Learn From and Love Each Other: Themes in Juvenile Justice and Interfaith Service
July 26, 2016
On July 21, I had the chance to volunteer at and attend the 7th Annual Juvenile Justice Summit in D.C, run by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. This summit brought together the stakeholders involved in the juvenile justice process in Washington, D.C.: social workers, lawyers, judges, law enforcement, and other court service representatives. This year’s theme was restorative justice, and the goal of the summit was to improve juvenile justice processes and restore and repair the harm done to youths, families, and communities in the aftermath of a crime. I have always seen compassion, empathy, and humanity as the fundamental pillars of both restorative justice and interfaith service.
There were a few themes that emerged or caught my attention at the Juvenile Justice Summit that overlap with what I have learned about interfaith service at the Berkley Center so far.
First, it is important to question our personal notions and expectations of people. Youth involved in the juvenile justice system are often stereotyped; let’s challenge those stereotypes and change the narrative. Let’s focus on their humor, their passions, and the personal hardships they may have encountered. Followers of different faith traditions, too, are often stereotyped. Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, etc….all too often are placed into broad categories, defining them prematurely by their religion; let’s challenge those stereotypes and change the narrative. Let’s celebrate differences and take time to understand the intricacies of an individual’s faith beliefs.
Second, everyone has a shared responsibility to make others feel valued and respected. When people are treated as such, they are more willing to take on further responsibilities themselves. The emphasis here is that it is a shared responsibility; it isn’t up to the government alone, organizations alone, or individuals alone to carry all the weight in this effort; rather, this responsibility is collectively shared. After all, the burden and consequences, too, will be collectively shared if people are not valued and respected and act negatively as a result of this treatment. In juvenile justice, treating youths with respect can help them realize their own value and potential, and it encourages them to take actions accordingly in the future. In interfaith service, valuing and respecting all faith traditions facilitates greater dialogue and understanding.
Third is love—the great unifier. As a concept in restorative justice, one speaker noted that stakeholders in the juvenile justice process must approach the young people they encounter with love, and to remember that nobody is the sum total of their worst mistakes. As a concept in interfaith service, love transcends religion. Undoubtedly, approaching juvenile justice and interfaith service with love will remind us of our humanity.
With the Sixth Annual President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Gathering coming up in September and on my mind, the Juvenile Justice Summit reminded me of the importance of such gatherings in facilitating the exchange of ideas and best practices within the same field. Whether it is interfaith work or restorative justice work, being aware of all the stakeholders and organizations involved, collaborating, and learning from each other are crucial steps in progress to building a more peaceable world.