This Restorative Justice Life

57. Restorative Rule Breaks w/ Christopher Mendez

October 21, 2021 David Ryan Castro-Harris Season 2 Episode 3
This Restorative Justice Life
57. Restorative Rule Breaks w/ Christopher Mendez
Show Notes Transcript

Christopher Mendez has may professional experiences range considerably: naval military security, retail management, higher educational editing, writing instruction and training, international manufacturing management, middle/high school instruction (private-school setting), higher education academic affairs, refugee case management for trauma-informed minors, and program development and implementation in mediation and restorative practices.

You will meet Chris (1:50), hear about his story (11:30) and his journey into relationship based work (24:24). He shares a meaningful story as an educator (37:22). He discusses the personal impact Islam has had on his restorative journey (57:36) and he answers the closing questions (1:03:47).

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

Christopher Mendez  
I am a son of Shirley Benedid and Sus Mendez. I'm the brother of Jonathan and Melissa. I am a niece, I mean I am a nephew to Lynette and Cedar and Maria and, Ana, and many, many, many more. I am a father to Sedine and Mohammed and Juza, an Isa and Musah. So anybody who's listening to this, please excuse my baby's crying and screaming and playing in the background. Children being their vibrant selves. Live in life and I'm a husband took it in. That is who I am.

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Christopher Mendez  
I am Costa Rican, I am Latino, I'm Hispanic. I'm indigenous. I am both the colonizer and the colonized. I am the product of of hateful colonialism.

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Christopher Mendez  
I'm a flawed person. A short temper? I am i times an oversized Eagle. And I am at times an over committing person.

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Christopher Mendez  
I'm a strong person. I am bright and smart. I am all of the feelings in the world at all times. I'm a big heart. And I am a solid Yes. And openness to new experiences.

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Christopher Mendez  
I am also use Abdullah. I am a member of the Muslim community a follower the Islamic faith and a servant of my Creator.

David (he/him)  
Who are you? 

Christopher Mendez  
I am what I need to be in a moment.

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

Christopher Mendez  
And I am whatever my Creator guides me to be.

David (he/him)  
Thank you so much Chris Youssef, it is so good to meet you. Um, you know, you've been tagged in by one of our former guests of Becky. And it's really good to get to meet you in the space. I'm really excited about getting to explore all those intersections of who you are, and learn more about your journey. But it's always good to check in so to the fullest extent that you want to answer the question. How are you?

Christopher Mendez  
I appreciate it. Thank you. Yeah, Becky is somebody who I hold near and dear to my heart, she is just wonderful. Somebody who has really kind of been that restorative mirror times a partner and doing the work. But I I'm doing all right. I'm at this really weird intersection in life, where things seem to be going pretty good professionally, I would say, and personally, but I'm at, I'm at this Crossroads with my own sort of mental health. There's no other way to put it. And I hesitated to even say that, because I've just always I've always kind of just struggled with my own ADHD and my parents were kind of against labeling and getting, you know, medications and things of that nature. So I think, Oh, I know for a fact through through a very strong hand I was able to do well when I was young in school, I think it was that fear driven performance. And also I was able to get by with being a smart kid. But as an adult, now I find myself in this really weird place where like, I find that my ADHD now it's starting to make sense of all of all of my experiences in life and all my struggles right now.

Christopher Mendez  
 And, and so the structure that I've always given myself to kind of keep myself busy and keep myself overwhelmed so that I can be productive and I can feel good is no longer there because I'm on family leave. I have a four month old, who my wife took three months and now I'm taking three months. And so I find myself without that over whelming workload on a daily basis. And it has me at this really weird place where I'm starting to second guess my own sanity, starting to second guess who I am as a person and just has me like also draw the red line and saying it's okay to go see a mental health professional about this and to either seek some combination of like strategies slash medication or whatever it may be. So yeah, that's that's how I'm doing. 

Christopher Mendez  
But overall good you know, I started throughout life there though my in outs, I've discovered this in my 20s. And so it's been a big part of me, I would say, for 20 years, but really big time for the last 10 years is weightlifting, whether it's CrossFit or powerlifting. It's been my therapy, it allows me to be in the moment, and it allows me to like just focus on something and it also gives me a physical manifestation, whatever energies I have inside myself that I need to expel. And so this week, I was able to get back on a program that I really enjoyed last winter. And so I had two really good days of some really heavy lifting, just blasting some old like late 90s, early 2000s, you know, rap and hip hop. And so yeah, that has me feeling good this week, at least.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, that is so interesting. Just like listening to your response. I am resonating so much for a couple of reasons, some that I didn't think that I would be sharing publicly, but here we go, we're having a conversation, just you and me, you know, I'm an expectant father, right? I'm six months from, you know, when we're recording right now, probably five months from when this is being released. So a lot of my energy right now is like preparing for that preparing, like as a solopreneur entrepreneur, like thinking about, like, what are the things that I'm going to need to do in order to be able to take that leave? People who've been listening to this podcast, and if it's coming out in the order that I think it was, you might have heard over the last couple weeks that September has been a month where I've pulled back a lot. And so that moment of pause, well, it hasn't looked like no work, just relaxation, like I launched another podcast in September, right, like the diversity and inclusion revolution reform, like with my partner in that Connie, but it didn't look like going out and like facilitating and doing all that kind of work. 

David (he/him)  
And so that sense of like, you know, your work, not defining you is is something that like, I really am really conscious of, and like still needing to, like, fight like that, that drive to like be a quote unquote, productive member of society, and like having your identity wrapped up in that. So I fully am on that. And, you know, building those habits, those structures in your life, whether that is weightlifting, whether that's something else to have the ability to find your roots is is super important. So thank you for sharing, and thank you for bringing that out of me. 

Christopher Mendez  
Not only graduations, yeah, it's and this is your first your first child.

David (he/him)  
 Yes, this is our first 

Christopher Mendez  
Yeah, oh, man, these kids their own person, like, we forget that even as, you know, even we see them as such little beings without agency that we really forget there to hold human beings with their own agency, even as infants and, you know, like, they're just doing their thing. And like, I've learned the hard way, like, I can't treat my first the same, I treat my third, like, I have two girls and like, their day and night, you know, and it's just like, okay, like, I need to recognize what works for what is not gonna work for the other. So I've learned the hard way that like, I take advice with an open heart and open mind. But at the same time, I'm like, yeah, I'm also gonna just let my kids kind of guide me and how to be a better father.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, well, the other thing that like you were saying, as you were checking in that resonated with is like, I restarted again, going to therapy, right. And I was talking with my therapist earlier today, about like, my lack of emotional availability, right. And like, being able to empathize with someone's who's experienced, like the I don't have and like, while I'm able to do that, professionally, in the context of restorative justice, which we'll talk about in a little bit, right? Like being able to hold space, it's different when those are people in your life, where like, it's not just like, Alright, we went through this process together, and I was able to construct this space where you can work through your feelings, that's different than like, Oh, actually having to live it in the day to day and this being like this restorative justice life. We know like, one of the things that I appreciate about you is like you've done this work in lots and lots of different settings. 

David (he/him)  
And so maybe this is just like that transition into, you know, you've been doing this work for a long time, maybe even before you knew the words. So how did this journey get started for you?

David (he/him)  
No, absolutely. And I want to tell you that you're not alone in that. That's one thing that I've like, I've actually just recently come to the I had that like moment of clarity that that I understood why why do why does repeatedly people refer to and describe restorative practices in particular circle as therapeutic and this is kind of like therapy. Oh, this is therapeutic. And the truth of the matter is, is like when you find yourself in a solid therapeutic relationship, you're in a safe place to share your true and honest self and processing things. And like, when I find myself in a really good solid circle space, I'm able to share and I don't have a feeling of learning anxiety of loss.

Christopher Mendez  
 And that also brings me to like, the fact that like, I have that, you know, like, probably the biggest, my biggest liability as a as a husband and a partner is that I'm a restorative practitioner, because that's what my wife is gonna hold against me, like, you hold space for people in such vulnerable ways. How come you're not able to hold space with me in that vulnerable way. And I've just come to, like, the real real, like life acceptance, and I get, it's a shady acceptance, but it's the acceptance that I have a whole lot more to lose in my personal relationship than I am in professional relationships or in circle, like, my life of like, I don't want to say just trauma, but like my life of like, all the good things, and all the bad things combined, has prepared me to like I'm always ready to walk away from everything from anything material, or social or emotional, like I'm ready for loss. And when I have to deal with that, in a personal way, like that's, I don't want to have to lose my relationships. So yeah, I'm not gonna be able to open up as much because I feel like if you get to know the true mean, like, you're going to be scared of me, and you're gonna walk away. And so that's, that's terrifying to me. 

Christopher Mendez  
But it's it, I think you hit it right on the head. I mean, for me, and technically x, you know, like explicitly. I've been a restorative practitioner since August of 2017, right? But when I look at my life, and like the different I'm at a, I'm at a I'm at a stage in life where I'm I'm holding on to a rope right now. But I look back now 15, 10, 15, 20 years ago, and I was holding on to threads. And now I've been able to get to the point where like, these different threads of my life experiences have to braided together, and now they're a strong rope that I'm able to do a lot with. 

Christopher Mendez  
But I would say I mean, my, my upbringing is restorative like I come from, you know, whether they know it or not, like, you know, whether it's recognizing, right, right, because colonialism has has, has been really effective, like erasing our indigenous roots, right. But like, the way I was raised by my grandmother, and my grandfather was like, sitting and storytelling like that, that right there is sort of like, you know, it took me a while to realize like, oh, man, like least we did circling with my family, like, every afternoon at the coffee table. And everybody was allowed to speak, including the children. So it was, you know, I would say like, that's the beginning of it. 

Christopher Mendez  
But I would say explicitly, like, I would I would probably say is connecting to community beyond is when I became Muslim in 2006, I started to become more active in community activism and organizing. And that led me to my first like, real youth work. And that was the local Islamic schools in South Florida didn't have come originally from South Florida. Yeah, and they didn't have they there were several summer schools, but they were so small, they didn't have like sports teams, and they weren't able to play with other kids. So like me and a bunch of other like, young brothers and sisters were like, yo, like, this sucks. 

Christopher Mendez  
Like, we played all these sports in public, high school and middle school, like these kids don't get to do that. And they're like, yeah, well, there's enough schools what they can just play each other. like, yo, let's make a sports league. And literally, that's what we did. And we started off with soccer, and I was known as known as Coach usif. Like I was that really crazy, like mid 20s, high energy screaming, scaring the crap out of little kids. My students would like later tell me like, yo, we remember you and you scare the crap out of us. But you're so cool. Like, we didn't know you were cool like that. But we just saw you as a coach for the other team. And I'm like, Oh my god, I'm like, I didn't mean to scare you like no, but you're cool. All right, I guess. Um, but that started me with youth work. And that led me to my first teaching position I taught for at Islamic schools down in South Florida for a while, and I left that mainly because I have problems with institutions and with rules and like, 

Christopher Mendez  
I'm in the moment in the relationship kind of guy and like your rules like really do mean shit to me most of the time. And like properness and people's expectations really like, aren't as important as like the moment and the needs of the moment and like relationships with people and particularly vulnerable people, kids, right? And so, but I joke around and I say like, I sucked as an instructor, my teachers, my sister's a teacher of math and science teacher, and she rocks like, pedagogically like her instruction is on point. I wasn't there. Like I sucked as a teacher, I admit it, like on my best day, I was probably mediocre on my best day. But most of the time I sucked. But what I was really good at is being with the kids, when I was really good as having solid foundations of trust and respect with these kids to where like, they were coming to me with their deepest, darkest things. And like, Yo, I need help. And I'm like, oh, okay, like, let's figure this out then. And I would say that that's where it started. 

Christopher Mendez  
Like, I would say, officially, because like, I remember my last principal, he was like, Yeah, you're not going to like you just handle it, I trust you, and just come and update me. And so it was, it was nice to have that kind of role and official role of like, hey, our most difficult student, we want you to like be partners with them. I'm like, yeah, of course, it's my little buddy. And like, I would develop an authentic relationship, and friendship with this young person. And I would look at the dose, like, why can't you like, and now I understand what I was doing back then I was just being me, I was just being in the moment, right? Um, but I would say that's where it started. And that trajectory. 

Christopher Mendez  
During that same time, you know, I was, and I've been all over the place like professionally, you know, earlier on, I graduated high school, and I like academic. So let me sort of break down the academic portion of it because I was a huge portion to like how I got to where I am also, right, like, I got out of high school and like I stopped at high school I barely graduated not because I wasn't smart, I couldn't do it just because I had other stuff going on in my life at the moment. And school was not really a big priority. And so I graduated and I went into the Navy went into the Navy got out. And it was in the Navy that I took my sociology class with a small little Filipino officer who was like take no shit when he worked, but like when you got to know him, he was like the coolest professor. 

Christopher Mendez  
And he really expanded my brain to like learning I'm like, Yo, I like school. I like learning like, this is what I used to love reading. And so I got out of the Navy, and I started going to school, and I got my, my bachelor's in social psychology. At the time, I had this like, really fondness for small group dynamics in particular, like, haven't been in the Navy, like I would be on teams with people who, personally I hated them. But when we were on, we were working, we were in uniform, like, hey, you're, you can trust me with your life. And I know I can trust my life in your hands. And so like, even though we didn't get along, like somehow there was this attachment somehow, or there was this really firm relationship. And that like, blew my mind. And I like I was just just fond of it. Right? I can treat.

Christopher Mendez  
 And so I at the time I was looking for work, I got a job at a local university down in South Florida, Nova Southeastern. And I thought I want to do like a psych degree, and like research and small group dynamics. And sure enough, they didn't have anything. And I found they had a PhD and a master's and a PhD program in conflict Analysis and Resolution. So I was like, Oh, yeah, that sounds interesting. Like, let me dig into a class or tool and sure enough, like I was like, Yo, this is really dope. Like, I like this. And I just kept pursuing it. And eventually, you know, I've through a couple of roller coaster rides in life. I finished my PhD in 2014. My, my dissertation was on a female child soldier coming out of Nicaragua, who didn't officially go through a DDR programa de demobilization, disarmament demobilization and reintegration program, but rather, she just relied on her family, and statistically that she should have been a felon, a sex worker, a drug addict, and in abusive relationships. And she, for the most part, she was none of those things. So statistically, she was like, Whoa, exceptional, right? But like she did go through a program. So what was it? At that time, I didn't understand like, what my I mean, I understand I still understand like, that person is a family member to me. So I always grew up with the stories of that other person will not have that experience. So I was always curious to know about that. But also it blew my mind is like your normal, like, how is that possible? 

Christopher Mendez  
And so when I look back now, and like I was, I had a fondness for vulnerable populations, for youth, and for what is what are the organic community supports that allow us to succeed, right, like it's all restorative in nature and I just didn't really realize it. And but when I finished my PhD program, I was overqualified academically, but under qualified professionally to step anywhere into any kind of conflict resolution work. And so I found myself in like the deepest, probably one of the darkest periods of my life where I was, like unemployed for a year, my third child was being born. And like, I didn't have anything. And that's how I found myself up in Minnesota, there was an AmeriCorps position, and I'm like, yo, AmericaCorps is like $700 $800 a month. But guess what, I'm not making anything right now. Do I risk this? And you know, I mean, the wife played at 100 and came up here, and the rest is history. I've stayed up here in Minnesota since then, you know, we're going out 2017? Yeah, we're going on three years, four years, yeah, four years up here. And I've been able to tie all of my life experiences all together, and like, Oh, that's how this all comes together. So I would say like, that's, that's kind of the trajectory that I that I find myself like, those are the different sort of starting points, the different parts of my restorative practices coming together.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, I want to go back.

Christopher Mendez  
Sorry!

David (he/him)  
 So you're not the only person who does this like because, you know, in circle, like, we don't interrupt each other, right? But like, there are all these flash points in there that I would love to, like latch on to, I think the one that's most that's standing out right now, is when you're talking about, like, your introduction to this work, sitting around the table, sharing stories, and then when you're looking at this young person, and looking for the quote, unquote, organic supports, right? That reminds me that, you know, this work is how humans want to be together. When things are good, like, this is how humans are together. And you know, thanks to colonialism, imperialism, late stage, global capitalism, all these other things. We're separated from those things, right? You think about the teachers who, like were marveling at you, like how are you building such relationships with these students? Right, like, the reason that they aren't able to write because of the pressures of capitalism, instructional goals, right? And like, all these standards that they're trying to hit, that they've been trained to do as teachers, right? And that's not the natural way the the organic way, the way that like, we were meant to be in good relationship with each other. 

David (he/him)  
I'm curious like, when you think about the way that you developed was there someone or something that was like relationship relationship relationship driving you or is that just something that you felt was coming to you naturally,

David (he/him)  
I think it came something that came to me naturally, there's nothing like off the top of my head that I could think of, I think there was just a really inherent drive in me from my own, like upbringing, that young people are their own people, right? Like we can not look at them as these like just small little human containers that we're filling with knowledge and with manners, and with facts, and with ways of being and then they're going to, you know, be full of what we give them and then they're now they're going to be these replicas of these creations of what we want them to be like it was always recognize them as an individual human being that really drove me. 

Christopher Mendez  
I particularly remember one of the things that because I was like, I was taught like middle school, high school, so it's a really weird age, right? Like Middle School is kind of like an alien phase and in high school is just that this rebellion phase. I always saw like in Islamic Islamic thought, the age of accountability is not based on a number but the age of accountability, right? Like when we're talking about in the big theological sense. And even early on in early stages of like, historically in Muslim communities, even within with the and this has fallen within all human history. But within everyday practice, the age of accountability comes about with puberty, right? So like if we look at historically we've always prepared human beings to be for the most part, sovereign individuals by the time that they reach puberty, right like and so now we, we find problematic now when we think about like, a young person going through puberty, and all of a sudden that young girl is being married or something right like that, that can be problematic for us today. 

Christopher Mendez  
But if we think about like, young men and women were trained, and conditioned and prepared to be adults, by the time they reach that age, then they were able to act in better ways. But I say all that to say right like, at the foundation of it, you know, I've gave always give that a lot of thought because what that tells me Right, like it's not just theologically that there's ag accountability, what really, really drove me is this, like, there is a physiological function, there's a physiological change in a person's body that says, hey, you are mature now. Right? Like, and if we're if we don't think that our physiological existence doesn't affect our psychological existence, that we're greatly, greatly, greatly overlooking, and simplifying our human existence, right? Like, these little kids, like, teenagers have this big rebellious phase. Why? 

Christopher Mendez  
Because we want to tell them what to do when their bodies, it's telling them and telling their brains out, like, Hey, you should tell yourself what to do. Because you're, you're getting to be an adult now. Right? And so like, my conversation would always like, hey, yeah, like, they're kind of like little adults, right? Like they're, they're getting into their own of decision making. My job is not to tell you what to do. My job is to help you make better decisions. Like even with my own children. That's like, that's been my approach, like, Okay, I'm just here to help you make better decisions. I'm not here to tell you what to do. Right? Yeah. Does that at times with my two year old or my five year old mean, I have to tell them what to do in a moment. Yes. But their general life trajectory? No, I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just here to support you and be the best person that you can be. So what is it that you want to do? Right? So for me, yeah, that's what drove me I guess is its agency, I guess I would I would boil it down to is recognizing their humanity and their agency and mean, like, I'm not going to see you as a passive existence up, you're your own person, like, how do we do this together?

David (he/him)  
Do you feel like you had that as a child?

David (he/him)  
I feel like I did. I was I was brought up with very strict expectations, right? Like, you know, I was I was expected to give like, I'll give an example. I was expected to deliver academically on a consistent basis, I would be in being the child of immigrants, right? I'm the oldest of all my cousins and siblings being blue collar, you know, immigrants from Central America. I was expected to academically deliver because that's, that's education is the ticket, right? So. But I was also given a lot of free range to engage in like, great philosophical and political debate with my uncle, with my grandfather with my mother, like, yeah, I wasn't allowed to be disrespectful, but I was allowed to engage in conversation, and I was allowed to be my person. And so I do think that I was given that in my upbringing, without a doubt.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, no. And so what I'm thinking about, like, do things come naturally, quote, unquote, right? The whole like nature versus nurture, versus, you know, I know life experiences are nurture, even though people might not have intentionally been nurturing those thought patterns and those behaviors, but they're, even in your upbringing, there does seem to be something about like, you know, we have the ability to, like the inherent human dignity that people have, no matter who they are, it translates into so many different ways. I don't know that that was entirely affirmed by your experience in the Navy. But when you're thinking about the ways that you have gone on, to think about this work, that we're participating in, around conflict around youth around working with people who are on the margins, or who have been oppressed, like, that definitely translates so much.

David (he/him)  
I'm curious when you think about how you're, you know, you said like, all of your life experiences compounded and like brought you to this point. How would you describe this point because like, as you said, like and Elyse read in your bio, you know, you're now working on like, this legal rights center. What is your work like, there?

Christopher Mendez  
All right, yeah. Um, yeah, I mean, I'm always you know, I'm very self deprecating. When you when you that, that is my go to, like, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm still trying to figure it out. So that was my first thought. And what Yes, so you know, what is this moment? This moment? I'm trying to figure out like, what, what am I doing with my life? You know, like, what do I want to be when I grow up, um, but my day to day so right now I'm at the legal rights center as a restorative facilitator/youth advocate. And day to day that entails just facilitating restorative processes, sometimes conferences, we primarily use family conference. But sometimes it's circle sometimes it's just some, you know, what I would call restorative dialogues. And sometimes it's just restorative facilitation in the sense of like, where I'm literally facilitating information from one to another, from one person to another, asynchronous and and all of a sudden, they have this connection like, oh, okay, bam, and then they can do it themselves. And so like that's, you know, prior to my lead, that was my day to day.

Christopher Mendez  
 So that entails getting, you know, we have partnerships with different the two biggest school districts with Minneapolis and St. Paul. But we also have some contracts with the county attorney's for their truancy programs and things like that. And so we get a lot of referral cases like that, but also in the community. So we get a lot of family referrals, where families are like, yo, you didn't really, you know, it happens often we're like, Mom will be called me up and like, hey, you really helped him out big time with my older son, I'm having this issue with my younger daughter at school. Can you help me out here? And so those situations occur? And we're there to like, Oh, yeah, let's figure out this. How do we how do we, how do we connect you with the school, and specifically within our legal rights, and our like our conferencing? 

Christopher Mendez  
What I what, and this is how I see most restorative interventions as as a cast, right? Like a relationship, that bone has been broken. As a restorative facilitator, I come in with solid communication with solid empathy based relationship based ways of connecting. And I help teachers and administrators and professionals and young people and family, sit down and connect with each other so that that relationship, that bone can be healed. And soon as that bone is healed, I'm stepping away, it might not be fully healed, but it's good enough to where they can hold on their own ideas step away. Because if not, if I stay too long, atrophy occurs. And then I'm just a detriment, I just become the crutch for that young person, I become that communication crutch for that social worker that doesn't know how to connect with mom, like, I'm not here to do that. I'm here to help people be better themselves and have better relationships. And sometimes those better relationships, right.

Christopher Mendez  
 And that happens often with schools, and with systems, right, because our education is inherently dehumanizing, like, it is a factory. It is a factory for factory workers. Like that's what it was created for. That's what it's designed for. And that's what it does today. So it's dehumanizing by its very design, and its very nature, despite the fact of the best intentions and the best practices by individual professionals. So a lot of times like that, that means just like, checking adults, like yo stop being a shitty person, like, like, just because you have a degree and a title like, and I joke around, like, that's why I don't even use my like PhD or anything. I don't go by Doctor, I just go by Chris. And I'm like, super informal, because I like keeping that in my back pocket. So when I see adults getting out of pocket, I got to check them like, Oh, yeah, okay, let me remind you, I'm a PhD and you want to use some big language, we can use some big language, you want to talk about research, we can talk, like you want to make people feel dumb, I can do that, too. Let's play that game, I'm really good at it. And so to like, level out that power, because it needs to be leveled out sometimes because the system is inherently broken, it's just shitty, right? And so day to day, that's what it looks like. But that also entails a whole lot of like professional development, right? with school systems with other sort of practitioners in the metro area across Minnesota. 

Christopher Mendez  
I've done some other like, you know, random work with, with with sort of State Department, state groups to do listening sessions with youth and things. But like, right now I just, I look at every opportunity I can to engage in a more restorative way to learn more about being more restorative, right? Like, I tried to do the same thing that you're doing here is and capture the stories of other restorative practitioners, so that we can highlight people doing good work out there. And so that that was the same things like for me, it's storytelling. It's not about a radio show. It's about I want to I want to I'm being selfish, I want to listen somebody kick ass story, and I want to share that kick ass story with other people. And so like, storytelling is restorative. So yeah,

David (he/him)  
yeah. So much in there. One really quickly plug your radio show for people who just happen to be in Minnesota, St. Minneapolis, St. Paul area.

Christopher Mendez  
Absolutely. It's just us. And so a big shout out to Rick Kelly out it out in Canada, who I got that from him. And he got it from a young person who said, you know, Justice is justice. You know, this is just us. So it's a wordplay, right, but justice building restorative community, k RSM, it's 98.9 it's a Southside Minneapolis radio station community base, mainly bipoc, man, a whole lot of LGBTQ, just very community based programming. And I like, I'll be honest, I was I kind of took a hiatus for like a year, maybe a little bit more than a year because of the pandemic, it just really threw me for a loop. But I'm getting back on my grind and shout out to Andrew up here, this station manager for for just a lot, you know, giving me the space to relaunch and get things going. So yeah, KSM just us

David (he/him)  
 shout out. Now in with those stories in mind, you kind of mentioned like, three areas in which you were at great. families, communities, right? schools, criminal legal, I'm curious, keeping confidentiality in mind. And like, the respect of those folks, I'm curious if there are any stories of processes that you've helped facilitate, or experienced, that stand out to you that you'd be willing to share?

David (he/him)  
I remember one of my darkest days, as a restorative practitioner was probably also one of my like, best days as as a restorative practitioner. Um, and the incident was, was public knowledge, right. But I was I was at a, I was sort of practitioner at another organization at cmrs, which is also in the Twin Cities, and I was at one of the robbinsdale area schools. It's called Cooper high. And there was a fire that day at the school, and one of the bathrooms or something. And there was a bunch of layers of failure. But what ended up happening that day was they corralled all the kids onto the football fields, which is fenced in and ended up happening is you had the whole High School, which is mainly bipoc kids, right? Which is a big thing in the state of Minnesota, which is 89.9%. White, right? Like, there are not a lot of black and brown spaces. Like that's just the fact. So when when you have those spaces, it's like, oh, what, so anyways, that's high school, you know, so you have this huge student population, they're all ready, you know, the sirens are going off the noises, everything. So people are already on like high alert, they're triggered I, an adult was triggered. 

Christopher Mendez  
And so we're out there, and all of the majority of these educators did not find it, you know, I'll say it openly. The majority of the kids are white. And majority of them were not inside with the kids, they were outside of there, even outside of the fence, not only along the outside of like the track, but there were a lot of them, most of them were outside of the fence. And I'm not gonna lie to you, it felt like a prison, you had these black and brown bodies behind the fence, and white adult bodies looking in supervising. And so I was I found myself in because I'm like, yo, like, Nah, like, You're, you're with people. And so me and a couple of other, and Funny enough, black and brown folks, professionals were in there, and we're talking to the kids, and all of a sudden first fight breaks out. I'm not even a student, I'm not even a school employee, and I'm running, breaking up the fights. And it's just one fight and another fight and another fight and then another fight that six or seven fights break out in a matter of like 30 minutes, 45 minutes, till it finally ended where this young student got like, punched in like sucker punched and like knocked out, like knocked out cold to where they you know, they're on the floor, and they're shaking a little bit. 

Christopher Mendez  
And that's what wakes up all educators and they come in and they surround this girl and I'm like, yo, it's too late now. Like, where were you before? Like, why weren't you checking in on kids? Okay, how are you doing? How are y'all doing? Like, what do you need? Like, what? Not you are with kids, right? And so that was a really, and I'll tell you why that was a low point for me is because, and it didn't hit me in the moment in the moment. Like in crises I'm phenomenal. I'm not like my life experiences that prepared me to where I'm really good in crises like that, that doesn't faze me. But it was after everything died down. The kids are like go they're going home. And say goodbye to a group of like these ninth grade girls that I was also doing circle with at the time, were actually in a circle when the fire alarm went off. 

Christopher Mendez  
And so they're like, are by Mr. Chris..., they leave and one of my kids who I had done a restorative conference with comes up to me. And he was known, he was known to run with clicks in the school and the neighborhood in particular. Um, and he just comes to me as I am, and I'm talking to him, and I never pushed him to go either way. I just I shared who I was with him, and I never judged him for who he was. So he was really open and cool with me and he just comes up to me because he's like, as want to do better. And so like, I stayed like, with the relationship with him. And he's like, Yo, I got to tell you this. I mean, he's like smiling, and I'm like, Yo, what's up like, what's good man? What's happened? And he's like, Yeah, man, so I finally did it. I'm like, What are you talking about? Dude? Like what's up? So yeah, I sold my piece. I sold it yesterday, bro. Like, I'm done. Like, I don't want to be carrying that around and I don't, I don't want to be doing that anymore. My Yo, like, for kid whose safety depends on having a piece on him. For him to come tell me he did that, like that's, that's next level of commitment to change and to growth that like most adults would never understand. Like most of those will never never understand that kind of commitment. And I like I just remember like, I was filled with this joy. Like I hugged him, like I hugged him like he was my son like, I'm like, bro, like, I'm so happy for you like, Yo but if you need anything you let me know, like, you have my cell phone number, like hit me up. But like I'm super proud of you. Like that's yourself. And so it's like this is freakin high.

David (he/him)  
But then the adrenaline wears off. And then I just bust out onto tears. Because this young man just showed like the greatest sense of humanity that anybody could show which is I'm commiting to not unnecessarily cause harm to other individuals. While at the same time a system of education which is supposed to foster growth and safety and security was treating my young black and brown kids like animals behind behind the fence. And like I couldn't even control I just cried for like probably half an hour like some some of my girls saw me from a distance and they came like Mr. Chris? Oh, no, I'm fine. I'm just you know, I'm just tired. I'm worked up. I'm like, I'm good. I'm good. So like I immediately I was like, Okay, I need to get away from here. And I saw one of my other like peoples in the building. I was like, Hey, I gotta go and do it. Okay, I'm like, yeah, I'll call you later, we'll talk about it. And so I got in the car, I cried, I went, I went to the office, I cried. And like, I had to get that off, because I'm like, like I said, it's that it's that high. Like, he's showing the, for me a pinnacle of humanity. While the system is treating them like animals, and like, yeah, just I mean, that's that was in one single day, within a matter of hours. And like it for me, it was still one of those defining moments like yo systems are crap. Sorry,

David (he/him)  
yeah. Yeah, thank you for sharing that when you thought about, you know, your students of color being you know, behind those cages during that fire drill, right? I thought a lot about like, you know, the relationship between like individuals and the community was that ever addressed.

David (he/him)  
So it was never addressed in the sense of like, well, we're going to do something for the for the kids. Um, you know, there was follow up, you know, of like, Oh, we need to have better plans for fire drills and for emergencies, and this, that that third, and there was, you know, we held a processing circle, I don't want to say it was a healing circle, because what we weren't trying to seek, we weren't trying to seek at least, there was a good a good group of bipoc professionals in the building that felt deeply harmed that felt like I felt like I was, I felt harmed because I saw my kids being harmed and in ways that they probably didn't even recognize right away, right. But and so we had a process in circle. And a few of the white educators showed up not a lot, I'll be honest with you was like a handful. And we're talking about a high school with like, a few dozen educators, right, and those a handful. And, but I was grateful for that processing circle. And shout out to the keeper of that one, most dear friend of mine. 

Christopher Mendez  
But what I was able to walk away with, and it was a good reminder for myself, right? That one of the educators was was saying like, Yo, I never even thought about that. That's how this looked, right. Like I as an educator, as a white educator, were standing outside of the fence, talking with my my colleagues and my kids were in there dysregulated and things were popping off and I didn't go in there or I wasn't in there in the first place. But the only thing that was on my mind was I never get downtime to talk with my colleagues and it was a time to connect. And so and they were there was sort of explaining themselves and they were like it doesn't make it right but I just want to tell you what was going through my mind and so for me like to recognize their humanity in those moments, despite the fact that there was significant harm done. It allowed me to look at them as humans again instead of as these monsters that were harming kids. Right 

Christopher Mendez  
It made me see them like their unintentional actions were causing harm to other people. And for me as like, I just as a person like that is something huge. We come across in As we're sort of practitioners, we recognize intent versus impact, right? And we try to call that out. But as people, we don't often get to process that intent versus impact. Like, you know, and I still to this day, one of my favorites is Will Smith's, you know, responsibilities versus faults, video, he has a really dope video explaining how my Yo, like, I still use it with my kids a lot of times like, Listen, don't tell me it's not your fault like, is your responsibility. That's what you need to be asking yourself. And so intent versus impact sometime, you know, it made me It made me see them as humans. And so like we had that circle that processing circle, but it didn't go beyond that, that I know of, and I was my last year at that school. After that I moved over to the right center.

David (he/him)  
Gotcha. One of the things that you said at the end of your story is like, like that's the system. And for me, that one of the reasons that amplify rj has started is because I like didn't want to work within those systems anymore. Right? And so right now, for me, literally amplifying the work is informing people who work in the systems, right? Like, these are the different ways that you can move and subvert like, the ways that that that continues to happen. What do you see as your role?

Christopher Mendez  
And this is the hard part right? But like as I know that my personal role as me as Christopher Mendez as you serve is one thing. And I understand that organizations because another and there's a great there is overlap, but I would describe my role as subversive. Like my role is to plug in this coded virus right like I'm you know, thinking about independence day. When Will Smith and I forgot the man I forgot the guy's name. But yeah, like they find little spaceship, they plug into the mothership and they upload that virus, right like I'm plugging in a restorative virus, like my job is to drop those seeds of being a restorative being into every single adult and every single youth that I can ever come across. And it might not bloom today or tomorrow it might not bloom next year. 

Christopher Mendez  
But the hope is that eventually those those seeds will bloom and we will have shifts and restorative ways of being because the truth of the matter is it I don't believe that I can reform a system like a system that's that's designed improperly will always hurt. A system that's designed to do things will always do that unless we change the system right? But when enough people within that system like oh, okay, like yo not there's not what you want and change directions completely then that could happen. And so my job is to do that my job is to to like, expose them like one of my favorite things when I say when I like sometimes like I know Minnesota why people sometimes get pissed off at me because I'm just a little bit too like up it's very passive aggressive up here and like so like my being upfront and sometimes very, like harsh rubs in the wrong way. 

Christopher Mendez  
But, you know, I have a general rule that like as an educator, if you're not breaking the rule or bending the rule on a daily basis, you're probably a shitty educator like that. That is my rule like no, this system is not humanizing, it's actually dehumanizing. So if on a daily basis you're not finding rules that you have to break and bend in order to best serve your students, you're probably not doing right by your students. You're doing right by your job you're doing right by the district, you're doing right by the curriculum, you're doing right by your paycheck but you're not doing right by those kids. 

Christopher Mendez  
Like there doesn't have to be anything major right like or controversial but there has to be some bending or breaking because the rules that are in place in that system are dehumanizing so that's that's what I'm trying to get people to shift towards right like not like yourself in relationships because when we get enough people to start second guessing the system itself like right now I've seen I need people to second guess their practice and when we get enough people to second guess their practice they start to second guess the system and once the system starts to get second get the now we can change it right and that that'll have to happen eventually that or it all burns down right like we just have societal collapse and then we have something else that that we have to build from the ground up. 

Christopher Mendez  
That was a little bit too dark and post apocalyptic there but you know there's there's always that there's always that dark road that dark option that dark storyline that exists right like empires collapse that that is part of his what history tells us and there's been some really dark areas in human history. So you know when we start to in you know, when we start to take that into account, right like to be restorative is also the Not only about deconstructing but about constructing. And so like, what does it look like to, to think about? The system's not being there and being and constructing things independently. And we have to actually play that out in our heads. Like, the one thing I really love, like when I come across restorative practitioners, right? Like, who, who tell me like all these systems need to all go like I'm with you. Okay, but magic wand tomorrow, normal carceral state, no more education system. What happens tomorrow? Uh, yeah, you're so focused on burning shit down and reconsider, and take taking down but you're not really also focused on building up. You're so focused on reforming that you don't know what you want to reform it to. And so I don't know, like, I'm I don't want to ramble right now. But like, that's, that's where my thoughts are going.

David (he/him)  
No, I, I guess like, from that dark space, like what keeps you hopeful?

David (he/him)  
I think human history like humanity, humanity has always has always shined. Right. Like, it's, I don't think dark spaces are necessarily dark, you know, dark storylines are are different lines. They're dark storylines for some people, right. But like, there's always growth, right? Like, it's just about whether it's intentional growth. Right, like, so. For me, you know, I always think I love nature based, you know, examples, but I'm like, I've been joking around with my daughter, she's recently shifted over to like, mainly a plant based diet, and I'm like, Oh, I'm happy for you, I support you. I'm like, Yeah, but you know, your plants, actually, animals that die. So your plants are meat eaters, but you're a plant eater, so that makes you so I'm like joking around with her right? Now. She's like, Oh, my God, that's like, Just shut up, like, stop. But I also think, you know, let's think about even human existence.

Christopher Mendez  
 You know, my parents, my family's from Costa Rica, right? And everybody holds this up as like, Oh, look at this beautiful, you know, nation in Central America with all this beautiful ecotourism. Like, okay, that's all great. And look, they have no army and they're so peaceful. Yeah. You know how that happened. A Civil War and the right people won. And I'm like, that's a fact, like, more than 2000 people died, which back in those days, when they were using, like, some outdated artillery, you know, this is 1948. So they, they weren't having didn't have American, you know, armaments. I'm like, a civil war happened, people die, but the right people won. Like, that's exactly what happened. I'm like, there's always the possibility, even after something dark for something good to happen, you know, just just as, as a forest is like, like an Everglades, I'm from South Florida, right? Like, there are pine trees, that who seeds don't open up unless there's a fire. Like, that is part of nature that is part of our human existence, right? 

Christopher Mendez  
So sometimes that there needs to be there needs to be some some, some darkness, right? Like what we would call it darkness, some discomfort, some pain, for there to be better things, for there to be growth. Like, there has to be like, even our own body, right? Like I just did a bunch of examples that keep coming to mind. But you know, that that that are Yeah, just analogies and examples in nature. But I also see humanity in human history. You know what, and sometimes those, those, those, those periods of darkness and periods of light, are at the same time. And they're parallel. 

Christopher Mendez  
You know, one of one of my favorite examples, right, that recently was just discussing with a friend was they were talking about the Dark Ages, and they were like, the Dark Ages for who like, for white people. The rest the rest of the bipoc grow in primarily the Islamic the Islamic world at the time, was that was that the there was a golden age at that time. It was on the golden age of Islamic thought and practice in communities that what came to be the light, you know, in the Renaissance period of Europe was based upon like, there was nothing. It was all replication of what was already there, like the Dark Ages for who, right? So like just because it's dark for white people. That's the Dark Ages. Now that was European darkness. Everybody else was different. You know, and the same thing for like, if there's darkness if we have societal collapse, right? And we lose what we call normal today. Because the The oppressors, the colonizers, the police state, the elite  don't have their way doesn't mean that we can't have our way of a better way of being. Now we can still route ourselves in community. And so that's what I hold on, hold on, hold on to for hope, like that's what makes me hopeful is the fact that like, not, humanity will always like thrive, and we just need to connect. We need to just continue to connect, continue to be with each other, continue to recognize our own humanity, and root ourselves in relationship. And that's why I do the work I do. Right? Like, it's my relationship on a daily basis that I that that's what gives me hope. Right? Like, it's that.

David (he/him)  
Yeah. There are a lot of people here who are listening, right, who are familiar with the mythology, philosophy of Christianity, or Judaism, I don't think we've had somebody explicitly talk about like, the restorative application to Islam, how has your faith you know, this being this restorative justice, life and your faith being a big part of your life? How does your faith inform your work as a restorative being moving through the world?

David (he/him)  
And in many ways, and the longer I do this work, the more I start to find out like oh, yeah, that that was a restorative way of being and this and that, but um, Funny enough, when I was in grad school, I was writing papers on restorative justice from mainly from an Islamic Islamic law, you know, most people call would call Sharia, but Islamic criminal law in particular and specifically capital punishment and I was writing papers and I say very openly now like, I used to write papers thinking that I knew what I was talking about I didn't know what RJ was I don't know what being restorative was I didn't know of being like no like I was writing papers based on like some but like so like, it's about being with people and being and doing and making mistakes and and reflecting on our existence that makes us restorative not writing papers and being able to say all the right words and he will spit out facts and no these processes like that's not what makes it restorative but so that's I would say that's where it started right? 

Christopher Mendez  
Like I started writing papers on like no capital punishment in Islam says that you know, the let's say you know, x person was accused of murder and found guilty of murder or they confess right like they were found guilty in Islamic law and this is an oversimplification right but like they they're they're given a cap they're given the death sentence but they're the family of the victims are given priority to say what what do you want this person to be punished? Or do you want this person to be given leniency and clemency Would you be willing to accept blood money for them for their life and so like there is a an intentional explicit place and and space for the voice of the victim or the voice of the victim's family. 

Christopher Mendez  
So like that's one of the big things right, but a more nuanced and I think a more beneficial and valuable space of like how Islam really guides me and like continues to push me to be more restorative like one of one of the examples is and in Islam, the idea of rights are not individual rights that you have that you demand of others. The conceptualization of rights is what are the rights that other people have over you? So what rights so for and this is something like really simple right but if somebody if a Muslim sneezes next to me, they did most of the time to say I can't do it now. And so my right that they have over me is I have to say at Allah, like it's a it's an explicit like, right that they have over me, or something as simple as like, if somebody in the community dies and I know of it and I'm able to go to the funeral, I have to go to the funeral. Like, it's these like, and there's a bunch of, you know, these there's a there's one like a prophetic scene that has a set of these, but it's also found in other and other areas more nuanced, right, but like, the idea of rights being what others have over me, as opposed to what I demand of others, who it's me and what is my relationship with these people? What is my relationship and existence, right, like, and it goes on and on.

Christopher Mendez  
You know, I was grateful to have some really good teachers that gave me a more deeper practical, nuanced understanding of Islamic thought and practice. But it all comes down to like, what is my religion friendship with this person, and What rights do they have over me, like I, you know, something as simple as, and this is, you know, a common practice nowadays, particularly with our political climate, right, like, people are just cutting off family members, right. But we think that we can just cut family members off. And maybe at times that's necessary to a certain extent, but like in Islam is prohibited from you to cut off ties with kin. Like you're prohibited from cutting off ties, you can limit it severely limited, but you can never cut off ties. And when you have that emphasis on, or something as simple as like, there's a saying from the Prophet that like one Muslim should not be mad at another Muslim to the point where they're not talking to him for more than three days. And so like this nuanced implied, emphasis on relationships, for me, lets me know that like, Oh, yeah, not doing restorative work, doing relationship based work, is the right thing to do. Like, that's where we're supposed to, we're supposed to be rooted in community, we're supposed to be rooted in relationships, that is how we're supposed to be. And so, you know, I would say that's how my faith informs my  practice. 

David (he/him)  
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Um, relationships being at the center, right? This interconnection? Both, you know, to your point, so many people come to this restorative work from like, the alternative to the thing that's punished. Like, that's punishment, right? And like, you mentioned that right, when you're talking about, like, you know, having mercy or like, not taking a life for a life, but it is so much more than that those relationships. And, you know, the results of that are gonna look different in every single situation in every single context. But, you know, those principles remain the same. I'm curious, in your own words, how do you define restorative justice?

David (he/him)  
Well, I'll say putting relationships first, restorative justice is, is putting relationships first, and, and a balance of, of justice, right, like seeking a balance of justice. while practicing, and recognizing relationships, because sometimes it's a relationship between individuals, sometimes it's the relationship between the individual to community, sometimes it's the relationship between the community to the individual, or community to community. But it all boils down to those relationships and seeking justice. You know, and justice is when we fail to fulfill the rights of others, right? Like that. That is what is injustice is when we fail to fulfill the rights of others, right? So it's a circular, you know, it is a circle, it's just that that feedback loop, right, like, well, we establish justice. By establishing rights, we establish rights by recognizing relationships, we recognize relationships, and then we know what you know, like, so it's like this feat of just those three things. So that's how I would define it.

David (he/him)  
We're now in the questions that I asked everyone. What has been like, Oh, shit moment, as you've been practicing this way, and what have you learned from it?

David (he/him)  
I'll say the oh shit moment was was the one that I just had. Just recently about, you know, circle being this. when when when you're in I hate to even say it like this, but when there's when you're in a good circle versus a bad circle, right? It can be therapeutic, because you feel safe, and you can be yourself your vulnerable self, you can, you know, be vulnerable. And I had that, you know, just because sometimes just rambling just talking, listening to other people. And then you start talking and you start talking and then you say something that you're like, ah, Yo, I get it now, right? Like, oh my god, I hadn't processed that before. 

Christopher Mendez  
My obsession with cleaning. I shared in a circle with Becky you know, probably last year sometime. And I was saying how you know, I'm really not only on my go to thing when I'm like stressed out or wanting to kind of reset myself and feel productive again, like when I'm feeling down or I'm feeling stressed or bothered. But also when I see the house is a mess, I need to clean and I'm pretty like big on cleaning the house on a regular basis. But like, I look at that and when I think about my own home life growing up, my parents didn't have the perfect marriage but up until like, middle school when when I did have a home with two parents like that isn't one thing that they did right all the time. It's a cut to really clean home and orderly home. And so it's like for me was like always the one thing my parents did, right? And then like, afterwards, I started thinking oh my y'all That's like some, like therapy aha moment that I just had in circle. And I've had several like that. And that is the aha moment that cumulative like, there. Yeah, circle can be therapeutic because it has vulnerability and authentic relationships. And most of the times we spend our whole lives lying to ourselves. And we're never reached, we hardly ever reached that point of vulnerability, even with our own selves to admit some of our own shit and some of our own toxic traits. And I think that is a ha moment that I've had around restorative justice and particular circle.

David (he/him)  
I love it. A lot of times when it maybe I just need to change the intonation of my voice for like, Oh shit, like, a mistake that you made? Oh, yeah.

David (he/him)  
Okay. Uh, yeah, no, absolutely, um, I would say the other side of that, of that vulnerability of that realness of that rawness. And that's the oversharing. And that might be like, as of late, I've started to contemplate, maybe that's my ADHD, like kicking in, because I've started to see here, but that is a thing that people like actually do when they have that. Um, but anyways, oh, yeah. oversharing. pika. Sometimes I might like, I second guess, myself when I share a lot. And I can share some pretty dark things a lot of times, like, early in our conversation, while I was telling her story of that, of like that high and low, like I had to stop myself, because I was about to share some really unnecessarily dark things about my past, right? And what I've realized is like, Yeah, that's good sometimes. But some people sometimes people aren't ready to hear that, like, for me, it's normal. Like, I can talk about some real dark things. Like it's nothing. But sometimes people can't talk about that. And that's not right, right? Like, is it right? 

Christopher Mendez  
Because I'm my real self, and I all of a sudden trigger something in somebody else. And I, like, I'm causing emotional harm. I've triggered them and I'm like, That's not right. And not only that, that's not right. But the worst part of that is that there are also other people. You know, I would say like throughout the 80s, and 90s, we had you know, that poverty pimpin, right, where people were exploiting communities and poverty in order to make more money, right, we still have a particular nonprofit sector. But what I've really noticed as of late, is this, what I want to call trauma trapping, like people are trapping or making money or profiting from other people's traumas, and for other communities, traumas on big scales, right? And I don't explicitly use the word trauma, and I'm like, yo, like, sometimes I'm invited to places where like, people kind of just exploit my own traumatic past like, Oh, yeah, like, let's hold up the little the brown kid who like made it through. And once you talk about those hard times that you had, why don't you talk about, you know, this and that, and I'm like, Oh, yeah, like some people want you to start talking about that. And I'm like, now like, it's kind of like to give an example and outside of like, my own self and more community base. It's what I would do with my, my descendants of slaves, my black brothers and sisters in the US and I would say in the North and South American Caribbean, where history is only starts off as slavery, right? Like it's that trauma trapping like people like there's a benefit to them only talking about that trauma, as opposed to like, yo, no, like, black people were great before that, like let's talk about that. And so yeah, that's that's that's what I'm coming out with, like, the oh shit is like sometimes you have to scale back sometimes you have to just shut up and not share things with people because not everybody, let's be honest, for people with ill intent out there. Not everybody's worthy of like, hearing your deepest, darkest secrets.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think it was like, especially important as a keeper of a space like it's one thing like when you are just a participant in when there's someone else who you trust us being there. That's just like, making like the risk calculation as a human but like, especially when you're a keeper of a space. Like, an important question is like, why are you sharing this right now? Right? Like, for whose benefit and like what are the potential risks? That's Yeah, important. You get to since circle with four people dead or alive. Who are they? And what is the question you ask the circle?

David (he/him)  
Oh, oh, for people dead are alive. You know, I'm going with this is really hard. There's like a list of like, 10 people that just popped up in my head. I'm definitely saying the Prophet Muhammad. I'm definitely saying Che Guevara I'm definitely seeing Paolo Freire. And I'm definitely saying, oh, who's the fourth here? Who we handed in their Nishah?

David (he/him)  
And what is the question you asked the circle?

David (he/him)  
And the question I asked a circle? How can we be better people?

David (he/him)  
How can we be better people?

David (he/him)  
I think we can be better people by just seeing each other, recognizing each other, instead of seeing somebody for, I just recently heard, or read this somewhere, that sometimes, like, in particular, in our personal relationships, we only like to see the version of somebody that we have the most power over. And I'm like, yo, yeah, some people treat me certain ways or even like, I've got like me seen that maybe think about a lot of personal issues. But my brother, my little brother bosina, was my little brother What to like school and bring up and take care. And like, now you're, you're like this full grown man with your kids and your family and your own set of experiences. Like, let me see you as this beautiful man that has that I can learn from, I'm not the one that I have to take care of. And I have to teach and I have to school, right? 

Christopher Mendez  
Like, where I'm the teacher, that where I have power over. And so I think by just seeing, seeing people seeing their humanity, seeing their their wholeness, just everything, like, you know, they could be drunks, they could be murderers, they could be, you know, just whatever, you know, the deepest, darkest person, right? Like, there's still a person and they might have caused some good in this world. They might, they might have something good to say like, we don't know. And even if they don't, like, there's still a person and like, I need to see them that and like elevate them, because maybe that's what they need, right? Like, just to be recognized and seen. Because that's, that's, for me that that's a feeling that we don't often get as when you're seen when you're like, really seen by somebody else. 

Christopher Mendez  
Like it uplifts your soul in a way that you know, for me, there was, you know, my transition to Islam. I still remember like, I was working at BJs wholesale club. I was functioning alcoholic at the time, you know, drink six, seven days a week binge drinking, like serious drinking. I would not sleep for three days on end. But like I worked 60 hours plus, I took 18 credits in college, I partied I like took care of my family, I did things. And one day, I was drunk slash cut, like, sliding into hangover. And so I was able to work I was sitting down trying to catch myself. And my coworker was like, yo, we're gonna get your life together. He's like, you're this great guy who works so hard, but like you throw it away with with drinking. And I still remember like, he didn't say, Well, why are you drunk? Why are you then he was like, when are you gonna get your shit together? Right? Like, you recognize me as a person. Like you're, you're this but you're also all these good things. And like, that was a transitionary moment for me. And so I think maybe because it's me being selfish in that, like, that's what helps me see myself. Somebody else saw me. I'm thinking that's how we'd be better people like recognizing other people.

David (he/him)  
Definitely, I think like the step beyond that is like, recognizing yourself in them as well.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, no, without a doubt, yeah, there's way more, there's way more of us and other people then I hate to like, bring it right back to the sound but like, there's a there's a verse in the Quran that says, you know, we have made use of different tribes and nations and people say you may recognize one another. I like to think that I made you different so that you can recognize one another like, is to see ourselves and others. So yeah, anyways.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, absolutely. I struggle to ask this question across different podcasts. What's like, a fictional place or like something in the media like that you've seen that like, you wish people really knew this work. For example, when I think of the movie Black Panther, at the end, were like killmonger is like, just bury me in the sea with my ancestors, because it's better to do that than be locked up in a cell, right? Yeah, you know that there's like some kind of restorative bend to the way that what condoms do like they're like, Yeah, all that so like, you Can you think of a situation similar? It doesn't have to be like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but like somewhere, like,

David (he/him)  
well, if we're gonna take it there like that. And because by politics, I don't just mean like, our modern American political system, right? Like, when I think of politics i mean of like, how an individual governs itself in relation to his community, and how and what he expects of his community, right? What were I would say what I would love it because and, and, and this is and still trying to process like, what what the situation is, like, my favorite show? Is the walking dead, right? Or you're the walking dead. And that's because it's that post apocalyptic reconstruction, right? And with lots of like, killing and gore and things like that here, I'm an 80s Baby, you grew up on alien and predator and Terminator and Rambo and shit, right? So but yeah, like to see more explicitly, and like The Walking Dead, or the Fear the Walking Dead, and how they reconstruct society. That, that I think, would be super dope. Because I think it would make it palatable for people to understand, right, and I think there are in like, there's there are certain storylines in certain episodes and things like that, where you start to see a little bit like restorative ways of being, where, where people are focusing on their relationships to each other, right, like the relationship to mercy and to the being seeing the best in others, as opposed to the worst in others. And there's this idea of, like, communities, and then communities nestled within communities. But yeah, and redemption, right? Like when we think when we think of like, neguin, right, like, they didn't kill them and things like that. So yeah, I would say the Walking Dead is probably where I would like to see some more explicit restorative justice stuff going on.

David (he/him)  
 For sure, love it. And I think like, you know, long term goals of this work of amplifier Jay being to like push these conversations into like, mainstream media where like, it's not just a reference in like How to Get Away with Murder on this one episode. Or like in this one episode of the shy where these kids got in trouble at school, but just like, you know, these themes need to be more present for people everywhere to help them imagine like, Oh, no, this is a way that we can be together. What is a mantra or affirmation that you want everyone listening to know?

David (he/him)  
It's okay to be me. It's okay to be here. It's okay to be me. Like, that's okay. And it's okay to be me on bad days, and it's okay to be me on good days, and it's okay to be you on good days. It's okay to be you on bad days. Like it's okay.

David (he/him)  
Becky tagged you? Who would you like to tag in on this podcast? And you have to help me? You know, get them on?

Christopher Mendez  
No, absolutely, absolutely. I think the person, man, there's two people who attack. And they're both they're both local to the Twin Cities. One of them is Raj Sethi. Raj. Oh, he's a professor at Metro State. And he's kind of like the big brother for me for a lot of RJ work. He's like, he's neck deep in RJ work in the community. Everything from teaching restorative justice classes at Metro State University to like, No, I'm doing circle on a regular basis with community with like brothers who are coming out of incarceration, and who just need to be wrapped up in hugs and community. So when things go wrong, and like how do we how do we respond to this? Like he's he's one of the go tos in it. And I think mainly because he's, for me, I've always seen myself as like, like, I cannot. And I'm surprised it didn't come out in our conversations, like more explicitly is this idea of service and servitude and a servant. Like, that's how I like deeply route myself as like, I'm a servant of the community, like I have to be in service of others, if not, I find myself to be hollow. So and I see him and like, he's just in constant service in community and for me, like, like, yo, that's, that's how I want to be that's how I need to be. That's how I recognize myself. 

Christopher Mendez  
Um, I would say the other person is Sam, Sam coultas. She's actually a co worker of mine, she at two different organizations. Now she was that cmrs before and she's at the CBOE Rights Center now she just started like, a month ago. She is a young, queer woman who like is real and raw. And like understanding and expansive like I think that's the main thing is like expansive and our understandings of humanity. And she's like helped me like be able to become a better circle keeper and be able to better like Just understand things and understand people and like, I think she's also one of those people who is quite valued because I'm allowed to out. She saw me great value because I'm allowed to. She's allowed me to be vulnerable with her and show her parts of me and like, be myself. And she has judged me and she has like, pushed me away and she has like, oh, yo, that's problematic. She's like, not let's talk about that. Like, what do you just say? Like, let's let's let's chop that up. Let's let's break it down. Like why do you say that? What do you think that like? And so like, we go back and forth, and like, you know, even even like, for me as like a cisgender, heterosexual male like to be able to understand queer identity and queer culture in ways that like racket, ask those dumb questions to her. has allowed me to like oh, okay, like, yeah, alright, I'm understanding that like, hey, did have a dumb question. Like, I don't understand this, right? Like, can you help me today? Oh, yeah, good. I don't know we start talking to people why value because they allow me to ask them question. They allow me to be my flawed self. Right, like, and they've never judged me for it, neither one has. And for me, that's huge. Like, that's, that's what I would say my biggest fear is always being judged, being exposed for being a bad person, the way we carry.

David (he/him)  
So I look forward to those introductory emails. I have a way that Becky, Becky tagged you. Thank you so much for all of your time, and your stories, the wisdom that come with all of those things? How can people support you in your work in the ways that you want to be supported?

David (he/him)  
I think the best way to like support is I would love to be able to spend more time doing training with like, educators, but not just educators, but also with like social workers, I find them to be very problematic. I would love to see, like, whole rewrites of like, higher education curriculum to include like for, especially for teachers to include restorative justice requirements, right? I would love to see, you know, something as simple as you know, like the calling out and like hyping up of like AmeriCorps, right, service related projects. But in particular for me, you know, like I just if you, you know, I like I like doing my radio show. And I'm always looking to expand and do more circles and do more trainings. And I'm always excited when people call me to help them out with different things.

David (he/him)  
How can people get in touch?

David (he/him)  
So people can either catch me on Facebook or Instagram Dr. Mendez at those three or you can look for Chris Christopher Mendez, where you can also find justice building restorative community on Facebook.

David (he/him)  
Yeah. Well, thank you so much. Again, it was really a privilege, anything else you want to leave the people with?

David (he/him)  
Thank you. I really want to thank you for this opportunity to be able to share time and space with you and talking.

David (he/him)  
Absolutely. Well, those are words for me, not necessarily the people but we'll take it. We'll be back with another amazing episode and conversation next week everyone else Until then, take care