UP Partnership’s justice work augmented through Corporate Partners for Racial Equity Funding

UP Partnership’s justice work augmented through Corporate Partners for Racial Equity Funding

In May of 2022, UP Partnership was named one of six implementation partners by Corporate Partners for Racial Equity (CPRE) in which the organization was awarded $125,000 annually through 2024, to support My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio’s Restorative Practices Collaborative (RPC). The RPC is a long-standing collaborative effort and the funds received will augment the power of its work, and that of many of its partners, through grant funds beyond what was awarded to UP Partnership.

CPRE was formed a year ago in 2021 by leading local executives such as RC Buford, CEO of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, Phil Green, Chairman and CEO of Frost Bank and Kevin Voelkel, President of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, among other industry leaders. Committing nearly $14 million over five years, funding focused on three key focus areas — education, economic opportunity and safety and justice.

UP Partnership’s CEO, Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Ph.D., was invited in January 2021 to Chair the Justice and Safety Resource Group. He recruited national experts and leaders from My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio to shape the investment strategy for reducing racial inequities in and around the justice system. Through extensive background research, national interviews and literature reviews, the priority strategy was formalized and approved by the coalition CEO’s and corporations in the collective.

The funding received from CPRE enabled UP Partnership and key community partners to continue the important work of fostering healing in our community’s young people. We believe that healing, along with access and voice, are the must HAVEs for equity amongst Bexar County’s young people, and are the three pillars of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan, launched in April. Through that plan, we are working with a broad coalition of partners, across varying sectors, in a collaborative effort to reach a collective North Star goal, which is to increase the percentage of Bexar County High School graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential programs to 70% by 2030.

Through year one implementation phase work, UP Partnership created a rigorous selection process alongside the San Antonio Area Foundation to provide further funding to six community partners. Those community partners are 100 Black Men of San Antonio Inc., American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, Empower House, Family Service Association and Rise Recovery. Each partner will provide direct training of restorative justice and social emotional healing in Bexar County.

Many of these partners have a longstanding relationship with UP Partnership’s RPC providing restorative practice training on tools such as peace circles and peace corners to community partners such as local school districts like Harlandale ISD, Judson ISD and San Antonio ISD.

Launched in the 2019-2020 school year, across 21 schools in our partnering districts, the RPC was a response to community outcry to do something different than punitive discipline in order to break the pipeline-to-prison. Based in Indigenous practices, restorative justice works to build the community as a whole and hold community members accountable to each other. The belief is when a community is more connected, the more likely it is to repair harm when it occurs.

In Bexar County, there are 710,000 young people ages 0-24 years and, of that, 84% are young people of color. Restorative justice is a cost efficient strategy that works on improving the quality of life for all those involved. Outside of the school, restorative justice allows families to heal from daily and life-long trauma.

In the two school years since its implementation, schools using restorative justice have seen positive shifts in discipline and school attendance. The benefits of restorative justice are noticeable and tangible. Changes can be seen in schools as everyone — students, teachers and administrators — embrace restorative practices. School communities are seeing the benefits of a healthy campus culture and students are learning the valuable life skills of how to process their thoughts and feelings and to use their voice to express themselves in a positive way.

As one Tafolla Middle School student said, “To me, circle is life because it helped me become the person I am today. It helped me grow.”

Honoring Native American Heritage, Culture and Accomplishments in November

Honoring Native American Heritage, Culture and Accomplishments in November

November 1 kicked off Native American Heritage month, a month not only to celebrate indigenous cultures and contributions, but to learn about the rich history of all American tribes. This month also honors the indigenous people’s ability to overcome the unique challenges they have faced over the years.

The Boy Scouts of America were the first to have a dedicated “First Americans” day at the behest of Dr. Arthur C. Parkers, Director of the Museum of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed a joint resolution that called for the month of November to be designated as “Native American Indian Heritage Month.” In 2008, the language of the resolution was amended to include Alaskan Natives.

As of 2021, there were 574 federally recognized Native American tribes and 6.79 million Native Americans with their own cultures, traditions and histories. The historically known narrative of Native Americans, however, has been largely told through a Western perspective, not a Native perspective. The month of November highlights the chance to learn from the stories of those who lived history; however, we have the chance to respect and learn throughout the entire year.

November also gives us the change to acknowledge the trauma indigenous nations have suffered — from colonization to genocide — and their continued struggles with stereotyping and cultural disrespect. By taking the time to learn from the offered stories and history of Native Americans, we can shift the narrative to a more historically accurate perspective that allows Native Americans to speak to their lived experiences.

Restorative justice originated from indigenous communities use of peacemaking circles to address and repair harm within a group. Restorative justice focuses on the harm done, restoring relationships, and building community. It can be used in a variety of settings, including schools. At UP Partnership, we highlight the importance of healing circles in our Restorative Practices Collaborative. Circles can provide a safe space for students that allows them to heal from experienced trauma, while fostering a community of support and understanding.

“While the language of restorative justice is contemporary, the [Indigenous] foundation of it is always seeking restoration and renewal to find the well-being of the community,” one partner recently explained in an interview. These circles make up a large part of the teachings from our partners such as American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial MissionsEmpower House, and IDRA and engagement within three school districts in Bexar County – JudsonHarlandale and San Antonio ISDs.

Restorative justice is just one way UP Partnership and its partners are implementing healing within Bexar County’s young people. Healing — along with Access and Voice — are the equity pillars that drive Future Ready Bexar County, a community wide plan that serves as UP Partnership’s strategic plan.

By having practices such as peacemaking circles that help young people recognize and talk out their issues, young people in Bexar County are receiving valuable conflict resolution tactics that increase healing. The work our partners do in restorative justice will be key as we collectively work toward the North Star goal of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan — to increase the percentage of Bexar County High School’s graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential programs to 70% by 2030.

Restorative Practice Collaborative plans next steps for Peace Room implementation in the 2021-2022 school year

Restorative Practice Collaborative plans next steps for Peace Room implementation in the 2021-2022 school year

The members of the Restorative Practices Collaborative (RPC) recently participated in an UMOJA planning session, collaborated on next steps, and reflected on the impact of COVID-19 in their schools—ultimately planning the best next steps to implement restorative practices into their schools for the 2021-2022 school year. The collaborative is an extension of the My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio (MBKSA) network and is facilitated by UP Partnership’s Community Learning department.

UMOJA, a longtime training partner, led the discussions for high school and elementary school campus leaders to plan for the implementation of restorative practices in the upcoming academic year.

Why is this important?
RPC and its 160 partners, including three Bexar County school districts (San Antonio ISD, Judson ISD and Harlandale ISD), Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center, Martinez Street Women’s Center, American Indians in Texas, and Intercultural Development Research Association are focused on integrating restorative practices into their institutions and throughout the community, changing the narrative that punitive practices should take the place of healing and restoration.

This community-wide commitment to restorative justice is part of UP Partnership’s goal of moving from “punishment to healing,” one of the core equity pillars of the Citywide Planning for a Future Ready Bexar County process.

Throughout the year, UP Partnership will be featuring various elements of restorative practices, what they are, and the changes they can make.

What are peace circles?

Peace Circles are just one method used in the implementation of restorative practices, but have proven to be powerful. To understand how peace circles lead to restorative justice, we need to understand what they are. According to UMOJA, a training, facilitation, and implementation partner, the purpose of a peace circle is to “bring together students who have had conflict in order to discuss what happened, identify feelings and needs moving forward, share how conflict has impacted individuals [and the] community, and create steps to repair harm.”

  • Peace circles typically have these elements:
    • A talking piece, which allows for deeper communication and expression
    • Elements of modern peacemaking and consensus building processes to heal
    • And are based on traditions of indigenous people in North America
  • Peace circles involve four stages of student engagement:
    • Acceptance
    • Preparation
    • Gathering
    • Follow-up

What’s next
In addition to work around postsecondary access and youth voice, UP Partnership is facilitating conversations with restorative justice partners across Bexar County. Within the next couple of months, school districts and community organizations will also begin creating space at their institutions called Peace Rooms for the 2021-2022 school year. To learn more about restorative justice practices, please also reference the Alternative Discipline Guide, developed by the MBKSA network.

– By Paulina Sosa