"This notion of good guys and bad guys is really false. Every single one of my clients has had an incredibly traumatic past, and if I had caught them a few years earlier, if I had been engaged in their life a few years earlier, they would have been on the victim side instead of the offender side."
– Sujatha Baliga, Director of the Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice and Healing Justice documentary participant
Healing Justice, our most recent documentary, supports the engagement necessary for the work of addressing and healing the racism embedded in our current justice system. The development of new narratives provides understanding of structural oppression while also sparking the public will necessary to change it.
Take a look at the image on the cover of Healing Justice. Recessed in the back of the cell, past the bent bars, is a blue glowing nautilus shell.
We chose the nautilus shell because it is a powerful image of growth and expansion as seen in nature. Its growth is predictable, yet as it expands into more and more space, it symbolizes the freedom to change, build and grow.
The nautilus is meant to inspire and remind us that our movements can begin from a place of small concentrated energy and grow into a more just reality. Take inspiration from the nautilus that, little by little, we can build together and unfold into a new shape.
Also, please consider reading the “Meditation on the Spirals of the Nautilus” for further inspiration.
There is a growing awareness that our current school-to-prison pipeline is a national civil rights crisis.
Our U.S. history is rife with the mistreatment and exploitation of people of color and poor people in ways that result in social, economic and educational isolation.
Historical needs for cheap labor have fueled myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies that have led to discriminatory laws, policies, practices and court rulings that continue to fuel racial violence that are reflected in our current prison justice system.
To create a world that is racially equitable and just, we need coalitions comprised of multi-racial participants who can truly hear each other. We need to form a healthy way of interacting. Organizations and infrastructure cannot function effectively without a shared foundation of trust, openness, and mutual respect. In our film, Light in the Shadows: Staying at the Table when the Conversation about Race Gets Hard, we see that positive change arises when we deeply understand ourselves, and can be open to creating a rapport with others.
Our summer of #JusticeandRacialHealing concludes this week. As we wrap up, here are several ideas that can help you develop mutually beneficial relationships within social justice advocacy work that supports change. These tips — similar to the themes we've explored this Summer from Light in the Shadows — are timeless.
Notice inherent patterns in the systems that polarize us. To change something we have to be able to name it. Observe the extreme conservatism, us-versus-them rhetoric, and individualism, as opposed to the calls for radical connection and communal organizing.
Light in the Shadows Q+A with Dr. Intisar Shareef
Last week, we posted an interview with Light in the Shadows participant Penny Rosenwasser. Today, we share our interview with Dr. Intisfar Shareef, another woman who sat at the film’s roundtable and discussed race and its impact. If you’re not familiar with Light in the Shadows, watch this trailer.
The women featured in the film were social justice advocates from varied racial and professional backgrounds. Shareef, an African American woman, says she became politically aware of herself in relationship to institutions through early experiences in the Nation of Islam. Intisar had already participated in World Trust’s first film, The Way Home: Women Talk About Race in America before arriving on the set of Light in the Shadows. Here, she reflects on her time on set and the long path our society has taken to be able to discuss these issues more openly.
Light in Shadows Q+A with Penny Rosenwasser
With the rerelease of our film, Light in the Shadows, a roundtable conversation among a multicultural group of women about race, we’re revisiting the most controversial aspect of the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the trailer for the film.
The women featured were social justice advocates from different racial and professional backgrounds, who spoke openly about their personal experiences with systemic racism.
A major shift occurs when an African American participant, ericka huggins, challenges a white Jewish participant, Penny Rosenwasser. Rosenwasser refers to the fight against racism as her “work.” huggins pushes back, saying that the fight toward racial equality is her life experience, not work, or something that can be released at will.
World Trust spoke to Rosenwasser, more than 15 years after that conversation took place, about her experience during filming. Spoiler alert: She was, and is, just fine. And she hopes more people can open themselves up to conversations that inspire real transformation.
One reason we keep coming back to the conversation of our first film, Light in the Shadows, is because the issues still resonate. Conversations about race often break down between white people and people of color. Whether you saw the film in the early 2000s or have just been introduced to it, the message is clear: We’re doomed to repeat the cycles of oppression if we don’t heal.
Expanding Dualistic Framing
The world is not an either/or place, even though it’s our tendency as humans to respond to life dualistically. We make decisions in ways that are hierarchical and linear. It is critical that we think systemically and develop our analyses through the observation of the patterns and relationships that are always embedded in complex issues.
In cross-racial conversations, we need participants to do their own internal work—dealing with their individual understanding of how racist systems were created and operate while understanding their own emotions and biases. We also need the group to do external work—looking at how structures and institutions can create systemic barriers and imbalances. Doing both, we can create new connections, revisioning relationships and structures.
It is internal work for each individual, but it is collective internal work that supports the external work. We must remember that, so we can be responsible for how our individual traumas and understandings impact the way we operate in the world.
When we released our first film, Light in the Shadows, the world wasn’t ready for it.
Recorded in 1998, our founder, Shakti Butler, intended to use this shorter film (45 mins) to raise funds for the production of other World Trust projects. In the movie, a conversation unfolds among ten American women from a range of backgrounds. The women lived in the Bay Area and came from African, Arab/Middle Eastern, European, Jewish, Asian, Latina and multiracial descent. They spoke frankly about the social and emotional impact of engaging with the world within the racial identities attributed to them.
The participants all came to the table with decades of social justice advocacy behind them. These were skilled communicators accustomed to the language of race and inequity, unconscious bias, social constructs, patriarchy, transformation, collective humanity, and healing. They shared personal anecdotes and past pain. They challenged one another and showed support. It turns out the film’s greatest achievement was also its perceived flaw. The conversation in the film—and for those after who viewed the film—consistently broke down between white people and people of color. When the credits rolled, white women viewers hated the movie. People of color loved it.
This clip featuring Jerry Tello, Director of the National Compadres Network, is our final clip from our 2016 Summer of #JusticeandHealingNOW. In it, Mr. Tello addresses the importance of culture, ritual and healing that supports his life-long social justice work.
1. What are the traditions and values of your family or community that have helped you heal?
2. What healing do you currently need to work more effectively towards builidng a more just and equitable world?
3. What committments are you willing to make to engage in ongoing healing practices for yourself, your family and community?
What is the impact of jail time and lives lost in communities across the United States?
What might be some interventions that could prevent this kind of loss?