She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Alice Ophelia Hyman Lynch (born 1950) is Executive Director of Black, Indian, Hispanic and Asian Women in Action (Biha). She has conducted over 1000 trainings on domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, chemical dependency, and HIV/AIDS, looking specifically at how these issues impact communities of color. Since 1997, Alice has worked to establish restorative justice programs in her own community and across the nation. Through this process she has helped empower communities to take the lead in solving their problems in ways that promote healing and prevent future harm … (1000peacewomen 1/2).
She says: “Circles create a sacred space that lifts barriers between people, opening possibilities for collaboration and understanding. Circles provide a safe place to have the difficult conversations”.
She is named as Better World Heroe.
Alice Ophelia Hyman Lynch – USA
(1000peacewomen 2/2): … The chairs form a circle in the community center in North Minneapolis. Neighbors have gathered for another in the series of bi-weekly circles that began four months ago with Marcus’ release from prison. Marcus, a 25-year-old African American man, has just completed a seven-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter. But now Marcus’ life has taken a more positive turn. With assistance from a community agency he has his own apartment and is attending Community College. Also, a Restorative Justice Program has recently hired Marcus to facilitate Family Group Conferences. Marcus is doing well.
Alice asks Marcus to tell the circle about the circumstances surrounding his incarceration. Marcus has difficulty sharing the story and later confides to Alice that he was not able to talk about the incident because it had happened on this particular day – this was the anniversary of the accident. He added that it was difficult to talk to the circle because it was focused solely on him and he had not thoroughly worked things out for himself.
A few weeks later Marcus was able to share his story in a circle training that he was attending for a school project. He did not know many of the people participating in the training, but felt the safety and trust that had been established within the group and was able to open up, hoping his story might help others coming out of prison. Alice was deeply moved by the fact that Marcus felt safe enough in the group to tell his story.
Marcus continues to struggle. He feels that he should do more to make things right with the family whose loved ones he killed when he was high and fleeing the police. But Marcus is not alone during this difficult time. The circle offers love and support and is a constant in what has been a chaotic life. He knows that, no matter what, the circle is there for him.
In 1997, while serving on the Minnesota Department of Corrections Restorative Justice Initiative Advisory Council, Alice Lynch developed a deep appreciation for the process of Restorative Justice, which elevates the role of victims and communities in the criminal justice process and emphasizes the importance of offenders being held directly accountable to their victims by making amends in some form.
Restorative Justice recognizes that communities possess resources and power that the criminal justice system does not have, and empowers communities to take the lead in making decisions about how do deal with their own problems, integrating various facets of the community (schools, churches, community centers, half-way houses, drug and alcohol treatment programs, local businesses, etc.) and working cooperatively with members of the criminal justice system.
Alice describes her enthusiasm for Restorative Justice: “The idea that the community was making decisions for itself on how to handle harm that is done to the community and to individuals was something that got my attention immediately because I could see the possibilities. I was interested in providing circles of support to individuals and their families, particularly juvenile offenders. Many of the women I had been working with had youth involved in the criminal justice system and I felt that this process was a way to give these families a new start.”
Convinced of its value, Alice set out to establish Restorative Justice programs in her own community of North Minneapolis where a disproportionate number of people of color are caught up in the criminal justice system. She organized numerous meetings with the residents of her community and received an overwhelmingly positive response.
The program established by Alice and her neighbors in North Minneapolis in 1997 continues today and has expanded to address other areas of concern to the community.
THE CIRCLE PROCESS
A central component of Restorative Justice is the circle process, which draws people together around common concerns and offers bonds of mutual respect and love. It was such a circle that gave Marcus the support he needed to make a successful transition from prison back into the community.
Derived from aboriginal and native traditions, circles bring people together in a way that creates trust, intimacy, good will, belonging, generosity, mutuality and reciprocity. The circle process is never about “changing” the other person, but rather it is an invitation to change oneself and one’s relationship with the community. Circles utilize a centerpiece and a talking piece that represent the cultural values of the community in which they are held.
Circle participants can include the victim, victim supporters, the offender, offender supporters, judge and court personnel, prosecutor, defense counsel, police, and all interested community members. Within the circle people can speak from the heart in a shared search for understanding of the event, and together identify an appropriate plan and steps necessary to assist in healing all affected parties and preventing future harm.
Successful circles rely on effective volunteers who share the vision and commitment. To ensure a cadre of capable volunteers, Alice has worked hard to solicit funding for a paid community-based volunteer coordinator to supply logistical support, establish links with other agencies and community representatives, and provide appropriate training for all staff and volunteers.
Effectively combining the community’s experience, perspective and resources with that of the criminal justice system is an ongoing challenge. The system usually cooperates and will take its lead from the community, but not always, which makes the process much more difficult. Also the constant turnover of system employees means that there is an ongoing need for training and helping new people understand that Restorative Justice is valuable and can change lives.
KEEPING THE VISION FRESH AND ALIVE:
Alice has been a leader on the local, state and national level in keeping the vision of Restorative Justice fresh and alive.
She has traveled the country training community groups and criminal justice system professionals on the use of circles. She co-authored a family group conferencing training manual that is used nationally. In addition to her work with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, she serves on the Board of Directors of the St. Paul Intervention and Advocacy Project, and the Minnesota Supreme Court Implementation Committee for Racial Bias in the Courts.
Alice is grateful to have had the support of circles in her own life. “I have used the caring, thoughtful support of the circle and the members to help me deal with stress and trauma that may be caused by the work I have chosen to do, as well as with personal concerns and issues in my life. The circle does not blame or shame but attempts to come up with workable solutions and overcome obstacles to those solutions.”
Alice works with offenders involved in drug court, as well as those who, like Marcus, are leaving prison to re-enter their communities. She also helps juvenile offenders and their families come up with alternatives to traditional court sanctions that usually lead to recidivism. This takes a lot of time. Most of the work is done in the evenings so that families are able to participate fully without concerns for work or school. Because of the many evenings required with other families, Alice has had to sacrifice time with her own family.
Alice and other volunteers sometimes support families with money from their own pockets when grants fail to cover need. Prior to doing a circle with a family, volunteers meet for dinner to discuss issues affecting these families. At times, Alice covers the cost of these meals. But she is quick to say that the benefits of this process greatly outweigh any personal sacrifice.
BIHA AND OTHER AREAS OF WORK:
In 1985, Alice became Executive Director of Black, Indian, Hispanic and Asian (BIHA) Women in Action, a position she currently holds. Alice has conducted over 1000 trainings in the area of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, chemical dependency, HIV/AIDS and other social issues as they impact communities of color. BIHA has developed culturally specific videos in the area of domestic violence for each community of color. She has been a strong advocate for battered women both locally and nationally. She is committed to doing everything possible to see that women’s voices are heard and they are not left to fend for themselves.
Alice knows that women do make good choices and can turn their lives around if given the necessary support. She explains, “It was the support of others that made a difference in their lives and I have always tried to make sure that the women I work with have good, kind, caring and supportive individuals in their lives.”
As an instructor with the University of Minnesota, Alice has taught classes on child abuse and family violence in the School of Social Work, and two classes – The Black Female and The Black Family – in the African and African American Studies Department.
Mindful of the importance of nurturing young people who will carry on the work, she mentors students from the School of Social Work through internships with BIHA and the Restorative Justice Program.
Alice serves on several boards and committees that compliment her work with BIHA and Restorative Justice: The Advisory Committee of the Women of Color Network on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence; the national board of WAND, Women’s Action for New Directions, an organization working to reduce militarism and violence and redirect excessive military resources toward human and environmental needs; and the Center for Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
Alice has filled many roles outside professional life: daughter, sister, mother, wife, aunt, advocate, cook, convener, supporter, feminist and good neighbor, to name just a few. A native of Brooklyn, NY, her father worked three jobs so that her mother could stay at home with Alice and her three sisters. Her family lived in the projects for low-income families until she was 14.
They were able to move into their own home at that time and that is where her parents still live.
Neither of Alice’s parents completed school so they constantly stressed to their daughters the importance of education. All four girls have graduated from college. Alice attended Delaware State University in Dover, Delaware, a traditional Black College, where she received her bachelor degree. She attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania for her master’s degree.
Alice’s family provided a strong and supportive foundation: “They gave me the courage to take chances as well as encouragement to do the difficult things.” Friends have also been central in Alice’s life. She now has a new group of friends that she calls her “Circle Family.” And beyond friends and family, Alice acknowledges, “I have a strong belief in the Creator and continually seek his guidance in every aspect of my life. I am also clear in the difference between religion and spirituality and I attempt to keep them separate in my work. I practice my religious beliefs regularly and live my life in a way that allows my spirituality to enter into it with the people with whom I interact.”
Alice has needed support in struggling with serious health issues that have at times made work difficult. After years of research she decided to undergo gastric by-pass surgery, which she did ten months ago. Alice has lost over 100 pounds and most of her health problems have disappeared. Brimming with energy, she reports, “Needless to say the surgery was successful and I feel wonderful and cannot figure out what took me so long to make this change.”
No biography of Alice Ophelia Hyman Lynch would be complete without a word about her laughter and smile. She is a true believer in the healing power of laughter and those who have known the joy of being near this woman are believers too. Alice lights up a room! To be with her is to feel better. Perhaps that is because, as with the circles, there is never judgment – only caring, respect, and heartfelt love. Alice, you are a bright star. (1000peacewomen 2/2).
Domestic Abuse & Sexual Assault Crisis Center, PO Box 423, Belvidere, NJ 07823, USA;
Minnesotan part of Peace Prize quest, July 28, 2005
The Gartons Solicitors, Victims of Sex assault, Help;
Domestic Violence & Abuse, Women’s Aid supports abused women
and children. Get help today;
Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Center of Yolo County, Woodland, CA 95695;
LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER (LGBT) DOMESTIC ABUSE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT RESOURCES;
… and the rest of a huge Google-search with the keyword ‘Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault’;
Links for Restorative Justice RJ:
RJ for Schools;
Handbook of Restorative Justice, Edited by Gerry Johnstone (Hull University) and Daniel W. Van Ness (Prison Fellowship International, Washington DC), 672 pages, Oct. 2006;
Transforming Conflict, Restorative Approaches, Practices in Schools;
… and the rest of a huge Google-search with the keyword ‘Restorative Justice’.