On Monday, July 16th,
Gender JUST (Justice United for Societal Transformation) organizers agreed to
meet with Center on Halsted (COH) staff. After 2 years of negotiating and
attempting to bring a Restorative Justice
to the Center on Halsted, and after taking it to the public at large, we
anticipated a meeting that would help jump-start a much-needed process. The
outcome was disappointing.
Staff present from
the Center included: Dr. Claudia Mosier, Director of Youth Programs; Julie Walther,
Chief Programs Officer; Jim Klein, Chief Operating Officer; Tim'm West,
Assistant Youth Director; and Rayna Moore, Youth Liaison.
Below are some of our
salient points from the meeting, and what we take away from them.
A bad faith
invitation to dialogue.
After committing to a meeting to discuss implementation strategy for Restorative Justice (RJ),
it was disappointing that chief staff present clearly had not considered the
program recommendations in the proposal, nor were engaged with it. It was
also clear that they had not been apprised of the development of this two-year
process. Dr. Mosier inquired about what sort of funding we would bring, either
unaware or inconsiderate that GJ has, for the last two years, provided
invaluable consultation and research, and has been clear about its position as
a volunteer-run organization (except for one paid staff member who is no longer
with the organization due to reduced funding).
Vulnerable youth will
“vote with their feet.” We
found it shocking and problematic that Walther’s confidence in the Center’s
Youth programming rested on the notion that “youth would vote with their feet”
since, “If they choose not to be a part of the programming, it’s okay. There
are lots of opportunities in this community.”
These comments reveal
that COH leadership regards vulnerable youth patrons as consumers, poised to
employ the logic of the profit oriented marketplace. COH has, from the start,
been a troubled and troubling institution precisely because of its divided and
divisive record in the community. On the one hand, it refuses to acknowledge
its critical location on the north side, as an institution that receives
significant awareness and funding for various essential services. On the other
hand, it uses that status to position itself as the only such credible
Framing the dialogue
as competition between organizations. Walther expressed that Gender JUST was “one
organization telling another organization what to do.” In reality, COH operates with
$1.69 million in reported government funding (at least $390K of
which comes from Cook County department and agency contracts), and reports annual
revenues at nearly $4 million. All of the staff at this meeting were salaried,
full time employees (no youth, not even those involved in authoring the
proposal, were present). COH could not depict itself as being vilified by
Gender JUST, a tightly resourced and entirely volunteer-run grassroots
organization. We also reiterated that this entire process had begun in good
faith – and that we had in fact been invited by the former acting Director of
Youth Services to participate in this process nearly two years ago.
We don’t understand
this as a competition, but as community members represented by Gender JUST
holding a well-resourced institution accountable and requesting transparency.
There seems to be little awareness of their position, resources and leverage in
the community, as well as the sheer imbalance of the same, vis-a-vis
organizations and youth who avail of their services and feel compelled to point
out all of this.
We experienced the
Center’s overall attitude in this meeting as dismissive and even pejorative. We
feel the need to point this out not to vilify, but for the sake of providing a
historical memory and a caution to all organizations and entities working in a
long-term process of engagement with the Center.
COH has determined
that the problem is not that it has no Restorative Justice (RJ) practices in
place, but that it has not conveyed that it has RJ in place. We find this distinction specious,
given the complete refusal to actually document these practices in writing or
on the Center’s website, when we requested this in the meeting. When
pressed for details, staff simply referred to an unspecified “process.”
Midway into the
discussion, we were informed by Julie Walther that the Center would be ending
collaboration with Gender JUST and moving forward with its own Restorative
Justice plans because, according to those present, the Center has more than
enough expertise and resources in its own ranks to do so. She also mentioned
that they were/are collaborating with other groups around these issues.
We pressed, a number
of times, for specifics. What steps were being taken to train/resource staff
and youth patrons? Is there a timeline in place to publish a verifiable
process? What specific community partners are collaborating? We were told that
leadership was not obligated to “open their books” to work being done.
COH’s commitment to
RJ is unclear.
While individual staff members they may have some structural commitment to it,
their procedures and processes of mediation and conflict resolution, and
oversight structures therein, are not bound by any system of accountability.
The success (or failure) of programmatic RJ practices appears to rest solely on
the shoulders of mid-level Youth staff hires, led by Mr. West, as opposed to RJ
being an immersive value of the entire organization.
Lack of oversight
from City Government.
Tax-exempt organizations like the Center are funded at the local, state and
federal level to do the business of the people. Cook County must take
steps to ensure that organizations receiving large contracts and grants from
city agencies and departments comply with measures such as required public
board meetings, good faith efforts to appoint board seats to highly impacted
community members and patrons of that organization’s services, and keeping
financial records open to the public.
While the Night
Ministry’s queer youth overnight shelter project, The Crib, has been shuttered for the summer, only receiving
$250K in seasonal city funding, The Northalsted Business Alliance (which operates on
levied property tax revenue to the tune of $357K annually) has funneled at least $50,000.00 to off-duty CPD officers for “private” policing and
surveillance of the area. This dysfunction feeds a resource scarcity
crisis that maintains the status quo and delivers waves of shock and trauma to
the most vulnerable organizations and individuals in our communities.
Causations of Trauma. In this meeting, Dr. Mosier expressed concern about patrons
“feeling less welcome” in the Center as a result of our petition. Specifically,
she asked, “Are you creating more trauma?” She suggested that we were extending
the trauma to patrons who might not want to access the Center after hearing our
We found this a
bewildering and distracting proposition.
In the larger context
of a crisis in the non-profit world in general and in the LGBTQ non-profit
world specifically, it is hardly unwarranted that we should ask for
accountability in something as essential as Restorative Justice. In
implicitly admitting that the Center is in fact one very scarce mental health
resource for youth, it subverts its own claim of youth possessing the ability
to vote “with their feet” in regards to what service agencies they approach for
Our goal was simple:
to institute a transparent model of Restorative Justice at the Center. In
calling for such, we worked as a grassroots organization asking for
accountability from an organization that strategically uses our populations and
members to secure funding for its projects. In that, we have in no way
been “causing trauma,” but holding an important organization accountable.
Such calls for accountability have widened of late, in New York, San
Francisco, and other urban centers.
The dialogue between
Gender JUST and other concerned community members and the Center has led to
incremental gains (restrooms for gender non-conforming patrons, revised
grievance process). What is missing is the oversight required to make
sure that policies are actually adhered to, and that the principles of
Restorative Justice are followed.
The Center has
declared, in the bluntest possible terms, that it will now move on without
Gender JUST, after two years of hard work on our part. We trust and hope that
there will be an acknowledgment of our work, rather than the kind of
intellectual and cultural plagiarism so common in such situations.
For our part, Gender
JUST will continue to push the Center to implement and document their Restorative
Justice programming, and to call upon the larger community to do the same,
through our ongoing petition as well as through our work with other local
Gender JUST is developing
a wider and sustainable campaign to assess the city’s resource allocation
process such that they are distributed and valued more equitably, and
operated in full view of the public. We are also committed to working
with our fellow organizations to ensure that the principles of Restorative
Justice are actually implemented in form and not just in spirit or in dubious
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