Folks, please go see The Interrupters, an amazing documentary about violence interrupters in Chicago...formerly gang-involved peacebuilders who literally take mediation to the streets. Here's the film's homepage: http://interrupters.kartemquin.com/,
One of the violence interrupters profiled in the movie is amazing and fierce Ameena Matthews. Check out this fabulous NPR interview with her by Terry Gross: http://tinyurl.com/3b2p273.
I am delighted -- like over the moon, end-zone dancing delighted -- to announce that Ameena Matthews will receive New York Peace Institute's first annual peacebuilder award at our launch event on October 6th. Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes will also receive an award for his steadfast promotion of restorative justice in Brooklyn's Criminal Court. More about that in an upcoming post.
Make no mistake, Ameena's brand of mediation is a bit different from our standard approach. To wit:
We tell mediators "It's not about you," and encourage them to not invoke their views, backgrounds, and experiences. But Ameena is able to do her thing largely because of her charisma, her force of character, her persuasiveness, and her street cred. Her gang connections -- as a rebellious youth and daughter of a gang kingpin, give her a tremendous level of access and respect in the community.
We emphasize neutrality and impartiality in a big way. Ameena fiercely advocates for the at-risk youth she works with, and will do whatever it takes to keep them on a righteous, nonviolent path. Her compassion and empathy are boundless.
We're all about safety first. While our tagline is "let us get in the middle," we tell our mediators not to break up a physical fight within a mediation. Ameena will quite literally get in the middle of physical altercations, and she is not to be messed with. And yet her compassion and empathy are boundless.
But the thing is it, it all works. Ameena and the other violence interrupters transcend mediation orthodoxy and do whatever it takes to stop violence in its tracks. They are heroes. But don't take my word for it. See the film. See it again if you've already seen it.
photo from The Interrupters