Connection Series Guides & Staff

*All Listed Are Confirmed for Monthly and Public Presentations--Live and Pre-Recorded. Additional Faculty may be added previous to Jan. 15th. Monthly Mentoring Sessions Begin Jan. 15, 2019. See Schedule for all event listings during each month.

KAY PRANIS ~ Restorative Practices, School-Based RJP & the Influence of Indigenous Practices on RJP

Kay teaches and writes about the dialog process known as ‘peacemaking circles.’  Kay learned about peacemaking circles in her work in restorative justice in the mid-90s  Her initial teachers in the circle work were Barry Stuart, a judge in Yukon, Canada, and Mark Wedge and Harold Gatensby, First Nations people of Yukon.  Since that initial exposure to the use of peacemaking circles in the justice system Kay has been involved in developing the use of peacemaking circles in schools, social services, churches, families, museums, universities, municipal planning and workplaces.

Kay has authored or co-authored several books about circles:  Peacemaking Circles – From Crime to Community;  The Little Book of Circle Processes – A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking;  Doing Democracy with Circles – Engaging Communities in Public Planning;  Heart of Hope – A Guide for Using Peacemaking Circles to Develop Emotional Literacy, Promote Healing & Build Healthy Relationships; Circle Forward – Building a Restorative School Community.

Kay works primarily as a trainer in the peacemaking circle process.  She is a Senior Associate at the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University in Boston.  She is also an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, Eastern Mennonite University and Southwest Minnesota State University.

Kay has a particular interest in the use of circles to support social justice efforts addressing racial, economic, class and gender inequities.  That interest includes the use of peacemaking circles to understand and respond to historical harms to groups of people.  The peacemaking circle process has been a source of energy, inspiration and continuous learning for Kay.

JOE BRUMMER ~ Restorative Practices, School-Based RJP & The Integration of A Trauma Lens; Bias, Stigma and Racism

Joe has been the victim of two separate violent anti-gay hate crimes and what began as a personal healing response to the trauma, he has transformed into professional involvement in the field of community and restorative justice.  In 2006, he began his work with the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence during a training of trainers in Kingian Nonviolence.  Then in 2007, he served as a victim advocate on the Juvenile Restorative Justice Advisory Board for the Community Mediation Center of Rhode Island. In 2008, he attended the International Intensive Training on Nonviolent Communication with Marshall Rosenberg in Albuquerque, NM.  From 2010 until 2014, Joe was the associate director of a community mediation center in Connecticut where he oversaw juvenile and adult criminal mediation/dialogue programs that involved victim/offender and offender/offender dialogues.  Also, in this role, he supported school-based mediation programs, mediation for the Juvenile Review Boards in Hamden and New Haven, Connecticut, and provided hundreds of trainings in Nonviolent Communication.  

In 2014, Joe participated in a 3-week program in India called Teaching for Peace: An Indian Immersion Program in Practical Nonviolence. He has attended restorative justice training with Dominic Barter, the International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) and the Victim Offender Mediation Association (VOMA).

Overall, since 2010, Joe has actively helped schools implement peer mediation programs and school-wide restorative practices.  As a private consultant beginning in 2015, Joe has designed a trauma-informed approach of restorative practices and infused this model in Connecticut schools. In 2017, he completed a six-year term on the board of directors for the National Association for Community Mediation. He has presented on restorative justice nationally, including Washington State, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.  Most recently, Joe presented on trauma-informed restorative practices at the First Annual Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools Conference in Washington, DC.  He also presented on Conflict and Peace Building in 2012 and 2013 for the Annual International Leadership Training Programme: A Global Intergenerational Forum sponsored by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights at the University of Connecticut.

He has clocked hundreds of hours at the mediation table facilitating in a wide variety of areas including workplace disputes, landlord/tenant conflicts, neighborhood disputes, civil law suits, and victim offender mediation. He is the former associate executive director at Community Mediation, Inc. in Hamden, CT.

Joe has offered trainings in mediation, restorative practices/justice, conflict management, and communication all over the Country and has become well respected for his workshops based on Nonviolent Communication.  He has worked with youth and adults in a multitude of settings from peer mediation in schools to state employees to corporate fortune 500 companies. Joe is able to tailor his skills, experiences, and work to the audiences with whom he is working.

BELVIE ROOKS ~ Pre-Recorded Special Sessions at Level 1  & 1 -2 Live Sessions

Belvie Rooks is a writer, educator and producer whose work weaves the worlds of spirituality, feminism, ecology, social justice and racial healing. She has a passion for engaged dialogue as a way of bridging the various "socially constructed" related to race and gender. She is the co-author of I Give You the Springtime of My Blushing: A Poetic Love Song, with her (now deceased husband) poet, Dedan Gills. Springtime is an engaging love story that models the complexity and possibility of what love is and can be in these times. Reflecting on Springtime, Julia "Butterfly" Hill says, "In this time where it feels so much has lost its way, allow the words within this book to guide you home, to the origin, to love.  

She is honored to be included, along with Jane Goodall, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, the Dalai Lama, and others, in the anthology Global Chorus 365 Voices on the Future of the Planet. She is also one of the  contributors to, Ecological and Social Healing: Multicultural Women's Voices. For twelve years, Belvie, was Vice-President of project develop for Danny Glover's production company, Carrie Productions. She was also a segment producer for the Fox Family Channel series Courage which was hosted by Danny Glover and highlighted "ordinary people doing extraordinary things;" extraordinarily kind and caring things! In 200l, TV Guide selected Courage as one of the top 10 most inspirational shows for the year. She also co-wrote and and directed, Who's Gonna Be There, a performance piece about mentoring featuring two would class actors--Danny Glover and Roy Schneider.

Her published works have appeared in many publications and anthologies including: Sacred Poems and Prayers in Praise of Life; The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (edited by Alice Walker); My Soul is a Witness: African American Women's Spirituality; Life Notes: Personal Writings by Black Women; Double Stitch: Black Women Write About Mothers and Daughters; Birthing God: Women's Experiences of the Divine; A Tribute to Thomas Berry: Reflections Life in the Ecological Age; 100 Words: Two Hundred Visionaries Share Their Hope for the Future and Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart. As senior editor of Paris Connections: African American Artists in Paris, she is a former American Book Award winner. She has also been a founding faculty member of several educational institutions including, the College of Social Justice at the (SUNY) State University of New York at Old Westbury; Federal City College, now renamed the University of the District of Columbia.

DOMINIC BARTER ~ Restorative Circles & Restorative Systems

Dominic Barter plays with dialogue and partnership, focusing primarily in the fields of education, justice, culture and social change. In the mid-90s he collaborated in the development of Restorative Circles, a community-based and -owned practice for dynamic engagement with conflict that grew from conversations with residents in gang-controlled shantytown favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

He adapted the practice for the Brazilian Ministry of Justice's award-winning national projects in Restorative Justice and supports its application in a further 25 countries. In recent years he has supervised the mediation program for the Police Pacification Units in Rio, served as invited professor at the Standing Group for Consensual Methods of Conflict Resolution, at the High Court of Rio, with a focus on school mediation and bullying, and focused on the development of restorative community. Currently Dominic directs the Dialogue Restoration project for the State Education Department of Rio de Janeiro and partners with the Centre for the Study of Public Security and Citizenship at Candido Mendes University.

Introduced into schools, juvenile courts, juvenile prisons, shelters, police services, as well as local communities, Restorative Circles bring about a profound paradigm shift in Justice - creating well and security, where conflict and crime had brought fear and division.

Over the past three years, Restorative Circles have been delivered in more than twenty-five countries, and projects are expanding in courts, prisons, schools, communities and families.

Restorative Circles are deeply in tune with the principles of Nonviolent Communication, creating shared power and entering the underlying sense of conflict and crime, ending with measurable action plans that can bring people together from each other and lead to a healing of the community.

A restorative circle brings together the three parties affected by a painful act: those who committed the act, those whose welfare was primarily affected, and all members of the community who were indirectly affected by this act. Using a dialogue process that focuses attention on needs, participants are invited to rediscover their ability to understand one another, learn from what has happened, and develop a clearly defined plan that will benefit all and contribute to a change in the social conditions in which the conflict has arisen.

Restorative Circles are more than just a methodology. They are part of a systemic response to the safety of our communities that brings non-violence to public life in a tangible and constructive way.

JAMES O’DEA ~ Pre-Recorded Special Sessions at Level 1

James O’Dea is author of The Conscious Activist, Cultivating Peace , Soul Awakening Practice (June 2017) and other acclaimed works. James is a former President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Washington office director of Amnesty International and CEO of the Seva Foundation. He worked with the Middle East Council of Churches in Beirut during a time of war and massacre and lived in Turkey for five years during civil upheaval and coup d’etat.

He has taught peacebuilding to over a thousand students in 30 countries. He has also conducted frontline social healing dialogues around the world. He is a member of The Evolutionary Leaders group and on the Advisory Board of The Peace Alliance and Kosmos Journal. James also mentors emerging leaders. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Laszlo New Paradigm Institute. James is both an activist and mystic.

ERIC BUTLER ~ Bias, Racism & Stigma; School-Based RJP; Community & Orgs RJ

Eric Butler is a Restorative Justice Educator and Activist.

A Hurricane Katrina survivor, he relocated to Oakland, California where he rebuilt a new life, successfully facilitatingGrief Circles in response to homicide and extreme violence in area schools as part of Catholic Charities’ crisis response program. He also worked as a lead mediator with Youth Uprising, where he mediated conflicts on the ground in Oakland neighborhoods and schools.

Eric was first introduced to the world of activism as a child, joining Selma Alabama's 21st Century Leadership Camp with his mentor Ted Quant, where he was involved in unfair education protests and sit in's, and learned a lot about politics and social injustice happening in America. Eric was also a victim of a failing school system that fast-tracked its African American students from schools to prison. Later, experiencing homelessness after Katrina struck, Eric’s built a belief in the ability to overcome hurdles, which has propelled him forward to make a difference in the lives of young people across the US.  While in Oakland, Eric gained prominence for his impactful Restorative Justice work with youth in West Oakland as the School Coordinator at Bunche High School with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY). Today, Eric travels from New Orleans to Texas, to New York, to California and all around the country with a personal mission to spread Restorative Justice around the globe. Eric Butler Website

MONA POLACCA ~ Indigenous Peacemaking, Social Healing & Intergenerational Wounds

Mona, a Hopi/Havasupai/Tewa elder, has a Master of Social Work degree and has recently been chosen as a member of the World Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders due to her international justice work. She has worked on issues of Indigenous Peoples especially related to the Right to Water, social and health issues, including the elderly native peoples.

Mona serves on several United Nations committees on indigenous people’s issues and is a featured author, speaker, and educator on indigenous people’s human rights, aging, mental health, addiction and violence. She is also the President/CEO and faculty of the Turtle Island Project, a non-profit program that promotes a vision of wellness by providing trans-cultural training to individuals, families and healthcare professionals.

LAUREN ABRAMSON ~ Community & Org Based RJ

Lauren Abramson, Ph.D., has nearly 30 years of experience working to provide people and communities with inclusive and collaborative ways to build community and address crime and conflict.  As the founder of the Community Conferencing Center (now Restorative Response Baltimore), she worked for 25 years to vision, implement and sustain a community-based program that provided over 20,000 Baltimore residents with accessible and effective ways  to heal and learn in the wake of crime and conflict, in their own neighborhoods, without going to court.  With a background in neuroscience, Lauren sees restorative approaches as the biological imperative of our time: Only when our education, justice and other institutions allow us to be fully human will we create a healthy, caring and connected society.  Lauren offers support to individuals, agencies and institutions on facilitation skills, program development/implementation, training, and other issues grounded in values-based RJ work.

CASSIDY FRIEDMAN ~ Restorative Practices; School-Based RJP; Media & Social Justice

Cassidy Friedman directs and produces character-driven documentaries that call attention to unsung social justice pioneers of our time. Cassidy recently produced the feature documentary Voices Beyond the Wall (2017) with Executive Producer James Franco. Since founding his production company, Stories Matter Media, he has directed a score of documentary shorts, and is in post-production with producers Van Jones and Glen Zipper on the feature Soledad.

As  owner/director of Stories Matter Media, he established himself as a storyteller first as an award-winning news reporter, before transitioning to directing and producing documentaries as a way to engage more creatively with each story.

He has directed a score of documentary shorts, including “Unstill Life”, Official Selection of the 2014 Long Island International Film Expo and The SoCal Creative & Innovative Film Festival.

Current projects include three feature-length documentaries: Soledad follows three men seeking a second chance as the nation explores reforming its prison system, Circles tracks a pioneer (Eric Butler) of the Restorative Justice movement in Oakland schools, and Las Chavas follows the only orphanage for girls in Honduras.

Cassidy is a fellow of CIFF’s Points North Fellowship, Film Independent’s Fast Track program, and Film Independent’s Documentary Lab. His films have won grants from the International Documentary Association’s Pare Lorenz Doc Fund, Pacific Pioneer Fund and Center for Investigative Reporting. His prior work as a journalist earned him the Idaho Governor’s Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2009.

Cassidy's Directors Statement on CIRCLES: "Circles tells the story of Eric Butler, a restorative justice coordinator who believes that by deepening communication and building trust with students at a continuation high school in Oakland, California, problems can be more easily and justly resolved.

The film focuses on Eric's struggle to do what few adults ever do with kids: to assume positive intent and learn where behavior stems from by being in conversation."  Stories Matter Media Website   CIRCLES Website

DR. TEIAHSHA BANKHEAD ~ Community RJ, RJE (Restorative Justice in Education), Restorative Cities.

Executive Director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), Teiahsha Bankhead is a social justice activist, a restorative justice advocate, a licensed psychotherapist and a professor with both MSW and Ph.D. degrees in social work from the University of California at Berkeley.

She was a Research Fellow of both the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the United States Psychiatric Congress and served on the Family Council of Spirit Rock Meditation Center. She is co-author, with University of California Berkeley, Professor Emeritus Jewelle Taylor-Gibbs, of Preserving Privilege: California Politics, Propositions and People of Color.

Born to a Black radical mother during the uprising of the Watts Rebellion and coming of age

in South Central Los Angeles during the embittered racial relations and social unrest of the

civil rights era ignited within Dr. Bankhead a passionate commitment to social justice

advocacy and transformative community empowerment.

Dr. Bankhead has a commitment to racial justice, racial healing and restorative economics.

She has taught racial, gender and sexual orientation diversity, theories of criminal behavior,

and US social policy. She speaks and holds circle on the subjects of Race and Restorative

Justice, the Indigenous Roots of Restorative Justice, Truth-Telling and Racial Healing, the

School-to-Prison Pipeline, Mass Incarceration, and Restorative Cities.


Over the last years she has worked to increase racial equity building approaches in

restorative justice practices. In June of 2017 she co-chaired, with Fania Davis, the largest

and most diverse RJ conference in US history, the Sixth National NACRJ conference in

Oakland with the theme, “Moving Restorative Justice From Margins to Center: We’re the

Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” which included over 1,300 registered attendees.

Her future is focused on expanding the work of RJ towards radical inclusivity and practicing restorative justice through an equity lens in ways that honor its indigenous roots.

TYREECE SHERRILL ~ Community RJ, RJE (Restorative Justice in Education), Restorative Cities; YOUNG ADULT/YOUTH REPRESENTATIVE.

Bio Coming Shortly!

HEART PHOENIX ~ Community, School and Police RJ, Police Youth Dialogues, Peacebuilding & SEL.

Heart's work, service, and activism have spanned over five decades.  Having worked as an educator, activist and champion throughout the United States and numerous countries on the subject of the environment, animal rights, social justice, peacebuilding and gender equality, she brings the passion and energy of her name

Heart is currently living her dream in Gainesville, Florida as President of the Board of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, in honor of her son. Her tireless efforts to launch and drive the work of embedding best and next practices in the field of resolving conflicts restoratively rather than punitively has led to successful partnerships with the Department of Juvenile Justice, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff's Office, District Schools and countless others.

She is also co-founder of The Peace Alliance a national non-profit working towards the passage of legislation that calls for nonviolent solutions to conflicts. She serves on the Board of the Florida Restorative Justice Association and has been a leading voice for the midwives’ model of care and has been on the board of the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery for well over ten years. She has celebrated her 40th anniversary as a vegan, and her passion and commitment to nonviolence have been the center point of her life.

JEFFREY WEISBERG ~ Community, School and Police RJ, Police Youth Dialogues, Peacebuilding Through Sport, SEL (Social Emotional Learning). Mentor Sessions with Heart Phoenix.

As the Executive Director of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, Jeffrey has designed, developed and implemented a wide range of programs and services in Gainesville, Florida, throughout the United States and internationally.  His work with youth includes police/youth dialogues, police/educator dialogues, peer mediation, juvenile diversion programs, youth empowerment and coming of age programs.

Jeffrey serves as a Florida Certified State Mediator and mediates cases involving juvenile offenders, family disputes and small business and organizational conflicts.  In addition, he is using Restorative Practices to support the Department of Juvenile Justice, the court system, schools, and communities to bolster alternatives to the punishment model.

He is a founding member of The Peace Alliance and has served on the Board for eight years. He believes that by training and empowering both youth and adults to learn and practice vital communication skills, we not only create greater connections with others but we can de-escalate conflict for a safer and more productive outcome.

ELAINE SHPUNGIN, Ph.D ~ School-Based Restorative Practices, Community “RP”, and Restorative Families. Level 2 and Up Mentor Sessions.

Dr. Elaine Shpungin is the founder and director of Conflict 180. 

Elaine wants to contribute to systems that address conflict more courageously, compassionately and restoratively.Her secret lifetime goal is “Circles in Congress.”

After serving as the director of the University of Illinois’ Psychological Services Center for 12 years, Elaine founded Conflict 180 in 2016, with the mission of providing training, consulting, and coaching to organizations that want to create more positive climates, and address conflict more constructively. The Conflict 180 motto of “turning conflict into connection” describes the 180 degree turn that is possible when systems are willing to courageously tackle their “elephants” and create environments in which people thrive rather than survive.

Elaine’s consulting is based on decades of hands-on experience, and the synthesis of research and best practices from the fields of psychology, communication, organizational change, leadership and diversity.

Elaine also brings more than ten years of study and application from the fields of conflict and restorative justice, including her work with Restorative Circles©, the award winning dialogue process co-created by Dominic Barter and colleagues in Brazil.

Currently, Elaine is working with half a dozen Midwest schools across two large school districts with high poverty rates.

As the proud parent of two kids, 16 and 11, Elaine also has plenty of practice in applying restorative principles at home – which continues to teach her about constructive – and destructive – approaches to conflict and communication.

Elaine’s writing has appeared in academic journals, scholarly books, web magazines, popular books on psychology, and her Conflict 180 blog. Her weekly Restorative Tips newsletter, with more than 800 subscribers, is available on the Conflict 180 website.

To restore herself, Elaine likes to “come into the peace of wild things” with her husband and kids, bike to work, practice yoga, read speculative fiction, watch superheroes on Netflix, and eat 72% dark chocolate. You can reach Elaine by emailing

MICHAEL GILBERT, Ph.D ~ Timely Topic Presenter

Michael J. Gilbert, Ph.D. is the Executive Director, National Association of Community and Restorative Justice,

He recently retired from his position as Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at San Antonio where he taught “Drugs, Drug Laws and Crime.” Before joining the university faculty, Dr. Gilbert had over 20 years of experience in corrections and criminal justice. Working with offenders and justice system officials he became aware of the adverse consequences of the “war on drugs”. He began to question the validity, morality, and practicality of drug prohibition. Mike also represents Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, 



Molly Rowan Leach is an Executive Producer, Strategist, and Media Specialist.

She has been involved in and directed multiple forms of media advocacy and hands-on community based work towards restorative systems change since her mother’s incarceration which lasted fifteen years (1995-2014), and which led her to witness the dire complexities of a punitive justice system.

As a result of her life experiences, a framing question arose: how can one’s personal struggle with injustice across the board be transformed to service, to give back to the countless millions who suffer each day? How can we shift from punishment to restoration as the foundation for our compass of justice?        


Molly recognized that victims’ voices are excluded from process, and that offenders are especially treated inhumanely, often forced to re-live their crime endlessly. The lack of any form of say from any stakeholder in the criminal justice system keeps people separate and uninvolved in outcomes, while in fact millions of lives are destroyed needlessly.

The US incarcerates 25% of the worlds prisoners, while comprising 5% of total global population. Within that statistic is also the fact that the system oppresses black men, and the mentally ill, at rates that are astoundingly clear: criminal justice is not about healing or equality--it has been about denying those who are our most meek, or those who this culture deems undeserving or dangerous. Molly's work aims to make real the tough issues we've long swept under the rug. Her life is dedicated to truth and advocacy.

Molly founded Restorative Justice on The Rise, an ongoing public dialogue and education platform, in 2011, and has trained in facilitation of Circles with Dominic Barter, Sylvia Clute, the late Dr. Beverly Title, and has participated in or led dialogues with both high-risk and misdemeanor conflicts.

She has worked alongside civic leaders representing most areas of the criminal justice system, as well as teachers, principals and advocates for transforming school climate, most recently leading a training for the Durango School District with Dr. Martha Brown, author of Creating Restorative Schools.

In addition, Molly’s writing has appeared at a diverse array of online publications including TruthOut, YES! Online, Daily Good, Open Democracy, and HuffPost.

Her essay featuring a Colorado Police Officer whose opinion about RJ shifted drastically after he responded to a felony-level break in involving 10 and 11-year old boys was selected for inclusion in an Oxford University textbook, Current Debates in Peace and Conflict Studies (Oxford Press; Ed. Houston Wood, October 2017)        


Molly believes that restorative justice is not just about systems, but the holistic integration of restorative values starting within ourselves, in our immediate lives, and how we have the opportunity to re-frame our relationships: with ourselves, one another, with conflict and harm. 


My interest in Restorative Justice began in college while helping Professor David Karp research the rise in reporting on restorative justice in the last ten years. Through that work I attended the National Restorative Justice Conference where I became exposed to the global restorative justice movement as well as the the importance and healing of restorative justice.

During an internship with WAMC radio the following year, I continued to pursue that interest, producing and recording a story on the implementation of restorative justice in schools in the upstate New York region. Since graduating from Skidmore College last May, I have been interning for Restorative Justice on the Rise as well as Yes! Magazine.