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Five Lessons from the Healing In/Justice Convening

Our Healing In/Justice convening, held November 21-22 in San Diego, brought together 200 violence prevention activists, advocates, community organizers and researchers from around the state.

We gathered at a particularly challenging time. Doing this work is never easy, but in the two weeks before the convening, our communities experienced a number of tragic shootings. Naturally, our hearts were heavy. We wanted attendees to come together to learn from each other, strategize together, and center self-care and healing.

We chose an unusual place for the gathering—the New Children’s Museum of San Diego—because we wanted attendees to be able to tap into their own childlike wonder. We wanted them to feel more imaginative, creative, and expansive as we discussed our tactics, strategies, and campaigns for reducing violence and healing injustice.

The first night we came together, we explored and we played. We swung on giant, crocheted ropes. We jumped up and down in a room covered wall-to-wall with mattresses. We crawled through a pitch-black passage to reach a lair-like space lit up by the moonlight reflecting off 500 spoons hanging from the ceiling. Laughter filled the space, people relaxed and we broke into dance. We readied ourselves for deep connection.

The next day, we held three plenaries, buoyed up by poetry, blessings, humor and storytelling. We intentionally built in plenty of time for all of us to build new and deepen existing relationships with each other.

Below are our five takeaways from the Healing In/Justice convening.

1. As activists, we need to take the power.

We were honored that U.S. Congressmember Karen Bass agreed to be our opening keynote speaker. She has been a long-time supporter of criminal justice reform and violence prevention. In her opening remarks, she called on the activists, the advocates and the organizers in the room to take the power and wield it on behalf of their communities.

“If we don’t have the power and if we don’t seek the power, then what we’ve won can be reversed with new leaders and new administrations. We need to think about running the institutions that we’ve spent many years trying to influence,” she said.

As activists, we cannot be ambivalent or shy about having power to create long-lasting, loving change. So, if we want long-lasting change, we must have long-lasting power, Congressmember Bass explained.

2. As foundations, we need to invest in healing.

Hurt people hurt people, but healed people heal people. And free people free people. In several panel discussions, participants urged grantmakers and individual donors to make funds available for healing work, in addition to violence prevention. Jerry Tello of the National Compadres Network called on foundations to “step up and put a category of funds there for healing. People are not going to do important work of self-care if we don’t give them money and time to do self-care.”

Tello explained that the work of the National Compadres Network is “trauma-informed, but healing-centered. The goal is not the trauma, the goal is healing.” And if the goal is healing, Tello argued, we need funds to do that important work.

3. As movements, we need to coordinate.

Norma Chavez-Peterson, Executive Director of ACLU San Diego and Imperial Counties, spoke about the need to better coordinate all of our efforts. She called on the participants to break the silos and create higher levels of coordination among the organizations and movements working at the intersection of criminal justice and immigration, what is now called “crimmigration.”

What is happening at our borders is a systems problem and it needs to be solved by leveraging all of our systems, Chavez-Peterson argued. Because immigration doesn’t happen in isolation. And while ACLU can help free people from immigration detention centers, that’s where their expertise ends. We need systems and organizations in place to help released immigrants put a roof over their heads, secure healthy food and employment, and become a part of our communities and society.

4. As individuals, we need to rebuild our relationships.

“The connections we make with other people is our source of healing,” explained Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Dean of Charles R. Drew University College of Medicine. When our CEO Judy Belk asked her what we could do right away to start healing—as individuals and as communities—Prothrow-Stith explained that rebuilding our relationships with our family members could be a powerful first step.

Our relationships with our family members are often fraught, but reaching out, resolving our issues and creating connections in our innermost circles could actually help prevent violence while inspiring deep healing.

“What does it take to heal? Forgiveness is often a part of that,” she continued. “And healing other people can be a part of that. Maybe a way forward for us can be to talk about healing through helping. That allows us to heal and be an example to our kids.”

5. As men, we need to do the work.

All of our panelists agreed that women have been the backbone of the violence prevention movement for decades. Moderator Tia Martinez of Forward Change explained that even the concept of “healing justice” was born from the organizing and healing work of queer women of color. And Jerry Trello of National Compadres Network explained: “Our women have always been our healers… The women need to lead, we need to allow the women to lead.”

But, misogyny and patriarchy are present in the violence prevention movement, as it is present in our society. During the last plenary, Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, Executive Director of RYSE, called out misogyny in the movement and asked the men who see themselves as movement leaders to carefully interrogate their behavior to see if they’re unconsciously causing harm and violence to the women they’re working with.

Movement and coalition building is challenging work. In addition to the hard skills necessary to organize, advocate and influence, it requires soft skills like introspection, honesty and atonement from its leaders and members. Dhaliwal’s sincerity was a powerful step toward discussion, reconciliation, growth and healing.

We invite you to take part in our convening by watching the three plenaries we recorded live on Facebook here and here. Then let us know on social media what your top lessons from the conference were by using #HealingInJustice.

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