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Healing for All in Our Community- I Am What I Am Because of Who We All Are

August 11, 2011

Collective Effort to Build Our Community

Ubuntu means “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Post by Susan Mwarabu

Ubuntu is an age old African practice of problem solving and it assumes that when harm is done, all are harmed and therefore all must be involved in the healing.  Our reactions to harm will, by extension, be visited on the person who caused the harm.

Growing up in another culture where collectivism ruled the day meant that when there was a problem, you knew the solution would be reached by all involved. Whenever harm was done or conflict arose, the elders, relatives and community would gather and begin a process of healing where hurtful actions would be identified, restitution would be made and plans for the healing of the community outlined.

Sometimes the process would take months, sometimes days. It all depended on the path of forgiveness and healing necessary to be implemented.  Gifts were exchanged between offending and offended parties and a celebration ceremony commemorating restoration of harmony would follow.

Restorative Justice is not a new concept. It has been a common term in social justice circles for decades and is based on centuries old practices. But for it to work, an entire community has to be involved in the healing process following a traumatic event.

A crime’s impact can go far beyond just the offender and victim.  Stakeholders of a traumatic event can include victim families, offender families, friends, rivals, coworkers, teachers, clergy, social workers, and many others representing community and society as a whole.

In our search for effective ways to stem rising recidivism rates, we are beginning to look at healing for all rather than isolation of offenders as an important response to crime in our communities.  The isolation often experienced by those with criminal records often leaves them vulnerable to factors leading to repeating cycles of violence. Those close to an offender will often try to withdraw in an effort to distances themselves and come to terms with the crime. Watching those who are closest shrink away from them can cause the person committing a crime to believe that all they represent to the community is the label of a criminal. The shame and isolation makes it difficult for them to feel like they can ever become a positive part of the community again.

The healing process, following a traumatic event is one that involves all members directly or indirectly connected to a crime. In a recent article titled “We all Know Someone….Supporting Those We Love Who are Incarcerated,”  we emphasized the need to support both ex offenders and those close to them by finding them safe places where they could unburden themselves.

In order to create such safe places, communities across the country are using peace circles, where members can actively engage in healing processes for all connected to events transpiring in their community.

Amicus frequently uses  peace circles to bring offenders, victims and other stakeholders together to find a path to healing. It’s not easy, but if we don’t attempt healing, we sentence those in our society who have made mistakes to an isolated existence where they never truly are celebrated as vital members of the community.

For One to Heal; All Must Heal

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