Government response to the systematic disenfranchisement of marginalized communities has often proved inefficient, and community members often find it more effective to take charge of creating better opportunities for future generations. Youth Transforming Justice (YTJ) is excited about establishing a new partnership with Acta Non Verba:Youth Urban Farm Project, an impactful East Bay youth organization doing just that.
Acta Non Verba has been working to educate East Oakland youth about nutrition and community activism for years. Acta Non Verba provides a variety of activities year-round for under-resourced youth of all ages, and creates a sense of community through their urban farms, youth leadership and junior counselor programs. Each summer they also host Camp Acta Non Verba, and train junior counselors to assist in facilitating camp activities. This paid opportunity allows middle and high school-aged youth to take on more adult responsibilities working with younger campers. Being a camp counselor is an enriching experience for teens, but managing large groups of young people can be difficult as well. Acta Non Verba has partnered with Youth Transforming Justice to ensure these soon to be junior counselors have the tools they need to succeed.
Acta Non Verba staff members reached out to YTJ Director Don Carney last fall. He was initially surprised that YTJ was their top choice given other well-known restorative justice practitioners in the East Bay. “When I asked Simba, the gentleman who directs the Acta Non Verba program, why he chose YTJ, he indicated that it was our youth driven approach that attracted his attention,” Carney said. Simba Jackson is the Lead Counselor for the Leaders in Training program and works directly with teens training to become junior counselors.
As a program whose focus is diverting youth from the school-to-prison pipeline, the majority of the outsourced training YTJ conducts are with local school districts. Restorative practices and community building circles, however, are applicable to community organizations as well. It did not take much to adapt our curriculum for the camp counselors according to Carney. “It was as simple as replacing the term school with the term community organization. Restorative Practice tools can be applied to any human individual or organization that is looking to build community, accountability, and equity.“
For the past six months, a team of YTJ staff and interns has traveled to Acta Non Verba’s Oakland facility to train junior counselors on restorative practices and developing relationships through community building circles. They get hands-on practice through role playing scenarios facilitated by our staff to help them build trust with the children they supervise and deal with conflict when it arises. Ivan Casanova, the lead staff for Acta Non Verba’s No Limit Leadership program shared, “I think the presentation went very well, we received extremely positive feedback from the students. They felt good about getting to share and learn from each other.”
This spring, YTJ is continuing to support Acta Non Verba’s junior counselor trainees to help them build bonds with their campers. Alejandra Gomez, also a No Limit Leadership staff member, is looking forward to the upcoming trainings and future collaborations with YTJ to help support the Acta Non Verba youth to enhance their work experience. “My hope is that we develop young leaders who support and advocate for their peers,” she says. Youth Transforming Justice continues to strive to expand our reach. Working with this unique organization has been a learning experience and a pleasure for the YTJ staff. We look forward to sharing our passion for restorative and trauma informed solutions with young people inside and outside of the classroom and across the Bay Area.