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Talking circle / photo by Christianity TodayTalking circle / photo by Christianity Today

Here's an excerpt from an excellent article that appeared this week in Christianity Today. "Detroit Students Restore Peace by Talking It Out" by Charles Honey begins with an anecdote of a restorative circle used to resolve an argument that led to threats, which took place one weekend between a group of teenaged girls over social media. The article then goes on to quote Henry McClendon, Michigan Regional Coordinator for the IIRP, who talks about his desire to see successful school-based restorative practices programs expand out to surrounding neighborhoods.

"It's my personal mission to see Detroit become the first large, urban restorative city," says Henry McClendon, a Christian minister and executive of the Skillman Foundation, a private nonprofit focused on improving schools and neighborhoods for children. He has spearheaded implementing restorative practices in schools and among law enforcement and community groups.

Although not a faith-based program, restorative practices reinforce Christian principles of forgiveness and peaceful problem-solving, McClendon says.

He and other Christians see biblical roots in a philosophy that expands on the concept of restorative justice, a system of victim-offender restitution and reconciliation that has been embraced by many faith traditions. The Mennonite Central Committee established the first restorative justice program in the mid-1970s, and Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson championed it.

Detroit schools are tackling broader problems with an array of proactive practices that include but go beyond restorative justice. By bringing people together to address wrongs, hurts, and misunderstandings, these practices can resolve or prevent conflicts and promote cooperation, proponents say. They have been used in many settings, from courts and schools to family disputes and ethnic divides.

Restorative school programs like Detroit's are "probably the most exciting and promising area of the restorative justice movement," says  "It helps teach kids how to fight fair and deal with conflicts in a more open way."

Leaders of the movement in Detroit hope to help transform a struggling city with a different way of handling problems, from student fights to neighborhood gangs.

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McClendon hopes to see the restorative mindset flowing from schools into churches, social services, and the criminal justice system. He sees "a huge amount of openness" to the approach given the magnitude of Detroit's problems.

This article also quotes Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development (an IIRP affiliate), Mark Umbreit, founder of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota, Detroit police officer Monica Evans, school superintendent Chris Plum, and IIRP President Ted Wachtel.

Read the full article here.