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Associate Dean Susan Brooks Helps Establish Restorative Justice Initiatives for Racial Justice in West Philadelphia

Associate Dean Susan L. Brooks

August 31, 2020

At the end of July 2020, Drexel University’s Rapid Response Research & Development Fund awarded a grant to Developing Anti-Racism Community Dialogues (DACD): A Critical Race Participatory Action Research Project.

The DACD project is the first phase of the West Philadelphia Community Dialogue Project (WPCDP), a long-term restorative justice initiative aimed at establishing racial justice in West Philadelphia’s Promise Zone. Both projects are being spearheaded by the Kline School of Law’s Susan Brooks, JD; Ayana Allen-Handy, PhD, MEd, from Drexel University’s School of Education; and John D. Kirby, Jr., MPH, from the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. Good Shepherd Mediation Program, Philadelphia’s only community mediation center, is also collaborating on the projects.

For Brooks and her co-leaders, the intention of both projects is to empower Promise Zone residents to make change within their community. With this intention in mind, they designed the projects using a restorative justice model, which prioritizes the creation of community-led initiatives to stop future violence and to heal and restore community members who have experienced past violence.

The DACD project will identify the most pressing needs, interests and concerns connected to racial justice, equity and inclusion within the Promise Zone. These findings will then be used to create the programming included in the WPCDP project, with the hope that doing so will lead to long-term, community-led change.

“People are hungry for the opportunity to talk about their concerns, particularly concerns related to racial justice, and equity issues,” said Brooks, who emphasized the importance of using residents’ feedback to determine how the DACD and the WPCDP projects can best serve the community.

In order to allow residents to lead the project, Brooks and her team are taking an innovative approach to the DACD, which is the information-gathering phase. Rather than research the residents’ concerns themselves, Brooks and her team are empowering a team of two residents of the Promise Zone to lead this component. The resident researchers will host listening sessions, a seminal restorative justice mechanism, with members of the community and use these sessions to identify what concerns should be addressed in the WPCDP programming.

Without the funds from the Rapid Response grant, Brooks and her team might not have been able to hire the resident researchers, a vital step in fulfilling the intention of both projects. “The overarching goal of the projects is to lift up community voices and to make sure that the voices of Black, indigenous, and people of color in the community are heard,” said Brooks.  

The DACD project is set to beginning in November 2020, with a projected date of completion for March 2021. The WPCDP project will begin shortly thereafter.