I am delighted to introduce Kerra Bolton, a freelance journalist and opinion writer for CNN and others, who has won awards from The New York Times and the Gannett newspapers for her reporting. Kerra will introduce herself in her first post (below), and explain how she came to work with the BuildingANewReality.com website.
She will contribute a series of articles posted in the coming weeks about Detroit, where on October 24-26, 2018, the International Institute for Restorative Practices, will be holding its international conference on “Strengthening the Spirit of Community.”
In Detroit? Why Detroit? Detroit is usually seen as the poster child for a failed American city.
Since 1950 Detroit’s population declined by over a million people when the auto industry moved out of town and a series of corrupt city administrations further damaged the city’s reputation and finances. Detroit now has 70,000 abandoned buildings, 31,000 empty houses, and 90,000 vacant lots.
In the last several years an emergency manager appointed by the state of Michigan and a reform mayor have helped Detroit to move out of bankruptcy, rip down abandoned houses and restore city services.
But beneath the headlines is an exciting new development—a grassroots movement led by local organizations and city residents who are using “restorative practices” to improve their communities from the bottom up.
In her upcoming series, Kerra will explain how Detroit exemplifies “building a new reality.”
What’s happening in Detroit gives me hope.
My Journey to a New Reality
The current reality sucks.
This is not a new or enlightened realization. However, it is one I came to after personally experiencing racism, discrimination, poverty, abuse, the impact of addiction on families and the corruption of political power.
Despite these experiences, I tried to use my professional skills and expertise in North Carolina to change the current reality, especially for working families, women and children.
As a journalist, I explained the impact of state government and the legislative process on families and communities. As a political staffer, I helped to elect people I thought would work to improve the lives of vulnerable populations. Finally, as a strategic communications consultant, I helped education and health care nonprofits craft and communicate their message to constituents and public policy decision-makers.
A Broken World
Each avenue I chose had a fatal flaw.
Newspapers were in constant flux as they devised new and sometimes inventive ways to compete with 24/7 cable TV news and bloggers, who often worked without the checks and balances of the editing process. It meant I had less time to investigate and consider the facts and faced more pressure to churn out stories, regardless of how well I was able to verify and vet sources and information.
Attempting to improve the economic and social reality of marginalized people through the political process is a fool’s errand. Politics, as I unfortunately learned firsthand, is a process of acquiring and using power to manipulate conflicting interests under the guise of working for the common good. In all but a few cases, politics tends to leave those who practice it, and those who are affected by it, feeling morally and emotionally bankrupt.
Being an independent consultant gave me the freedom to choose the organizations and people with whom I wanted to work. However, it was not a direct route to change. Many organizations make decisions by committee and those committees often comprise egos that need to be managed and placated.
So in 2016, I gave it all up, moved to Mexico and became a freelance writer.
Accepting the Invitation
That is where Ted Wachtel, founder of Building a New Reality (BANR), found me after reading an op-ed article I wrote for CNN.com. I was literally sitting on the beach, staring at the Caribbean Sea, and wondering how I could be a positive force for change in such an increasingly divisive world when I had my first telephone conversation with Ted.
I was reluctant at first to accept his open-minded, big-hearted invitation to help create a new reality. Who was this man with a distinctive northern accent, expansive ideas, and a seemingly endless stream of knowledge about concepts I never heard of, like restorative practices, true representation and lottocracy?
Over the next few months, I set about the task of learning who Ted was and the new reality he wanted to build. I dove into Ted’s articles and videos on the BANR website. I read his books about understanding and implementing restorative practices. I scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad about the ideas with which I agreed and disagreed, and sent them to Ted for consideration.
But I’m a “scratch-n-sniff” girl, meaning I tend to favor direct experience over abstract ideas. Except for God, love and oxygen, I have to see something in order to believe and absorb it. Ted offered me opportunities to directly and indirectly experience the new reality he wanted to build.
Discovering Restorative Practices
My understanding of BANR deepened in June when I visited Detroit to learn about ongoing efforts to implement restorative practices throughout the city’s public sector.
Restorative practices is an emerging field that is guided by the premise that “people are happier, more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
Ted and his brilliant wife Susan are pioneers in the development and application of restorative practices in school settings and founded the International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) in Bethlehem, PA, an accredited graduate school devoted to the advancement, teaching, and sharing of restorative practices.
IIRP will hold its next international conference October 24-26 in Detroit. The theme is “Strengthening the Spirit of Community,” billed as “a three-day event exploring effective ways to build community, respond to conflict and harm, and enhance the well-being of neighborhoods, organizations, families and individuals – through the lens of restorative practices and allied approaches.”
In many ways, community, business and education leaders in Detroit are practicing what restorative practices preach. I witnessed restorative practices help members of the 5th precinct police department and the community that they protect and serve to better understand each other. I listened as a teenager told a group of parents and teachers how he learned to reach for restorative practices rather than violence when dealing with conflict in school and in the community.
I will share more about my experiences in Detroit in upcoming blog posts.
Journey to a New Reality
Restorative practices are the foundation on which BANR is constructed.
We must learn how to communicate with each other and make decisions that foster “more voice, choice, and shared responsibility – critical steps in the evolution of democracy and free enterprise.” Restorative practices are essential in helping us heal a fractured society, one in which no one wins when everyone fights.
Where I once was a critic of experiments like Ted’s idea for True Representation, because they challenged my views of “how things really work,” I now wholeheartedly agree with BANR’s underlying concept, “articulated by Buckminster Fuller, that ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’”
Building a new model takes hard work, care, and empathy—skills that invite us to grow and stretch in ways we never imagined. But I’m willing to take on the challenge because as I said in the beginning of this essay, “the current reality sucks.”
It’s time to build a new one.
Are you ready?