CHICAGO- 6018North, a non-profit art complex housed in an old mansion in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, has used its $10,000 Healing Illinois grant to engage in a collaboration that has had good impact on the South Side.
The organization has partnered with artist, business owner and restorative justice practitioner Mashaun Ali Hendricks to train people to do peace circles.
Hendricks, 34, trained eight people in December 2020 and February 2021 at Trap House Chicago, his clothing store in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. There, he sells creative merchandise that carries thoughtful messages about violence, the criminal justice system and socioeconomics. The store doubles as a vehicle to spread restorative justice practices and to resolve conflict without violence or the non-restorative approaches of police.
Hendricks hopes that the people he trained will be emissaries who put peace circles into practice in their spheres of influence in order to solve interpersonal conflicts.
Hendricks first collaborated with 6018North as an artist in 2018. Now, artistic director Tricia Van Eck says he is "the front man" for Expanding the Circle, a collaborative program with community organizations and artists from the South and West sides.
She says he also facilitated a peace circle for some of her summer student workers, and they carried forward the lessons learned.
"It was an amazing way to begin their training during the summer and create a sense of care, respect and safety," Van Eck says. "Anytime they had problems, they could come to the circle and, at the beginning and ending of each day, state how they felt and feel safe doing so."
Peace circles are a group process that originates from cultural traditions of indigenous and African peoples, according to the Student Peace Alliance. They are used to resolve conflict, assign responsibility and repair harm from wrongdoing.
Hendricks has been doing peace circles for 10 years and was introduced to them as a teacher. He says that people who engage in the process "get bitten."
"People love peace circles, especially people who have never sat in them. At first, they think it's gonna be whack and lame, but they become engaged 45 minutes later, and they love it no matter what walk of life they come from."
"The circle process was my rite of passage into adulthood. It helped me see information in my brain that I didn't put there, from TV, the barbershop and [from] my parents," he says.
Hendricks has worked with government agencies such as the courts and law enforcement. He sees himself being most effective, however, in working directly with community members.
"In certain situations, police are needed," he says. "Then, there are some situations that we can prevent and resolve on our own. And the same approach that is used to prevent and resolve conflicts can and is currently being used to build up community and make the best decisions to heal, build and sustain."
Hendricks can cite numerous examples of how peace circles have helped solve interpersonal conflict. Although he does not like to discuss the details of his peace circle events, he has helped resolve disputes between rival gang members and others even after punches were thrown.
He is strategic and conscientious in his life's mission. He started a business because "businesspeople are the respected people in the community," and they have the ability to connect deeply with community members. Hendricks' way of connecting is by promoting transformation. "The community and home are the true place for transformation," he says. "We, the community, have to be responsible for transforming ourselves."
"I wanted my store to be my own classroom or space where we can spark transformation." Inside of the store, he sells merchandise with a "message of truth that the community can identify with."
For example, one shirt has the words "Crime Pays" on the front. And on the back, the message continues with, "Ambulances, judges, lawyers, probation officers, coroners, but not us."
In the process of capturing people's attention and building relationships, he spreads ideas of collective transformation through peaceful practices.
The authenticity of his endeavors nurtures real-world relationships with the people who he has worked with. The results show.
During the riots of summer 2020, in the aftermath of the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd killings, some stores near Hendricks' first concept store on South Ashland Avenue were being damaged by looters. However, a group of men who worked with Hendricks stood guard in front his store and stopped others from damaging it.
"We love each other," he says. "Those brothas have held my daughter. We're talking about family. It's been two years of consistent openness and loving energy coming from me and my people that work with me, and we haven't gotten nothing but that back in return."