Centering Justice: Repair: An Ancient Practice

“Hurt people hurt people.” This has become a common plea for compassion in movements for healing and justice. It begs us to see the humanity in our transgressors and offer the chance to repair harm.

Centering Justice: Repair: An Ancient Practice
Photo by Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash

An Invitation

In March 2022, the NEW Center invited me to join a three-person panel to discuss "Centering Justice: Repair: An Ancient Practice." The video is linked above. I have a transcript, but it needs to be cleaned up and formatted.

About Centering Justice

Centering Justice is a series that centers emergent topics of equity & justice. Centering Justice offers a platform for leaders of color that are visionaries, storytellers, and innovators to share their lived experiences and inspire a call to action that simultaneously disrupts the inequitable status quo, and envisions a more vibrant future.

Repair: An Ancient Practice

“Hurt people hurt people.” This has become a common plea for compassion in movements for healing and justice. It begs us to see the humanity in our transgressors and offer the chance to repair harm. Putting this into practice, though, especially in the midst of our own pain, is easier said than done. And holding boundaries that keep us safe in the process is even harder. But our ancestors found ways - otherwise we, as a collective, wouldn’t be here. How can we find tools for forgiveness, repair, and redemption in our collective pasts?

"What does repair mean to you?"

And so when we start with a desire to mend or restore, or to bring back to life what's been either stolen or broken or mistreated, I think the place I want to start with is acknowledging that harm has occurred. And if we are unwilling to actually name the harm, we can't actually repair what has transpired. And that is simple for each of you on the call. As someone who works with people as a pastor, I recognize just how hard it is to acknowledge we have been harmed. There is a vulnerability at the center of naming that harm, and we don't want to give the other person power over us by acknowledging they have hurt us. This harm can shape our worldview and impact our relationships. To even begin to repair, we need time and space to process and come to terms with the trauma and pain. Repair means work, and sometimes we may not be ready for it. As we age, we may choose to let go of things that no longer serve us. Repair starts with listening to ourselves, our environment, and those who have caused harm. It involves understanding the root of the harm and being vulnerable to being hurt again. This is a difficult but necessary step in the process of repair.

Having Compassion for Yourself.

A theme for a moment is something that Angel said about compassion for yourself. I've been studying systems of liberation, and one of the journeys has taken me into my own family study. My family comes from Southampton, Virginia, which is the place where Nat Turner led his slave rebellion. I have discovered that in his story for liberation, Nat Turner centered compassion. When there is injustice, and no avenue for wholeness and restoration, it can bring out the monstrous side of a person. In Nat Turner's rebellion, he did not want to leave any enslavers alive to enslave future generations. This has reoriented me in terms of where to place compassion: with ourselves, in a neutral place, or on the other. Nat Turner's rebellion was significant, but Virginia chose to make it a slave state, forcing free blacks to leave the state. I've been thinking about what compassion to repair looks like, especially after harm has been committed. I have personal experience with this, such as an incident at school involving racialized, gendered violence against my daughter. I was traumatized and frustrated with the school's response, which was just to have the boy apologize. I had to escalate the situation, and through writing letters, I was able to get the administration to acknowledge the harm that was done. I encourage you to think about where you center your compassion and to give yourself permission to center yourself in the compassion. It's okay to figure out what you need before figuring out what's needed in the situation. To survive and thrive, we have to learn how to center ourselves. We shouldn't have to apologize for taking up space and we don't have to be the canary in the mine.

What Does it Mean to have Compassion for Yourself?

I am a pastor of a multi-ethnic church. When I arrived, the church was 95% white and during my tenure, we have now moved to 46% people of color. People have two reactions to this change, either they ask why I got rid of all the white people or they understand that I just invited more people of color. To have a better understanding of how to approach sensitive topics, I would meet with a pastor's advisory committee on Tuesday mornings and have breakfast with them. I had included people who disagreed with me to have a conversation with them before speaking to the congregation. However, I learned that this approach was not compassionate towards me and created harm. I realized that people expect the pastor to carry their trauma, but it is not my job to assume the work that they need to do. It took me two years to recognize this, and I had to kick people off the committee.

I learned about emotional intelligence and how guilt and shame are early indicators that values have been violated. I would rather have more compassion for myself. I realized that my initial strategy was to mitigate risks, but it's more important to create conditions that make it safe for people to speak the truth. I had to learn to live in my reality, and not temper my words or pay attention to power dynamics. I realized that I was not creating any space for me to be authentically myself. To use shared language, I need to be vulnerable in order to invite others to be vulnerable.