exciting for your listeners.
David (he/him): Mm, let's make all of those happen. Ethan, thank you so much for sharing your stories, your wisdom, your experiences, your questions back to me. this was in some ways a non-traditional episode of this restorative justice life, especially in the way that record that we recorded it, although listeners might not pick that part up.
but, we're so grateful. And for those of you tuning in, we'll be back with another episode with somebody living this restorative justice life next week. Until then, take care.