On Wednesday, July 30th, BOSS’s front-line Staff, management and support services staff all gathered together at the Humanist Hall in Oakland. The day was inspirational, empowering, and at times, very difficult, as we recognized individuals and programs who excelled, discussed Restorative Justice, and had small group sessions to discuss personal and professional matters.
The day started with Don Frazier and Dennis McCray handing out Awards to programs and to staff. Alameda County’s EveryOne Home program recognized Casa Maria as the most improved program of 2013. Pacheco Court, Sankofa House, and the MASC were also recognized for meeting or exceeding the requirements for exit to permanent housing in 2013, and McKinley House was recognized for meeting or exceeding the exit to permanent housing for three years running – 2011, 2012 and 2013! The Alameda County Food Bank recognized BOSS, and specifically our amazing kitchen staff, as Partner of the Year, 2014! Several staff were recognized for becoming Certified Enrollment Counselors for Covered California and/or SOAR Outreach Specialists. Finally, Don Frazier awarded three people, Khamtha Keow (Services Team), Taua Tuauma (fiscal office) and Eunice Feathers (Multi-Agency Services Center/MASC) with MVP awards — a new BOSS tradition. In the future, the sites will themselves nominate and select their annual MVPs
The rest of the day was spent learning about Restorative Justice. Through deeper application of the Restorative Justice model, BOSS aims to better align all of our practices, language, and environments with our philosophy of being welcoming, inclusive, and restorative, rather than punitive. To this end, CamishaFatima Gentry lead an information gathering seminar to discuss and educate staff on Restorative Justice – an approach borne out of the criminal justice field that is about fostering change and positive relationships through repair, not punishment.
After a presentation on the model followed by lunch, we broke out into groups and had serious, and sometimes not-so-serious, discussions about our jobs, our lives, our experiences. These groups can do a lot to create a supportive community, but to do so they need to include dedication and confidentiality to be successful. Then we all came back together as a single large group to report out some insights gained from the day.
What is Restorative Justice, and why is it important? Through Restorative Justice, offenders, be they someone who violate the law or just someone who violates a house rule, are encouraged to see and repair the harm done, using a series of steps that educate, connect, and heal. Offenders don’t ‘receive’ justice, they work to restore justice. Restorative Justice is more likely to create community and reduce recidivism. It also takes more forethought, patience, and “buy-in” from all community members, which can be difficult when communities are used to a punitive model.
Restorative Justice is an important approach for BOSS, and for the larger community, for many reasons. So many members of our community have been victimized and traumatized, and our goal, our mission, is to repair that trauma, not to retraumatize through punitive measures that don’t bring resolution, change, or healing. Also, the Restorative Justice approach, once learned and utilized, is far less confrontational, creating an environment with less drama, trauma, and staff burn-out. Restorative justice is intended to lift up and enhance the whole community by encouraging an environment of cooperation and healthier communication.
CamishaFatima is going to work with staff at all BOSS sites to learn and utilize this technique. We are excited at the opportunity to learn this important approach, and to become better communicators. Better community members. Better leaders.
Following is a poem, written by BOSS Deputy Director Dennis McCray, using the discussions from the group he was part of at the all-agency training as inspiration:
In the moment
We become the cipher, blinded by our own light
Seeking the key to sight
And finding music to break the circle’s myth
In the moment
We become the butterfly guiding the fox which stalks the cat
Who wishes it were a dolphin
Envious of the orca
Who dreams of being a chameleon
In this moment
We find our sustenance/
Prayers of hope/
Silent meditation for the
Bony legacies of ancestors and friends
We stubbornly return
To the trauma in all things
To the yaws of our pain
To the cost of our laughter
To the village of our fears
To the strength of tomorrow’s promise
I never learned
How to conquer love
Amidst the constant war of words
Or master the brutal blade of truth
Or resist the rituals of blood
That mothers & daughters
Fathers & sons
Pass one to another
In this moment
We name the cipher
Despite the secret horror of touching
And its name is Love