“No Justice, No Peace”: Bridging Restorative Justice and Peace Advancement

I first encountered Restorative Justice in a Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) class in 2010 at Grebel. The class stood out because it was taught in a way that reflected restorative values. Today, I can see how that learning environment drew me into the Restorative Justice field as much as the framework itself. Our collective way of being in that classroom nourished me and generated a passion within me for participating in similarly transformative spaces within my community. Twelve years later, I find myself teaching that very class and striving to offer students a space where they can explore, as bell hooks puts it, “education as the practice of freedom.”

In the years since I took that course, I have done a Master’s degree specializing in Restorative Justice, taught courses on it at multiple universities, practiced it in my community, and advocated for the systems I am embedded within to adopt it. Restorative Justice principles and practices have remained a focus both personally and professionally.

One place I have longed for more opportunities to integrate Restorative Justice has been in my work at the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement. As coordinator since 2014, I have had the pleasure of helping shape this hub for artists, researchers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs who are contributing to the field of peacebuilding. While my work at the Centre has been deeply meaningful, I have struggled with what seemed like a disconnect between my justice work and my peace work.

Sparked by the anti-Black racism protests this past summer, the Centre for Peace Advancement team has been spending more time reflecting on our strengths and shortcomings as they pertain to challenging white supremacy. One learning that has personally loomed large is the imbalance we have created between our Centre’s prioritization of justice and peace. Recognizing truth in the chants at Black Lives Matter protests, I have been reminded that without justice there is no peace.

I have been aware for some time of the need for critical reflection on power, privilege, and systemic injustice in Restorative Justice work. The insights of BIPOC leaders within the Restorative Justice field, such as Fania Davis, have compelled me to recognize and transform the internalized racism and white supremacy within me. This deconstructive work has paved the way for me to better prioritize justice in my work at the Centre. Healing the disconnect within me between justice and peace (in the form of internalized white supremacy, for example) has meant that anti-oppression and anti-racism are naturally priorities as I go about my work. Practically speaking, this has affected how I approach tasks like program design, hiring and supervision, and monitoring and evaluation.

Of course, this work must occur within an institutional context of transformation in order to bear fruit, and I have been encouraged to see peers throughout Grebel and the Centre for Peace Advancement dive deeper into their own transformation. There are also people like PACS graduate Cassie Myers of Lunaria Solutions—a member of the Centre’s Incubator program—who are emerging as national leaders in creating a more equitable world.

As Grebel considers how to prioritize Restorative Justice offerings in the coming years, my hope is that we listen to voices like Cassie’s and voices in the Restorative Justice field who are calling institutions to investigate themselves for signs of structural racism and to commit to growing in response. If we do this, Grebel’s Restorative Justice offerings will align with its mission to pursue justice and peace in service to church and society.