Last January, Tatiana Swancy was among eight Oak Park Public Library staff members who trained to become peace circle keepers, or facilitators.
"A peace circle is a tool to have community conversations where everyone is valued," she explains. "It's rooted in the idea that everyone has a story, and it's a great way to address difficult topics. It has the effect of building bonds, or at least trust with one another. What you say in the circle stays in the circle. We work to make it a space where people can share."
Training to become a circle keeper in January 2020 "was a really transformative experience for me," Tatiana says. "It was the best work experience I've ever had."
New role: Restorative Practices Coordinator
Now, one year later—a pandemic year in which she's facilitated virtual circles over Zoom, creating welcoming spaces where students, parents, community members, and staff feel safe to reflect, to share fears and hopes—Tatiana has been promoted as the library's first Restorative Practices Coordinator.
In this new role, Tatiana develops, implements, and promotes practices and programs that support the library's anti-racism journey, and centers the stories and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, says Manager of Adult Services Alexandra Skinner. This broadens Tatiana's work with staff and community through the continued use of peace circles, programs, partnerships, and staff learning.
'Exactly what restorative practices are about'
"Our organization couldn't have picked a better person for this role to continue the work we have started," says Manager of Teen Services Stephen Jackson, who began using peace circles and restorative practices at the library five years ago. "Tatiana's calm and nonjudgmental way of engaging will not only serve our patrons well but is exactly what restorative practices are about."
At the foundation of restorative practices, Tatiana says, is that "everyone has a story to share. And to repair harm that's been done, you listen to everyone's stories, and you come up with solutions together."
Restorative practices, including peace circles, have increasingly been used at the library over the past five years. They take a group perspective and include bringing empathy to a situation, seeking first to understand, and helping people without doing further harm.
And they are a natural fit with the library's vision to empower every voice in our community and mission to share the information, services, and opportunities that fulfill Oak Park's aspirations.