Peacemaking Circles: Fostering Conversations

A message from Jabali Stewart, Director of Intercultural Affairs

At this moment in history, tensions are high in our country, and change and uncertainty are the new normal. People are turning to each other for consolation and answers, and conversations in our country are much needed. The divides that exist in our community are tremendous. As someone who does intercultural work, now is the moment to roll up our sleeves and lean into these conversations. The reality is that it is not just about a black/white divide or a gay/straight divide, which is what most people think of when they think of diversity or intercultural work. The divide is also between red and blue.
Part of the problem is that many people sequester themselves amongst those with whom they are comfortable, and do not immerse themselves into worlds that are foreign. The result is a skewed view of the world in which, ‘those backwards folks’, and ‘those detached elites’ are both misunderstood. I feel like the question is not, ‘how do we fix this?’, but rather, do we want to fix this? Do we want to sit down with others and come to some understanding, or do we want to continue to vilify others and be vilified ourselves? I think there is an answer.

For the bulk of my time at Bush, I have been working on fostering such conversations in a variety of ways, and peacemaking circles are my favorite way to do so. It is a name that causes people’s eyebrows to wrinkle, which in and of itself says a lot about our culture’s connection to peacemaking. Recently, I sat in two circles, and was once again reminded of the power of the process. The first circle was with preschoolers at St. Thomas, and it was beautiful. They invited me because they have a peacemaking initiative in place, and were intrigued by the circle work. That they have such an initiative was inspiring to see, and the group hug they bestowed upon me after the circle was another testimony of the power of that work.
The second circle I sat in recently was with the Movimiento Afro-Latino Seattle organization. It was called in response to anxiety produced in the community as a result of the political shift in our country. Again, it was a beautiful event. A lot of wisdom was shared, which helped offset some of the apprehensions present.
Peacemaking circles area also a way for disparate minds to challenge themselves, and to intentionally do this work as a way of ‘having the hard conversations’ and building better relationships. For that reason, I look forward to the upcoming series of circles in my work outside of school involving immigrant and refugee families, and the Seattle Police Department.
At Bush, there are also a multitude of ways that peacemaking circles are supporting growth and intercultural fluency. The Middle School regularly use circles as part of the curriculum, and the Upper School has incorporated the practice in different ways throughout the school year. We also host monthly evening Peacemaking Circles for Bush community members, and I encourage you to come out and join us. As many of us are searching for ways to understand the current political and social climate in our country, peacemaking circles can be a powerful tool. I challenge us to lean into the discomfort and have those hard conversations together. Who knows what solutions we may find—solutions that can help our wounded country. If you have any thoughts or ideas, please reach out to me. I look forward to the conversation. 
Jabali Stewart
Director of Intercultural Affairs