Restoring Community

A one-time gang member in Los Angeles is taking his understanding of his community, his idealism and his knowledge of restorative practices back into neighborhoods to help gang members learn to change and be more positive community members.Carlos and boysCarlos Alvarez, center, with two boys

“Lots of kids embedded in gangs, their emotional intelligence is very minimal,” he says. “We have to build capacity around affect regulation.”

Alvarez, an IIRP licensed trainer, says restorative practices builds emotional connections and allows children to develop healthy social skills. This involves allowing students to process their emotion and trauma, which they often experience as physical symptoms, such as a tingling sensation in their hands when they get angry. “Ours is a bottom up approach to behavior,” he says.

In his role as Director of Student Discipline at Bright Star Secondary Charter School, a public charter school in south Los Angeles, Alvarez says he conducts five to six restorative conferences per week around issues like fights and class disruption that might previously been handled with suspensions.

He recalls one student he developed a long-term relationship with. His father was addicted to heroin and had abandoned his family. Like many children who have experienced trauma, this boy felt a lot of shame and believed there was no hope for the future. He lacked trust and his whole nervous system was highly reactive.

In school, the boy stole a teacher’s wallet containing $600 in cash – she had just been paid. Alvarez decided to attempt a restorative conference. He instilled a sense of safety and a desire to listen to the boy during a pre-conference meeting. In the conference, it came out that the teacher really liked the boy, and they had established a relationship. Alvarez asked the boy why he had betrayed her this way. He answered, “I knew she would eventually move out of my life. This was my way to get her out of my life first.”

Alvarez and the teacher were heartbroken to hear this, but they stayed emotionally connected with the boy. Alvarez commented, “When a child is extremely hurt, and there’s trauma in that hurt, the child will ask for help in the most disgusting ways. When their tone is intensifying, they’re actually asking for help. When they say f*** you, you have to lean into that. That’s what I do.”

Through the conference, the boy began to understand how his actions hurt the teacher. Two hours later, on his way home, the boy had a panic attack right out on the street. He threw up and the paramedics came. Alvarez says that sometimes the emotional impact of a conference is so great there’s a physical response. He added, “The boy never gave me a cheesy, ‘I will never get in trouble again.’ But he never did. He eventually graduated from high school.”

Alvarez with florencia gang On a field trip to a Dodger's game.Alvarez acknowledges that in many ways gang culture is embedded in Latino culture in the city. But he says the vast majority of youth participate for social reasons and only stay in gangs an average of two years. The ringleaders — the so-called “five percenters” — average seven years and commit most of the anti-social acts and crimes associated with gangs. Alvarez believes restorative practices can reach both categories of gang member.

In addition to his work in schools, Alvarez has started an organization called Los Angeles Institute for Restorative Practices (LAIRP). The Institute does direct intervention in gang areas in the wake of violent incidents. They help families in need connect with resources, such as counseling and social services. They also conduct restorative conferences.

In one incident, a very active gang member shot and killed another man. The brother of the victim sought vengeance. Alvarez learned from talking with the killer that the killing was not gang-related and was unintended. Through restorative dialog, Alvarez managed to help the two men barter a truce. They would never be friends, he said, but they agreed to not perpetuate more killing over the incident.

Alvarez’s mission is ambitious — to transform systems of punishment and discipline into systems of healing and empowerment. He has also tapped into the growing scientific knowledge about the mind and emotions to inform his work. LAIPR specializes in training for law enforcement, detention centers and schools that have high populations of students at-risk. As an IIRP trainer, Alvarez has taught over 300 people to how conduct restorative conferences and has begun speaking at conferences, such as the upcoming IIRP World Conference in Detroit and a conference on sex-trafficking and school culture.

Almost all of the work Alvarez does in neighborhoods is voluntary. “I want to change lives by the things I do,” he says. “There’s so much work and it’s so exciting. We’re doing God’s work.”

Robert Thornton"The conference is an opportunity to bump shoulders with the restorative elite, who live and practice restorative practices on a day-to-day basis." - Robert Thornton, Senior Program Officer, Skillman FoundationThis is last in a series of interviews of sponsors of Strengthening the Spirit of Community, the IIRP World Conference in Detroit, MI, October 24-26, 2018. Sponsors are providing scholarships for Detroit community members, bringing a new level of connection and engagement to the conference. Robert Thornton, Senior Program Officer of the Skillman Foundation, explains why Skillman is a Supporter. He speaks about Skillman's work and why you should join them at the conference!

What prompted you to sponsor community scholarships to the IIRP World Conference in Detroit?

The Skillman Foundation has been supporting the restorative framework in Detroit for several years. I believe in its transformative powers. I have seen what can happen when people commit to building restorative communities with fidelity. So it makes sense to expose as many residents as possible to restorative practices. 

Why should people come to this conference?  

1. We're going to have a gathering of some of the best minds in the world who’ve been working in this platform for a very long time, all in one place. 2. You're going to come to a city that is in the midst of a renaissance as a major place in this world. And most important, it's an opportunity to bump shoulders with the restorative elite, who live and practice restorative practices on a day-to-day basis. 

What's one result you would like to see come out of the conference?

We need to educate and inform the broader community — as many people as possible — to become aware of restorative practices as a transformative tool to address violence and expand healthy culture in Detroit. We want to become the first restorative city. And we want it to spread to the region, the state and the nation. It can lift Detroit up as a city — put it on the map — as people actively work and become more restorative in their actions. 

What would you like the world of restorative practitioners to know about your organization? 

The foundation has a long, deep tradition of building safe and healthy communities and promoting self-determination. We have always worked in communities with disadvantaged people to build capacity and improve quality of life for children and families. Restorative practices allow communities to develop healthy norms. It transcends age, race, gender, socio-economic status. It can work in any community or country and the world, if people are interested in making it happen. It can become a way of life that is easily adopted for people who desire to live in safe communities. 

I've seen it happen in schools we've worked with. Developing communities in classes. Young people assuming leadership with circles and changing the culture in their own spaces. I've seen nonprofit community partners embed the notion in the culture of their organizations and work toward becoming restorative organizations. I've heard the testimony of police officers and school administrators who have had success with restorative practices. They don't have to arrest or suspend: They have tools that can become part of the daily lifestyle of their communities. 

Restorative practices is one of the major tools we use with the Ceasefire platform and gang work abatement. Outreach workers and interrupters do groups with gang members asking restorative questions. I've seen it actually save lives. I'm reminded of a story of two rival gangs on the east side of Detroit. One gang member caught the leader of another gang in a compromising situation. He intended to do him great bodily harm. He called his leader and asked him what to do. His leader said, "Leave him alone. I had a conversation with him and I'm good now." 


 Learn more about the conference and register now.

This article is second in a series featuring sponsors of Strengthening the Spirit of Community, the IIRP World Conference in Detroit, MI, October 24-26, 2018. University of Michigan-Dearborn is a Champion Sponsor, providing scholarships for Detroit community members and bringing a new level of connection and engagement to the conference.

In this interview, Tracy S. Hall, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Office of Metropolitan Impact, and Amy Finley, Ph.D., Dean of Students, explain the importance of restorative practices to their campus and why they would like you to join them at the conference in Detroit!

Tracy Hall"We are deeply committed to being a restorative campus." - Tracy Hall, Ph.D.

Tracy S. Hall, Ph.D.

What prompted you to sponsor community scholarships to the IIRP World Conference in Detroit?

Restorative practices is crucial to global and community healing. U-M Dearborn is an anchor to our community. We want to support our community doing this important work, so they can do it better. If the community can't get to the conference, how do they learn and buy in?

Why should people come to this conference? 

To be inspired, to be informed and enriched, to find other people who see the world as a positive place to be. To strengthen their mental muscles in their practices, to be reinforced. To feel refreshed and refueled and renewed. It's easy to focus on the negative. Restorative practices provides a chance to see human frailties and see beauty come out of the cracked and broken. 

Alice Thompson"Relationships and strengthening the fabric of communities have always been key to our work." - Alice G. Thompson, CEO Black Family Development, Inc. (BFDI)Detroit community groups are gearing up to share the extraordinary work they are doing to help make Detroit a restorative city at Strengthening the Spirit of Community, the IIRP World Conference in Detroit, MI, October 24-26, 2018. Sponsors are providing scholarships for Detroit community members, bringing a new level of connection and engagement to the conference.

In this series of interviews, our sponsors tell about their work and why they think you should join them at the conference!

First, Alice G. Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development, Inc. (BFDI), explains why BFDI is a Champion Sponsor and is hosting the IIRP World Conference.

What prompted you to sponsor community scholarships to the IIRP World Conference in Detroit?

It's BFDI’s goal to establish in Detroit a restorative practices city, one community at a time. We believe in the spirit of community, and we want to work with communities to strengthen that spirit. That really is our heartbeat. Our neighborhood community circle keepers, our residents, our schools, our police, our organizations, are training in restorative practices. They are coming together to improve relationships, reduce tensions, repair harm and take control of their neighborhoods. We want to expose them to a broader vision of restorative practices, give them new ideas and spark innovations: things they can do in own neighborhood and their city. 

Why should people come to Detroit?

To learn, share, pick up new ideas and receive innovations. Folks are doing unique things here that people can borrow. Our community-engagement circles are truly empowering residents. This work is really worth looking at. Our young people are leaders on how to use restorative processes to improve social connection and repair harm. I have not seen anyone as steeped in community-based work with restorative practices as we are here in Detroit.

transparencyImage by nathan-dumlao @ unsplashIt was 2008. The Great Recession was in full swing. An organization that was growing steadily until that point had nearly ground to a halt.

It was very eerie in the office. The rush and crush of a once busy international professional development and coaching business was gone.

The phones were not ringing. The last of our multi-year contracts were coming to an end. Event registrations were low.

We had recently launched a new and innovative graduate program after investing nearly a decade of sweat equity and what little surplus we could pool from our consortium of organizations. After a promising initial growth period following program launch, new student inquiries were way down.

In another corner of our consortium, referrals were plummeting for the private schools and counseling programs we administer for at-risk youth. The rapid and unexpected loss of steady revenue from these programs was, in a word, crippling.

I was nearly ready to grab my sandwich board and become a street corner preacher. Repent! The end is near!

For the first time in our thirty-year history, we were headed toward layoffs. We held a meeting with several hundred staff to discuss the state of the organization and our plans to right the ship.

circle central americaIIRP Latin America is providing processes to help people cope with stress and fear during times of great turmoil in Central America.

Violence boiled over in Nicaragua in April 2018. Citizens protested government social reforms and police responded with extreme brutality. The newspaper La Prensa reports 351 dead, 2,100 injured, 329 imprisoned and 68 tortured.

The country has since become polarized. There have been waves of anarchy: looting, arson and violent conflict, even among families.

AMOS, an NGO that delivers health interventions in Nicaragua (http://www.amoshealth.org), is helping its staff and clients deal with this nightmare.

IIRP Latin America first provided circles training for AMOS in 2009. They took to the process immediately, and it has become part of their organizational culture. They use circles to address conflict in the communities where they work, to make decisions and address staff tensions. During the current upheaval, circles have become a beacon of hope for AMOS's staff and the communities they serve.

Buxmont Grads 2018 PottstownBuxmont Academy Pottstown graduates (left to right) Cesar Dominguez-Zavala from Shillington, Justice Lewis from Bally, Emily Overley from Exeter Township, Nathan Harris from Eagleville and Jordan Rubino from Schwenksville.

When I attended Buxmont Academy's graduation in June 2018, I didn’t know what to expect. I'd had no interactions with the students. All I knew was that this was a small group of 6th-12th graders who were using restorative practices to learn how to better understand their emotions while achieving academically.

When I arrived at the school, I could immediately tell that this was so much more than a graduation. My limited knowledge didn’t come close to describing what these students had achieved.

The ceremony began with the premiere of “CSF: The Shortical.” This video of a short musical about their school starred the students and featured original songs, dances and dialogue. The community they had created was obvious. They had come together from different places and life experiences and created something to celebrate that. Seeing their pride in this accomplishment was truly inspiring.

The nonprofit organization, Foresee Research Group, received the 2018 European Forum for Restorative Justice (EFRJ) award for outstanding contributions Borsca etc awardDr. Borbála Fellegi, Foresee Founder and Executive Director; Dr. Gábor Héra, Foresee sociologist researcher; Dr. Edit Törzs, EFRJ Executive Director; Dr. Tim Chapman, EFRJ Chair; Dóra Szegô, Foresee sociologist researcher  (left to right)to the development of restorative justice in Europe. Borbála Fellegi, Ph.D., IIRP Assistant Professor, is the group's Founder and Executive Director.

Edit Törzs, Ph.D., EFRJ Executive Director, praised the group, presenting the award at EFRJ's biannual conference, in Tirana, Albania, in June. She lauded Fellegi as "the driving force behind Foresee and chair of the EFRJ Research Committee for many years."

The Foresee team are researchers and scientists who are also practitioners, trainers and activists. Their work across Hungary and Europe shows "an amazing high level of competence and quality," added Törzs.

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Managing is about overseeing processes, plans and systems. It’s about keeping things, often created by others, running.

Leading is about engaging and becoming immersed in the nuanced and complicated lives of real people. Leading is envisioning, building and sometimes breaking things on purpose. Leadership helps a team manifest ideas and aspirations.

Management and leadership skills are both essential for a healthy organization, but they are not the same thing. In some organizations, the assignment of these tasks is rigid and highly concentrated into specific job roles.

A nuclear power plant has a very high percentage of people whose job it is to manage a finely tuned system of fixed processes and procedures. In other settings these roles are, shall we say, more fluid

There are a limited number of people in any organization who are explicitly assigned managerial tasks. But the great thing about leadership is – anyone can lead.

Some roles have strong leadership expectations baked into them. However, the most effective organizations expect some amount of leadership from every role – from the part-time intern to the CEO.

The city of Detroit has been plagued by some of the worst crime and violence in the U.S., along with rampant student expulsion, dropping out and truancy. Detroit Peace WalkChildren at a peace walkBut thanks to an IIRP project, restorative practices are taking hold in Detroit's neighborhoods, schools and systems. Individuals are becoming active stewards of their community, as elders and young people are learning processes that repair harm and rebuild relationships.

Detroit community members are eager to share their successes and learn from practitioners from around the globe at "Strengthening the Spirit of Community," the IIRP World Conference in Detroit this October.

"They want to celebrate and share the progress they’re making in their city and hear what other places are doing with similar challenges," affirms Alice Thompson, CEO of IIRP partner Black Family Development, Inc. (BFDI), which is hosting the conference.

toronto 2018 logoBreakout Sessions
  • A Dynamic Blended Family: When Restorative Practice Marries Family Therapy – Anne Martin, Ph.D., Jennifer Bowen, M.Div., RMFT, RP (powerpoint)
  • Becoming a Restorative Community: The Journey of ChildStrive – Mary Cline-Stively, M.A., Rebecca Mauldin, M.P.A. (powerpoint)
  • Brighter Futures: A Vision for a Restorative Learning Community in Dublin, Ireland – Emma Wheatley, Karen Mooney (powerpoint, handout)
  • Bringing Ontario's Equity and Inclusion Education Strategy to Life – Laura Di Ianni, M.Ed., Mike O’Neill (powerpoint)
  • Building a Restorative Toolkit: One Technique at a Time – Sue Jamback, Tyler Radtke (powerpoint)
  • Change the Conversation, Change the Culture – Lee Rush (handout, booklet, powerpoint)
  • Circling Closer to Ourselves: Mindfulness and Self-Directed Neuroplasticity in Restorative Practices – Jeff Catania (Google Doc links)
  • "Cultivating Community" Restorative Practice School Projects: Measuring Our Impact – Danielle Hunter, James Reilly (handout, powerpoint)
  • Dynamic CBO/School District Partnerships: Effective Collaboration Transforming Schools to Restorative Communities – Lucille Rivin, Matthew Guldin (powerpoint, handout 1, handout 2, handout 3, handout 4, handout 5, handout 6, handout 7)
  • Education as a Community of Care: Walking the Restorative Talk to Build Inclusion – Kelly Krug, Sayema Chowdhury (powerpoint)
  • Family Group Conference for Child Welfare and Juvenile Delinquency: A UK Perspective – Shahed Chowdhury, Ph.D. (powerpoint)
  • From Victim and Murderer to Allies and Friends Changing the Justice System – Glen Flett, Margot Van Sluytman, M.A.,
    CSJA (paper)
  • Healing a People: How Restorative Practices Can Help Repair the Harm of the Past – Cordell W. Riley, M.Sc., JP, Hashim Estwick, Lynne Winfield, FCIS (powerpoint)
  • Institutional Change for Developing Compassion Integrity – Dave Trejo (powerpoint)
  • Leading and Sustaining Restorative Practices in Schools: The Journey of Administrators and Teachers in Toronto – Christina Parker, Ph.D., Fiona Brougham, M.T., Judith Kramer, M.Ed. (powerpoint)
  • More Than a Shame: Knowledge Mobilization and Theories of Change – Rick Kelly (handout, powerpoint)
  • Motivational Interviewing: A Restorative Practice Approach for Guiding and Sustaining Change – Richard Rutschman, Ed.D. (powerpoint - pdf format)
  • No One Listens to Me!: Restorative Parenting Giving Voice to Children and Parents – Albert Felts, M.A., BCE, Angela Isenberg, BCE (powerpoint)
  • Organizational Structure for Improving School Culture: Doing Whatever It Takes to Build a Strong Foundation – Janique Cambridge, M.Ed., Shanell George, M.S.Ed. (powerpoint)
  • Panel – Indigenous Communities Engaging in Restorative Action to Promote Reconciliation – Bryan Trottier, Donald Nicholls, Gayle Desmeules, Jessica Wolfe, Kirsten Manley-Casimir, Ph.D., Losty Mamianskum (powerpoint)
  • Panel – Leading Change Through Restorative Justice Approaches – Bruce Schenk, Cpl. Darren Munroe, Howard Sapers, Jordan Diplock, Kelly Adamson, M.A., CVA, Selena Guildford, Tim Chapman (paper)
  • Panel – Taking Restorative Practice into the Workplace: Learnings and Challenges – Anne Martin, Ph.D., Leslie Macleod, LL.B., LL.M. (ADR), Mark Vander Vennen, M.A., M.Ed., R., Scott Milner, Terry O’Connell (powerpoint 1, powerpoint 2, powerpoint 3)
  • Peacemakers: Peers Helping Peers to Solve Schoolyard Conflicts – Stephen Young (powerpoint, handout 1, handout 2, handout 3 handout 4)
  • Project Blueprint: Increasing Police Referrals to Community-Based Restorative Justice Programs – Cpl. Darren Munroe, Jordan Diplock (paper)
  • Realizing the Potential for Restorative Communities in Rural Northwest Alberta – China Sieger (paper)
  • Refugee Displacements and the Impact on Community Life – Alia Sheety, Ph.D., Frida Rundell (powerpoint)
  • Reorienting Organizations: New Management Ideas Supported by Restorative Practices – Stijn Deprez (powerpoint)
  • Restorative Circles: Implementation, Building Community and Practicing Mindfulness – Amanda Cannon, M.Ed., Amanda Ramkarran, M.Ed. (handout, powerpoint)
  • Restorative Practices – The Process Works! – Jon McGill (powerpoint, handout)
  • Restoring “Explosive” Students: Strategies for Students with Chronically Challenging Behaviors – Shawna Griffin, M.S. Ed.S., Stephen Shepherd, M.A., Ed.S. (powerpoint, handout)
  • Restoring the Urban Gang Member: “Keeping the Brain and Body in Mind” – Carlos Alvarez, M.A. (powerpoint - pdf format)
  • Social Justice Dialogues in College Residence Halls: Building Relationships and Addressing Impact – Alex Boesch, Magdalena Gracia, Rafael A. Rodriguez (powerpoint)
  • Some Challenges in Sustaining Restorative Justice in the Criminal Justice System: Lessons from Northern Ireland – Tim Chapman (powerpoint)
  • Sustainable Leadership in Restorative Practices: Making the Changes Stick – Leonard Cheong, Noorzura Amir Noordin (powerpoint 1, paper 1, powerpoint 2, paper 2)
  • Sustaining Restorative Practices in Higher Education Through Residential Curricula – Kaleigh Mrowka, Lauren Teresa Mauriello (handout, paper 1, paper 2, paper 3, paper 4)
  • System-Wide Change: Building Strategy Networks to Grow Restorative Practices in a School Board Region – Scott Milner (powerpoint)
  • The Times They Are A-Changin": Restorative Practice and the Workplace – Anne Martin, Ph.D., Bill Bickle (powerpoint)
  • Tools and Successful Practices for Restorative Schools – from Those Who Use Them! – Peggy Hargrave, Saundra Reynolds, Shelley Steele, Stan Baker, Stephen Young (powerpoint)
  • We Wear the Mask: Can Restorative Practices Realistically Help Marginalized Communities Heal from Systemic Oppression? – Lori Harris, MRPYC (powerpoint)
  • Whose Religion Matters?: Exploring Emotional and Cognitive Responses to Boosting an Interfaith Restorative Community – Alia Sheety, Ph.D., Lisa Ratmansky, M.A., Rasheeda Ahmad, Ed.D. (powerpoint)
  • Why Restorative Practices Work in Any Context: The Importance of Explicit Practice – Terry O’Connell (powerpoint)
  • Widening the Lens: Sustaining Restorative Practices in Elementary Schools by Making Connections – Cathy Hird, M.S.W. (handout 1, powerpoint, handout 2)
  • Workplace Restorations in Conflict Situations – Blaine Donais, LL.B., LL.M. (ADR), RP, Michelle Phaneuf, P.Eng., C.Med. (powerpoint)