Farewell, Rosie.

rosieFolks, Ms. Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for Normal Rockwell’s iconic Rosie the Riveter poster, just passed away. Rosie is our icon for a key value of mediation — clients’s self-determination. Above is my marker-on-flipchart-paper facsimile of Rosie, which we trot out in our trainings.

Self-determination means that our clients cannot be coerced, judged, or manipulated into any agreements. It means that mediators are the humble servants to our clients — this is their process, their time, their conversation. We can’t impose our values, ideas, suggestions, or opinions on our wonderful clients. Our job is to provide a safe space for the conversation they need to have — and maybe we can be the catalyst that helps parties constructively move forward in the wake of conflict. Our mediators are heroic and all kinds of awesome, but we see our clients as the true heroes of our work — having the courage to have tough, sometimes heart-wrenching, conversations, in the presence of strangers.

Rosie’s slogan was We Can Do It — a call to action for American women in World War II to join the war effort by taking on factory jobs traditionally held by men. It implied a fierce spirit of empowerment in the face of gender stereotypes. We want our clients to feel similarly empowered in their mediations. (I’ve had more than one training participant point out the imperfections of my visual metaphor, but in all fairness, I’m not very good with metaphors and similes and such.)

Farewell, Mary, and thanks for the inspiration. And apologies to the family of Norman Rockwell for my less-than-flattering rendition.

Post-script: I just learned that my image above is not, in fact, an homage to the original Rosie as depicted by Normal Rockwell, but is rather based on a poster by J. Howard Miller. Huh.


Show your support for New York Peace Institute while having some laughs at our comedy benefit We Can Smirk It Out on May 5th!


meet the smirkers.

Folks, we’re gearing up for our big comedy benefit, We Can Smirk it Out, on May 5th at the famous Gotham Comedy Club. If you haven’t bought your tix, just click here toute suite. Your laughter will help us continue to provide free mediation services to thousands of New Yorkers. Here’s the amazing lineup of comics:

negin farsadNegin Farsad was named one of the 50 Funniest Women by the Huffington Post and is a TED Fellow. She developed the MTV series Detox, the PBS animated series 1001 Nights and the Nickelodeon series Class Parents. She created and directed the films The Muslims Are Coming and Nerdcore Rising. Check this out: Queen Rania of Jordan commissioned a video from Negin to combat Middle Eastern stereotypes.

marinaHarlem’s own Marina Franklin is one of Louis CK’s seven favorite comics!  She’s appeared on Wanda Syke’s Herlarious, Showtime’s Women Who Kill, Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Chappelle’s Show, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, and Showtime at The Apollo. To boot, Marina roams the earth, performing at the most prestigious comedy festivals across the world.

mark normandMark Normand has done a Comedy Central Half Hour Special, and he’s appeared on such shows as Conan (twice!), John Oliver’s New York Standup Show, Showtime’s Live at SXSW, Inside Amy Schumer, and @Midnight. He released an album with Comedy Central Records entitled Still Got It. And! He was voted the Village Voice’s “Best Comedian of 2013.”

bill-santiagoBill Santiago appears every Saturday morning on CNN, delivering comic commentary in the Weekly Pop Wrap. He’s been on Craig Ferguson, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Chelsea Lately, Good Morning America, ABC News, BBC World, CNN en Español, and NPR’s Latino USA. His book Pardon My Spanglish is taught at schools nationwide to stimulate convos about identity, language and multiculturalism.

harrisonAnd meet our host for the evening, Harrison Greenbaum — one of the most in-demand comedians in New York, performing in more than 600 shows a year (!) and thus leading the NY Daily News to call him “the hardest-working man in comedy.”  Harrison has received the Andy Kaufman Award,, the Shorty Award from Comedy Central and was the New York Comedy Festival’s “Best Emerging Comic.” 

“meet the people who keep new yorkers from ripping each others heads off”


Folks, below is an article about us which recently appeared on the edgy website www.animalnewyork.com, reprinted here for your reading pleasure. 

By Christian Brazil Bautista | April 10, 2015

Harmonious co-existence is a lofty aspiration for a city as cramped as New York. To help establish peace, and to keep New Yorkers from strangling each other, mediators are scattered across the five boroughs, solving conflicts between families, neighbors and community members.

Mediation is not like most legal proceedings. For one, it won’t cause your life savings to evaporate as you appear in front of a judge. In fact, the whole point is to shield people from $200 attorney hourly rates. “The idea is to give people an alternative to going to court, to save people money so that they don’t have to spend their precious resource on lawyering up,” said Brad Heckman, the CEO of free mediation service New York Peace Institute.

Mediation is similar to marriage counseling, only compressed into a two-hour session and possibly with strangers. The matter at hand can be as simple as deciding who picks up the kids during certain days or as complex as bringing together two people on opposite sides of an assault charge. “Mediation is particularly useful when family members, neighbors or business parties have a dispute. It may be inappropriate if one party has a significant advantage in power or control over another, or where safety is an issue, such as in domestic violence cases,” the New York State Unified Court System, which funds mediation services like NYPI, said in a statement sent to ANIMAL.

If someone calls 311 often enough, for say, noise or school-related complaints, they may be redirected to mediation. This means that the service sources most of its clients from the courts. “Cases are referred by the judge or court referee but either party may request that the judge refer the case to mediation,” the court system statement read. While mediation has an established route for the court system, it is still mostly unknown with the general squabbling populace. NYPI hopes to change that. Heckman expressed a desire to increase their current workload of 10,000 cases per year.

While mediation may seem very official, for the most part, it is not. Everything that is revealed during a mediation session, except when there is the possibility of child abuse, is inadmissible in court. Also, unlike in traditional courts where a winning side usually emerges, the goal of mediation is to broker a settlement between the parties involved. In most cases, the agreements made during the proceedings are legally non-binding and are as informal as an apology.

“Many of the things that are mediated fall outside the four corners of a contract,” Heckman said. “For example, if you go to court and one of your issues with your neighbor or your family member is that you don’t feel like you’re being treated respectfully… There’s not a judge who can say ‘I hereby order you to be nice to this person.’ So we pick up where the law leaves off. It’s really on the human relation side where mediation comes in.”

This puts mediators in the middle of personal conflicts that have festered for years. Glen Parker, the Manhattan civil court coordinator for NYPI, recalled a small claims court case where a monetary demand turned out to be something more complex. The lawsuit involved a woman who wanted $5,000 from her mother-in-law. “It was unclear what that $5,000 represented… It wasn’t clear what her legal claim was,” he said.

Instead of ruling on the case, a small claims court judge recommended mediation to both sides. During the first three-hour session, the underlying conflict was revealed. The plaintiff lost custody of her teenage son and the boy moved in with his grandmother. Her whole reason for bringing up the case was so she can spend time with her son.

“She just wanted a relationship with her son, but she didn’t have any other way to get it,” Parker said. “At the mediation, it was the first time she had spoken to her son in five years… She was so grateful to be in the presence of her son.”

In spite of several angry outbursts, the two sides came to an agreement. No amount of money changed hands and no contracts were drawn up. Instead, the matter was resolved for the courts when the boy agreed to call his mother on her birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This kind of hidden complexity is constant in the cases that mediators handle. “We’ve had cases in which there were neighbor issues that started around things like noise and ended up being cultural clashes,” Heckman said.

“We had a few cases in which people in the building might be practicing Santeria or Voodoo as their religion and their neighbors were freaked out by it because it’s different from their own upbringing or their own cultural context. Through having a mediation session they realized, ’Okay, this is not my cup of tea but it’s not Satanic ritual slaughter.’”

Culture clashes and racial tensions adorn the favorite war stories of mediators. Heckman recalled a juvenile case where two teenagers were caught setting fire to a community garden. The perpetrators, white kids from privileged backgrounds, burned down a beloved structure in a poor African-American community. On the surface, the incident appeared to be a hate crime. However, mediation revealed a very different story.

“In this particular case, the young men who perpetrated the crime had to listen, in a circle, to everyone in the community talk about the impact this had on their lives. How their act of vandalism destroyed a sacred community space and how children are afraid to go out now for fear of some violent acts,” he said.

“The kids had no idea. From their perspective, they thought It was a cool place to have a bonfire, to hang out, chill out a little bit. It caught fire and they freaked out and they left. And they thought, ‘Alright, no big deal. We’ll pay the fine and that’s it.’”

Eventually, it became clear that the perpetrators were not racist, they were just dumb teenagers who made a dumb decision. To make amends, they offered to help rebuild the garden and speak at local schools about fire safety. The session ended with a group hug.

A kumbaya moment is the desired outcome, however, some cases end with people just agreeing to hate other from a distance. In a place like New York, that’s as good an outcome as any.