This Restorative Justice Life

113. Diasporic Hustle Mentality & Doing Liberatory Work In Oppressive School Systems w/ Asha Sudra

March 02, 2023 David Ryan Castro-Harris
This Restorative Justice Life
113. Diasporic Hustle Mentality & Doing Liberatory Work In Oppressive School Systems w/ Asha Sudra
Show Notes Transcript

ASHA is an Artist, Educator, and Revolutionary. Asha is a queer, disabled, multidiciplinary artist, abolitionist activist and educator, and child of the East African Desi diaspora currently located in the Bay Area of California. Originally from LA, ASHA has been a public school teacher for the last 10 years in the bay area. She is an international poet, striving to use art to create radical change.

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David: Asha. Welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you? Mm. 

Asha: I'm a disabled queer child of the East African diaspora. 

David: Mm-hmm. , who are you? 

Asha: I'm a Gujarati carpenter cast. Fourth generation removed from the homeland and somehow striving for intergenerational healing. 

David: Who are you? 

Asha: An eighties baby hip hop head raised in the underground of la.

David: Who are you? 

Asha: Multidisciplinary artist seeking dialogue That's limited by the conventional ways that, that we speak to each other. Mm-hmm. , 

David: who are you? 

Asha: Someone that's striving for liberatory spaces and is also stifled by. Beige, white cis heteronormativity. 

David: Who are you? 

Asha: I'm someone who believes in the people and the the power of community resistance.

David: Finally, for now, who are you? 

Asha: Not your masi's generation. 

David: All right, well, Asha, thank you so much for being here with us. You know, I find guests for this restorative just life in many different ways. Shout out to all of you who share on social media, but I think one of our recent episodes, you had shared a clip in one of your stories and had some like really insightful commentary.

And then like, whenever I see those things like, please, this is the plug to like, share with your friends on social media, blah, blah, blah, all the things. But who knows? Maybe you'll end up as one of the next guests on this podcast, but you know, After I clicked on your profile and saw some of the work that you did, and I shared this with you right before we were recording, while restorative justice capital r j is something that you are familiar with, right?

The work that you've been doing professionally, but more for yourself really embodies the ethos of like living this restorative justice life. And so I was really excited to have you on talking about the way that you've built, strengthened, and repaired relationships with yourself and within your family and community, and of course like the world.

So let's get into it. You've been doing this work. Before you knew the words restorative justice, capital R, capital J as you define it, the work, right. How did this get started for you? 

Asha: Oof. I mean, really it was my own limitations, right? And so like wanting to, to find ways to, to be more aware of the ways in which my body was somatically, responding to situations that I was in, right?

Being aware that in my communication of my needs and my wants, that I was getting caught up in my own delivery. And, and the reception of that wasn't, wasn't what I was going for. And so really I knew I needed to, to work on some things myself and in doing so, right, that, that kind of began to unpack some of those, those, those ways in which we've been socialized, those ways in which we've been conditioned and

Yeah. You know, I think as a, like you said, you know, before I knew what the word was, I knew the feeling, the essence. Right. What I was looking for and striving for. And so yeah, man, I mean, at the end of the day really it was, it was in order to, to communicate more holistically, more authentically to listen mm-hmm.

more authentically. I think that's the biggest part too is and probably one of the hardest parts of this whole journey, right? Is learning how to listen different. Yeah. 

David: Yeah. You talked about like, you know, the somatic, and I'll use the words like elicitation, the things that like were activating.

Like, oh, something is not right here, something's not sitting well, I am activated. What were some of those examples that, you know, made you start to think like, I need to look for something different? 

Asha: Yeah, well, you know, the star people will, will say you know, I'm a triple fire sign and, and that I feel it and I exude it when I'm out.

And so, you know, for me, I would get hot. Like I, I literally, I get sweaty. And, and, you know, that fight, flight or freeze, I was always more fight. And what I came to understand and to realize was that in order to be heard and to be fully, you know, present in, in that dialogue that I was trying to have, I needed to be responsive to what my body was feeling in those moments so that I could take a breath, right, and really be intentional and thoughtful about how I proceed through whatever situation it is.

But but yeah, my, my first, the first feeling I get is that hat. And I, I think, you know, a big driving feeling that comes in conjunction with that was just being misunderstood. . And, and wanting to explore how I can communicate what I'm feeling, what I'm thinking in a better way. 

David: Yeah. What were some of the situations or the circumstances that would like bring that charge up in you, either growing up or a little bit later?

Asha: Yeah, I mean, I'm a weirdo, you know, I'm different and I think growing up in, in a society, and I mean specifically in LA it was really difficult to be different and weird and sensitive and emotional and you know, certainly coming from the East African Desi diaspora, it was a, it's a hustle mentality.

It's a, it's that migrant mentality, the refugee mentality. And so we never got to pause and have those conversations. And so when I would be trying to let my family know how I was feeling, what was going on inside my head there was a lot of dismissiveness. And I think initially that would create animosity.

Right. A lot of anger and I, I needed to navigate that in a different way. I knew I needed to because it wasn't sustainable. And then for me, the other piece of it I think, you know, as an adult is, is just wanting to build more authentic relationships. And being aware of the ways in which I stifle that, like me personally, I'm stifling that from building community with other people and really wanting to just take some time and explore where the, where that all 

David: comes from.

Yeah. You talk about being like from the How did you articulate it? The Desi East, the African Desi diaspora. Yeah. Right. And while there are specific nuances that like, I would appreciate and I'm sure listeners would appreciate hearing, right? So many people who are descendant of immigrants to the United States, right?

This land that we call the United States, like do have that hustle mentality, right? Land, this is the land of opportunity. You've gotta take advantage of the, the hard work and the the struggles that your parents went through to put you in this position. And it doesn't always leave us space for Feelings, , right?

No, just, just achieve, achieve, achieve, achieve. So we can take care of our family. Right. And while we're like being physically maybe monetarily being taken care of, like there are other aspects to us and so I'm curious if there are like specific representations of that, like within your within like your upbringing that like you think are like nuanced or like just specific to you.

Asha: Yeah, I mean, a hundred percent. I think that, you know, being a, a member of the carpenter class or cast pardon in me. So being a member of the Carpenter cast really outlined a space in which you had to continuously work for what you needed and what you wanted. And, you know, it was very much so driven into me by my grandparents, right, by all the elders.

Like it was very much something that you had to stay on top of. And I think in that, , what I'm starting to realize was all the conversations that were missed because of that hustle grind mentality, and I, I fully acknowledge that previous generations before me didn't always have the space to have those conversations, let alone the language.

Right. And I think that's really where I become aware of my privilege in the sense of that I've been able to take the time in the space to learn that language, to learn how to kind of take that time with myself and, and kind of step back. But I mean, growing up like, you know, there's a lot of things I wanted to do but didn't do because that was not Encouraged right by the, the culture and the way that we were brought up.

And so it's definitely been a struggle. And there's a lot of a disconnect, right? If I try to communicate with my folks like what I'm striving to do, there's still a lot of misunderstanding in that misunderstanding in the concept of saying no, of resting of just taking care of yourself and what that means and what that entails.

And so there's been a disconnect, like almost, I feel like, my whole life. And I've been trying to seek out what that can look like and what it can be different, but it wasn't what was modeled for me. And I, and I honor and I like really appreciate and I'm so grateful for all the lessons that have been taught to me.

And I also acknowledge that there's a lot more to learn and perhaps that focus on the grind and the hustle has left out, you know, some important conversations to be had. 

David: Right. So this wasn't something that you grew up having explicit conversations about with your parents. You know, you noticed within yourself that like you were angry, things weren't sitting right.

Where did you go? Where did you learn, right? Because so many people are interested in learning these kinds of things about themselves, and of course, like your journey with this is gonna be unique, but what were some of the things that you turned to? Who were the people that you got attached to, to learn from?

Asha: Yeah, it's a, it's a great question. And, and you know, for me, I think it, the answer is easy. It's art, right? And I think art in its many forms and places and spaces. But so I was raised in LA but I, I had to leave, right? I had to leave that space to, to find and carve out a space for myself. So now I live in the Bay Area of California.

And you know, it's a space where I've been able to seek out elders seek out those practitioners. A lot of those that are more in tune with their ancestral practices. Right. And with having these conversations, I give a lot of props to the black women and indigenous folks who have put me on. But you know, for me, all of that expression is in art.

And like, and like you kind of said, you know, like we've been, I've been having these conversations in my headphones for years listening to the hip hop that brought me up, right? Listening to the r and b that kind of gave me that space to understand there could be more than what's in front of me. And so you know, art and, and the, the practitioners, the mentors that I've had has always provided me that space for radical imagination, right?

Dreaming beyond the limitations that we have in front of us. 

David: Yeah. And those creative. Expressions of others. Right. But also like the traditions of the creativity, right? As they've been expressed through different cultures, like our cultural touchstones for a lot of people. I know you're someone who is, I guess like, I'll just ask like how do you refer to your tattoos?

Asha: Yeah. So the whole tattooing process has been one of, of healing in that art, that kind of artistic way where. There's not a lot of traditional dialogue that's happening around it, but it's the literal process of, of putting these dots on my hands and my chest and my feet and my body, and It comes from an indigenous practice from the me tribe.

It's an indigenous community that lived in what we now consider as West India prior to Arian invasion, prior to British invasion. And it was a practice that was put on low cast folks as a means of like an armor of, it's a storytelling way. It's a way that we know that even in our afterlife, we still carry it with us as opposed to the, the, the gold, right?

That's passed down in my culture from generation to generation, but as it's called or as it's called in Gujarati culture, right? Because if you move into other areas of the subcontinent, they call it different things and the patterns might look a little bit different, right? But I grew up going to London to visit my family and my great-grandmother had treva.

all over, right? So all over her hands, everything, her chest. And she would wear a traditional, sorry every day. And so I would only see like little bits and pieces, you know, kind of off the collarbone or on her hands. And she didn't speak much English and my gja is really bad. And so we never really got to talk, but I would just sort of stare and I really feel like that's where my passion.

Tattooing in general came from, is that wanting to connect with her and with the other people in that generation who got those traditional tattoos, those indigenous tattoos. And I've had, it's been quite a journey, but I've been sort of examining different photos and doing research as much as possible to learn about the craft.

And I've actually gone ahead and sort of recreated the patterns that were on my great-grandmother onto me. And I know that when those folks that had Tava left India, whether it was in East Africa or in London after they were exiled there was a lot of. Disdain kind of looked on it, right? It was different.

It was other. And so there was a lot of self-hate that was created. And it's sort of beautiful to see folks from my generation bringing it back and reclaiming it, honoring it, celebrating it. And so the whole tattooing thing has been a really beautiful journey for me. 

David: Yeah. And like, it's just like these ways that I think people of our generation, right?

Second generation immigrants, right? Or people who like, as you've articulated, right, like have an amount of privilege that allows them the. Space to even start thinking about some of these things, like it's a really cool revival that's happening. I'm somebody who of black and Filipino descent and shout out to the folks down at spiritual Journey Tattoo down here in Southern California where, you know, reviving Filipino tattooing traditions, right?

Filipinos, many were called the -- by the Spanish, right? The painted ones, right? Mm-hmm. Because those traditions the those were traditional ways of marking ourselves, like for armor, like you said. And because of like colonization and like Catholicism, like that, those ways have colonization.

Catholicism, white supremacy in general, like those ways are seen as less than pagan, savage, et cetera, et cetera. And so for so many generations, right, our ancestors we're like, no, don't do that. So you can like, Assimilate into this culture. But we've lost so much from that. And so shout out to spiritual journey, tattoo folks, el and all them, and you know, everybody who's doing this cultural work for community and for themselves to, to heal.

You mentioned briefly how, you know, it is sometimes still a struggle to have those kinds of conversations with your parents. What has that been like? 

Asha: Yeah, and I mean, even like the generation before my parents, right? Like I, I went to, there's a couple family members in my family that still have --right?

So they have it from, and, and what's super dope about the tradition is like it was actually done to only women and done when they were about three to five years old, right? So this very, very spiritual journey. And I actually went to one of the members of my family that still have it and are, are still present with us.

And I showed her my chest and. , she definitely gave me a look like, I don't know, right? This look of fear, this look of, and I think for her triggered a lot of her past experiences with that judgment, with that you know, discrimination that she faced because of it. And so it's still quite confusing to them, and I think it's still something that is really challenging for them to really wrap their head around for my parents, right?

They, you know, they're not the biggest fans, but I'm like, I'm, I'm celebrating your grandmother. You know what I'm saying? And so there's, you know, there's this kind of line between I think a, a fear of a parent just wanting to protect a child. But then I, I do think that my mom see, The intention behind the work.

And that's something that I feel like makes her proud of this journey that I'm on. Yeah. But it's been, it is been, you know, a little bit of both , 

David: but I mean, it's not just the, the tattoos, right? It, it's this different life path that you've chosen, right. That is not so much about like grinding. And I'm curious how, you know, both as an artist, because I think artists in general ha tend to have those kinds of conversations with parents, but like specific to you, like what have those conversations been like about making sure that you know, hey, I appreciate your care and concern.

also, these are the choices that I'm making. And like, I'm sure that those conversations have evolved over the years, but you know, what has that looked like and what has that brought out in your relationship? 

Asha: Yeah, yeah. And I think the cool thing is, is like, you know, for my folks, they perhaps when they were dropping little gems of advice or suggestions, right?

About how to, how to, how to move forward, how to quote unquote be successful, right in life. I think they thought it meant a very particular thing. But what I've started to show them is that I can take those lessons and those pieces of advice and apply them in different ways, in different forms and different areas of my life.

And so it wasn't only just applicable to grind money. , right? Like those types of job security, those types of things. But that I could take some of that, those lessons that they've brought to me about integrity, right? About consideration, about compassion and apply those in in other aspects. And, and you know, I mean, they, they, they still from that generation.

So, you know, when I let my folks know about gigs and events and stuff like that, you know, a lot of the times their first question is, is the money is like, you know, you getting paid for it. What you getting paid for it, right? And so that's sort of where we're at in our evolution of those conversations. It used to be a lot of not criticisms, but I think they were probably holding it inside.

You know, just a little questioning of, of my, my choices. But I think, you know, years removed from the beginning of those conversations, they've seen that I've been able to actually take. , take these passions, take these talents or skill sets of mine and really apply them in meaningful ways. And so now I think they're starting to see like, oh, I see what you're doing.

Like I see you. Yeah. Which is the feels good. 

David: You know, we often talk Capital R, capital J, restorative justice within the framework of this podcast. But, you know, those values and practices of being able to have conversations with folks and like having this belief that, you know, people grow, people change, people aren't stagnant, people are valuable for what they can bring, whether it is within you know, White capitalist heteropatriarchy frameworks or not.

Right? You know, everybody is, is on their journey with that. I know that my parents occasionally listen to this podcast and they are often like very behind. So, you know, we're talking at the end of February of 2023. And so, mom, dad, if you're listening, I'm thinking about a conversation that we had a couple Thanksgivings ago where I spent like so much time with my family like more time than I had spent with them because we had go, we had gone on a trip together than I had since like, I really left home and like expressing like the fear and apprehension of like, I'm gonna be spending all this time with these people who like in my mind were the people that I left like 10, 15 years ago and they're not, Right.

Things have happened in the world. They've witnessed my life in some ways. They have different understandings of the world, and, you know, when we shut ourselves off from like, the possibilities of change, right? Like, it's not only just inaccurate, right? Because like, we're just like putting people in the box that they happen to be in like 2000, whatever, right? It, it's, it's wrong, but it also like limits the ability to build or have a relationship. And I'm not saying that.

There aren't circumstances where people need to have like very firm and solid boundaries, where over time people like haven't changed in engaging in those situations, in those relationships would just be causing more harm. But oftentimes I do think we're often really quick to write off people just because of like perceptions of like how they will receive information.

I know doing this work, having those conversations with parents, people in your life who you don't think will be like aligned with the way that you see the world. Stepping into those conversations is a vulnerable thing, but can lead to so much possibility and another level of relationship that you couldn't have imagined. 

Asha: Yeah, no, I, and I think like in you saying that, it makes me think a lot about my like, mental health journey and trying to share how I've been doing with my family because I think that you know, specifically around mental health is a conversation that we don't, and, and by we, I mean these diasporic communities that have been really prescribed to that hustle culture.

Like we don't necessarily pause to have that conversation. And I think for me, it got to a point with my family where I had to just sort of be straight up in how I was feeling and how I was doing. And you know, unfortunately at that time, right, years ago, I didn't get the response I was kind of looking for, you know what I'm saying?

Like, it wasn't , it wasn't supportive, it was actually quite dismissive and really harmful. And, you know, I had to stay, take a step back in many ways, right? And just kind of give that space to myself. But I think the concept of just sort of, you know, kind of cutting folks off that, that ghost, whatever, like it's very much so a capitalist creation.

And so, you know, in, in, in my culture, like the whole cutting off of family, that's not really a thing. Like we don't, we don't really do that, you know? And I only got one brother, and so, you know, if I, if I have to and which I did like, I, you know, I pulled in an RJ practitioner, and, and we had, we had, you know, some harm reduction around it.

Right? And so for me, it's, it's always seeking a different way of having that conversation. If the first time I had the conversation, it was really detrimental to my health to the relationship that I was fostering with my, my family. But that didn't mean that I was just like one and done, right? I had to find a different way of approaching the conversation, give some time, some space.

And so you know, I really am a firm believer of that. Like, we are not static, right? We are fluid, we are capable. And so just trying to find different ways of approaching that conversation. But yeah, when you said all that, it really made me think about just my, the ways in which I've tried to share my mental health journey with my family.

David: Yeah. And you know, when you talk about like,

attempting to have conversations and not going the way that like you intended them to do. Like sometimes people do need that time and space. I think to go to like hard R capital, well must say hard r when we say to go to capital R, capital J practice, right? when we're trying to have conversations about.

Harm and we're approaching somebody for the first time, right? It is natural for people to be defensive and for that not to be received well. And that doesn't mean that that person can't change the way that they see the problem. It might be just in that moment. And that doesn't mean that like restorative justice doesn't work.

It just means that it's a practice and it's a process of people navigating through intense feelings and emotions. And I think, you know, to like start to like lightly and pretty intentionally segue into like, you know, where restorative justice in like your professional realms have been introduced, right?

When we think about shifting, for example, school culture or corporate culture to valuing humans for who they are and treating them as, as full people, not. Subjects who produce test scores, right? Or like attendance numbers, et cetera, et cetera. We start to think a little bit differently. And because Mo, because I know most teachers who I've ever experienced, nobody says like, I'm gonna be a teacher because I am so passionate about like, getting butts in seats and producing these test scores and for where we are for the state of California so they can, right?

It's about like, I'm gonna teach young people, right? Sometimes people are like really passionate about their subject content. Oftentimes people are just really passionate about teaching young people, like being those folks who are shaping the next generation or showing care to the next generation.

And then we come into these systems that pay us. Not very well. Right. But, but they pay us, they sustain a lifestyle within these structures. And we're very anxious to like, try to make changes. Like when I talk about doing restorative justice work within the context of schools or most organizations, like, you've gotta be really intentional and explicit in saying that, like, this is reform work, with, or harm reduction work.

we're not, we're not building an abolitionist community here. Right? You can have those values and still work within a system and treat people in a way that is valuing them, trying to bring in these practices. But the system, the boxes, the time constraints of the day, the mandatory reporting laws, all kinds of like bureaucratic structural things that like, are.

Many are well-intentioned but often get in the way of doing transformative work. we have to be like really clear about the, the role of bringing these frameworks in and like as individuals. Yes. Practicing as institutions, making them softer, making them adaptable, making them more flexible. But the institutions, the systems, the structures of where we live are what they are. What has your experience being the way that you are in the world, in these systems, been like as a professional

Asha: Oh my God. Yeah. Right. So, I mean, I think, I think the funny thing is right, is that when folks so as an educational consultant or even as a professor at, at two of the universities here in the Bay Area you know, when folks come in and they're like, can you give us a, an RJ. You know, training or an RJ breakdown.

I always have to sort of preface like, you know, schooling is where like movement words go to die. Like we lost the word equity a long time ago. It don't mean what it used to mean anymore. Right. And I would even argue similarly, that's what's happening to the concept of, of rj, right? And, and I think even more so why folks are shifting to, to now using transformative just because RJ has gotten so diluted in its, in its in its communications in regards to what happens in schools.

And so, you know, I always kind of start when they bring me in on those kind of trainings is to, is to remind ourselves where the concept of circles right comes from. And that circles on its own is this indigenous practice. But then as we bring it into the institution, it becomes. Colonized, right? And so to be consciously aware of the ways in which the institution is constantly butting heads with the intention, the original intention of what we're doing to, to repair and restore harm or, or to, to repair harm, pardon me.

And restore community. And so it's definitely a challenge. I mean, I'm constantly coming into those conversations regarding time, regarding, you know, expectations, district mandates, things like that. And I, I, I think at the end of the day, right, it's, it's oftentimes just trying to help folks communicate better.

And so, you know, at the end of the day, if we can come down to that we can get, you know, somewhere in. But yeah, I mean, we are not gonna fix anything. We're still in this hegemonic system, right? Which is like the core of, of hegemony, right? This is where we're perpetuating and sustaining all of these inequities that we have in society.

And so you know, it's, it's a double edged sword. And I, I have to kind of preface that whenever I do these trainings of like, yo, this is not gonna be a fix. This is not gonna be a, you know, a way in which everything is gonna be solved, but it is gonna be, if we embrace it, the, the way that it's designed, right?

A way where we can start to communicate some of our wants and our needs around navigating this whole beast. 

David: Yeah. When I think about this work of restorative justice and the work of amplify, RJ really, and I shared with you a little bit offline, I've been evolving the way that I've thought about the role of this work.

And I used to think specifically within education, right? There are 3.7 million educators in the United States. A hundred new thousand, a hundred thousand new educators coming in every year. And in one one of teacher preparation program in the United States, right? Do people get like a very explicit rooted education and like restorative justice practice?

Shout out Eastern Mennonite University , right? And because people aren't socialized to that, people who are coming into education aren't socialized to value those things in restorative justice, explicit ways. I think that there are some other programs that do. Pretty good jobs at like emphasizing social justice.

We're, we're working from like a great disadvantage. I I'm not taking any more like the savior mentality of like, I've gotta tell everyone, I've gotta fix everyone. Right? It's about creating these pathways people can start to, you know, peel back the layers and alter their practices just a bit, right?

I know so many people who deeply believe in this work and try to do it from like a school setting, like as somebody on the ground who are no longer doing that. I know people who are within those schools, like, who are still trying to like, make it work and make it work to the extent possible and there's no one right way of approaching it, right?

Because like, I don't want everybody who has my ideals to leave because like, what does that do to our students, our young people who are still inside? And. . I think creating spaces like outside of systems that, like at the end of the day are private schools is limiting, right? Because like, you're not gonna be able to do that for everyone. And so like, no one right way to do this, but like, how have you reconciled, you know, work inside, outside and the mix of doing it in between.

Asha: Yeah, bro, it's a, it's a struggle man, because the thing is right, is like exactly what you said. Like, I know a lot of folks that. Or that have the same kind of ideologies that I embrace, but it's not sustainable within the system. Right. Like as a classroom teacher, the system chewed me up and spat me out, right?

Like literally removed me from my classroom, from my students in the midst of crisis and trauma and oppression and, and, you know, left those kids to, to flounder right on their own. And I know a lot of teachers who, you know, I, you know, I, I happen to work in two universities that have a. that claim to have, oh, I must say half, right?

But strive to have, let's say it like that, strive to have a social justice sort of mission. And, you know, I, I do work in teacher ed in graduate programs and, you know, we are having these conversations, but it's like if I were to theoretically leave and so to do those conversations mm-hmm. , and, and that's where it becomes problematic, right?

Is it's, it's really individualized. And so you might have these sites and places where things like that are happening in this really wonderful way. But what I've come to find is it's not sustainable. And then even in my folks that are still in the classroom, It is a constant struggle cuz you're still having to go to the staff meetings, you're still in the staff room, you're still listening to the ways in which that deficit thinking is pervasive.

Right? And the ways in which I would say individual and group accountability are not really being fostered in authentic ways. And so you know, for me you know, just as like a little background, right? So like students I was teaching eighth grade and students were being physically and verbally abused by SROs, school resource officers that were placed on campus.

And . So they knew, they knew to come to me because they knew to let me know, you know, and they wanted to, they wanted to damn near burn, burn the school down. And so, you know, I put 'em on some game. I had 'em, you know, do some research on youth movements and figure out what's worked and how to really kind of tailor their their response in, in a, in a, a really kind of targeted way.

And, you know, because I'm an artist and I have some, some artist juice in the community they hit me up and they said, you know, we, we've realized that the only way in which a lot of this, this pendulum has shifted was through media attention, right? And so they said, you know, we know you got. You got, you got some folks, so let 'em know, bring them down.

You know, we got this rally going on, we're gonna do this. Right. And so the, the media came, it went viral. SROs were removed from the campus. The principal was removed from the campus. But in that, I, I also lost my job, right? They put me on, on administrative leave for the remainder of the year and told the kids that I had a hurt back.

Thankfully, the kids were in my dms and I was setting 'em straight and letting 'em know, like, I'm good. Right? But it's, it's, it's violent the way that the, the institutions come for folks like us. And so it does concern me, right? And it does concern me in the sense of like, the reason why I'm doing this work specifically as an educator was to work in, in, in public schools.

Like I I at the charter school, the private school, all of those, those other institutions I didn't feel like were. , you know, they were band-aids in a situation and they weren't accessible to to all. And that's really what I was going for. And so it is really a challenge. And, and I would say it's like, like you were saying, it's like institution by institutions.

Some folks do it well ish, you know, and then some folks are just like almost like whitewashing, diluting the cause and the conversations and then that does so much harm to folks that are new to the conversation and are getting this, this information that's been contorted to still fit within the system as opposed to, you know, develop some resistant capital against the system.


David: it's, it's a struggle. And I think like for people who are working in schools who are listening, whether you're a staff member or a school leader, like know that, like, This is not about you and your practice, right? This is about like, because like if you're listening to this, you're somebody who is sympathetic to like these values and these ways of being in some way, shape, or form, right?

But you are working not only within. X, y, Z school district or X, Y, Z charter network or X, y, z school with a board that doesn't see the world this way, right? We're all working under capitalism. And I think about the way that like resources are allocated for education under capitalism. And like the reason that education is the way it is, is because like we're trying to produce factory workers and take care of people's kids while they're working in the factories , right?

And so like, it is not just about like your individual practice. Yes. I want you to go take our courses. I want you to join our community and like get your skills up, right? I want you to share this work with your colleagues, your coworkers, your parents, like all the ways like amplify, quote unquote restorative justice.

And these ways of being, these practices like practice on an individual level are helpful. , but they're not transforming the conditions that we're working under. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Right, but like we've gotta be aware of what we're up against when trying to bring these circle ways into boxes.

Asha: Exactly. Exactly. And that's the thing is like, that's, that's, that's the messaging a lot of the time is, is like calibrate the expectations, right? Calibrate your intentions and ensure that, that you're doing this in. And again you know, what I always go back to is, is striving for that interpersonal development, because that's the thing ultimately that we know we can have the greatest impact on.

A lot of these other kind of institutional behemoths are are these things that, you know, a classroom teacher doesn't have, you know, a, a stake in Right. Doesn't have that access to, to influence that power in that way. And so I do think it's important to, to kind of calibrate. What our goals are, what our intentions are in this work.

Because yeah, if, if your goal is, you know, I was a young you know, go-getter when I first started, I'm gonna fix the system from within. Nah, bro, that you not, but, but you can create some really beautiful communities and have some really beautiful moments of dialogue, right. And reciprocity. And I think that's the thing that if we're striving for that, then that's actually attainable.

David: Yeah. And I, and I referenced this semi often within the framework of this podcast, right post the murder of George Floyd in 2020, right? There ended up being a ballot initiative in Minneapolis to defund the police, right? That didn't happen just because George Floyd was murdered and people were angry.

That happened because, you know, generations, people over decades, abolitionists organizers have been working and building networks and spreading these ideas, spreading these conversations. And so when an inflection point hits, we are able to push and advocate for the things that we know will benefit all of us.

Right? That ballot initiative failed, right? It wasn't really even close, right? I think it was something like 70 30, but. Think about the population of Minneapolis or the voter base of Minneapolis, and 30% of those people were like, yeah, police in the way that they are right now. Like, it doesn't make sense.

We need to defund that shit. And that is not the ultimate win that we would've wanted, but that is growth. That is growth. Acknowledging that, you know, there's been white supremacy, colonization anti-black, anti indigenous racism here on this consonant for, you know, the past five, 600 years. Slavery was abolished, you know, 150 years ago.

Chattel slavery was abolished 150 some odd years ago. It's been recreated. White supremacist ideals have remained, they've been reformed. We're, we're in a struggle that. Goes beyond our lifetime. And so, you know, when you're talking about being in the privileged enough position to not have to break our backs, picking cotton right or not in the place where we are struggling every day to feed ourselves, to be given the spaciousness, to be able to develop as individuals to build the world that we want for the next generation.

Like of course, yes for ourselves, but knowing that like future and generations to come will be reaping benefits. Like it's so important to continue to do this even in the face of like, , enormous systems working against us. 

Asha: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, our, our, our, our abolitionists and revolutionary ancestors before us have taught us this.

Right. This is, this is a long haul. This is not something that we just sort of jump in, we learn about, and then all of a sudden, the next day it's, it's worked on and it's fixed. But rather that, you know, we know, or, or those of us that those of us that have been here before June of 2020, right. We know that this work is a long haul and it, it does take, take a lot.

And that, you know, that progress is not always linear. 

David: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. There is so much that we could get into, but I want to make sure that we give time for the questions that everybody answers when they come on. I've said before, this is like kind of meant to be a speed round. It doesn't often end up being that way.

We've talked around it, but in your own words, define restorative justice. 

Asha: I'm a, I mean, you know, at the end of the day it's, it's a practice of personal and group accountability. 

David: Yeah. What does that mean? It can look a lot of different ways. Right. Can you define accountability then? 

Asha: Oof. Yeah. Oof. No, because it's completely relative to the situation and the context in which you're, you're kind of getting into.

Right. But I think I, I think to not specifically. What accountability looks like. I can, I can talk about what the feeling of it is, right? And it's a full acknowledgement of the experiences of whoever's involved in the parties and really an intentional way of addressing however you wanna describe it, harm different conflict.

A any of those sort of theories or ideas and, and working towards finding a way to communicate and acknowledge and validate. And then it's more than just the acknowledgement, cuz that's where RJ gets a little twisted. , I think in particularly in school settings, is there's a lot of acknowledgement and then the follow up, which is the hardest part, the accountability, right, which is tailored towards whatever it is that we're looking to, to restore, to repair, to transform and that those things are very, very specifically tailored to the needs of the individuals involved in the conversation, right?

So it's a lot of discussion about wants and needs and then creating a system that provides not only individual accountability, but for me, some of the most important aspects of RJ is the way in which it invites the community to, to join in that healing process and to hold each other up in that, in that, Yeah.

David: And you know, I'm reflective of the ways that schools that I've worked with, people that I know who work in schools have attempted to do work that is restorative and because of time constraints and staffing constraints, right? The follow up often isn't there. And so RJ gets a bad name because like, oh, this just looks permissive, like you went and talked, but like no one's following up on the agreements that you made in those spaces.

And yeah, I agree. That doesn't work. That's not restorative , but like to do this work well, right? You have to think about the systems that need to be shifted just in your day-to-day life at school. Like who are the people that need communication about this issue? Like when is the time for them to communicate about it?

When are the times that they're gonna follow up? If you are telling a student that like, Hey, we expect you to do this, but like never follow up with them, they're gonna be like, Okay, I guess I don't have to do this. Right? Yeah. And same thing for adults, right? But often people are thinking about the framework of students that's so important and that's 

Asha: the, you know, just to tap in.

Like that's the part that I think is the biggest disconnect in RJ is always like teachers pointing fingers at students. And I'm like, half of this y'all is your fault. Like, and more than half of it most of the time, right? Is cuz a lot of the times, I think where that disconnect happens is the lack of accountability on the adult's part.

They're always looking for accountability on the students part without defining what accountability looks like in that particular situation. And then kind of pointing that finger. And that's where I think, you know, a lot of the, the, the disconnect happens. 

David: For sure. For sure. I've got another question that sometimes people struggle with.

So take your time as you've been doing this work in restorative ways and I'm gonna. That as broad as you want it. What has been an oh shit moment and what have you learned from it? Oftentimes people are framing this as like, I made a mistake and I would've done this differently. But it can also be like, ah, shit.

Yeah, I did that and it was awesome. . 

Asha: Yeah man, I like, I like that you reframed it. Cuz initially when I heard it I was like, ah, this is like the, you know, and there's definitely a lot of those instances that I'm sure a lot of practitioners have, have shared. But I love the, the like, ah, shit, like one, right?

So you know, I, I do so I'm an educational consultant down here in the South Bay or up here in the South Bay. If you're in, if you're in SoCal. And. One of the things that I've, I'm really proud of and really got to get into was founding a, a public school, right, that's in here, in, in the Bay Area here.

And I got to be on the design team creating the instructional framework creating the student and school handbook. I'm training teachers actively throughout the year and what training means is, yes, professional development, but also like peer coaching cycles working and building curriculum together.

I've done trainings with students. We're gonna start to get the, the student peer circles running this year. And so in the work at this middle school that I've been doing, I've been able to. The potentials, the possibilities of what it could look like. Because to be honest, when I lost my position and I lost my position in February of 2020, so it was kind of wild, right?

Like it kind of kicked off this whole journey that we've been on for the last couple years. And I, I was, I was defeated. I didn't really know if there was any possibility to even be doing this work in what we call schools. Right? And I think in the opportunity of getting to, to found, be a part of the founding team, be a part of the building up of this, of this campus has really shown me the possibilities.

And I think one thing that's important too is like, you know, when we go into RJs or we go into schools to like talk about or do RJ. The campuses still look like prisons . And so it's real hard to to, you know, escape that nexus when, when it's literally physically modeled in front of you. And what's kind of cool about this school site that I'm working on at Dolores Huta Middle School out here in Santa Clara, is that they actually built it with intention.

So we're talking collaborative spaces, not traditional desks, movable furniture you know, doors that roll up and all of a sudden it's a theater. Full kitchens, gardens, right? All of these, these more abolitionist ideals that I think we've been kind of talking about. And it gives me a little hope, you know, and I, and I'm not gonna lie, like we're still in the district, so it's primarily white staff.

and, and you know, we're trying to navigate and move around that. And to see the, the limitations that the district still imposes on this school with all of this potential is, is unfortunate, but it's something, you know, in education like we're kind of used to seeing. So I think for me though, you know, a lot of people, a lot of people when I do this work, they want data and I'm like, you can't really get, like, you can get data on how restorative practices are being implemented, but it's something about a feel, a vibe.

And so when I walk onto this campus, the way that the students talk, the way that the students express themselves, the safety that they feel in being themselves and exploring who they want to be, right? Cuz middle. weird. Middle school is hard, so hard three years for a lot of people, right? And so the joy that I witnessed, that's the thing that I'm like, oh shit, this is dope.

Like, I love this, right? These students that are really embracing a lot of these ideals without really knowing it, right? Because cuz he was a kid and you just kind of running, running with it and going through it. But to watch them engage in the conversations to develop the language, to talk about themselves and their identity, that's where I'm like, okay, cool.

Th there's, there's some good that's happening here. And it gets me really excited to see it's palpable. You can feel the energy when you walk on campus. 

David: Yeah. This question's hard in a different way. You get to sit in circle with four people living or dead. Who are they and what is the one question you ask?

The circle? 

Asha: Oh, oh my God, bro, that's really hard. My mind is going in like 20 different directions. You know what I'm saying? I'm like, do I choose revolutionaries? Do I choose my ancestors? Do I choose, whew. That's, that's, that's wild. You know, somebody that I've really always wanted to talk to and that gave me a lot of development of my consciousness, particularly in regards to my own community, is, is is the author professor theorist VJ Prad.

And he really shifted a lot of my understanding about the ways in which they see culture has evolved, the things that we've embraced, the things that we've forgotten. And he, he sort of bridges the, the, the gaps between ethnography and storytelling and then like the systemic and the theoretical and the pedagogical and.

VJ is definitely there. I'd love to sit and chat with him. If I, if I had a translator film me I'd love to bring my great-grandmother right, the one with the tava. There's so much of her story and her journey that I've come to learn after her passing that I would love to, to dig into a, a little bit more and just, and just hear from, and you said four, I got four people.

Mm-hmm. . All right. That I think somebody else that I would really love to sit in community and conversation with is, is Aja Monet. She's a, she's a A poet a a revolutionary, someone who I think is really showing us ways to, to push our conversations forward. And damn, now this is like a top five hip hop thing.

Like you always get four, and then you got that last one, and, and now I just got like 50 people going through my head right now. Man, I, I mean, I would love to, there's, there's probably a billion people who I could choose, but off the top, the person that's coming to me at the moment it is another poet, is another member of, of, I don't know if they consider themselves Desi but a member of the South Asian tribe is Fatima Ascar Ascar, and she's just another person, poet artist.

That I think is, is trying to find a space for people like us that is to say people that really have. an embrace of our culture, but are wanting to push things forward or wanting to examine or wanting to find new, new ways to move through this work in a meaningful way, in an intentional way.

And you know, like I, I, I like poets. I like to sit around with poets. We, we like to chop it up. So I, I'll rest there. I think that that would be a pretty robust conversation. But 

David: yeah. What's the question that you ask? 

Asha: That's so far? Oh, the question? The question. Oh my God. It's, well, it's this conversation, right?

And I think it's the, it's the, it's really what my work is, is about and it's like how do you preserve the sacred while moving forward? I was having this conversa, I was getting tattooed yesterday. . And you know, a lot of people are starting to get these dots, right? These dots, it's like become a new fad, just like every tribal tattoo has become, right?

In the, in the global economy. And so we, we continue to have this conversation of like, how do we preserve what's sacred? How do we hold onto what's sacred and share and challenge and heal and listen to the ways in which sometimes those things have stifled us. What do we hang onto? What, what remains after the revolution?

You know, after we've kind of moved through these conversations and sometimes even these battles, right? About, about what we need in order to preserve our community. I think a lot of the times we, we. , the, the sacredness of our cultures. And I would be really curious how, you know, folks that are forward thinking, folks that imagine radically also hang on to the past and preserve them in their integrity.

David: Yeah. I mean, that has like direct application to like circle practice, right. And restorative justice, but like so many things, how in that conversation that you were having yesterday with the person who was tattooing you, like, what were some of the things that came to you? 

Asha: You know, it, it, it was this thing, right?

Because a lot of the, the tattoo, the practitioners that are doing this work, this work of treasure are not from my cast. Hmm. And so it's like, there's this weird conversation where it's like, are you, should you be doing this? But nobody else is doing this. But then the people that are doing this are not even South Asian.

Right. And so, so, you know, my friend Sabrina, she is really like, her training comes from, from Mindy, right? From Henna, mm-hmm. . And this is a practice that is not just privy to South Asian folks. Like this is a practice that a lot of folks have engaged in from diasporic communities. And, you know, people have approached her and asked her to do Treva on them.

And initially she's sort of always said, no, that's not my place. That's not, that's not what my practice is in. But then it's like we sit back and we watch other people doing it, that it's really not their place. And so it's like, man, how do you, how do you navigate this? Right. And so she's, she's trying to come around on first getting the knowledge for herself.

right? Mm-hmm. so that she can, in that work educate, share resources ensure that the, the storytelling and the ethnography is taking place, right? Because that's what this tava is. It tells a story. Each symbol has a meaning and there's a purpose behind the different positions on your body and where it is, and the, the progression of the dots and all of that, right?

And so she kind of, you know, we kind of talked about it and it's like, well, if they're gonna go and get it done by just anybody, if anything, there's an opportunity here for you to step in and at least preserve the story, preserve the integrity of what it is. And so, I don't know, is that still sacred? I'm not sure.

Part of me is like, I want anybody to have it anymore, unless your great-grandmother had it. You can't get it. But it's like, damn, is this. , is this what you know, folks from the islands, right? Polynesian folks to gian folks? Is this what they've all felt when that tribalism was getting appropriated?

Right? We can look at like, you know, folks getting Asian characters right. Tattooed on them. And so it's, it's interesting. But I think, you know, part of it was, you know, we came and settled on like, you know, she wouldn't do it on just anybody. If you came and said, you know, this is my culture. This is what I'm trying to embrace and jump on, then it felt different.

And I think, you know, at the end of the day, something that we really settled on was like, it's okay to say no to some people. Like, nah, this is not for you. 

David: Yeah. Take that and apply it to restorative justice. As you know, 

Asha: yo yo surreal though. 

David: I'm just, I'm just gonna let that, I'm just gonna. Sprinkle that out there, I believe restorative justice practices for everyone.

Do I have to engage in this practice with you right now? Not necessarily. 

Asha: Nah, not unless I want to, bro. . 

David: Two more. These are starting to transition us on our way out. who's one person that I should have on this podcast and you have to help me get them on?

Asha: Ooh you do, man. Yeah, there's a lot, there's a lot of really dope people that are doing some really beautiful work. You know, my, my homie. I'm a, I, I had a bunch of people that just flashed through my head, but I'm gonna put it on my homie who's, who's still teaching at the high school level, bless her is teaching ethnic studies trying her best to embrace these practices within the system.

And her name is Victoria Duan. And yeah, she's, she's an amazing and beautiful spirit, and I think that she plays this role of wanting to strive and dream and ensure that there is joy. . Right? I think that's the thing that we end up missing a lot of. And her and I were talking about this the other day, right?

Is to ensure that there's still joy happening in the spaces where we're learning and growing. And then also, right, she's, she's in the system. She's, she is a staff member district employee. And finding ways to, to sustain, to take care of herself, to navigate all of that, I think is a really is a really challenging thing.

And then simultaneously she's raising three beautiful children and, and the parenting man, the parenting conversation is, is wild, right? Cuz when you're having these restorative practices in your home and then your kid is reading you for Phil, cuz you not, they're not , you know, you're not being accountable to your commitments.

That's a whole other beautiful journey of fostering and, and developing community. And she always has great insight on that. Yeah. 

David: for sure. Still looking forward to that intro email. I got you. I got you. Or dm, I got you. And then, and then finally, where can people support you, your work in the ways that you want to be supported?

Asha: Yeah, I mean, I do a lot of different things. I dabble in a lot of different things. So, you know, the first, the first place to, to, to see what's going on with me is, is on Instagram is pretty much the only social media I use. It's just Asha, a s h a underscore poet. And you know that that's, that's a lot of what it looks to.

In this life. I'm a disabled person. I love my, my, my puppies that you've probably seen walking through the screen. You know, and also just that, that work and that reflection is there. If you are into the, the, the dialogue and the conversations, or you want to check out any work, any poems and things like that, you can hit the website and, you know, check out some bu, you know, buy some books, buy some things, you know, support artists.

And yeah, check out, check out. There's a lot of videos and, and things like that that are posted there. And so if you wanted to see a little bit more of what this sounds like in a, in an artistic vibe, then then go for that. 

David: Absolutely. Well thank you so much Asha, for sharing your wisdom, your stories, your experiences with us here on this restorative justice life.

Links to all the things that they just mentioned in the show notes. And we'll be back next week on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how we schedule an edit with our restorative justice reflection on that week's episode of the last of us, and then Thursday with another conversation with someone living this restorative justice life.

Until then, take care of y'all much love.