This Restorative Justice Life

124. Restorative Justice and Healing Circles w/ Ruth Jeannoel

August 24, 2023 David Ryan Castro-Harris
This Restorative Justice Life
124. Restorative Justice and Healing Circles w/ Ruth Jeannoel
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ruth Ifakemi Efungbemi Ajewole Ajeleti Ifaloro Jeannoelis a Haitian American, cultural organizer, holistic healer and writer. She is also a mother and wife. Currently, Ruth serves as the Founder and Director of the growing non-profit, Fanm Saj, Inc based in Miami, FL. Fanm Saj in the Haitian Kreyol language means, Midwife, we’ll say Midwives catch babies and Fanm Saj catches communities.

In this enlightening conversation, Ruth illustrates how restorative practices can bolster Black maternal health, spotlighting the potency of circles for connection and recovery. With her experiences in youth organization intertwining with movements spanning environmental justice, birth work, and gender-based violence, we gain a deeper understanding of restorative justice practices and their potential to create more equitable and healing-centered communities.

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Website: https://www.fanmsaj.org/
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Speaker 1:

Welcome to this Restorative Justice Life. I'm your host, david Ryan, by Sega Castro Harris All five names were all the ancestors and today we're continuing our series highlighting the restorative justice work by the practitioners in Florida, in the South, in efforts to support the 2023 down south restorative justice conference, rj. The remix exploring, living and expanding restorative justice happening October 20 through 22nd in Orlando or just outside of Orlando, if you want to learn more about that links to that in the description, but today we're so honored to be in the presence of somebody who's been doing restorative justice in so many different aspects, but, as always, we're going to let them introduce themselves. So, ruth, welcome to this restorative justice life.

Speaker 1:

Who are you?

Speaker 2:

Oh, david, I am Ruth, ifakemi, fumvemi, ajueli, ajeleti, ifaloro Ginoel. So I share all of my names because I carry so much of my ancestors with me too.

Speaker 1:

Who are you?

Speaker 2:

I'm grateful, I'm grateful to be on with you today. I am a mother, I am a wife, I have three beautiful children.

Speaker 1:

Who are you?

Speaker 2:

I am present, I am here. I am a student of life, and I say that because there's so many lessons that I've had to learn on this journey of life, and being a student, at the very least of it, helps me to know that I can keep going.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. Who are you?

Speaker 2:

Now it's getting deeper. I am wealth and I am my ancestors wealth in water, in consciousness, in time, in currency.

Speaker 1:

Who are you?

Speaker 2:

I am a practitioner, I practice, at least I try my best to practice what I preach.

Speaker 1:

Who are you?

Speaker 2:

I am the daughter of Maurice, who is the daughter of Cesaphie, who is from a long history lineage of Haitians who believe in Black liberation, so much that in 1804, we fought to become the first Black nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Speaker 1:

And finally for now, who are you?

Speaker 2:

I am a child of Olo Dumare, I am a child of the water, of the fire, of the earth, of the wind, and I'm here, I'm ready and I'm present.

Speaker 1:

Beautiful, beautiful. There are so many intersections of who you are that we're going to get to over the course of our conversation, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to also open our space and so, in the way that you'd like to, I turn the. I pass the talking piece to you.

Speaker 2:

So the offering that I have for us today is a sacred or reaffirmation card deck. This is a card deck that I worked with several artists, including Gina Cherry, sage Satori, who's down here in South Florida to produce, and it was with Four Together, who's based in California, and also from Sage, based in Miami, and so I'm going to invite everybody to just be present as much as we can and take a deep, cleansing breath through our nose and exhaling out, taking another deep breath in through your nose and exhaling out, and taking one more deep breath in through your nose and exhaling out. And the card itself is called the sacred or reaffirmation card deck, and our or re, in the European language, is our inner head, and this is what we say guides us on this earth. Everywhere we go, we have our or re, and so it's always beautiful to affirm ourselves, and so that's where we get the sacred or reaffirmations. So I'm going to shuffle the deck and I'm going to cut it in half. Ah, shay, wow, wow. The card that I pulled for us is the transformation card. It's the number 15. And in the background of the card you see a sun at the top, there's some flowers in the background and there's a woman who is pregnant, holding a baby, with a puff, hair style and gold look like yellow or gold hoop earrings and the card itself is transformation number 15. So I'm going to read from the card deck and then invite you all to do the affirmation with me. Okay, so number 15 transformation.

Speaker 2:

Freedom cannot be bought, sold or bartered. You are on fertile ground and what you're carrying will soon be birthed, whether it's a new idea, new project or new awakening, you determine for yourself what it means and how it feels to be free, and we must have the freedom to raise what and whom we birth in safe and healthy environments. No matter what you decide, freedom means, for you know that it cannot be bought, sold or bartered. Be free, ah, shay. So now, david, I'll invite you and everyone listening, I'll invite you to hold your ory with two hands. If this is the first time that you're doing this, like today, you could say thank you, because most of the time we're like oh my gosh, I can't believe this happened, right, we always doing that, right. But we're just going to say thank you to your own ory, so you'll repeat after me, ory.

Speaker 2:

Ory please elevate me. Please elevate me to a deeper knowing to a deeper knowing that freedom that freedom cannot be bought cannot be bought sold sold or bartered or bartered. Help me to remember. Help me to remember that I have all that I need that I have all that I need to sweeten my life to sweeten my life and destiny from within and destiny from within. Ashay.

Speaker 1:

Ashay.

Speaker 2:

So that is our card. Even as we start this conversation today. That's the card that we have for for us.

Speaker 1:

Beautiful, you know. Thank you so much for that opening for, for that sharing. It leaves a very fertile ground for us to, you know, highlight your story, the work that you've done, and it's spanned so many things across, the work that we call quote unquote restorative justice. But before we dive into that, it's always good to check in right, we've been talking for a little bit now, but for the audience here, for our community members, who are listening to the full extent that you want to answer the question, how are you feeling right now?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So thank you for asking me how I'm doing so. Today I am doing good, I'm feeling I'm returning from its summer. It's summer has ended for us, we're parents and school has started. School started last week and so for a period of time we were traveling. We went to Nigeria. To that I would, I'm going to talk, I'll share more about that trip, because that was very transformative for me and my whole family. This was the first time that I went outside of the country and it was to the motherland, to Nigeria. So I feel very privileged and honored and for that I'm coming in really grateful to have this conversation with you. Education in Florida right now, as a parent, is there's so much to consider, you know, and so, with everything that's going on, it's always important to kind of highlight the work that we are doing to be able to confront what is happening within our education movement, within our communities, within black communities. But for this present moment, I'm doing good and I'm optimistic.

Speaker 1:

Yeah love it and you know I think we can get into that piece now. Like you know this framework of these conversations about doing the work in the South, in Florida specifically for you know the past couple of conversations we've had it's not a landscape that many might think is conducive to doing restorative justice work. It's true that wherever there are press of forces there are people who are struggling against. There are always people and historically black people working for you know our collective liberation, how you know gratitude and presence and hope and optimism abound in this moment and maybe coming off of that trip. How do you maintain that energy in the land of Rhonda Santis, right, and don't say gay bills and anti CRT bills and like book bans and all of that happening in the schools and the ripple effects that has on communities?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, there's definitely a lot of work that we have to do. My first thing, the first thing that I inclined to share, is paying homage to my ancestors. I pay homage to my Ory. I thank God and I thank Olu Dumaire, I thank my godmother, if I will, I thank my husband, mark, and I thank my children, and I thank my community for being persistent, for being determined to actually say we're not going to give up, right, we're not giving up on ourselves, we're not giving up on each other, even if the outside world is going to give up on Florida or us. Right, we're not giving up on each other.

Speaker 2:

But the way that I think, one of the ways I would say to stay present, to stay optimistic and to do this work, is to connect back to our ancestors, right, and to connect back to the work that they do and that they've left us to do. I think that that is one way that we do it right Is to be able to kind of be in gratitude and to remember the work that they've done that has led us here. Something that I think about every day that I wake up is there's so many of our ancestors who chose actually to not continue right, and so we pay homage to them. There's so many of our ancestors that came, that were forced to come here, that was stolen from their land, that lost their identities right, that now we're able to, like, remember. So now our work is to be able to reclaim a lot of the journeys that they've gone through and to re-understand and remember what our responsibility is.

Speaker 2:

And we can't do that by ourselves, I can't do that by myself. I have to do that with my family, I have to do that with my temple, my spiritual home, and I have to do that with ritual, right. I have to do that in understanding that there's so many people, there's so many forces that actually are, like Florida is underwater, forget about Florida. You know, education is not the thing here. Like, forget about it, right. But for us who are here, we have to continue to fight, and for me, it's like doing the fighting is creating alternatives to what currently exists, whether that's restorative justice circles or transformative justice processes. We're going to keep doing the alternative.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, the ability to maintain hope right, Miriam Kaba says hope is a discipline, and she's not the first to voice that.

Speaker 1:

But the idea that this is ongoing work that we are carrying on for the ancestors who jumped off the slave ships right, Because they thought that death is better than a life upon it.

Speaker 1:

To those that survived and experienced horror upon horror through chattel enslavement on the land that we call United States, on different islands across the Caribbean, all across this now Western hemisphere right, there are lots of ways that our people you know, people who are stolen from Africa have been, have suffered and have also been indoctrinated into white supremacy right. And this is an ongoing healing journey that does not end with legislation about a specific set of curriculum, about a specific way of teaching a subject in school right, there are deeper things in that. And remembering the long journey that we're all on, right. Whatever your ancestry, the long journey towards liberation requires that hope and conscious work, and connecting back to that in whatever way is meaningful for you doesn't necessarily have to be the way that we talked about here, is really helpful is really helpful, and so you know there's a lot of work that you've done around restorative justice.

Speaker 1:

There's a lot of work that you're continuing to do in community and schools, but we often like to start this conversation with a question. You know you've been doing this work for a long time, but probably before you even knew the words restorative justice. So, from your perspective, how did this get started for you?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, young people black and brown youth were getting suspended and arrested for really minor infractions in schools, and I remember. So I moved from Boston to Miami and I was looking to organize. I was organizing in Massachusetts and when I moved I was like I want to continue organized. And somebody linked me up with the Power Youth Center for social change and when I got there I saw young people in circle and they were talking, talking about their experiences, talking about their stories, all of the things that they were facing in schools, and I was like, wow, this was, this is really beautiful. Like I really enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it, right, and then a couple weeks after that I learned that it was a campaign that they were doing, that they were saying, actually, what we were doing in the office is what we want in schools. So, instead of students getting suspended and arrested for really minor infractions, that we want to be able to hold circles for them to be able to share their side of the story. And I remember sitting in circle and even talking about my own experiences while I was in school and I was like, wow, I wish that I had restorative justice circle keeping in schools when I was in school. There had been so many instances where I won't talk about all the things, right, or maybe the small, like small things. But yeah, to be honest, like there's been so many instances that I've thought of and I'm like, wow, like if only I had somebody to talk to or if only I was able to share my side of the story, maybe my healing journey would have begun right. Or if only I had a chance to, like, sit in a circle, maybe I wouldn't have gotten into a fight with that girl for whatever the reason, right. So there's so many things that kind of brought that back to me of like understanding restorative justice as a storytelling tool, a community building tool and an alternative for incarceration and zero tolerance policies. And from there, that campaign that was.

Speaker 2:

That campaign was a 10-year long campaign. So we're dealing like in the South when we're trying to do racial justice, education justice, reproductive justice, work, things that may kind of, you know, in the Northeast like, or in the West, may take five years, take longer down here there's a lot of shifting of culture that we have to do. There's a lot of policy shifts and conversations that we have to have to have with people, including young people and their parents around. What does this actually look like? And so the campaign was won and we were able to get restorative justice in schools because of young people, because of parents and really because of a long history of understanding that this was not okay and that we needed something new, right. And so a lot of like the campaign winning too, unfortunately came after the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin, where young people took over the state capital and wanted to activate Trayvon's law, and restorative justice was a part of that legislative policy that we wanted, which also forced the president at that time, president Obama, to push the initiative of my Brother's Keeper. And so, even around that time of pushing my Brother's Keeper and Trayvon's law, our work, my work, was really also thinking about this as okay, let's talk about not just how the school to prison pipeline is impacting black boys, but how is this also impacting black girls and gender not conforming young people? And that's where we started the Black Girls Matter Coalition.

Speaker 2:

And so all of which, all of this time it was, we were doing circles right, restorative justice, we were practicing them in the schools and outside of the communities.

Speaker 2:

But the largest test for me came when it was like I don't want to just have a tool and give it to the state and have, and we don't know how to use the tool, we don't know how to practice it, we don't know it. And so that was when we invited Sujatha to come down to train us to become circlekeepers, and then she did another training for us to become trainers so that was around 2015, where I was trained to become a restorative justice circlekeeper and trainer and train others to hold circles. So it's been a long journey. It's been a beautiful journey, exciting journey, and then there's been a lot of times where I would say we utilize restorative justice as a tool right Not just for restorative justice but really for community accountability and for me and also for ancestral of integration and ancestral healing right. And so for me it's been a beautiful journey but also a deep spiritual practice to be able to practice RJ.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, the risk of asking that question is always that there's so much that I want to unpack from all of those things. And I want to go back to the beginning. Right, when you talked about coming from the Northeast to South Florida, right, you already had this ethic of community organizing and activism. Where did that stem from for you?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, my organizing actually started in the fourth grade. We were parents and students were organizing around over. There was called the MCAS, which is like the standardized test, and we were fighting against the to not take the MCAS because we didn't want it to be a test that we needed to take in order to go to the next grade. And then, even before that, and I think about my organizing and how I got into this is really because I always ask the question why, like? Why is it that some people have and some people don't?

Speaker 2:

Growing up from a single parent home, my mom is a Haitian immigrant I had to translate everything for her. Sometimes we had it, sometimes we did it. A lot of times we're like houseless, going from house to house, and the question I always asked myself was why? Why is it that some people are able to like wear Jordan's to school, for example, and others aren't? Why is it that some people have more food in their lunchbox and I don't Right Like? Why is it that some people have beautiful houses and my family struggling, you know, and so I think it's because of the, my curiosity that led me to even go into like my first protest in the fourth grade. You know of like why do we have to take this test Right? Like what is it? And why do we have to take it? In order to go to the fourth grade, right so, or go to the next grade. And so that was really where my work kind of started, I would say.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and you know, having this ethic and seeing that like community voicing Concerns about injustice can make change, like has an impact on the way that you're gonna navigate. Coming into a space like Florida right where and you know Florida gets a bad rap Some might say deservedly so, but like we have to acknowledge that this kind of legislation, these kinds of overly punitive or restrictive, regressive policies are happening all across the country and maybe in your municipality or On on your state level, right wherever you are coming into this space. That's like in 20 in the early 2010s, less hostile than it is now but still pretty antagonistic towards equity, justice, liberation for black people, right, having the community around that, connecting to community like power you who will hopefully be highlighting soon Doing doing this work, is so important when you're making those first connections into community here in Florida or where you are in.

Speaker 2:

Florida.

Speaker 1:

What was it about the community and the young people that made you say like, yeah, this, this is the way that I want to move, because there are lots of other initiatives that you could have given your energy towards. When you saw those young people in circle, what was it about it? I was like, yeah, this.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm not gonna mention her name, but there was a particular young person who I think at the time, so power you organize as young people between I think they started 13, right, this person was eight and she had so many questions. She had so many questions and she reminded me of myself and it was those young people were black, they were young and they were Curious. They were asking all the why questions that I asked, you know. And then there were, like, when they were like community meetings or they were like self-organizing Meetings, like they were taking notes, they were doing Kind of like they were doing icebreakers together, they were doing like sharing the talking piece, and I was like, wow, like they were like lead, they led themselves, right.

Speaker 2:

And then I would meet like other parents, right, I would meet other black people and other parents that look just like me, right, dark skin, black people, and I was like, wow, this is beautiful, right, because not so Like in the Northeast, I would say, because it's so like, it's like racially diverse, you know, like there's all sorts of people organizing, right, but at that time in over town it was black people organizing themselves and they were self-organizing and the parents were coming and the parents were talking about birth work, you know, and they were talking about environmental justice work, and so I Think that would be why I chose to stay there.

Speaker 2:

Right is because I saw myself in them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, right, the Both, the intersection of you know, seeing a space where young people, maybe like Yourself, with that same energy, like, are being honored, and like this Acknowledgement of, like the intersectional nature of like our collective struggle for liberation is so important, right, because I think a lot of the times folks can just get pigeonholed into, like you know, restorative practices in schools so we can break the school to prison pipeline.

Speaker 1:

It's like, yeah, that's harm reductive and something that needs to happen, but that kind of harm is happening within a geography that is at severe risk for the effects of, like climate change right is at Is in the intersections of, like a lot of gendered violence that you know Continue to happen, not just unique to to Florida. And like, making sure that those Intersections of the work are honored is a challenge to do in an organizing space, because you know, we do have to push for, like specific Initiatives in given moments, but to be in community with people who do care about like these community initiatives with an intersectional lens is so important. You continue to do restorative justice work in lots of different spaces and I kind of want to leave it, turn it back to you to continue to tell the story of what your practices look like, because it Varies and is so intersectional across a lot of the things that we just talked about.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, it's so true because Since, okay, so at the time I was doing it as a campaign, right, I was doing restorative justice circle keeping as a community tool to Get people to recruit right or to get to keep engaged and to understand the practice so we can have it into the schools right, and I, I would say years later, we won that campaign. I was also going on a spiritual journey, a healing journey, and it also around that time I was having a lot of dreams. My ancestors will come in my dreams and there was a particular dream that I had, where I was like in the water and I was like swimming I don't know how to swim in real life, but like I was swimming in the water and I saw a stroller and it was like, okay, you got to catch this stroller. And I was like, okay, I got to catch this baby. And it was like all these things I had to like grab, right, but I was under the water and had to like catch a bunch of things, right, and so In that dream I woke up and it was like, oh, fumsage, right, fumsage, and Haitian Creole means midwife, and what we'll say is midwives catch babies and fumsage we catch communities. So that's where where I am now is Doing this healing work and these practices at the organization called fumsage, where I do hold lots of different types of circles and I get an opportunity to train people on circle keeping.

Speaker 2:

But what I value, or what I'm learning the most as a Practitioner, is that I'm not the only one I'm nor am I the first person that's ever done this that this is an indigenous practice and it's even connected to our direct ancestors, right. So there's a whole ancestor in the ifa Yurba tradition called Obatala, and Obatala is the king of white cloth and he is the kingmaker, but he's the king, but he's also the peacekeeper of all the other orishas that have traveled through, through Olo Dumaari, and so the reason why I bring up Obatala is because a lot of times where we're like having conversations right, and for me I have to like sit with myself to better understand how and what type of circle is needed, right. So sometimes I'm holding circles and the process is about holding a circle to better understand relationship, right. Sometimes it's about conflict and, and a lot of times it's also there's been like a traumatic harm that's happened in the community, right, and so the variation of it always starts with well, what has happened and what's the need, what's needed to be able to move forward in a healthy way?

Speaker 2:

Right, but most of the time I spend and I sit before I Hold a process or circle to better understand for myself Am I actually able to hold this circle right or am I actually able to hold this process? And I ask a lot. I ask permission, I ask permission from my elders, I ask permission for my ancestors to know if this is something that Will be that I can hold right with their support, right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so yeah, what happens when the answers no?

Speaker 2:

So the it's yeah, I I'm very well, I'm very okay with the no, right. And sometimes then I have to communicate that with somebody else and then People who don't really understand my spiritual practice they will be like okay, well, who, when can you do it? You know it'll be like well, if you can't do it now, oh, if it's a no now, well, when can you? Right? And then I have to respond and say I don't know, you know, or I can help you to identify somebody else to hold this for you.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I mean even outside of your specific practice. I think what you highlighted is really important about just because you have the knowledge and capability to Hold a space doesn't mean that you're the right person to do it in any given situation. Right, and through whatever path of discernment that you're taking To to reach that answer is is really an important consideration. Often, when we're talking to, when I'm talking to, folks who are learning to be restorative justice practitioners and facilitate processes like this, right, the role of co-facilitators, the role of doing this in community, the role of making sure that, at the intersections of your identity, right, you're not an inhibition to that process, is important.

Speaker 1:

The, the importance of making sure that this work doesn't not just exist with one person Within the context of your organization, within the core context of your community, in the context of your school, is so important to make sure that, just because you can't, for whatever reason, you might be sick that day, right, you might leave the organization for some reason or another, you might not be in community with that space, like if the Work just lives with one person and is not a part of the life of the community and there are not multiple people who can hold those spaces for each other, not just a Repair harm but to heal it, to connect, to grow right. You're doing yourselves a disservice in those moments of the know and trying to find Others to support and collaborate with. What does that look like? How have you built communities that have or been a part of, communities that have multiple people who can carry that culture?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's a great question. So in South Florida and at Fumsage we have had the opportunity actually to be able to train youth and adults to have a restorative justice ecosystem for community, for schools to be able to actually be in practice with each other, and so what that looks like is first they receive the training and then they meet monthly. We all meet monthly to be able to be in practice with each other and then in the young people we actually coach because we receive resources to be able to do that.

Speaker 2:

but we coach young people so that way they can hold circles in their own communities.

Speaker 2:

And so, and we stipend them.

Speaker 2:

We think thank God, we think we're so grateful to our funders to allow us to be able to resource them to for them to consider it work, right, for them to consider it like any other type of work peacekeeping is also and can also be work.

Speaker 2:

And so, with adults, we provide the training and then we offer practitioner circles for people to be in practice with each other, to kind of connect with each other and to share, like, their skills with their learning in the communities that they're holding circles in and then to come back and to share those skills with each other. And then, of course, we all stay connected with also our elders right, to also like connect with folks like from from just, from just practice and other organizations, to be able to to kind of like understand how RJ and how TJ is work, being used and working across the country. Right, because we know that South Florida and Florida is a special place. Right, and we know that what we're doing works here, right, works well here, and sometimes connecting with others helps us to grow in our wisdom, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, for sure, and you know their amplifier days. Also a place where folks across the country have been able to connect and learn not best practices, but like. This is my experience, this is my story, this is how my community has been navigating. So many of these things there are. There are a handful of other collaborative work convenings that happen across, one of which is, you know, this conference that's happening at the down south Florida restorative justice conference in October link in the description. But when we think about doing this work within the, within your specific context, right, what have some quote unquote best practices been, whether it's in the context of schools or community, or one of some of the things that you've seen work really well?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So what I see that works really well for us is the consistency to be in practice. So, for example, every month we have a particular circle that we hold, which is a sacred healing circle, and this is for black women from identified folks to attend, and there there's also practitioners, and then there's people who are also like, maybe they're becoming politicized or maybe not. Right, they are able to like share the guidelines, they're able to share the values and we're able to like be in circle with each other. Right, because what I, what I've learned, is like one practice that I'll see, or something that I see is that there are many types of circles. There's different circles happening everywhere. Right, everybody's doing a circle now. Right, but what makes it restorative, justice is that we're holding the principles and the guidelines right, we're holding the values, we're utilizing a talking piece and we're holding the integrity of the indigenous culture, right, and we're we're giving and we're taking, so it's like a reciprocity happening in circle to create that sense of vulnerability, right.

Speaker 2:

And so, for me, what I see in the best practices are, once we're able to like do our training in Miami and from side, just a three day training, 24 hour long training, and this particular training allows young people to be vulnerable really quickly. It allows adults to get vulnerable very quickly because we jump in right and we in a lot of ways it gives people accessibility to each other, that they get to share, sometimes something that maybe they've never shared before in their whole life. You know, at the very least of it, that I remember when I first one of those first circles that I was in, that I shared something that I had never shared with anyone before. But it was because of that vulnerability, that vulnerable space that was, that was created for me to be able to like, share and release and cry in front of people that had never cried in front of the floor.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you know, what's inherent to restorative justice practitioner is practice Right. And when people talk about you know I went to this training and then I read this book and then you know I started this program in my school or in my organization. It's like, yes and like, what is the practice that? Like is keeping you up is often a question that I have people come to trainings like, you know what's my next art? I don't have this context where I can do this.

Speaker 1:

Professional was like, well, did you circle with your family? Did you circle with your chosen community? Right, what are the ways that, like you can continue to again like, build strength and as, where, as well as repair these relationships? So we have this ethic of being able to say the things that we need to each other right before we become full blown crises and like more harm is perpetuated right. Being in the practice of doing that, being in practice with people who hold these values and community are so important as you're building capacity within the context of community right. This is coming against a culture at large, and then in Florida specifically, that is antagonistic to these ways of being. How have you all navigated that?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, even yeah. So I shared with a little bit earlier that school is starting, so summer is ending for many young people and for us as parents, and so for us, the way that we navigate is we stay in relationship with each other and we ask each other questions. We ask like what is it that you need at this time? Right, and then we create space for people to be able to answer what their needs are. And a lot of times the needs could be anything from like I just want to just go outside and take a walk, right, and I want somebody to like walk with me because I'm not feeling safe in my neighborhood. Or the need could be like actually I want to go like shopping because I need to like air out, whatever. And then for our communities, a lot of times we have to do like mutual aid because sometimes folks can be able they're not able to pay their light bill or they're not able to pay Like there's a lot of young people right now who don't have like school supplies or their parents aren't able to afford the necessary things. Right, that you would say, okay, you need to go to school, right, and so a lot of the like it's like the practice of circle keeping and the practice of restorative justice is like in circle, but it's also being resourceful outside of circles, so connecting folks to mental health practitioners.

Speaker 2:

For us, because we understand this, we've had to, we've had to build a healing justice fund to be able to raise money, to ask folks to give, so that way, when somebody needs like any financial support, or if they need like a practice, like a Reiki practitioner or an urbanist or a spiritualist to guide them right, they're able to access that.

Speaker 2:

And so we we we launched that healing justice fund for that specific reason and is growing.

Speaker 2:

There are so many practitioners who are like I'll give, I'll give my time, I'll give my talent, just let me know right, and so we're growing our network of practitioners, which allows us to connect with a large host of organizations and social justice organizations down here, because it's like it's one thing to be able to say, okay, I'm gonna even for myself, right, even as an organizer, I was organizing like it felt like I was working like 1516 hour days with a family and with young children, and so I had I came out of practice, right, and so I had to like retrain myself in a lot of ways, and so that's what we're, what's literally the other capacity that we're building with folks is to be able to say, actually, how do I take care of myself, my family and my community, and not just community, family and self last, yeah, yeah, that's so important right to not only prevent burnout, which is often the way that this is framed, but you know you're a whole human being who has spiritual, mental, physical, emotional needs and those need to be honored, just because, right, so much of it is.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you want to like put on your oxygen, oxygen mask so you can help other people. You want to like not pour from an empty cup, but you know people also need to know that the internal work to heal yourself is just for you. Right, so you can be the best you can be, irrespective of the work that you're doing on the day to day, whether that's organizing or not.

Speaker 2:

So, yeah, what, how we're doing it is so from size. We we actually, when we started, we said that we were going to do restorative justice as an alternative to institutions. So we don't do any circle keeping in schools, we don't do circle keeping in other institutions, we do them in community. And so, how it happens, most of it is word of mouth, where people are like, oh, I know, folks are like, whether they're abolitionists or whether they're community folks who are just like I want to do something different, right, I know, okay, I, from size, is doing this, right, so you guys can reach out to from such, so reach out to from size. And then we speak with people, we do one on one conversations with folks to be able to better understand, like, what their needs are and, in the context of like the larger kind of like institutional things that are happening, we really try our best to partner with organizations who are values aligned, because what we found is like we're not practicing restorative justice or transformative justice, because we wanted to like, be like advocacy. Right, we are practicing it. Because we want to practice the new way of being now, we want to practice our ancestors way of being now, like right now, right, we are not trying to dream of like the when the world is abolition, like when there's a world with no police will dream it in circle right now, right.

Speaker 2:

So for us it's like, like we get an opportunity to get people who are like, people who come from all walks of life Right, who may have experienced like policing and may have experienced like issues in the workplace or in the schoolhouse, but most of it is like what are the relationships that need to be strengthened? And community outside of the police, what are the relationships? What are the, the, the like? Sometimes it's like friends, right. Sometimes it's comrades, sometimes it's parents and child. A lot of times it's like within the nonprofit world. Sometimes it could be like employee supervisor, right, but literally, what are the infrastructures that we're building outside of the state and outside of the institutions and a lot of people, I would say, whether they, if they may vibe with it Right or not Right, and so they get to choose. Again, we all have a choice. They get to choose if they want to ride this ride with us, right, but we are very clear that this is the direction that we've moved into, right?

Speaker 1:

So yeah, no, I think like that explicit statement of like this work exists outside of institutions is an important like stake to put in the ground. Like amplifier I J doesn't make that stake Right. We I frame that as like I'm not going to work directly with law enforcement or like with the criminal legal system, but we do work in schools because, like that is an institution that I'm comfortable navigating to the extent possible. Right, like there are reasons that, like restorative justice will never like fully take root in schools, no matter if you're in Florida or if you're in California or in LA. Right, because of policies that a district, a charter network, even like a private school, has, and they are like legal things around, like mandated reporting, title Nine, that like aren't necessarily conducive to restorative justice ways of being Right, not to mention, like we're all living under late stage global capitalism and when people are in a place where they're relying on their livelihood at a check like you're not necessarily going to get the fullest expression of themselves.

Speaker 1:

That being said, like how about your boy, if you need support doing restorative justice work within the context of schools or your organizations? Just not law enforcement, but like having that clear distinction for your practice like gives you an orientation towards like. How is it that we can meet the needs of our community without these institutions? And you know when you're talking about, like those mutual aid efforts? Right, that's really helpful and like. This is what the incident, this is what our society, our culture, maybe individuals, these are the needs that have been caused, these are the needs that have been created. What can we do within our capacity to meet those needs?

Speaker 1:

right, sometimes it can be framed as like what was going to impact and how, and whose responsibilities, that to meet these needs, make things as right or as right as possible, without ever necessarily Like identifying like this person did this thing. It's just like what does this relationship need in that moment? And that's how your birthing communities right, both like building those relationships, strengthening them, and like that repair of harm process when, when it happens, you know you talked about it in the context of families organizations. The other thing that I was like really excited to talk to you about is you know you said thumbs size right, like the midwife, right. You've brought this like your birthing communities, but like you are also somebody who helps, like birth babies. How has the intersection of restorative justice with reproductive justice been a part of your journey?

Speaker 2:

So, yeah, so my journey of restorative justice took me through a lot of different places. I remember going to a sister song convening and we were in like different groups and and this was after we had started the black girls matter coalition and I remember going there and I was like talking about restorative justice and I was like, wow, as a parent, I Knew very well, right as a mother, as somebody who's birth children, I knew very well the principles of reproductive justice, which is the ability to have children, not have children, and to raise your children, and safe and healthy environments and for bodily autonomy, right. And I remember going to the convening and I was like talking about restorative justice and I was like this is definitely a tool that I use to be able to tell stories, to be able to, at the very least, create the communities that I want my children to live in. And I remember folks being like, yeah, that's true, that's good, but it wasn't like something that was like amplified right. That same year I went to a conference with the Alliance for Education Justice and I remember speaking with folks and I was like man, as a parent, again that you know, reproductive justice is something that is really important, right, highlighting specifically my ability or my inability to raise my children and safe and healthy environments because of all these crazy policies that my young people had to face in schools. Right, and so At the time, I was like, okay, telling everybody, I was like restorative justice is reproductive justice, because in order for me, as a parent, to raise my child in a safe and healthy environment, restorative justice is a tool to be able to do that right. And so it felt like very organic and felt very clear. Right At the time I was also, I was organizing, I was raising children, and so there are many things that I was doing, including, like, ability to be able to kind of Reset right, reset with my own family and reset with my own communities.

Speaker 2:

Right, I shared a little bit about how I got into the journey of fumsage, but we were doing Say her name rallies, we were doing protests, we were doing so many things and I wasn't personally, I wasn't taking care of myself as a parent, I wasn't taking care of myself. I ended up in the hospital With the pulmonary embolism, and it was at that time, too, that I had to learn how to be a mom. I had to relearn how to be a mom, so I I shared also that part of my learning was like taking care of myself Was important in taking care of my family and my community. I had to reorient myself in that. I also learned at that time that the maternal Black maternal mortality rate was very high and that each of my pregnancies I experienced Near-death experiences. I had near-death experiences. My first pregnancy I had an emergency C-section because of preclamia. My third pregnancy, I had a pulmonary embolism. Even my last pregnancy, just now, I had some different issues right, and so Each of the things that I experienced were things that I would say the medical industrial complex doesn't care about black women.

Speaker 2:

And if not for understanding restorative justice as a practice of Also the integration of our ancestors, I and many people that I work with wouldn't be here Right, because we have to take back a lot of what we've lost, Including the knowledge and the wisdom that our ancestors have left around. How do we Take care of each other, right? So for me myself, I'm not a midwife, I am a doula. I support people in whatever, like I'm a full spectrum doula, and so I support folks in whatever care that they need. And what I also understand is that Because the medical industrial complex doesn't care. Then what do we need to do to prevent some, like people who want to have children? What do we need to do in order for them to prepare even way before they decide to have children or not have children? And a lot of those things have to do with unpacking trauma and when we sit in circle with folks, that's where the healing starts or continues, where people One of the first circles that I was holding was weeping circles, because for me, I was holding so much trauma in my womb and I wasn't releasing it, and that led to a lot of the traumatic births that I had Right.

Speaker 2:

And so for us as practitioners is also being mindful that, like Restorative justice, is reproductive justice, because it gives us a tool to be able to access the justice for individuals and for masses of people. Right and first, to be able, because, ultimately, the need, ultimately at the, at any point or at some point, whoever who's responsible to meet that need, ultimately we are right a lot of ways. Ultimately we are in community is Responsible for meeting those needs right, and so we have to do those things within our communities right with each other. And so Weeping circles, crying circles, led to my healing. It led to many people's healing and for us at from size, that's one of the types of circles that we continue to hold to be able to be in vulnerability, to release with each other and then to move into A space of healing, in a space of growth in the community.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, can you talk a little bit more about what happens in those circles? Confidentiality acknowledged. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2:

And so the reason why I did share a little bit about the types of circles as we're sort of justice practitioners, we have to always hold the integrity of circles, because there are many different. There are many people doing circles right.

Speaker 1:

There are many people who sit in the circle, yeah, and then there's In the circle, and there are many people who are doing circles that are not RJ circles, and the reason why I see that Is because for us as practitioners, the integrity is lies in the guidelines.

Speaker 2:

So first we have to set the space right. We have to set the space and be able to allow people to speak from the heart, to listen from the heart right, to speak with respect, and the one of the most important guidelines is to be able to hold the talking piece right. Some people, when people come into our circles, some people have never gotten a chance, even Okay, if you get a question, if the first checking question is a how are you? Some people don't even get asked that black women Don't get asked how are you? Most of the time it's like what is it that I can get from you? You know.

Speaker 2:

So then, when you ask somebody, you've already set the guidelines. We've built collective values with built consensus, and then you ask them how are they? Oh, my goodness, you just see tears. You just see tears Because it's heavy, because black women are holding so much. They're holding, we're holding our families, we're holding, so we're just trying to hold ourselves together Right.

Speaker 2:

So in our circles we see people crying, we see people telling stories and then we see people laying hands. We have a lot of practitioners and healers, so people are laying hands with each other and holding each other, singing with each other and affirming each other in a lot of ways to be able to Get through to the next talk, to get the talking piece to the next person Right. And so the power for us, the power of circles and the power of the talking piece to be able to listen right from our heart, right and listen with respect, our, our guidelines and values that we hold not just inside a circle but outside of circle too, right. And so in the circles, a lot of times, week by week or month by month, we have people do like candle demonstrations or reiki or different healing tools that people could be able to have access to in their own healing journeys as well.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, what's important there? One of the things that's important to highlight is, right, it's just being responsive to the needs. It's not just asking people like, how are you?

Speaker 1:

Yeah once people bear their souls to you like, you have to be responsive to that. Sometimes all that's needed is to be there to hold and for folks to be seen and acknowledged. But when people are articulating needs Right physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs right, the things that you can do with in that space and outside of that space where you're gathered in a circle in like that particular way, is what builds and strengthens community, allows you to be in relationship in that right way where you Can ask each other for the hard things. Um, and of course, like the healing of all this is not linear.

Speaker 2:

Right right.

Speaker 1:

People come and go from those spaces. Um, the At the conclusion of a particular circle. Not everyone's womb trauma is like 100% ready to go. Let's have this orgasmic birth, right. But you know, being in practice, like as we said from the beginning of this conversation, is how we continue to do this work. Is there anything else that you want to highlight before we transition to the questions that everybody answers Okay when they come on this podcast?

Speaker 2:

um, I mean, I think, like, as we as we move forward, you know, with restorative justice and being black led, being women led, and as we move forward and in the south, um, what I would share with folks is to center blackness into center black people in the south, to center black people in florida, because a lot of times, um, although we're doing the work, a lot of times there's a lot of erasure. That happens Right. Um, I'm sure I know it happens everywhere, but florida is a very special place and all eyes are on florida right now and so Um Elevates. I'm grateful that we're able to have this conversation continuing to amplify Our work.

Speaker 2:

Indigenous people, black people and center center folks who are directly impacted Right, whether it's reproductive injustice or criminal legal system, whichever way um, listen to our stories right and find ways to Support the leadership of these organizations, like fumsage, like power you, like the black collective Miami workers center folks who are like down here, who are really pushing the needle.

Speaker 2:

Um, I would say, continue to to see us. We're gonna keep seeing ourselves right, but it does matter. That is important to us to support the leadership of black led organizations in south florida, like Fumsage, power you um the black collective Miami workers center, because so much of so many resources are going to organizing and like, kind of all eyes on florida, right, um, and so many resources are coming down, and, at the same time, many of our work is being erased or ignored, right, and so we see the white supremacy, we see the racism, and so, though, for folks who are listening, um, support these organizations right, because we're putting those who are directly impacted by racism, by criminal legal system, in leadership to be able to create our own way of being.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, 100 percent, um and their resources to all of those things going to be down in the show notes up for now, the questions that everybody answers when they come on this podcast.

Speaker 2:

In your own words, to find restorative justice so For me, restorative justice is a spiritual practice to be able to have folks better understand what is it that they need to be able to move forward in a healthy way. What is it that a community needs to be able to move forward in a healthy way? And it gives us an opportunity to be heard and to be able to build community outside of any institutions, whether they care for us or not. We can build it out at all.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, for sure, as you've been doing this work, what has been an oh shit moment and what did you learn from it? And it can be like, oh shit, I messed up. But it could also be like, ah shit, I did that and it was awesome.

Speaker 2:

And oh sh moment was is anytime that I don't trust my intuition. You know when you're sitting in circle and you're like you ask a question and you know the type of question that's going to keep getting the room to keep it moving. You know that was that would be like anytime that I had that I didn't trust my intuition. And then, oh shoot, like I did, that moment is. I mean one time we were holding a circle after somebody was Fidel Philandro Casil. He was brutally murdered.

Speaker 2:

And we had a circle, we had a community building circle, and there was somebody who came into circle. They weren't in the circle, they left and came back and they came to disrupt the circle and they were saying really harmful things that I really don't even need to repeat now. They were saying really misogynistic things that we don't need to say in circle, and so I don't normally do this, but in circle I stopped it. I was like we're not doing this, this is not a space for further harm, this is a space for healing. And in that moment it felt like folks were like, oh yeah, this was definitely needed. And then afterwards I was like, oh shoot, I wonder what would have happened if we just let the circle go and I didn't stop it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, the question of when to intervene in a circle is always something that is touchy, especially in a community that doesn't have deep, previously held relationships, because sometimes you'll allow that circle to take care of itself. You'll allow others in that space to say what's happening right now isn't cool, on top of whatever else is going on in the process. But if it's a space where people are looking to you for leadership, for guidance, as a facilitator, probably because they haven't had deep experience in holding space themselves or being in spaces like that, that might be the calculation that you make and outside of your intuition, I don't know that there are hard and fast rules to follow about that.

Speaker 2:

The hard and fast rule is to always listen to your own ori.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely. You get to sit in circle with four people, living or dead. Who are they? What is the question that you ask that circle?

Speaker 2:

Wow, I would sit with. I would ask Cecile Fatima to join the circle, who is the Haitian woman who sparked the Haitian revolution. Within ceremony. I would ask Malcolm X to sit in circle because I would want to know the wisdom that he gained that he was going to be sharing back after he came back from Mecca. I would want to hear more of that and even connect and speak with him about Ifa, and I would love to invite my mother to come in circle with Cecile Fatima and Malcolm X, and I would invite one of my children to sit in circle with all of us.

Speaker 1:

And what is the one question you ask that circle.

Speaker 2:

And the one question that I would ask is what do we need to do to? What is their take on what we need to do to shift the current conditions of capitalism and what does wealth building and community healing and radical, transformative wealth building and community healing and restorative justice. What does that look like? What does it feel like? What does it smell like? What does it taste like? That would be the story that I would want to hear.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, this is my sneaky way of asking the questions that are at the core of what you're thinking. Answer.

Speaker 2:

You said what.

Speaker 1:

What's your answer?

Speaker 2:

Oh, the questions that I asked. Oh, okay, so for me it feels like. It feels like I'm floating. It feels like I'm so present that I'm floating and I'm directly connected and I can hear and I can taste it, the tasting of it. It tastes like mangoes, like delicious mangoes that I just pulled off a Florida tree that is so soft and so sweet. And it looks like when you're looking at the ocean and it's like your eyes are slowly like drifting and like looking and gazing at the ocean, and it feels free, it feels like liberation and it feels like possible.

Speaker 1:

I guess like the follow up to that is like how do we get there?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So we get there by being patient with each other, by being loving towards each other. I think in our conversation sometimes restorative justice feels so easy to do but it's actually really hard. It's also really hard to be in circle and to sometimes there's many times there's disagreement, many times that there's a hard or harsh harm that has happened, that people don't know how to feed themselves their way out.

Speaker 2:

And we get there. We don't get there by ourselves. We get there with community. We get there by being in community with people who will support us, who will be like, ah, let me dap you up or let me high five you, or big up to you, but that those same community have to be there to be like, ah, man, or you messed up, or how can I support you? To see it in a different way, or what is accountability like? And asking those tough questions. So it looks like support and accountability and we get there by staying connected to our ancestors and staying connected to understanding that the work that we're doing now is to impact the seven generations that are coming in, the seven generations that have passed.

Speaker 1:

You know, the links to connect with your work are down below. How can people support you and your work in the ways that you want to be supported?

Speaker 2:

Oh, wow, in the ways that I want to be supported. So the I want people to support from Sasha. You can go to our website from Sashaorg. I would love it if you can. You can purchase a sacred or re affirmation card deck. You could donate to our work. You could get involved by participating in a training or a workshop that we're doing. Follow us on Instagram.

Speaker 1:

Beautiful and, of course, like all of those things, will be linked below. Thank you so much for continuing. Thank you so much for being a part of our continued series highlighting restorative justice work in the South. If you're somebody who is in the South and is interested in continuing to connect in community, the Florida restorative justice association is hosting a conference this October. Links to that again in the description or show notes wherever you're watching or listening. But thank you all so much for being here and bearing witness to this transformative conversation with Ruth. We'll be back next week with someone else living this restorative justice life. Until then, take care.

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Restorative Justice Practices and Collaboration
Restorative Justice and Community Building
Restorative Justice and Black Maternal Health
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Restorative Justice and Community Engagement