World Trust

How We Can Promote Healing from Trauma through Restorative Justice Circles

Posted by World Trust Team on November 1, 2017

In a previous post, we discussed intergenerational trauma and how it can lead to harm in marginalized communities today. In that post, we highlighted the work of a 2012 report on addressing intergenerational trauma for Aboriginal youth living in Canada, which made mention of centering community healing practices, strengthening cultural identity, and building professional support networks as some ways to begin the process.

What does it look like to center and integrate healing practices that specifically address trauma?

Speakers in our newest film, Healing Justice, offer varying perspectives on how best to address trauma, including one specific strategy: create a restorative justice circle.

youth RJ circle.pngFania Davis, Attorney and Co-Founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), describes the format of a restorative justice circle as opening with a ritual, trust-building exercises, and a creation of shared values that all participants are engaged in: 

“So when we engage in restorative justice circles, we come into, create this transformative space. And it’s the job of the facilitator, not so much to make sure that his or her agenda gets covered or that certain outcomes are achieved – it’s all about creating a safe space where everyone feels they can speak from their heart… where everyone feels they can share their deepest feeling with each other.”

- Fania Davis, Attorney and Co-Founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY)

The rituals in restorative justice circles often come from the participants’ backgrounds and hold meaning for them; building trust and common values allows for young people to feel like they can open up in a space where they won’t be judged.

The conversations that follow in circles are often challenging and bring up stories of trauma, but the spaces are vitally important. As Ethan Viets-Vanlear shares in the film:

“One of the most beautiful things about circles is it’s a space for shared vulnerability. And I feel like the reason this is so important for young men is that we’re not allowed that space anywhere else in society.”

– Ethan Viets-Vanlear, Poet, Organizer, Pedagogical Worker

Ethan shares a story of participants who, though they may be hesitant to share, open up after they’ve seen others be vulnerable. When young people, especially young men, are taught to not express emotions apart from anger, they are more likely to take out their emotions through violence.

Offering a space where vulnerability is encouraged can allow for those who have been harmed to express their pain in a healthy safe space rather than in reproducing the violence that was enacted onto them.

If you want to learn more about creating a restorative justice circle, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) offers an “Implementation Guide,” which includes exercises and models on how to bring restorative justice to an organization, school, or community.Find it here:

Topics: Talk about Race, #WorldTrust, restorative justice, Healing, nautilus, trauma, Healing Justice, racial justice, judicial system