Written by Chris Cox, Back2Back Cincinnati Director
On any given day, the Back2Back Cincinnati team can be found on a number of front porches in one of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. Standing behind those front doors is a young man or woman facing charges within the court system. Cincy staff show up and knock, because one has to answer for Hope to enter.
What is justice? In a framework built around the teachings of Jesus, a definition of justice must interweave the truth of Christ with His grace and mercy. Christ acknowledges the truth of our earned consequences with His nature to redeem and restore through grace and mercy. It is not the absence of truth, but the overwhelming presence of grace that brings restoration to broken stories.
The Back2Back Cincinnati team has spent countless hours in courtrooms advocating for youth facing criminal charges over the last five years. Coupled with those hours in formal rooms are precious minutes spent in living rooms, on front porches, as safe adults navigate the potential for punitive consequences for someone’s child, cousin, brother, sister, or loved one. The Back2Back Cincy team shows up because of what they’ve learned about the impact of developmental trauma on behavior, which is to say – it is the response of a child who has lost their voice. The Back2Back team enters into the juvenile justice system to advocate, because every lost voice deserves to be heard again.
Michael Sickles, Back2Back Cincy staff, has led the charge in establishing a Justice Initiative through Back2Back Cincinnati. He describes the purpose of this initiative and the work being done. “People want nothing more than to know they are seen, heard, and not alone. We all make mistakes. Our capacity to experience a range of emotions while trying to process what it all means allows space for choices that hurt others. A justice initiative doesn’t try to fix a person, it doesn’t try to prevent or condition a choice, and it doesn’t punish – it creates environments for individuals to land when they fail, knowing they aren’t alone as our team journeys alongside them through the consequences.”
The Cincinnati Justice Initiative has engaged 22 youth and families in the past two years. In collaboration with a community based partner, “Empowering Community Justice Initiative,” over 60 years have been given back to young lives. Instead of incarceration, there is advocacy for one-on-one coaching, counseling/therapy, participation in community activities, and education intervention. In addition, the Back2Back Cincinnati team provides guidance for caregivers throughout the journey. Relationships deepen with each youth at their case’s conclusion, and this leads us to believe everyone is looking to belong. Teams of Care Coordinators and Coaches engage each family in an effort to bring entire family units on healing journeys, because the Cincy team has come to understand a justice initiative has the power to transform entire communities, not just singular families within them.
Recently, Michael and Onice, two Back2Back Cincy staff and coaches, were on a new front porch, knocking. No one answered. When they contacted the young man’s mom, she insisted he was home. When he didn’t answer again, she returned home, the weight of shame and embarrassment fresh on her face. “I really am a good mom, I promise. I don’t know why he doesn’t listen,” she muttered as she unlocked the door for them.
Michael and Onice affirmed her. “We don’t show up expecting everything to go smoothly,” they explained. “We don’t expect him to immediately trust us – this is all new for him. We all have choices, and we know how much you’ve carried for 15 years, but the entire story is never wasted.” As she wiped tears from her eyes, she thanked them for showing up, even when her son couldn’t. It was a clear moment of one woman understanding she wasn’t alone. Her son wasn’t alone. And Micahel and Onice weren’t going to stop knocking.
He answered the door the next time they came. An open door means an opened heart. It means an opportunity for growth. It means a knocked down barrier so that a teen, and their family, can see what hope will do.