THE NEW YORK PEACE INSTITUTE
To bring peace to New York. This is not a drill.
Brad Heckman is the CEO of the New York Peace Institute – a mediation centre with offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Mediation is a process where an independent and impartial third party facilitates the resolution of a conflict and the Institute provides this service free to New Yorkers for problems that range from neighbourhood disputes to the breakdown of families.
Why? An Adjunct Professor at New York University, Brad began his career setting up mediation centres in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and across the Balkans and Caucuses. He has a strong understanding of what divides communities and wants to provide New Yorkers with the tools to creatively and constructively resolve their disputes. In a city where multiple languages are spoken and citizens from all corners of the globe are sharing their lives, knowing how to manage conflict without resorting to violence or expensive legal processes is vital.
A scroll through Brad’s blog the hecklist shows that he brings a playful and positive approach to the work that he does. This is also evident in his drawings which are pictured throughout this story. He describes these as mnemonics for mediators to remember different strategies or approaches to resolving a dispute. They are explained in his hilarious TED talk which I recommend watching, especially if ewe like a pun. It was after watching this talk that I got in touch with Brad to find out more.
Where did the idea come from to start the New York Peace Institute?
We were around for many years as a program of Safe Horizon – a wonderful organization that supports victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, child abuse, and sexual assault. I was a Vice President of Safe Horizon, and its mediation service was one of the programs I worked with. About four years ago, we went through a strategic planning process, and we decided to spin off the mediation program into an independent organisation that focused exclusively on community peacebuilding.
I had the honour of leading the spin-off and becoming CEO of what’s now the New York Peace Institute. My teammates and I also wanted to focus on restorative justice initiatives, providing peacebuilding skills to the New York Police Department (NYPD) and other agencies dealing with conflict, and raising the profile of mediation in the public consciousness.
Why are you using mediation as your tool for community peacebuilding?
There’s an African proverb, which I’ll happily misquote: The spiders united can trap the lion. Every mediation, every use of mediation skills, helps us weave a web of peace. For far too long, mediation has been unheard of or under-valued. In his book Elusive Peace, Doug Noll makes the case that international diplomats should be trained in basic mediation skills, and I heartily agree. We aim to raise awareness of mediation as a service to our communities – and also as a go-to process on a global scale. Our work with the NYPD, the United Nations, the International Rescue Committee, NASA, and others is, I hope, a step in that direction.
How do you convince people to participate in the process?
Sometimes mediation sells itself – it’s confidential, efficient, and highly successful. However, it’s still not a household word so our team does an amazing job of appealing to clients’ self-interest to participate in mediation and other processes that we offer. Sometimes helping clients understand that they have nothing to lose by coming to mediation – it’s free, they can opt out at any time, and it doesn’t prevent them from taking legal action – does the trick. Ultimately, it’s our clients’ choice to participate – so it’s less about convincing than it is about listening with compassion and explaining the process, while meeting clients where they’re at mentally.
Your TED talk extracted some of the key elements of mediation in a very useful way. In your role at New York University how do teach students of dispute resolution what to do when they are trying to resolve a conflict and things just aren’t working?
Part of it is defining what we mean by what is or isn’t “working”.
Our job is not to suppress conflict or calm people down – it’s to give them a safe space for a difficult conversation. A successful mediation, in our view, isn’t defined by reaching agreement. It’s an opportunity for people in conflict to say what they need to say and perhaps come to understand their own perspective better, as well as that of the other party’s. When we take the pressure off of ourselves to be fixers and problem solvers it is a relief to honour our clients’ creativity to come up with their own solutions through our gentle guidance.
In terms of interventions that may flop, well, mediation is a forgiving process. You can ask the perfectly crafted open-ended question, and it could elicit a less-than-positive response. And that might be just fine – it can give you a real sense of where the client’s at, and help you course-correct for your next intervention.
Can you give me an example?
One of my colleagues mediated a case in which, by her estimation, the problems were escalated at the end of the session than when the mediation started. She felt as if she’d conducted an anti-mediation. And yet the next day, one of the clients called to express her gratitude. The mediation had, unbeknownst to us, softened them – loosened the pickle jar – allowing them to resolve things on their own. So, sometimes we don’t know what works.
Who are your mediators?
Our 400+ mediators come from all walks of life – teachers, actors, lawyers, social workers, homemakers, United Nations diplomats, cops, artists – you name it. We strive to build a mediation pool as diverse as New York City itself.
Do they ever struggle with impartiality and how do you manage it personally in order to stay professional?
For sure. I have lots of opinions about things. I find it helpful to embrace the idea of multi-partiality. I’m on everyone’s side, in their right to have the conversation they need to have.
To keep my opinions at bay, it also helps to recognise that the dispute at hand is not my problem to solve. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive way – I mean it as a statement of humility. Whatever the discussion, it’s not about me. This requires constant mindfulness, and acceptance that at some point I, the mediator, may have to recuse ourselves from a case if it hits too close to home and we can’t stay professional.
How has being a mediator, and learning to sit with two opposing views, affected the way you see the world?
F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the sign of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still maintain the ability to function. I lack a first-rate intelligence – especially when it comes to math – but mediation has absolutely increased my comfort with ambiguity and paradox. While I have strong views about a number of things, being in the mediation field has helped me strive to understand others’ ideas and interests.
I’ve heard you say that you jump at the chance to incorporate any sort of visual or performing arts into dispute resolution – in what ways have you used this before and how has it helped?
I do this mainly in training – in an effort to appeal to different learning styles, and working under the assumption that others may have attention spans as short as mine. So I make a point to use my drawings as mnemonic devices, and I also use tactics from improv comedy in practicing mediation or kinaesthetic activities like creating human sculptures, and more. I also encourage mediators to work with clients to literally draw pictures of their situation – whether it’s a drawing of the layout of their neighbouring apartments, or of how the envision their relationship.
Speaking of visual art, I loved the drawings in your loved your Ted talk – did you do the these yourself?
Thanks so much, and yep, I did the drawings – they’re just marker on flip chart paper. I’m working on an illustrated book chapter now, and feel incredibly lucky to be able to draw and colour as part of my job. But I don’t envision anyone hanging my drawings over their sofas anytime soon, so I’m happy to stick with my day job.
All drawings by Brad Heckman
The institute is currently funded by the NYC state court system, the Mayor’s office and through various foundations and donors. The Institute also undertakes various training and consulting contracts, and hosts comedy shows and concerts to raise resources and funds.
Here’s Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Press Release announcing their Restorative Justice Project. We’re honored to be working with them at the Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies in Coney Island.
Nonprofits to Partner with Schools for 4-Year Pilot Initiative in Collaboration with NYC DOE and Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline
October 15, 2015 (Brooklyn, NY) – Today, Brooklyn Community Foundation announces grants to four expert restorative justice providers to launch full-time, in-school programs in four Brooklyn public schools beginning this fall, via the new Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project.
The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project is led by Brooklyn Community Foundation in partnership with the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) and Mayor de Blasio’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline with the goal of creating a sustainable and racially just model for school-based disciplinary reform that can be scaled across the New York City school system.
Grants are awarded to New York Peace Institute, Good Shepherd Services, Partnership with Children, and Sweet River Consulting. The nonprofit organizations will each partner with a Brooklyn middle or high school chosen by NYC DOE in consultation with the Mayor’s Leadership Team to begin implementing comprehensive school-wide alternatives to punitive disciplinary methods this fall. Each program is receiving $100,000 for this first year. The Foundation has committed four years of funding for the Project through Invest in Youth, its cornerstone initiative to improve opportunities and outcomes for vulnerable young people in Brooklyn.
“We want to create a new model for school discipline that imparts value and agency to all students, and we are proud to have such esteemed and accomplished partners join this effort,” said Brooklyn Community Foundation CEO Cecilia Clarke. “Suspensions and in school arrests are often young people’s first brush with the criminal justice system. First and foremost, our schools should be safe and supportive environments for all students so that they can learn and thrive.”
Restorative justice practices empower all affected by a harmful incident to decide collectively how to repair harm, restore trust, and build a sense of community. In school districts in Oakland, Denver, and West Philadelphia, restorative justice programs have demonstrated success in reducing suspensions, arrests, and overall incidents of violence, as well as improving student attendance and graduation rates. The Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project will also focus on addressing disciplinary disparities affecting students of color and students with special needs, who represent the majority of in-school suspensions and arrests.
“Students are most successful when they feel safe and supported in schools,” said Lois Herrera, CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development at the NYC DOE. “The DOE has led the way in enacting critical school climate reforms that emphasize restorative practices, de-escalation and conflict resolution. We are proud to build on these reforms and move forward to further reduce suspensions and ensure a respectful and safe environment for all students.”
“New York City has been at the forefront of using innovative solutions to generate public safety; our schools should be no exception,” added Jordan Stockdale, Program Director of School Climate Initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “Through this partnership, our city is giving teachers and principals the tools they need to reduce the likelihood of serious conflicts occurring in schools. These measures will ensure the safety and academic success of our city’s children in more supportive, inclusive learning environments.”
The four community-based nonprofit organizations were selected through a competitive RFP process this summer and were matched by the Foundation with schools previously selected by the NYC DOE. The partnering organizations and schools are:
- New York Peace Institute match with the Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies in Coney Island. New York Peace Institute is one of the nation’s largest community mediation services, with expertise in special education mediation. They have previously partnered with the Department of Probation, the New York City Department of Education, NYPD and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s offices.
- Good Shepherd Services (GSS) and the School for Democracy and Leadership in East Flatbush. GSS is a leading New York City youth and family development agency with over 85 programs serving more than 30,000 children, youth, and families in under-resourced communities.
- Partnership with Children and Ebbets Field Middle School in Crown Heights. Partnership with Children provides critical social and emotional support for the hardest-to-reach students and engages families in the school community so they can succeed in school, society and life. They have social workers in 32 public schools in all five boroughs and manage all community resources and support services in 12 community schools.
- Sweet River Consulting and Science Skills Center High School in Downtown Brooklyn. The founders of Sweet River Consulting have over 10 years’ experience implementing school-wide restorative justice policies and programs, and providing youth programming and leadership development. Sweet River Consulting is supported by the Center for Nu Leadership.
The four organizations will train and support full-time Restorative Justice Coordinators in each school, who will then develop a school-wide strategic plan in collaboration with school leadership. Coordinators will oversee all program components, including community-building restorative circles, conflict response, student reentry, positive school climate, and school-wide learning groups on restorative practices. All organizations will work to ensure a racially just and culturally responsive lens to support students disproportionately impacted by punitive policies as well as address rights and responsibilities of special needs students. Recognizing the importance of student leadership in school culture, Coordinators will also create opportunities for students to lead restorative justice programming.
Schools and partner organizations will evaluate their efforts based on improvements in school culture and student self-esteem, and a reduction in conflict, violent infractions, suspensions and arrests. All participating schools and organizations will collaborate to share lessons learned and best practices, as well as develop benchmarks and evaluation tools.
“We are excited to partner with the Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies with the generous support of the Brooklyn Community Foundation,” said New York Peace Institute CEO Brad Heckman. “We will work every day with the school community to build a culture of peace and dialogue—a culture that will help students who commit acts of harm understand the impact of their actions and allow the school community to move forward together in the wake of harmful acts. We envision that this partnership will promote an even greater sense of community in the school, and will help disrupt the school to prison pipeline.”
“We are thrilled at the opportunity to partner with Brooklyn Community Foundation, the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office on this important initiative that empowers students and staff in our public schools,” says Good Shepherd Services Executive Director Sr. Paulette LoMonaco. “We currently use restorative justice practices in many of our Brooklyn justice programs and we look forward to extending these important practices, along with our strengths-based youth and family development framework, in additional settings.”
“We are delighted to be working with the Foundation, the Mayor’s Office, and NYC Department of Education on this critical initiative,” added Partnership with Children Executive Director Margaret Crotty. “Our approach to supporting students and schools depends on providing effective alternatives to traditional punitive disciplinary methods and engaging all stakeholders in a school community—so we look forward to working with, and learning from the other CBOs and schools in the program to further this work.”
“Sweet River Consulting is eager to partner with the Brooklyn Community Foundation, NYC Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office to push forward an educational agenda that promotes restorative practices,” said Co-Directors Whitney Richards-Calathes and Nyoka Acevedo. “We see restorative justice as a philosophy and practice that works to divest from traditional models of punishment, a method to work towards racial justice, and an avenue to create structures of shared power and accountability within schools.”
For more information on the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project, visit http://www.brooklyncommunityfoundation.org/youth-justice.
About Brooklyn Community Foundation
Brooklyn Community Foundation is on a mission to spark lasting social change, mobilizing people, capital, and expertise for a fair and just Brooklyn. Since its founding in 2009, the Foundation and its donors have provided over $20 million in grants to more than 300 nonprofits throughout the borough, bolstering vital programs and services while responding to urgent community needs and opportunities. In 2014, following a six-month borough wide community engagement project, Brooklyn Insights, the Foundation unveiled a new strategic action plan focused on youth, neighborhood strength, nonprofit capacity, and racial justice. Learn more at www.BrooklynCommunityFoundation.org.
October 15th is Conflict Resolution Day! Here are 10 things you can do.
1. Send Conflict Resolution Day cards to your friends and families. Actually, probably makes more sense to send them to your enemies and nemeses. Can’t find a Conflict Resolution Day Card? Buy a Happy Bar Mitzvah or other holiday card and scribble Conflict Resolution Day on it. No disrespect to other holidays or to the greeting card cartel.
2. Support your local mediation center. There are 400-ish community mediation centers across the U.S. We all work on tight budgets so we can offer free or low-cost services. Check out the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) to find your local center.
3. Become a mediator! Many mediation centers offer intensive mediation training that can set you on the path to becoming a community mediator, and give you a slew of amazing life skills.
4. Try this stuff at home. Many mediators will tell you it’s harder to use mediation skills with our loved ones than with strangers. Whilst we hear variations of “don’t try this mediation baloney with me!” from those close to us, our skills — with the right intentions — can be mighty effective on the homefront. Here’s a list of things you can do, and my illustrated TEDx with some more hints.
5. Get the word out on social (and traditional) media. The Internets are the next big thing. Go nuts putting #ConflictResolutionDay and #mediation all over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Friendster, MySpace, and whatever other platforms you’re on. Got contacts in traditional media? Let ’em know about mediation.
6. Got beef? Try mediation — even if you’re already a mediator and know all our Jedi mind tricks. Let’s make mediation not just a last resort, but also a first resort — an early intervention. And who doesn’t love resorts?. Grumbling about your co-worker? Got a noisy neighbor? Annoyed by your roommate or partner’s housekeeping skills? What the heck — call your local mediation center. It’s free (or low cost), confidential, and it works. What could possibly go wrong?
7. Write your local leaders about how awesome mediation is. Though we’re helping thousands upon thousands of people, we need our legislatures — local and national — to be aware of our work. In New York, the New York State Dispute Resolution Association (NYSDRA) is taking the lead on advocating for mediation in the corridors of power. Check ’em out.
8. Volunteer. Many local mediation centers could use help with all kinds of things in addition to mediating. Ask your neighborhood peacebuilders if they need any help with — you name it — social media skills, administrative help, fundraising, answering phones, etc. Join the movement.
9. Wear sunscreen. Like people, the sun is a complex thing. It’s both a burn-inducing ball of hellfire, and a generous source of Vitamin D. Learn how to work with it. There’s a metaphor about conflict resolution in there somewhere, probably.
10. Celebrate with us on November 5th at our third annual PeaceRaiser. It’ll be a hoot, with drinks, beverages, and fun activities galore.
For us at New York Peace Institute, every day is Conflict Resolution Day. (This one time, we spent it at NASA. That was cool.). Our staff, board, mediators and partners are working hard to disrupt the school-prison pipeline through restorative justice processes, build police-community relations, and help more than 10,000 people resolve their disputes peacefully and creatively each year.
Happy #ConflictResolutionDay, y’all!
Please join us on Thursday, November 5, 6-9pm for an evening of fun in support of New York Peace Institute, our city’s largest civilian peacebuilding force.
Each year, New York Peace Institute gives more than 10,000 people the resources they need to resolve disputes, heal relationships, and move forward in the wake of conflict. We offer free mediation services to communities, families neighbors, schools, and businesses. We provide restorative justice services to help disrupt the school to prison pipeline. We train police, community-based organizations, city agencies, and schools in peaceful communication skills. Read more about us here!
We’ll have lots of fun activities, a swell auction, fabulous food and drinks — and excellent company.
Most importantly, by attending you’ll be doing your part to build peace in New York City and beyond. Get your tickets here!
All the best,
Brad Heckman, CEO