Grassroots Organizations in Denver, Colorado
- Padres y Jóvenes Unidos: https://padresunidos.org/
Padres y Jóvenes Unidos is an organization founded by colored people who are primarily targeting racism and discrimination in schools. Their mission is to gain equality in schools for immigrants as well as end the school-to-prison pipeline. They have worked for many years with Denver Public Schools to focus on decreasing the drop-out rate of students and implementing restorative justice in classrooms.
- The Conflict Center: https://conflictcenter.org/get-to-know-us/
The Conflict Center is a grassroots organization in Denver that focuses on training individuals to have the necessary skills to deal with conflicts in a restorative manner. They partner with many schools in the Denver area to train teachers and other administrators on how to build positive relationships with their students. They focus on ways of resolving conflict that can restore relationships and build a better culture within the school, rather than simply using punitive justice methods.
- The Denver Foundation: http://www.denverfoundation.org/Nonprofits/Grants-What-We-Fund/Education/Keeping-Kids-in-School-and-Learning
The Denver Foundation’s primary goal is to end the school-to-prison pipeline. They have worked on passing legislation to end zero-tolerance policies in schools. They partner with other members of the Denver community to work on implementing restorative justice practices and decreasing suspension rates.
Grassroots Organizations Across the United States
- Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth: https://rjoyoakland.org/
Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) is an organization that focuses on integrating restorative practices in schools, communities, and the juvenile justice system both in Oakland and across the nation. RJOY holds workshops, training, and lectures in California and across the United States to focus on ways of restoring broken relationships to reduce suspensions and expulsions in schools.
- Brooklyn Community Foundation: https://www.brooklyncommunityfoundation.org/brooklyn-restorative-justice-project
The Brooklyn Community Foundation as teamed up with the New York City Department of Education to work with members of the Brooklyn Community to create a 4-year pilot program in high schools targeted at using restorative justice techniques and decreasing punitive justice within schools. Their primary goal is to create a working model of restorative justice that can be used in schools throughout New York, which will hopefully decrease suspension rates and school-related arrests.
- Communities United: https://communitiesunited.org/our-mission
Communities United is a grassroots organization in Chicago, Illinois that focuses on targeting the problems that colored people face. They target issues that occur within the justice system, education, and the community overall. This includes ensuring equality for all races within schools and school discipline policies.
Synthesis of Grassroots Organizations
Most of the involvement of these grassroots organizations comes from members of the perspective communities who have witnessed the negative effects that come with the school-to-prison pipeline first-hand. For example, Padres y Jóvenes Unidos originated with a group of parents who were angry about the inequality within their children’s schools. Later on, even students started to become involved with the organization, obviously just as passionate about the issues as the parents were. Other than parents and students, many of those involved are either local individuals who have observed the struggles within public schools or even interns who funneled straight out of college into working for the organization. Specifically, The Conflict Center has brought in many graduates from The University of Denver, showing the close ties between the community of Denver and the university in the city.
Among all of these organizations, one of the similarities that stands out the most is their collective methods of organizing. Because the organizations are focused on implementing restorative justice techniques in schools, the majority of these organizations focus more on working directly with the schools and leading training programs and leadership programs to integrate the restorative philosophies into the schools. Most of the organizations take a direct approach in terms of visiting classrooms and speaking with teachers about their problems and how they can meet their needs. Specifically, The Conflict Center actually holds workshops for staff members of schools to come and learn conflict resolution skills. On top of that, the volunteers of The Conflict Center have created a program called Reading for Peace, which involves conversations with kids (in preschool through sixth grade) that center around conflict resolution inspired by carefully selected books the group reads together. By starting from a young age, this program works to instill the necessary conflict resolution skills in children before they are faced with more serious conflicts.
Of course, one of the key issues that intersect with the problems of eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline and creating restorative justice practices within schools racism or discrimination. In fact, many of these organizations focus on targeting issues of racism specifically. One of the main initiatives of the Brooklyn Community Foundation is to bring power to the young people of color in their community. They focus on supporting these young members of their community by holding youth leadership training, improving juvenile justice, as well as increasing opportunities for immigrant youth and their families. An increase in restorative justice practices is meant to decrease the discipline gap between non-white students and white students which has become so prominent in the country.
The impacts of these organizations on urban schools range from creating pilot programs in schools that would later be used as a model for schools throughout the state to successfully passing legislation that required the use of restorative justice in schools. RJOY specifically created a pilot program in West Oakland Middle School to create a process for integrating restorative justice within the school. The suspension rates decreased by 87%. Shortly after, the success of the program became well-known throughout the city and other schools in Oakland began requesting training programs from RJOY on how best to incorporate restorative justice philosophy within their schools. Other organizations, such as The Denver Foundation and Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, have progressed in securing policies that support restorative justice practices and discourages zero-tolerance policy models.
The obstacles that these organizations still continue to face include determining the best models for implementation of restorative justice in schools, as well as gathering community involvement with integrating these approaches. Although restorative justice practices are growing more popular throughout the country, these programs don’t always work as effectively as they could. The restorative justice philosophy requires collaboration between not only the teachers of a school, but also the parents of the students, leaders in the school district, and many others in the surrounding community. The first step is bringing restorative justice programs to the schools. The next step is incorporating restorative justice into the culture of the school, which can be a drawn-out process.
Not only have these organizations had an impact on the causes they have targeted, but they have also made significant impacts on those involved in the organizing. Restorative justice is a philosophy, and when organizers spend enough time learning about the philosophy, it will begin to make an impact on the lives of these organizers. The Conflict Center relays many stories from members of their team and how their work has influenced them. From reading these stories, it becomes evident that many of these organizers of The Conflict Center have taken the skills that they have built while working with schools and applied them to their own life. One of these specific stories discusses how the founder of The Conflict Center, Liz Loescher, would use the skills she learned through her organization and apply them to her home life. The impacts that organizing can have on the lives of the organizers themselves may perhaps be just as crucial as the work itself, especially when it comes to restorative justice. Parents teaching their kids how to resolve conflicts in their everyday life and integrating the philosophy of restorative justice into the culture of a household is exactly the type of collaboration communities need in order to end the school-to-prison pipeline.