Evanston celebrates restorative justice efforts in First Friday event


Aria Wozniak / The Daily Northwestern

The city of Evanston founded the First Fridays program with local organizations to celebrate the city’s youth and promote restorative justice.

Aria Wozniak, Reporter

Mason Park was abuzz with Evanston residents enjoying music, food, games and raffles Friday night — part of a new initiative to celebrate and further the city’s restorative justice efforts.

The First Friday series, a monthly festival, started this summer. Evanston founded the program with local organizations to celebrate the city’s youth and promote a restorative justice approach to misconduct or crime.

An alternative to a punitive discipline model, restorative justice seeks to repair harm by giving the harmed and those responsible for the harm an opportunity to communicate with one another and address their individual needs.

Jermey McCray, Evanston’s outreach supervisor, said events like First Friday and weekly block parties aim to provide children with community and extracurricular activities. All of the entertainment and food at these events were free. 

According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, extracurricular activities can help support the development of a youth’s resilience and discourage crime. 

“It’s just been a great way to keep engaged with our community and keep an eye on some of the youth that (could be) having some issues,” McCray said.

Many local organizations partner with Evanston’s restorative justice initiatives, including First Friday, by offering resources to those in need. Curt’s Cafe supports youth who have been incarcerated, people experiencing houselessness and people who are experiencing mental illness.

The cafe is also a supporter of Evanston’s My City, Your City, Our City initiative to help at-risk youth in workforce development and employment. 

“We’re looking forward to just being a force in supporting the youth… and making sure that they know that this is a resource that they can count on,” Malik Kemokai, executive director of Curt’s Cafe, said.

Along with First Friday, Evanston has implemented several other restorative justice initiatives, like connecting families for employment, housing, alternative recreation and civic engagement. Two new drop-in centers at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and Robert Crown Community Center have also supported the youth in the community. 

McCray said he is almost hesitant to talk about the positive effect each restorative effort has made since “it’s kind of like knocking on wood.”

Still, he said these efforts have helped the community to come together in positive ways and find unity in the face of hardship.

Stacey Moragne, an outreach worker for the city, said that middle and high school kids often come into the drop-in centers to do homework, play games, utilize the basketball court, watch TV, or talk to a therapist. The centers work as an alternative to a paid after-school program where all of the resources are free.

“The foundation and the avenue that my superiors have built through this program…are allowing people that have made mistakes to come into our system and be in the proper lane to be successful,” Moragne said. 

He said the project aims to help kids pursue more positive paths and dissuade them from destructive behaviors. Evanston has designed its programs with the youth in mind, he added, as officials sat down with teens to learn what activities or opportunities would most engage them.

Together, the city, its partner organizations and youth participants came up with events like First Friday, block parties and drop-in centers. 

“We’re gonna keep building on this,” Moragne said. “It’s our way to engage families and the youth there and just build some strong relationships, so it’s been great.”

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