In two decades of observing and sometimes fighting the criminal justice system, Galvis said he has watched it swallow up too many of California’s youth in a vortex of punishment. So he’s trying to foster a new system of justice in East Oakland, one rooted in ancient rituals of healing, forgiveness and mental restoration.
“Sharing stories is part of it,” Galvis said. “When you understand what other people have gone through, it helps you understand them better.”
With his long twin braids and collection of berets, Galvis cuts a distinctive figure in the Fruitvale district where his work is centered.
The co-founder and director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, or CURYJ, culls from North and South American indigenous traditions — including his own Quechua roots — as well as a growing movement promoting “restorative justice” over a starkly punitive approach.
He holds intimate “healing circles,” sometimes at places where violence has occurred, inviting youths but also community elders and others affected by their actions. They’re asked to discuss their cargas, a Spanish word for burdens, but also their regalos — gifts.
“A lot of the work I do is teaching young people how to heal from trauma,” he said. “It’s a group process, collective. Every student is a teacher.”
Friends say it’s not just his ideas, but his skills in getting people to gather and listen, that have made him effective.
The Los Angeles-based California Wellness Foundation agrees. The organization awarded him and two others its annual $25,000 California Peace Prize on Oct. 10.
“A lot of people who work with youth, they generally try to choose youth who are already destined to be successful,” said Dorsey Nunn, director of the San Francisco-based Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “George reaches out to people who are going to have to struggle to be successful, and he’s fearless about it.”
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