Restorative Justice at Work: Circles of Courageous Conversations


by Mary M. Stump, Circle Member

In May 2020, the killing of George Floyd caused many people in this country to react with deep sorrow, anger, and horror. Our parishioners felt the tremendous anguish and looked for actions of healing and ways to express their need for change. Several meetings among parishioners involved in justice ministries gathered to express ideas to assist. Later that summer, three small groups of Holy Trinity parishioners began to gather on Zoom for Racial Healing Circles in an attempt to verbalize their understanding of, and reaction to, racism in the United States. Under the auspices of the Restorative Justice Committee, Circle Keepers, Ron Castaldi, Frances Kummer, Paul Maco, Bob Stump, and Ellen Toups have provided the structure for ongoing conversations. One of the first questions posed to the groups was, “Do you believe there is and has been systemic racism in this country?” Using the protocols of a Circle – speak in turn, no cross talk, listen attentively – members responded, spoke of the need for continued education on the subject, and expressed interest in reaching out to Black/Brown members of other faith communities. Since then, connections have formed with St. Augustine’s Catholic Church and John Wesley AME Zion Church, as some of their members accepted the invitation to join our Circles. There was uncertainty as to whether these outreaches would simply be “dating” or ones that would lead to longer and deeper relationships. As Circle Keepers facilitated those early outreach sessions, they asked what emotion each member was bringing to the Circle on a particular day. Reactions included: curiosity, excitement, gratitude, optimism, motivation, hope, and open-mindedness. The Circle that now includes five members of the John Wesley congregation began to consider steps they could take to begin to create racial equality in our DC area and agreed that everyone involved would need to become “comfortable in uncomfortable situations.” Subsequent conversations have covered such thought- provoking questions as: - What did you learn about race from your family/ community? - Who were your models for dealing with people of a different race? - Do racists hate only one race or any that is different from theirs? - How do I respond to someone who is racist in my presence?

- How do we get our broader faith communities to care about racial healing as essential to our well-being as community? - If you feel rage today, how is it different from the rage you felt five years ago?

- What has the Church done about racial divisions and to support change? - For what reason, if any, would you be afraid to engage in a discussion on race with a multi-racial group, including some you’ve never met before? - Equity or Equality? That same Circle feels a familial relationship, and as family, has experienced and mourned together the deaths in their midst – one member and the fathers of three others. A December in-person gathering at Holy Trinity’s McKenna Hall became a celebration of that connectedness with spontaneous and joyous hugs. The future may bring more similar gatherings for Circle sessions themselves, as well as social events and nascent plans to attend services at each other’s Churches. It is our continuing work to try to process and condemn increasing acts of often fatal violence against Black and Brown communities, especially the recent massacre in Buffalo. Perhaps you are discerning your role as an ally and anti-racist member of our faith community. If the questions and processes of these Racial Healing Circles have led you to consider the possibility of joining conversations about racism, you may get more information by contacting: Bob Stump, rwstump@aol. com or Ron Castaldi, Ron.Castaldi@gmail.com, and for other social justice initiatives, Ashley Klick, Pastoral Associate for Social Justice, aklick@trinity.org.