Creating a Peaceful School Conference set at Northgate
By Lou Fancher
From the 1960s Civil Rights movement to the Black Panthers, Tiananmen Square, and Black Lives Matter, the voices and actions of young people prevail as social justice history is made, according to professor, former civil rights attorney and activist Fania Davis.
And that's a good and hope-filled thing for schools and students, adds the founder and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY).
"The Civil Rights movement trickled up into the halls of Congress and transformed policy because of youths marching in Selma and Birmingham. Nineteen-year-old Black Panthers had a huge impact on our national consciousness. Free lunch programs of today came from them. They were some of the first to monitor police brutality and uplift it as a major issue for black people. Latino, gay rights activists -- they all were youth. Youth can impact the halls of power."
Davis is the keynote speaker Jan. 30, at the Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center's fifth annual "Creating a Peaceful School" conference. Bringing social justice into the classroom, the daylong event open to the general public, students and educators held at Northgate High School features breakout workshops and presentations on science-based conflict resolution practices, inclusive teaching methods, identifying trauma, and other topics.
"I have a strong background of raging against injustice," Davis says. "But after 30 years of this, I ... had too much anger. I needed healing energies. That led me on a quest."
The quest resulted in travel to Africa and a realization.
"I discovered I will only add to the collective anger if I am angry."
Establishing good relationships became paramount.
"We can have great action plans to eradicate injustice, bring equality in the workplace and in education, but until we take care of our relationships and develop trust, any action is bound to fail."
Trust comes most lastingly from sitting down and sharing stories face-to-face in "talking circles" that draw on practices first established by Native Americans. Davis has devoted more than three decades to implementing programs that use indigenous peacemaking practices to close the school-to-prison pipeline, reduce recidivism, lower school expulsion rates, boost the practice of race-conscious restorative justice in schools and the juvenile justice system and more.
An RJOY pilot program at three schools led the Oakland Unified School District to adopt its conflict-resolution techniques as official policy in 2010. In 2016, Davis says there are 30 OUSD schools using restorative justice. Data from one school's pilot project showed an 87 percent reduction in suspension rates and increased test scores and graduation rates.
An RJOY re-entry program is peer-supported and brings a circle of youths together with human resource professionals in weekly discussions that include work-readiness, career counseling and educational goals.
Peace & Justice Center executive director Margli Auclair says Davis' youth-centric focus parallels the conference committee's goal to attract more students.
"Seven of the 43 (people signed up in early January) are high school leadership students, fulfilling our goal to attract more students. We are also including students and bilingual presenters this year, thereby expanding our impact."
Davis says there is a need for government-led programs and grass-roots efforts. "What we do in our communities will shift the national conversation. We must not allow the politicians to take our voice. But I'd like to see legislation, consensus up and down the state about best practices."
More than 100 people attended last year's conference. With increasing interest each year, the center's long-term goals are to hold multiple conferences in Contra Costa County throughout the school year and to create an archival video library and "go to" resource for educators on the center's peaceful school web page.