Facilitating Restorative Justice with Garien Gatewood

Problems are easy to identify. It’s dark because your lightbulb is burnt out, your commute takes ages because the transit system is badly designed, families in vulnerable communities are caught in cycles of poverty because there are so many societal blocks preventing them from breaking out. 

Most of the time, the hard work isn’t in finding the problems but solving them, and this delay—decades of unaddressed inequality, in the case of poverty—can have monumental consequences for the people affected.

Garien Gatewood is a problem solver. The current Deputy Mayor of Community Safety for the city of Chicago and the former leader of the Illinois Justice Project (ILJP), Garien sees firsthand the damage wrought by a systemic lack of action. Study after study is published (not to mention funded) investigating the repercussions of racism, bias, and discrimination, while the problems in marginalized communities repeat, compound, and destroy lives.

Why don’t we solve the problems we see?

It’s so simple, Garien explains, to pay to avoid societal problems and, therefore, underestimate or ignore the impacts and the urgent need to fix them. 

Instead of finding ways to elevate the experiences of the people already residing in disinvested communities, interested parties—sometimes even sympathetic ones—live in neighborhoods that keep them soundly separated from the bulk of the problems. “Solving” the issues often just amounts to gentrification.

How do we solve youth reform problems?

A negative stigma has thrown a prohibitive pall over marginalized communities for generations. Studies prove to us the existence of wildly disparate incarceration, barriers to career advancement, and housing unaffordability, but they close with vague, dispassionate recommendations that foster inaction. The next steps need to be precise and actionable. 

Garien’s efforts in youth reform represent the truly impactful ways real game-changers are taking problem identification to the next vital, system-altering level.

Based on his experiences at the Illinois Justice Project, he suggests positive outcomes stem from employing what shouldn’t be a novel concept: they talk to the young people they’re trying to help.

Celebrating real-world application

Garien has built his career around actions that actually move the needle: working with agencies like the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Services to provide food, housing, and services access without stipulations, making sure everyone has the best chance to move forward.

So, how do we start solving the problems we’re so good at finding? It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. “We’re moving in the right direction,” Garien says, “because we have people leading it who have experienced it.” 

Garien’s conversation with Alida on the Care Work podcast is honest and inspiring, highlighting both the shocking lack and heartening achievements surrounding marginalized community care. This episode is certainly required listening for everyone in and interested in care work.

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