Through a Restorative Lens: Rick Kelly’s Vision of Systemic Change and Inclusivity

Rick Kelly, a stalwart in the realm of Child and Youth practice, recently delivered a poignant presentation that not only charted his own personal evolution in the field but also urged the restorative practices community to undergo a profound systemic transformation. For those in attendance, it was evident that Kelly’s decades of expertise, from his beginnings in mental health to his shift towards an ecological, community-centric approach, provided a reservoir of wisdom and perspective.

Kelly’s central argument was the need for “second order change,” a deeper, more foundational shift in the paradigms that guide restorative practices. This entails reevaluating several commonly employed constructs, such as ‘WITH’, ‘relational engagement’, ‘the window’, ‘shame’, ‘power’, ‘space making’, and ‘voice’.

But what does this really mean? To Kelly, it’s about shifting the lens through which we perceive harm and its reparative process. More than just understanding harm and its repercussions, it’s about recognizing the systemic historical and current practices of oppression – especially towards marginalized communities. The gravity of these oppressions is stark, often culminating in life or death consequences.

Illustrating this with tangible examples, Kelly shared his firsthand experiences in several initiatives:

  • Developing a Social Innovation Hub for post-secondary students.
  • Building a community center in response to prevalent violence and trauma.
  • Designing mentorship-driven pathways into trades, especially for Black youth.
  • Amplifying the voices of high school BIPOC students in a prominent school board.

All of these initiatives spanned multiple years and underlined the transformative power of restorative practices when applied innovatively.

But beyond the practical applications, what resonated deeply was Kelly’s call to “decolonize and colorize” restorative practices. As someone who has dedicated two decades to the application and evolution of a restorative lens, especially in the realm of youth justice, Kelly’s insights reflect a pressing need to ensure that these practices are inclusive, just, and address the real-life challenges of the communities they serve.

Kelly’s commendable academic and field journey, which saw him transition from a professor in a Child and Youth Worker program to a youth justice restorative conference facilitator and trainer, has always been marked by a thirst for knowledge and betterment. His own adaptations and models, coupled with his numerous publications, stand as a testament to his commitment to the cause. Receiving the OACYC Dennis McDermott Career Achievement Award is a mere glimpse of the impact he’s had on the community.

Currently helming the social enterprise “Just Us: A Centre for Restorative Practices”, Kelly’s vision encapsulates the pressing need for a paradigm shift. His efforts emphasize that restorative practices are not just tools but philosophies – ones that should be grounded in justice, inclusivity, and a genuine understanding of the communities they cater to.

In concluding, Rick Kelly’s presentation wasn’t just an academic discourse but a clarion call. It was an urging to the restorative practices community to dig deeper, to be more introspective, and to ensure that the foundations of their work truly resonate with the principles of justice, equality, and genuine restorative change.