Lots of People Care About the School to Prison Pipeline

On July 11, more than 100 people gathered at our building in South Philly to learn, talk and pray about the “School to Prison Pipeline.” It is getting harder and harder for young people in poor and mostly minority communities to stay out of jail. Schools are inviting more and more police presence and adopting policies that criminalize what many consider classic adolescent bad behavior. Our culture’s growing taste for punishment is making a mess.

John Michael Cotignola-Pickens of the PA Council of Churches partnering with Mennonite Central Committee East Coast presented an alternative called Trauma Informed Care. His presentation started with a TED talk from Nadine Burke Harris, a physician who is calling for a movement of people who understand that sustained experience of trauma in early childhood shapes individuals for their whole lives.

Trauma Informed Care brings empathy and compassion to the forefront of an organization. I volunteer at Hopeworks in Camden, a youth development non-profit in North Camden, that has adopted Trauma Informed Care for their whole organization. Daily, the staff and youth have an emotional check-in. Everyone in the circle asks the person next to them these questions:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • How would you like to feel at the end of the day?
  • What’s your safety plan? (ways to respond to stress—mine is pray)
  • What’s your main goal for today?
  • Who can help or encourage you in it?

I’m sure there’s much more to their method, “The Sanctuary Model” (I’m just a volunteer for an hour or so each week), but I have experienced this discipline as a brilliant way to love one another. It’s all about creating a culture of healing (sounds a bit like Circle of Hope’s “environment where people can know God and act for redemption”). A recent article described the shift in the organizations operating principle “from the punitive to the forgiving.” (Sounds even more like Jesus!)

Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter, one of Circle of Hope’s compassion teams, organized the event, which was standing room only in our new building at 2214 S. Broad St. It seems there are a lot of people who care about the School to Prison Pipeline. To those that gathered, I imagine moving from punitive to forgiving in our schools seems like it could really work, but imagine if we moved from punitive to forgiving in our justice system as well? We know a lot of people, as evidenced by this event, who are convinced there is a problem. How will we mobilize them to bring Jesus’ message from Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

I’m excited to see how the team continues to lead us in this. If you care about something, you might start your own compassion team. There are lots of ways we can bring our culture of healing to the world. Check out circleofhope.net/compassion-teams.

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