Healing and Restoration: Envisioning Justice Statewide Convening 2023

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By Tyreece Williams, Program Manager of Envisioning Justice

Read Time 4 minutes
October 10, 2023

On Wednesday, September 20, Illinois Humanities hosted our second annual Envisioning Justice Statewide Convening, which gathered over 70 artists, humanists, and organizers at the I Hotel & Illinois Conference Center in Champaign for a day to reconnect and explore issues related to mass incarceration. In line with the theme of “healing and restoration,” guests were greeted with free wellness gift bags and invited to care for themselves and each other as we moved through a full day of presentations, rich conversation, and fellowship.  

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Guests are welcomed into the space. (Photo by Global Visual Media Studio)

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Guests reconnect and chat before the program starts. (Photo by Global Visual Media Studio)

The day commenced with an interactive keynote and Q&A featuring Mikki Kendall, author of Hood Feminism and a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. In her remarks, Kendall advocated for more resources to serve the influx of migrants and the low-income communities they are joining, and touched upon many other issues pertinent to abolition, justice, and mass incarceration. Kendall invited questions from guests and held space for meaningful exchange within the spectrum of lived experiences in the room. This segment was a powerful demonstration of how to challenge one another with a spirit of curiosity, compassion, and mutual respect in our shared commitment to building a better world. 

A panel of local educators, organizers, and practitioners presented examples of justice–driven work happening in Champaign and how they are centering healing and restoration in their approaches. Moderator Sam Smith started off with an activity for everyone to get a better understanding of the diversity in the audience. We were joined by at least 20 future history teachers currently studying with panelist Dr. Asif Wilson, who spoke beautifully about the opportunities and complexities that arise as he guides young people, emphasizing that they will have the power to educate future generations on the nuanced history of the United States. We heard from Dr. Karen Simms, whose work is centered around trauma-informed care and the sustenance of collective joy and resilience. We also heard from East St. Louis native Sheldon Turner who is seeking to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline through his work in the community and as a career advisor in the Champaign school district. The panel was rounded out with Marlon Mitchell who shared about the work of longtime Envisioning Justice grantee partner FirstFollowers, which is focused on building strong and peaceful communities by providing support, guidance, and hope to formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones through peer mentorship. The conversation explored joy-centered demonstrations, the effects of intergenerational trauma, the stigma faced by the formerly incarcerated, and much more. 

Champaign-based restorative justice organization Radical Thought Collective facilitated two community circles for guests to be in conversation and process what was surfaced throughout the day. In the first circle session, we built rapport with one another by exploring our visions of a liberated future. In the second circle session, we reflected on the day’s activities and shared our new questions, visions, and insights. In these conversations, rural attendees challenged statewide organizations to better serve their regions; others discussed the merits of different economic systems; and participants thoughtfully shared a range of perspectives on diverse topics. The day concluded with a shared meal and tunes from the dynamic DJ LO Kari

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    Mikki Kendall gives her keynote address. (Photo by Global Visual Media Studio)

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    Panelists (L-R) Sheldon Turner, Marlon Mitchell, Dr. Asif Wilson, and Dr. Karen Simms address the guests and answer questions. (Photo by Global Visual Media Studio)

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    Center or Talking piece with notes left by guests. These talking pieces, created by the Radical Thought Collective, give a focal point for circle participants so they can be more fully present and bring their best selves to the circle. (Photo by Global Visual Media Studio)

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    Community circle facilitated by the Radical Thought Collective. (Photo by Global Visual Media Studio)

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    Community circle facilitated by the Radical Thought Collective. (Photo by Global Visual Media Studio)

The Envisioning Justice Statewide Convening is the result of our community partners’ expressed desire to “just be together” as they navigate the challenges in doing work to address and dismantle the policies and cultural ideologies that uphold mass incarceration. While Illinois Humanities hosted a full day of activities, the most meaningful exchanges were those that happened while folks arrived and waited for the program to start, shared a moment as they refilled their coffee, or took a break outside together from what was happening in the ballroom.  

In Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, adrienne maree brown emphasized the importance of “strategy for building complex patterns and systems of change through relatively small interactions, and the potential scale of transformation that could come from movements intentionally practicing this adaptive, relational way of being, on our own and with others.” At Illinois Humanities, it is our intention to create spaces for these small interactions that are crucial to sustaining the vibrancy of our communities and expanding our visions of how we transform the world around us.  

In Champaign, I watched people embrace each other, question each other, and take care of each other in ways that nourished spirits and nurtured collective power. Illinois Humanities is honored to have been able to hold space for such an esteemed and diverse group of artists, organizers, and educators whose commitment to our collective healing and liberation is felt across our state.

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About Envisioning Justice

Since 2017, Envisioning Justice has created free public arts and humanities programs in partnership with communities and people affected by the carceral system and provided grant funding for individuals, nonprofits, and collectives. Together we foster conversation and empower diverse perspectives to gain statewide momentum toward ending mass incarceration. 

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