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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Group uses hip-hop as a tool for restorative justice

A group in Chicago has found a new tool for restorative justice: hip-hop.

Circles & Ciphers, a hip-hop youth leadership development organization, will perform at the Center for Social Concerns on Wednesday. Their performance is hosted by both the Center for Social Concerns and the Kroc Institute.

Jason Springs, associate professor in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said he invited the group to his class last year. He said due to the success of their visit, he decided he should invite them to campus again, but this time to perform for a larger audience. Circles & Ciphers performed peacemaking circles — a restorative justice tool — for Springs’ class.

“I write and teach on restorative justice and I have currently a multi-year research initiative,” Springs said. “The peacemaking circle is one of the tools of restorative justice. It draws on aboriginal and indigenous forms of justice practice in which parties through a conflict or parties harmed by one another … they sit together in a circle and it’s facilitated by a circle keeper.”

Springs said these circles are meant to offer healing for groups affected by some kind of conflict or violence. According to their website, Circles & Ciphers infuses their peacemaking circles with improvisation and hip-hop to talk about difficult topics such as manhood, relationships with women and substance abuse.

“They’re young people from various neighborhoods in Chicago and [who], in various ways, have experienced violence,” Springs said. “Now [they] are integrating hip-hop and spoken word poetry with restorative justice in order to respond to violence in these neighborhoods.”

According to their website, Circles & Ciphers was started by two Project NIA volunteers to strengthen the relationship between group home residents and their surrounding community. It started as a bi-monthly peacemaking circle which helped group home residents with decision-making and self-expression. By 2011, Circles & Ciphers expanded to an organization that now executes peacemaking circles in schools, prisons, group homes and other communities.

“Circle processes can address the trauma that people experience, the harm, they can mediate conflict,” Springs said. “They’ve told me that when they do a conflict circle with various people it can go for two or three days.” 

Springs said his motivation to bring the group back to campus was to expose the students to real-life advocacy.

“At the Center for Social Concerns and in Peace Studies students come to us because they are passionate about concerns over justice and peace,” he said.

In a field such as peace studies, Springs said learning in the classroom is not enough.

“The challenge for a professor in peace studies is you can’t just teach the concepts and the cases. You have to try to connect the students with the real world and how these things are practiced,” he said. “My primary purpose was to bring people who are working in the most violent neighborhoods in the country there in the south side of Chicago into the classroom to talk about their work.”

Springs said he thinks using hip-hop as a tool in peacemaking circles engages the youth and enables them to speak in more creative ways. Though his goal is to expose his students to restorative justice processes, he said he believes it is important to equip the Notre Dame community as a whole with these methods.

“We get students in our classes that come to our classes because they want to go out and change the world, make some difference,” he said. “We’re trying to make these living connections with these students to help them get engaged with what’s going on.”