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A new generation of social activists are rising in Sonoma County and across the country. The insight, passion and individual gifts they have to offer is, of course, invaluable if we are to continue to grow and thrive in our community. But many of our youth have been marginalized and, in the process, have forgotten their own intrinsic value and the important place they hold in society. They have, in effect, been silenced. A new rite of passage might be in order to help guide and support all our youth but most especially those who may be affected by toxic effects of discrimination or violence and, as a result, are at risk of causing further harm to their community and themselves.

So what would a new rite of passage look like for those youth who are struggling?

It would take into consideration the effects of the social context that the youth actually live in daily — one that can include considerable discrimination, violence and apathy. We can model the values we hold as imperative to living a life of integrity and compassion. We can express the true potential that we see in them. We can hold space to deeply listen to the stories that the youth tell, and respect their perspectives. And we can support them as they gain the courage and confidence to make their way in the world.

At Restorative Resources in Santa Rosa, we use a process rooted in ancient practices of community called an Accountability Circle, where the youth sit in circle formation with their peers and adult mentors who guide the dialogue. As part of the process, the youth are given a necklace, with the expectation of earning beads that represent values that are the mainstay of growth to healthy maturity.

The first bead to be earned represents wisdom. We begin by asking questions that help them to consider their beliefs, attitudes and values. Deep changes can’t happen without this inner work of answering, “Who are you, truly?” “What do you value in the world?” “How can you use your personal power to reflect your values?”

The second bead represents courage. As the youth share the story of the behavior that caused harm, and identify who was affected, the other youth in the circle are asked to offer their unconditional support so that the one telling the story learns to trust his or her own courage in speaking truthfully to the harm they have caused.

The third represents confidence. This stage is about taking the responsibility to “make it right” and to create a plan that helps to heal the harm caused. The youth is recognized for having made a difficult personal journey, having faced their fears, misconceptions and challenges with integrity.

The final, fourth bead represents respect. The process is complete once the youth has completed his or her plan. In a closing ceremony, we honor their honesty, courage and personal growth, and celebrate the enormous value that they can offer to our community.

As in any initiation into adulthood, respect for oneself and others is a primary goal. Through processes like this one, those youth who might otherwise be turning their back on a community that seems to have rejected them are now engaged and reintegrated back into their community with the tools to create a new way of living in the world. And in the process we all gain fresh eyes with which to see ourselves, a new voice that can speak the truth, and a passionate spirit willing to stand up to injustice.

Vicky Ness is a freelance writer who works with Restorative Resources in Santa Rosa.

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