Shine a Light

Shine a Light

I woke this morning to grey skies and a grey cat peering down at me through the rooftop skylights. It seems “Bubba Bad Boy” has appointed himself my bodyguard and guardian angel (he also occasionally poses as a hood ornament for the RoadTrek). But I had to leave him behind as I left the comfortable cocoon of being among dear old friends and familiar landscapes. It was time to head further south, first to Roanoke and then on to Greensboro, NC.

Donna Chewning greeted me at the entrance to the Conflict Resolution Center in Roanoke and we swapped stories about our respective experiences in restorative justice and mediation work. Then the other CRC staff and interns joined us and I shared several stories that demonstrate the power and hope of restorative justice. We talked about financial and legislative roadblocks that often stall RJ efforts and possible approaches to get legislators to understand why it makes good financial sense to invest in more restorative justice programs instead of more prisons. Donna and others are working hard to get a couple of key pieces of restorative justice legislation passed in Virginia.

The CRC has been serving a 13-county region of Virginia for over 20 years, teaching families, schools, businesses and the community to resolve conflict peacefully. Their services and projects include mediation and restorative justice services, the Peace by Piece Quilt project, “For Kids’ Sake” parent education for couples going through divorce, communication, teambuilding and conflict resolution training classes and their latest effort: The Roanoke Valley Time Bank. Hard to imagine how anyone could fail to support all of this! I came away from our time together with tremendous respect for this dedicated team and greatly encouraged by the important work they’re doing. (I also came away with a goodie bag full of treats for the road – THANK YOU, DONNA!)

At Saturday’s event in Harrisonburg, I’d had similar discussions with Amy Good, the Assistant Director of The Fairfield Center and some of their other staff and volunteers. Fairfield serves the Shenandoah Valley with mediation services, restorative justice initiatives, communications and conflict resolution training and business facilitation services. Fairfield (formerly the Community Mediation Center) has been helping people to live together peacefully for nearly 30 years, yet, like CRC, is continually underfunded and scrambling for support.

Fortunately, a new generation of peacemakers may help organizations like CRC and Fairfield to overcome some of these barriers. It was so energizing to meet several groups of college students this week who have a passion for and commitment to peace.

On Saturday, students from James Madison University’s Justice Studies program came to the Harrisonburg event with one of their professors, Dr. Scott Vollum. The JMU Justice Studies program is unique in that the focus is much broader than crime and criminology. It was very encouraging to hear the students talk about how they envision putting what they’re learning about global, social and criminal justice into action.

And this evening, students in the Peace & Conflict Studies program and members of the Guilford Peace Society at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, shared their vision for educating children about peace, creating programs to offer hope and redemption to people coming out of prison, and fostering understanding of poverty and other social issues through work they’ve done or plan to do with Teach for America, Heifer International Global Village, and Haley House.

Between these dedicated professionals who are already working for peace, this current generation of college students and the next generation (many of whom will have learned peer mediation in school), there is ample cause for great hope. Their energy and passion for peace inspires me!

And so this day that began grey and overcast ends on a bright note, thanks to all of these peacemakers I’ve met along the way who are truly “letting their light shine.”

Tomorrow, it’s on to Campbell University Law School in Raleigh, then to Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head to speak at several churches.

What’s one simple way you can “let your light shine” today?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice criminal justice book tour

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