On Monday April 25 we hosted our second annual conference titled “Paving the Way to Healing and Recovery: Conversations with Young Men of Color Who Survive Violence.” The event brought together over 150 people who are doing work with men of color who have been harmed by violence to discuss promising strategies that promote healing.

The conference began with introductory remarks from Kenton Kirby, Program Manager for Make It Happen, and Donnell Penny, Assistant Coordinator at Common Justice, who spoke about the importance of changing the narrative around victimhood. As service providers who work with young men of color, Kirby and Penny often find their participants are not taken seriously as victims because they are criminalized by many victim services providers based on their race and gender. Throughout the day, attendees were encouraged to use #changethenarrative when posting about the conference to highlight the importance of redefining who can be a victim.

Attendees then heard a powerful spoken word performance from Gabriel Ramirez about masculinity, mental health, trauma, healing, and forgiveness. This performance was followed by a panel that focused on visions for the future of victim services for young men of color. Panelists stressed that people are not inherently violent but perpetrate violence because they have grown up seeing violence as common and normal in their communities. They also discussed the importance of acknowledging that structural violence reinforces and exacerbates interpersonal violence in ways that make it impossible to simply address violence as a problem of individual behavior.

After the panel, attendees were able to choose from a variety of breakout sessions including: “Liberatory Healing to Reclaim Sovereignty,” “Keep Welcoming Me Back: A Multidisciplinary Case Study of a Young Man Coming Home and Fighting to Stay Home form Prison,” “Make It Happen: Perspectives from Young Men of Color on a Trauma-Informed Group,” “Treating Violence as a Health Issue: Healing Justice Alliance,” and many more.

The conference concluded with an interactive performance from Theatre of the Oppressed and a guided meditation.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this conference! We hope that everyone in attendance came away with new ideas, connections, strategies, tools, and deeper hope for the possibilities of this work. If you are looking for more resources on working with young men of color who have been harmed by violence or want to connect with other service providers, Common Justice has just launched their Healing Works website where you can find a variety of resources and continue the critical conversations we began at Paving the Way.  Based on feedback from last year’s event, the planning committee crafted several concrete takeaways from the conference. Here are Eight Ways You Can Change the Narrative and Support Young Men of Color In Healing.