How Healing Justice For Survivors Of State Violence Can Help Mend Our Communities And Sustain Our Movements
"... only through healing can one feel justice."
Today, the organizations I founded, Dignity and Power Now (DPN), in partnership with the Justice Teams Network, are launching a Healing Justice toolkit. We believe that “without healing, there can be no justice” and the launch of this toolkit and the subsequent community trainings are a continuation of our efforts to arm the communities most impacted by state violence with the tools they need to interrupt, respond to and mitigate the harms of violence by law enforcement agencies. The toolkit outlines the principles of Healing Justice, offers guidance to organizers who act as Healing Justice first responders following an act of police brutality and provides a list of Healing Justice practitioners.
In this story, I interviewed Guadalupe Chavez, Director of Healing and Wellness at Dignity and Power Now, Cat Brooks, Executive Director of the Justice Teams Network and Juan, whose son was killed in Los Angeles County Jails and who has been through the Healing Justice process.
What does”Healing Justice" mean to you?
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Cat: Healing Justice is an integral element of our collective journey towards liberation. It is extremely traumatic to be Black, brown or indigenous in this country, and we carry that trauma on our backs through the daily functions of our lives. That trauma is exacerbated when we experience violence at the hands of the state. We must simultaneously hold the state accountable, work to dismantle systems of oppression and ensure we are engaging in practices that heal past, present and future traumas. This is the only way to heal our communities and sustain our movements.
Guadalupe: Healing Justice is a strategy and a framework to help us get to a world without cages, that is to achieve abolition. Healing Justice invites us to practice experimenting from our radical imaginations to create spaces that uplift the stunning histories of where resilience people of color come from. The Healing Justice work at DPN not only responds to trauma, but it also has created ongoing programming where families and directly impacted people have a place to land safely when trauma occurs. These are monthly and seasonal meetings as well as ongoing support that looks like therapy, massage, reiki and most importantly, spaces where families can connect with each other and strategize together. Organizing is a part of healing, too.
What can members of the community practically do to provide Healing Justice support to their network?
- Build your network of Healing Justice practitioners. By building strong relationships with healers, you build the foundation for long term sustainability of Healing Justice work.
- Find trainings in local churches, community organizations, community clinics and fire departments offering free of cost training in skills such as (but not limited to) CPR, community emergency response teams, herbal medic trainings and mediation.
- Talk to your neighbors and family! Building community with those closest to you can set up a community for success when emergencies come up in your neighborhood. You can help each other while evaporating the myth that we can’t trust anyone! The key to Healing Justice is knowing that healing can happen within community. We do not have to do it alone!
- Connect with local healing circles or community healing sessions. If you don’t know where to find them, start your own meeting that centers uplifting each other’s resilience.
- Hold monthly healing events for impacted communities.
- Train others in your healing craft.
- Insert Healing Justice into all movement conversations.
- Have Healing Justice “kits” ready to rapidly deploy in case of emergency.
The toolkit talks about trauma faced by our communities and centers healing in our work for justice. This is hard work, tell me more about what brought you to the work and why you think it’s critical?
Guadalupe: Growing up in East Los Angeles, I experienced my community, loved ones, including my own brother be over policed. I saw and felt the impact that being targeted by state violence had on my loved ones. I knew at a very young age that sleeping and waking to the sound of helicopters was not normal; that seeing more cops on school campuses than there were trees and grass for students to play in was not normal or just. I became very interested on the impact on my loved ones mental and physical health; addiction to substances was a coping mechanism to the violence young people experienced — all the witnessing I did for my own loved ones pained me greatly. And now I am in a position to understand on a larger scale these impacts of state violence on the spiritual and emotional levels as well. This work is a matter of life or death for me. I am very clear that only through healing can one feel justice. The families we work with teach me this every month at our monthly family meeting.
How do you think this toolkit will impact the fight to bring justice to our communities?
Guadalupe: By centering Healing Justice in all of our work, we make the fight against state violence more sustainable for our families and ourselves. Movement work has to include the healing and reclamation of our dignity in a holistic sense that encompasses our minds, bodies and spirits.
Cat: We walk with [the families], and that is a long walk because while the story is in the media for a week, maybe two, for families, this is years and years and years. It never ends.
The pain never ends. As much as we need rapid response physically, [we] also need to deal with the trauma not only inflicted on families, but also on the community.
Can you tell me about the history of Healing Justice, where this approach came from and what we can learn from early practitioners?
Guadalupe: The lineage of Healing Justice as we know it in social movements in the U.S. have been led by the brilliant Cara Page and organizations in the south, such as Kindred and SONG. The history of Healing Justice in the south is rich and to be learned from. At DPN we learn and create from the understanding that healing justice is not a new phenomena - rather healing has been center to organizing communities for generations. We come from rich cultures where healers have often been center to how communities are organized. For example, shamans, elders and traditional healers have been at the forefront of strategizing for battle as well as healing their communities. What we learn from both the history of the role of healers in communities as well as the more contemporary history of healing justice in the past 20 years is that forms of practicing our resilience are key to movement work today. Dance, ceremony and rituals, connecting to the earth, talking circles around fire, celebrating culture and drumming are all accessible ways of healing while doing community organizing. The practices are the heart of any community, so why not make it the heart of our organizing work?
How will this toolkit be helpful to practitioners and people on the front lines?
Guadalupe: My great hope is that this toolkit is read by practitioners and adapted to their communities needs. We have an example of this already happening. After a Healing Justice training was given to a wonderful group called the Orange County Rapid Response Network in 2018, they became intrigued about our healing justice programming at DPN and attended a wellness clinic we held at Chucho’s Justice Center in Inglewood. They then took the wellness clinic model and adapted it to their community in Santa Ana, California. I had the pleasure of attending their first wellness clinic a few weeks ago, and I was literally floored with happiness and gratitude. This is exactly why I do this work — to share the understanding and the steps to incorporating healing justice in other people’s work.
Cat: The toolkit will help people on the frontlines remember to center Healing Justice in all of our work. Often times it can get so hectic and we are so in the moment in responding to crisis, we forget that we need healing with the organizing to sustain our work and also to help heal the trauma of the communities we are trying to serve. We hope this toolkit provides an adaptable framework for organizations and organizers that allows them to easily newly integrate and/or evolve healing justice as a central tenet to their work.
We live in a society where Black and brown people live in a state of fear. We are likely to have a family member or a loved one be a target of state sanctioned violence. What tools do we put in place so that we can respond effectively and strategically?
Guadalupe: We build community; we create sustainable spaces and programs that can “be ready” for folks to plug into when there is a crisis; and we train ourselves and our communities in healing modalities that will help us lessen our dependency on the state to respond to crisis in our communities.
Cat: The Justice Teams Network (JTN) is rooted in rapid response. Specifically, we utilize the Anti Police-Terror Projects rapid response model for incidents of state violence, and our aim is for the Healing Justice toolkit to be utilized in a similar fashion. That said, the key to rapid response is to be ready to actually respond when the moment arrives. That is why JTN provides a range of trainings to our anchor orgs, families and grassroots organizations to ensure there are cohorts of people prepared to engage in strategic, tactical (and now healing) ways. We keep databases of the people we have trained so we can easily reach people trained and invested in interrupting, responding and mitigating the harmful impacts of state violence.
Given our community faces state sanctioned violence on the streets everyday, what role can healing justice play in protecting our people given the real and present danger?
Cat: Integrating Healing Justice into the core foundation of our work means it is ongoing regardless of instances of state violence. If done right, not only are our communities facing state sanctioned violence everyday — they are also engaging in healing justice everyday, be that morning rituals, daily meditations, pop up clinics outside of jails or holding vigils at sites of trauma.
How will our communities be able to learn about healing justice?
Guadalupe: As part of launching this toolkit, we will host trainings in Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Oakland in the coming months. If there are organizers elsewhere in the states who’d like to adopt this toolkit, they can get in touch with us at DPN.
And now I’d like to turn to Juan Correa Sr., whose son, Juan Jr. was killed at Mens Centra Jail.
Juan, can you tell us about your experience with healing justice?
Juan: Dignity and Power Now was incredibly supportive of me when my son was killed. In fact, they met with my entire family and have been at the center of our care over the last several years. My family and I have been a part of the family group lead by Michele Infante. We have received body work and we have had counseling sessions. I believe I would have spiraled if Dignity and Power Now weren't supporting us all the way through.