by Maggie Roth, PBMR Intern
Before coming to Chicago, I lived in areas with socioeconomical privileges. During my first weeks here, I remember a sort of culture shock. I tried to wrap my mind around meeting a single mother who was trying to take care of her children, find childcare so she could work, pay bills, put food on the table, and keep the house together. My heart broke hearing about the fear people around me experience day to day, aware of the violence that surrounds them. As I became more aware of these challenges, I also started to see the beauty in the strength and vulnerability that people shared so freely every day.
Five months later, when asked to reflect on my time here, the first thing that comes to mind is genuine love. The love with which I see people treat one another and the love that connects with the hospitality, hope, and healing I’ve seen at pbmr is inspiring. This is clear as mothers and the youth introduce their friends and family members to the larger pbmr family. It has been a blessing to see how safe spaces make it possible for people to walk through life together, build relationships, and receive services to move forward.
In my time here, developing relationships has by far been my favorite part. The youth who come to the center often remind me of my siblings. We try different recipes making pizza, cookies, and pie. We spend time playing basketball, going to the lake, and getting into some deep conversations. I leave every conversation in awe of their perspective and insight. The first time we went to the lake, the guys were sharing their experiences with police. One mentioned he was willing to bet that at some point, the cops would stop us to make sure I wasn’t being kidnapped. Another day, a group of us were sitting around the table and someone asked what my friends and I would talk about. It led to a conversation on how everyone was doing mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. As always, they surprised me with their answers and suggestions. Someone commented that a walk helped him when he’s upset or stressed, and many mentioned music—two things that I can relate to.
“What would you do if someone you loved was murdered?” two young men asked casually one evening. I had never considered this before, but it became clear they had thought about it for years. We talked about living in a way to honor the loved one, being there for family, and the pain of losing someone. We discussed violent and nonviolent options and what the repercussions could be. They explained that for them retaliation comes from a place of love and protection, rather than the revenge and anger I was expecting. One of the young men felt he would be responsible for stopping whoever was inflicting harm, because if he didn’t, they could do it again to someone else. He seemed conflicted as he explained, “Then his people would come after me, and my people after his people…”
I continue to think about these conversations. A year ago, I never would have asked any of these questions about protection, safety, police, or profiling. It seems a cliché, but I wonder what Jesus would have done. I imagine Him meeting Zacchaeus where he was and acknowledging his human dignity. It reminds me of what I have learned about restorative justice: that people need to be able to speak their truth and have their voices heard in a space where everyone is treated with respect. It provides a safe space to addresses issues, hold people accountable for their actions, give everyone a chance to heal, and an opportunity to repair relationships. It provides a space for relationship, friendship, care, and most of all genuine love.
This article appears in the New Wine Press, February 2021.