What is Healing Justice?

Healing justice means that we make central to our work listening to those who are re-imagining justice as a process of transformation.

This past Saturday, I attended an inspiring event that was part of the Let’s Talk Race series at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. I was excited to be a part of the group of about 100 people who came together to watch the new documentary Healing Justice by Dr. Shakti Butler. This film explores the causes and consequences of the current North American justice system and its effect on marginalized communities. The film walks back through the history of violence that has led to our current system, bringing into focus the histories of trauma – on a personal, interpersonal, community, and generational level. This powerful documentary addresses the school-to-prison pipeline, the need for comprehensive criminal justice reform, and the importance of healing and restorative practices.  

This year, I have been studying Peacemaking Circles with Dr. Pamela Taylor and looking for opportunities to learn about Restorative Justice. I am convinced that we need to replace our current punitive and racist system with restorative practices. Restorative practices have the capacity to address the root causes of violence. When we take time to address underlying trauma and systemic oppression, we begin to repair the harm that is caused while maintaining connection. When we create a system that is truly committed to maintaining relationships rather than fostering disconnection, we can heal. In the conversations at the event on Saturday, I walked away hopeful that we can dismantle the structural racism imbedded in the criminal justice system.

Designed for dialogue, the collective viewing of portions of the Healing Justice was combined with opportunities to pause the movie, consider specific questions for reflection and then engage in dialogue with a small group seated in a circle. We explored questions for self-reflection such as:

  • How does trauma impact us personally and interpersonally, as a community and throughout generations?

  • Why is healing on both individual and collective levels so important – and so often overlooked – components of justice?

  • How can restorative practices, such as restorative justice, be used to shift the way we address crime and violence in our communities to produce safer, healthier, thriving communities for all?

This movie reinforced my commitment to volunteering with What’s Next Washington a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit composed of formerly incarcerated individuals and allies working together. We convene, support, and scale organizations with the goal of replacing mass incarceration with anti-racist solutions that work better for everyone. Our first priority is to significantly reduce recidivism. Because the two key drivers of recidivism are the inability to find a job or a place to live, our efforts are focused on employment strategies and housing strategies. We work with community members to develop policy changes and a culture that welcomes people in – so that all of us can thrive. Like The World Trust organization, WNW is developing interactive events to change the public’s perceptions of those who have been formerly incarcerated. Our next fundraising event will be on Dec 10th and it is called The Stigma We Carry.

We could use your support! Consider joining us for this evening of stories of resilience as we foster a new narrative about what healing justice can be. You will hear from the formerly incarcerated, drug addicts and those who have been cast out of society. This is an interactive evening. Expect to learn about how people in our community are overcoming addiction, trauma, and the stigma of incarceration, and experience a night of reflection about collective healing rather than collective harm. At WNW we are contributing to a new vision of what healing justice really could look like. Please join us!

“for me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed” - bell hooks