One of the last things I did with others (in person) before the pandemic was participate in Catholic Mobilizing Network’s Restorative Circle Intensive in February 2020. The two-day workshop was an introductory experience in the practice of peacemaking circles.
I attended alongside Sally Diaz-Wells, the Social Justice and Outreach Minister for Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) parish in Arlington, Virginia, where I currently live. The two of us, along with other ministry leaders, together practiced restorative justice processes used for community building.
Looking back, the Intensive was setting the stage for the intense time ahead.
The lessons were quickly put into pandemic practice, as I joined an incredibly dedicated and dynamic group of people who were charged with the work of creating a “Restorative Arlington.” OLQP sent a representative to Restorative Arlington too, because as Ms. Diaz-Wells says, “The parish had to make it a priority! Restorative justice is a worthy cause; it is critical to the mission of the Church and it is what Jesus does.”
But a question arose early on: What even is a restorative place, a restorative county?
Restorative Arlington’s fearless leaders — some paid, many volunteer — laid the groundwork to gather hundreds of community members to do the grueling, restorative work of considering and answering these questions. (Oh, and we did so on Zoom, with lots of “You’re on mute!,” and “Your dog is so sweet!”)
Unfortunately, it became obvious that the pains were not all going to be surface-level, virtual ones when, in our first online meeting, a serious harm occurred and the impact of what was said activated one of the restorative processes our group would need.
With humility and strength, our leaders, Liane Rozzell and Kimiko Lighty, would consistently remind us that we need as much restoration and transformation as the systems we so long to change. Each meeting, they did the laborious work of preparing and sharing a land and labor acknowledgement, a speaking order, an opening, and a re-reading of our guidelines.
The circle process was alive and well, and it was intense — in a life-giving, challenging kind of way.
From the group’s intense dedication, while working restoratively, the following vision for a "restorative Arlington" was formed:
“An equitable, empathetic community that honors the dignity and humanity of all people and creates pathways for belonging, healing, accountability, and growth.”
We believe that with this vision, the work is underway in Arlington County to become a restorative place. (Our County Board thinks so too!)
Restorative Arlington is a county-wide initiative involving regular people and powerful organizations represented by individuals like policy analysts, the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Arlington County, teachers, young people, police officers, and persons impacted by harm and by restorative processes. We did the work with three crucial working groups — “school,” “community,” and “legal systems” — and all participants had Restorative Mindset Traininng, lessons on trauma from leaders, drafting days, nonviolent communication practice, and much more to grapple with the work of restorative justice.
We’re proud of the “final product,” from which the work is to both begin and continue: the Restorative Arlington Strategic Plan.
Learning about and doing restorative work isn’t something I expected to be a component of my pandemic life. And yet, it fit perfectly with my personal invitation following CMN’s Circle Intensive to “do the work” at home — quite literally, from home in Arlington.
I’m growing confident in the will and good work of so many people to bring about belonging, healing, accountability, and growth in our own places. I also have hope that other cities will ask the same question: What is a restorative place?