Being In Conflict - In a Good Way

by Brenda Nolan


The MA Conference UCC Restorative Justice Task Team, in collaboration with Unity Circles, is bringing Lauren Abramson to Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street, Boston, on Saturday, November 16.  

In U.S. culture, with its rugged individualism, we can forget that we are profoundly interconnected and need each other to survive. Community is essential to our survival and restorative approaches to justice. Unity Circles is a grassroots, community-based organization in Boston that is focused on teaching young people the skills to transform their own communities, address conflict and heal. Valleria Miranda-Ferrick, the founder of Unity Circles, said, "Restorative justice is not just for the criminal justice system or a response to harm.  It is about building our social emotional skills to be in conflict in a good way. " 
When the Restorative Justice Task Team decided to bring Lauren Abramson, Ph.D, to Massachusetts to better understand the role of community building and emotions in restorative justice approaches, it reached out to restorative justice practitioners to decide where to hold the event. Our shared values, goals, and interests converged with those of Unity Circles that had just become a non-profit and were planning to have an inaugural fundraiser on the same day!  As a result of our collaboration, Lauren will give the keynote address at Unity Circles Inaugural Fundraiser in the morning of November 16; the public presentation and dialogue begins at 1 p.m. 

Lauren approaches restorative justice with a background in biology and neuroscience. "Human beings are mammals. Mammals are different than reptiles in that we have a limbic system that is uniquely wired with biological "apps" that promote our survival--like bonding with our young, emotions, and empathy," she said. "Tragically, many of our institutions (like education and justice) ignore our biology; they focus on separation over connection, rationality over emotion, and punishment over empathy and accountability." 
Lauren built the Community Conferencing Center in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1990s, worked with multiple stakeholders, and helped neighborhoods including those with high rates of crime and violence to see their own problems, and use their own agency to solve them. With her background, knowledge, and experience, she focuses on building fair justice, effective schools, and connected communities through restorative approaches that honor our biology, dignity, and agency. 
Valleria Miranda-Ferrick, the founder of Unity Circles, began by using the book Heart of Hope by Carolyn Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis, to begin a conflict resolution program with middle school students. When she first asked the kids about how they resolved conflict, they said "We fight, we don't take short cuts, we don't back out."  Six weeks later, she asked again and they said "We have options. Maybe we can talk it out."  This was enough for her.  She wants young people to see, that there are options when we are in conflict. There isn't only one way. Maybe fighting is an option, but it is not the only option.  
Valleria went on to say that we need a cultural shift as a society. U.S. culture wants to fix it, fix behavior, a quick fix, a pill for everything.  With young people and teachers, she stresses that when a circle doesn't go well, that we are building patience and learning. She added,  "We tend to teach adults, the benefit of which is limited  It is still putting people in a professional role above others. Young people can learn skills and find ways to solve their own conflicts with each other without turning to authority to solve their problems for them." She added, " The way U.S. culture looks at trauma, is to hand it over to the professionals. Yes, we need professionals. We are also powerful and resilient as human beings and capable of building our own skills for healing." 
I hope you can join us on November 16 to learn about the role of community accountability in restorative approaches to justice and well being. For more information and to register go HERE

Brenda Nolan

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