Speaker: Kay Pranis

Coming Full Circle: Safe Spaces, Learning to "Not Know", and Collective Wisdom

Kay Pranis teaches and writes about the dialog process known as "peacemaking circles."  Kay learned about peacemaking circles in her work in restorative justice in the mid-1990s.  Her initial teachers in the circle work were Barry Stuart, a judge in Yukon, Canada; and Mark Wedge and Harold Gatensby, First Nations people of Yukon.  Since her initial "accidental" exposure to indigenous people's use of peacemaking circles, the circle has become the center of all of Kay's work: "The circle became a way for me to see how humans can live more successfully with each other and the natural world, balancing group and individual needs and gifts," Kay says. "The circle became a way to move to a kind of world that I want to live in."

Kay has since become an international leader in restorative justice and peacemaking through circle practices, which bring together victims, offenders, community members, and police officers to discuss how best to respond to a crime.  She has also been involved in developing the use of peacemaking circles in schools, social services, churches, families, museums, universities, municipal planning and workplaces.  She has a particular interest in the use of circles to support social justice efforts addressing racial, economic, class and gender inequities. That interest includes the use of peacemaking circles to understand and respond to historical harms to groups of people.  The peacemaking circle process has been a source of energy, inspiration and continuous learning for Kay for the past 20 years.

Kay believes that social distance is the main cause for destructive and unjust policies.  Peacemaking circles, then, break down that social distance by revealing the interconnectedness between individuals.  "Everyone belongs in a circle.  And the circle is always directed towards healing from the harm of disconnection."  Kay said at the Chautauqua Institution that she has learned over the years to resist the urge to solve conflict herself within the circle process and to let the group find its own way to a solution.  “Sitting through the discomfort and the moments of panic … have given me a great confidence in the capacity of the group to find its way through thorny places,” she said, “if there’s a structure that honors each and gives each a turn, a voice.”

Kay served as the Restorative Justice Planner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1994 to 2003.  Before that, she worked six years as the director of research services at the Citizen’s Council on Crime and Justice.  She is the author of the basic text on circle practice, Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking, and co-author of several publications, including Peacemaking Circles: From Crime to Community; Engaging Communities in Public Planning; Heart of Hope: A Guide for Using Peacemaking Circles to Develop Emotional Literacy; and Promote Healing & Build Healthy Relationships.  Most recently she co-authored Doing Democracy – Using Circles for Community Planning.

Kay now works primarily as a trainer in the peacemaking circle process.  She is a Senior Associate at the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University in Boston.  She is also an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, Eastern Mennonite University and Southwest Minnesota State University.

Join us for a conversation with a pioneer in the field of circle practice and peacemaking, a champion of restorative justice, long-time colleague of Howard Zehr, and renowned trainer of national restorative justice leaders including Sujatha Baliga.

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