Restorative Justice (RJ) practices invite a fundamental shift in the way we think about and do justice, from punishing individuals after wrongdoing to repairing harm and preventing its reoccurrence. If you would like to learn more about Restorative Justice in general, please read more here under ‘Implementing Restorative Justice Practices.’
Jackson, Mississippi Restorative Justice Circle
While it may be rare for students, teachers, parents, administrators, and counselors to work in partnership towards bettering their schools and community, that is exactly what’s taking place in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Jackson Restorative Justice Circle, a program of IDEA, is made up of a diverse and dedicated cohort of 18 individuals from across Jackson Public Schools who have been meeting regularly since 2021 to help pave the way for Restorative Justice practices in Jackson. The cohort is made up of 2 students, 5 teachers, 4 parents, 4 administrators, 1 counselor, and is being led by co-facilitators and educators Miriam Gray and Carol Redfield-Mims. When asked about the dynamic of this diverse group, Miriam Gray shared that, “It’s been inspiring to see each circle member learn that we have some shared core values in relation to education and community, while acknowledging our differences and talking through them.”
“When you want to strengthen your community and see a paradigm shift, we have to look at the root causes of harm and what we can do to repair that harm. If we can acknowledge that these things have happened, whether it be suspensions to students, parents feeling like they’re not welcome, or teachers feeling like they haven’t had support – whatever has happened – if we can acknowledge that and listen and learn, then we can decide as a community how we can repair, and that’s going to look different for each person.”
Inside Restorative Justice and the Jackson Circle
The Jackson Restorative Justice Circle grows out of several years of foundational work throughout the community where IDEA has partnered with local leaders as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Circle today is part of a program to both support current participants’ immersion in RJ practices, while also developing the necessary connections to further expand and evolve RJ beyond the circle and into Jackson Public Schools.
Miriam Gray, co-facilitator of Jackson’s RJ Circle, offers a sense of what the circle meetings can feel like:
“When we meet, we look at what harm has been done in our community, what we can learn from it, and how can we hold each other accountable to repairing that harm. We try to get the community as whole as possible, and when we do that we can see a decrease in violence, a decrease in school suspensions, and an improvement in relationships. We work as a community and individuals to make this systemic change.
When I think about the students and how policy affects everybody and the harm that has been done, restorative justice is so important. When we have a relationship with repair, students will be more interested in learning, leaning more towards feelings like ‘I trust you, I respect you, and I don’t mind learning from you as a teacher.‘
As a teacher, if I have made the time to hear your story in the circle and listen to you, I’m going to approach you with care and understanding, and that creates a healthy learning environment and a stronger community.“
The Heart of This Work Is Bigger Than One Circle
The goal within the Circle is to experience restorative justice in real-time: to have healing within the circle all while demonstrating the purpose and format. Miriam adds that their focus extends beyond one circle – that it’s also important for “circle members to feel encouraged and prepared to go and do this in their homes, and in their schools so that we can have a domino effect” where the practice spreads.
“Everyone deserves to have this experience,” Miriam continues. “I’ll always say, ‘I wish I had this when I was in school.’ It would’ve just helped me communicate so much better. It would’ve helped my teachers be so much better, because they really did try and do their best, but it would’ve been helpful to them, you know, to learn about conflict resolution, to have strong relationships – all of that impacts the learning. And so in the end, it ends up positive for the entire community.”
Miriam envisions her and Carol’s work with the Circle growing into something bigger over time. She paints a picture of a restorative justice institute that provides training and resources for the district, maybe even with an office at a local Jackson university or center. “I envision teachers being able to come… students and parents. I envision the institute being able to go into schools and service them when necessary or when needed.”
“It’s something that I can see being a major part of the community, and having the actual community evolve, and working, serving, and volunteering there. Because the community knows what it needs… the community knows the harm that has been done and where it can happen that harm is repaired. That piece is important to me. Yes, a physical space where services, resources, and trainings are being provided, but also a space where community members are a key aspect of that vision is important.”
About Miriam Gray
Miriam Gray is one of two co-facilitators for the Restorative Justice Circle in Jackson, Mississippi alongside Carol Redfield-Mims. Outside of the Restorative Justice Circle, Miriam serves as an Academic Support Instructor at Jackson State University. Before her time at JSU, Miriam served as a high school instructor in Jackson Public Schools for 8 years where she learned more about the community and what service work can look like outside of the classroom. Miriam is dedicated to strengthening her community, and has received training in Restorative Justice in Oakland, California as well as Jackson, Mississippi.
IDEA Communications Director, Shawn Strader, interviewed Miriam Gray, co-facilitator of Jackson’s Restorative Justice Circle, for this story. It is the first in a series to showcase ongoing work in Jackson, Mississippi to implement restorative justice practices in schools and throughout the community.