Truth and reconciliation meetings to resume
As we approach 2020 and the fourth year of the Bermuda Truth & Reconciliation Community Conversations (TRCC), the President of CURB Lynne Winfield answers questions about where we go from here.
Why did CURB feel there was a need to begin the Bermuda Truth & Reconciliation Community Conversations?
CURB's proactive work in the community started in 2005 with the re-formation of the group whose origins began in 1998. Over the years we have run and/or provided presentations, forums, lectures, panel discussions, movie nights, workshops and brought in overseas speakers. What became apparent is there is a great need in the community for people to tell about what happened to them or their loved ones, to share their experiences and seek greater understanding. But the ‘how' to bring people together in a supportive environment eluded us, i.e. how do you find a way to run discussions, when in the room there are direct descendants of enslaved people and descendants of those who enslaved them, many of whom share the same last name?
It was the ‘discovery' of Restorative Practices training that finally gave us the tool we needed to run the Community Conversations, followed by a year spent in 2016 designing the programme.
The TRCC when launched was envisioned as a 4-year process, is this still the plan?
Our experience and feedback over the past 3 years has demonstrated the need for these community conversations a hundredfold. We had envisioned large groups of people, but the reality is that strengthening relationships and building community has to be in smaller groups, i.e. a maximum of 20. In these smaller groups we feel and see transformative changes in those that attend. However, the reduced size of the groups means more groups being run and a longer time period. We are now looking at a 10-year process. For those who feel 10-years is excessive, we need to remind ourselves that it took 218 years of enslavement, 137 years of segregation and many years of post-segregation bias, prejudice and discrimination to get us to where we are today.
How do you keep a record of what goes on in the TRCC?
A primary concern is confidentiality. People are sharing their stories and experiences and they must feel safe in doing so, as it is challenging work. We do take notes, but these are written ensuring the anonymity of the person sharing is protected. We also collect pre-surveys, which establish where a person is with regard to their understanding of race relations, past history and thoughts about collective action. At the end post-surveys are collected, which reveal whether growth has taken place in the individual over the 7 weeks of participation.
Who is attending?
Since its inception we have run 14 TRCC groups reaching approximately 200 individuals. We have found women outnumber men by 2 to 1; racial breakdown normally reflects the racial demographics in Bermuda; and we have had people as young as 15 in the room up to senior citizens. Additionally, approximately 180 individuals have been trained as Restorative Practitioners, of which 20 have gone on to each volunteer 20+ hours of their time to run the TRCC groups. It has involved hours of volunteer time in the preparation work needed to bring the groups together, including administration, retention of records, data analysis and training. As we move forward we are looking to broaden our outreach and increase the number of groups held each year.
What is the vision of the TRCC?
The TRCC is focused on reaching 1,000 participants. From our experiences with the groups, we know our participants will share the new knowledge they learn and provide a greater understanding and empathy to others within their sphere of influence, explaining not only why there continues to be ‘Two Bermudas', but also what are the things that need to happen to work towards repairing the harm. If each participant talks to 50 people about their TRCC experiences, their new understanding of Bermuda's history, and the transformation in hearts and minds, we CAN reach 50,000 people. This is what will begin the paradigm shift in society, helping us move away from the punitive society that was imposed by colonialism and moving towards a restorative society focused on repairing the damage of the past, the ongoing legacies and the intergenerational trauma that remains.
What are the outcomes and ultimate goals?
For individuals who attend, a greater understanding of Bermuda's hidden history and its legacies, a growing awareness of the root causes of the divisions in our community, and what is needed to repair the harm. For the TRCC, we are planning to analyze and compile the experiences, stories and ideas from those who attend to create a National Reconciliation Plan that will enable our society to facilitate the changes necessary to create a more fair and equitable community.
Is there a need for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission?
Yes, but first people need to understand why it is necessary and what the process might look like, and it's here the TRCC is laying the groundwork. It will need to be designed for the Bermuda context, and what it looks like or entails would need to be carefully thought out. From a financial perspective it more than likely would be a formal process run or funded by Government, and part of that process would be the collection of stories and evidence of past injustices. What is clear is the TRCC process is providing us with greater understanding of what is needed to help formulate the way forward.
What's Coming up?
The last group for 2019 will be held at the Bermuda College every Thursday beginning 24th October for 7 weeks. It is free to the public and we still have spaces available and would urge people to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 505 0112 to register or to obtain more information. Another TRCC group begins meeting in mid-January 2020 and we invite people to register early for that too.
We recognize there are some that are unable to commit to a group once a week for 7-weeks, so we are in the process of designing a 1.5 day workshop which will offer the TRCC experience in a condensed timespan, enabling groups, organizations, charities to experience the process and gain awareness. We hope to run a pilot workshop sometime in late November and welcome the interest of any individuals/groups that wish to become a part of the TRCC alumni and grow in understanding and empathy.
On Wednesday 13th November we will have a free public presentation on Restorative Justice, which will be run by a faculty member of the International Institute of Restorative Practices. Time and location to be announced soon. This will be followed by a Restorative Justice Conference planned for March 2020.
This is exciting times for Bermuda, as we take our first steps towards becoming a restorative society.
• Press release from Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda